Carb Loading Basics for Triathlon

Carb loading is a nutritional strategy that endurance athletes use to increase their glycogen stores, which provides you with more energy to fuel your performance during long-distance events, including all distances of triathlon. Car loading is achieved by increasing the intake of carbohydrates (and reducing fat and fiber intake) in the days leading up to your race.

Carbohydrates are the body’s primary source of fuel during higher intensity exercise and are stored in the muscles and liver as glycogen. When glycogen stores become depleted, fatigue sets in, reducing athletic performance. The body also uses fat as a fuel during racing and training, but is less and less capable of utilizing stored body fat as the intensity increases (it requires more oxygen to break down body fat as a fuel than glycogen). We also don’t need to “fat load” because even the leanest athletes have plenty of body fat to burn throughout even the longest, most grueling races. Conversely, most people only have about 1,500 to 2,000 calories worth of glycogen stored in their bodies. By carb loading, you can squeeze in a few extra hundred calories worth of muscle and liver glycogen. 

The carb loading process typically begins two to three days before the competition. We recommend three days. During this time, the athlete’s carbohydrate intake should increase drastically, with the goal of consuming at least 7 but preferably closer to 12 or more grams of carbohydrates per kilogram of body weight, each day. This can be achieved by increasing the portion size of carbohydrates in meals and snacks, choosing higher carbohydrate-containing foods, and reducing the intake of fat and protein. It is also highly recommended to reduce your fiber intake in the days leading up to any race that involves running, not only to leave more room in the stomach for carbohydrate rich foods, but to decrease the chances of having to take an emergency bathroom break at mile three of the run. 

Examples of high carbohydrate-containing foods include pasta, rice, bagels, pancakes, bread, potatoes, oats, low fiber fruits, fruit juice, soda, sports drinks.

You should also pay attention to the timing of your carb loading. It is best to eat the largest meal of the day in the early evening before your race, as this allows the body to store more glycogen overnight. However, it is essential not to eat too close to the race, as this can cause digestive issues for most people. Though, some can get away with a massive breakfast just a few hours before the race start. 

In addition to increasing carbohydrate intake, hydration is an equally essential aspect of carb loading. Athletes should drink more water than they think is necessary (including a large amount of sodium) to ensure they are adequately hydrated, as this can help prevent fatigue and improve your performance. Various sports drinks can also help replenish lost electrolytes and provide the body with the fluids it needs to perform at its best. We recommend anything with at least 200mg of sodium per serving, and it should ideally be in the form of sodium citrate. If your hydration mix uses regular old sodium chloride or is listed as just “sodium” throw it in the garbage because it IS garbage. Sodium chloride is the worst type of sodium on your stomach and GI trac.  

Carb loading is not a one-size-fits-all approach, and it may take some time to find the right amount of carbohydrates that work best for an individual. You should experiment with different amounts of carbohydrates in the weeks (or months even) leading up to your race to determine the right amount for your needs. It is also important to note that everyone has different nutritional needs in general. This is just the very basics of carb loading. For more specific and detailed info, get in contact with Be the Beast Coaching Today!


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