Introduction To Carb Loading

Lately I’ve been getting questions from athletes and members about dieting and eating habits. They want to know what they should eat and when.

Some of my athletes that are about to compete (CrossFit Competition) for the first time ask what their meal regimen should be before a competition. I have others ask me because they want to get stronger and bigger in the gym, and some who just want to have a better body composition.


Different Methods Yield Different Results

The really easy way for me to answer all of these questions would be to just tell them to make sure they are getting enough protein in their diet and load up on carbs right before a competition. For the ones who are trying to get a better physique, I tell them to cut down on carbs.

For most of my members this basic tidbit of information is enough for them to take home and make some minor tweaks to their eating habits and see results. As a matter of fact, this basic info is really all I want to throw on my newer members or members who are only coming about two times a week.

But for my more advanced members, the ones who are coming  4-5 days a week, the ones that are interested in competing, or just the ones who feel they have hit a plateau and are searching how to get past that it will be a little more precise. Enter carb loading…

Now let me preface by saying that carb loading needs to be custom designed to each individual person depending on sport, time (how much time you have to work out), and goal. Basically how I would program carb loading for a marathon runner will vary from how I would program it for a weightlifter or a body builder. Each are very unique sports and use different exercise modalities, therefore, require a different carb loading program. And this will run true for every sport including football, basketball, etc.

You can see how explaining carb loading could be a bit lengthy and I will cover more of the specifics of carb loading in each sport and body type in other parts of future blogs. For now, I’ll cover the basics.

What is Carb Loading?

Carb loading is the process of depleting carbohydrates, or lowering them, for a certain amount of days in order for your body to use up its glycogen (think of glycogen as stored energy) left in your muscles. Once your body has depleted its glycogen storage it will start transitioning to burning fat as a fuel/energy source, therefore, making you leaner.

Then, you reintroduce carbs back into your diet, usually around competition time or whatever physical event you have planned. Seeing that you have basically sent your muscles and liver into shock by depriving it of glycogen from carbs, once you reintroduce carbs back into your system, your body maximizes glycogen storage, therefore, once you compete you have more energy and perform better.

Marathon Runner Vs. Elite CrossFit Athlete

Carb loading can be done in several ways. I won’t get too far into it right now but just to give you a better idea of what it looks like I’ll give you an example:

Most marathon runners carb load not by fasting from carbs or lowering carbs, because of the extreme distances they run everyday their body needs all the fuel it can get. What they do instead is 2-3 days our from their big run they will go out and eat 6-10 times the usual amount of carbs they would normally eat.


Compare that to an elite CrossFitter for instance, who 4-6 days before a competition will lower the amount of carbs they intake and also scale down the intensity of their workout. 2-3 days out they may have no carbs at all and do very low intensity to no workout at all. Two days before the competition, CrossFit athletes will load up on as many carbs as they can to get ready for their competition. CrossFit athletes are not working out for 4 consecutive hours like marathon runners, they do high intensity short workouts so the demand on their body and energy system is different therefore their carb loading needs to be different.

This is just a brief example and introduction into carb loading.

Going Further

In Part 2 I will dive into what carbs are good and what carbs are bad, how to program carb loading for personal use, and the amount of carbs to fat to protein ratio when you program. In the final article, Part 3, I will introduce carb loading alternatives (carb loading is not for everyone), metabolic flexibility using different dieting techniques, and how to tell if carb loading is or is not working for you.

-Mike Anderson