For all those who participated in high school sports, you are probably familiar with the event called “carb-loading” or a “carbo-cram.” This involves eating large amounts of carbohydrate-rich foods the day prior to a big sporting event. The thought behind this nutrition technique is to maximize energy levels before an endurance competition. Does it really work? Will eating extra carbs on Friday night really improve your performance at the swim meet on Saturday?
What is Carb-Loading?
There is conflicting evidence to prove whether carb-loading has any true benefits of increased or prolonged energy. The proper way to carb-load is to completely deplete your body of carbs during your training routine, while continuing to train without replacing the lost carbs in your diet. Once you are depleted, you consume a large amount of carbs to “load-up” your energy storage capacity during the week or day leading up to the competition.
Who Should Carb-Load?
The problem with this tactic is that it can cause gastrointestinal distress and there is no proof that it works for everyone. If you are a child or teenager, your body metabolizes food differently and carb-loading may cause more stomach problems on race day. Child athletes have a limited ability to store large amounts of carbs within the muscles. Younger swimmers should instead concentrate on consuming a healthy, well-balanced diet to avoid potential stomach problems associated with larger intakes of carbohydrates. Carb-loading especially may not be beneficial for most swimming competitions lasting less than 2 continuous hours.
How Should Your Diet Change?
If you choose to carb-load, make sure that you are focusing on nutritious carb-rich food choices. Many people, swimmers included, follow misconceptions when trying to carb-load. This nutrition technique does not include eating an extra dinner roll slathered in butter or two extra servings of pasta with a cream-based sauce. Concentrate on eating fiber- and carb-rich vegetables such as broccoli, sweet potatoes, and leafy greens. Try your best to avoid simple sugars such as chocolate, candy, and highly-processed baked goods. Fresh fruits are a much better source of sugar with the addition of fiber to help stabilize blood sugar.
Whatever nutrition path you choose to follow, do not make any last-minute changes the night before a big swim meet or all-day competition. You need to make sure that you consume foods your body is familiar with to avoid the nausea and stomach upset that can accompany a new nutrition routine. Experiment in the months and weeks leading up to a swim meet to learn what works best for your body.
If you’d like advice on how to prepare for a swim meet or just want help eating healthier, come see me for a free nutrition consultation!Schedule a Nutrition Consultation
Written by Sarah Brunner, RDN, CD; Elite Sports Clubs Registered Dietitian
Sarah is certified in food allergies/intolerances and nutritional counseling, Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics; has a certificate in Dietetics from Mount Mary University; and a BA in Education and Mathematics from the University of Wisconsin – La Crosse.