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Carbohydrates are the primary fuel source utilized during exercise and can be stored as glycogen within the muscles and the liver. A carbohydrate loading protocol aims to maximize glycogen stores within the body to provide a readily available energy source to muscles during physical activity. However, most athletes are unaware of the amount of carbohydrates that need to be consumed in order to maximize glycogen stores, which often results in athletes starting an event or game with sub-optimal glycogen levels. In the following paragraphs, the goal is to outline how much carbohydrate may be needed and give practical recommendations to optimize the carbohydrate loading phase.

It’s especially critical for endurance athletes to try to max out glycogen stores prior to an endurance event, such as a marathon or triathlon. Athletes don’t need to eat this way every day, but this can be an effective approach when combined with tapering of training prior to an event. It has been shown that 10 grams of carbohydrate per kg of bodyweight in the 24 hours prior to competition can help maximize glycogen stores and should be done in combination with a reduction in physical activity or training. For example, a 70kg athlete may need up to 700g of carbohydrate! Practically, this can provide quite a challenge for many athletes as it requires an enormous amount of food to be consumed. In order to achieve this amount, supplementation with a carbohydrate containing drink during the loading phase may make it easier for to achieve the carbohydrate target. Using low fiber sources may help reduce satiety, potentially allowing the athlete to meet their carbohydrate intake goal. The table below illustrate some food sources containing over 50g of carbohydrate that you could recommend to clients during this period.


Carbohydrate Source


Carbohydrate Content

Basmati rice

½ cup



1 ½ cups



¾ cup


Orange juice

~2 cups



½ cup


Sports drinks

~2 cups



2 large



Alternatively, another option may be to implement the carbohydrate loading over a longer period of time in order to reduce the amount of food that would need to be consumed in 24 hours. 5-7g of carbohydrate per kg of bodyweight each day for a 3-day period may be more suitable to some athletes. Again, this should be done in combination with a taper in physical activity.

Once the loading phase is complete, it’s important to focus on consuming 1-4g of carbohydrate per kg of bodyweight within 4 hours of the event or game. Again, it’s important that this meal or snack is low in fiber and fat in order to speed up digestion. Meals such as basmati rice with chicken, pasta with chicken or potatoes and turkey may be a good choice for this period. The timing and source of carbohydrate before a race or game should be practiced prior to the event. This is highly individualized so practicing it prior to competition gives both yourself and your client confident that it will work come race day.

As previously mentioned, Low Carbohydrate High Fat Diets (LCHFD) are becoming increasingly popular amongst athletes. However, LCHFDs may not be as effective as high carbohydrate diets in supporting high intensity exercise performance. For everyday nutritional requirements, try to consume a healthy, balanced diet, keeping caloric balance in mind.


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