Nutrient timing entails the targeted intake of nutrients (most often protein and/or carbohydrate) in and around the workout window.
But, there are other times when it may be beneficial (and even necessary) to consider prioritizing the intake of certain nutrients.
One such instance is carb loading.
Today, we discuss what carb loading is, who should consider using it, and when is (and is not) the right time to carb load.
What is Carb Loading?
Carbohydrates are one of the three main macronutrients which we supply our cells with energy. The other two macronutrients, as you likely know, are protein and fat.
The reason so much chatter surrounds the timing of carbohydrates around and during the workout is that glucose is the primary form of energy used by cells to power high intensity exercise
Fatty acids and amino acids can be used to fuel exercise performance, but it’s not the body’s preferred option, especially when doing very intense training like strength training or high intensity interval training.
Furthermore, the oxidation (“burning”) of fatty acids or amino acids for energy is substantially slower compared to glucose metabolism. This translates to decrements in your top end performance.
Seeing as carbohydrate is what supplies the body with energy and powers high-intensity efforts, it stands to reason that consuming carbohydrates in the peri-workout window makes sense.
Carb loading is the practice of attempting to increase glycogen storage in your muscles above and beyond its typical daily content.
The practice typically entails eating more carbs than you normally do in the days leading up to a big athletic competition or performance (such as a marathon or day long soccer tournament). Individuals following carb loading also reduce the amount of exercise they are performing so as to decrease the amount of carbohydrate and glycogen that is used by the body.
When Should I Carb Load?
Suffice it to say that like most things in life, there are certain situations where you should carb load and certain situations that don’t really require it.
Carb loading is most beneficial for activities that require large amounts of glycogen, such as endurance running or biking.
Since carbohydrate fuels exercise performance, and sustained physical exertion relies primarily on carbohydrates, when glycogen (carbohydrate) levels become depleted, fatigue sets in and performance sharply declines.
In other words, the longer and higher intensity your activity is, the greater demand there is for carbohydrate before, during, and after exercise.
So, for instance, if you are an endurance athlete training or competing for multiple hours at a time (and you want to perform well), then carb loading makes sense for you. You should consume carbs in the days and hours leading up to your session. Depending on how long your training bout or competition lasts, you may need to ingest some intra workout carbohydrates as well.
How Many Carbs Should I Eat Before Training?
This is entirely dependent on how long you are training and how intensely you are working during that session.
Research indicates that consuming 1.5g carbohydrate per kilogram of bodyweight before completing 90 minutes of intense exercise leads to greater performance and less perceived fatigue than have little to no carbs.
Other studies indicate that performance can increase between 2-3% for exercise bouts lasting longer than 90 minutes when carb loading.
As we already mentioned, for short duration exercise, there does not appear to be much benefit to carb loading.
The reason for this is simple, the duration is not long enough to deplete glycogen levels so much that you hit a wall. This includes resistance training workouts where you are performing a relatively low total volume of work.
For moderate to higher volume resistance training sessions, having a high carb meal 1-2 hours before training can help ensure there is enough blood glucose to support the increased workload as well as shore up and shortcomings in glycogen storage.
Carbs before training also help keep insulin levels elevated, which keeps cortisol levels lower. Remember, cortisol is a catabolic hormone that can cause protein breakdown.
If you’re engaging in prolonged exercise (multi-hour training sessions — marathon, triathlon, etc.), it definitely is a good idea to have some carbs prior to training as well as the days leading up to your training session, especially if you perform several multi-hour training bouts per week.
In times like this, it helps to have a quick-digesting carb supplement that energizes and boosts performance without wreaking havoc on blood sugar and insulin levels or irritating your stomach.
We recommend using NPL Pure Series Malto Dextrin, it is an easily digestible complex carbohydrate derived from corn starch. It contains virtually no protein, fat or fibre and is a rapidly metabolized source of energy for active individuals.
Or Dextrose; it is a rapidly metabolized source of energy which will rapidly replenish glycogen levels, making it the ideal post-workout supplement. This high glycemic index (GI) of Dextrose, will cause a rapid spike in your insulin levels, driving nutrients into your cells and aiding in efficient recovery and muscle growth after training.