This is Your Quick Training Tip, a chance to learn how to work smarter in just a few moments so you can get right to your workout.
Perhaps the best part about preparing for an endurance event is carb-loading—the borderline gluttonous consumption of pasta, bread, and all things starchy in the days leading up to competition. The goal is to top off the body’s fuel tank, and the crazy thing is that it’s not some made-up excuse to feast on all of the foods demonized by today’s anti-carb culture. Science shows that carb-loading can help to boost your performance—if you do it right.
To understand why carb-loading works, you need to understand how the body actually utilizes carbohydrates, one of the three macronutrients that make up the foods we eat. Many people think that eating carbs simply pads their waistline, but that only happens if you consume them in excess. Your body’s first priority when it comes to carbs is to store them as glycogen in your muscles and liver. During intense activity (e.g., a race), your body taps that glycogen to create glucose, which your cells use to produce energy.
Carb-loading (or as scientists call it “glycogen supercompensation”) is a way to make sure that your body’s primary fuel stores are filled to the absolute brim. Most people have enough glycogen to sustain them for 90 to 120 minutes of intense activity, but if you train regularly and vigorously (as you’ll likely do in the months leading up to a race), you can’t be sure that you’re at full glycogen capacity—and you definitely want to be if you’re going to be racing for longer than 90 minutes.