Looking for a natural way to increase your strength, enhance your stamina, and improve your overall athletic performance? If you answered yes to the foregoing question, then you’re in for a treat!
See, your body holds within itself a mechanism that allows your muscles to endure longer bouts of exercise before prematurely fatiguing. This process is commonly known as carbohydrate loading.
What is carbohydrate loading?
In short, carb loading is the process of saturating (loading) your muscle’s natural glycogen stores with free-flowing glucose (blood sugar). This glucose is converted into glycogen, which is merely the same thing, but in its stored form.
When an endurance athlete blows his adversaries out of the water in a long-distance event, this is intimation that they devised a strategic and well-planned carb loading regimen beforehand.
Carb loading won’t necessarily increase the celerity of the athlete, but it will increase the threshold of fatigue that the muscles will undergo as exercise continues for extended periods of time. This becomes very useful during marathon races and fartlek training.
Carb loading is not only great for endurance athletes like basketball players, soccer players, and long-distance runners, it’s also very effective for building muscle/strength as well.
This especially comes into play during high volume training. High reps and sets are very demanding on the body. You really only have so much gas (glycogen) in the tank at any given time.
So, to give yourself more energy to successfully complete your weight lifting workouts, try carb loading beforehand to give yourself an advantage over the weights.
Okay, so you now know some benefits of carb loading, but how does it really “give you energy”?
The energizing effect of carb loading
Carb loading provides your muscles with energy to endure long bouts of exercise primarily due to the role it plays in creating adenosine triphosphate (ATP). ATP is a high energy phosphate bond that allows your muscles to contract and perform work.
When you run out of ATP, your muscles run out of energy. This is commonly referred to as “hitting the wall”. There are several lengthy physiological processes that occur to create ATP. However, for the sake of this article, all you need to know is that during exercise, the glycogen in your muscle tissue is converted into ATP.
As stated before, more ATP won’t necessarily make you more powerful, but what it will do is give your muscles more energy to complete your workouts fully energized from beginning to end. This, in turn will increase your muscle’s size and strength.
Also, speaking of increasing size, the size of your muscle’s glycogen stores will actually increase as you consistently exercise overtime too. This means that you’ll be able to store more glycogen which will allow for more ATP to be made.
How to properly carb load
There are a lot of misconceptions out there of how to carb load effectively to give you the best results. Also, how to go about doing so safely. Becoming adept at this technique takes time. It takes understanding how your body reacts to certain foods, as well as how certain frequencies/intensities of exercise affects your body.
Be that as it may, there are two effective methods that are extremely efficient at saturating your muscle’s glycogen stores with free-flowing glucose. The two methods I’m referring to are The Classic Method and The Sherman Method.
The Classic Method
- Maintain a high protein/fat, low carb diet for 3-4 days
- Perform heavy exercise during these 3-4 days to deplete glycogen stores
- Then, eat a high carb, low protein/fat diet for 3 days while being inactive
- This causes a super elevation of muscle glycogen levels
The Sherman Method
- Taper workouts from 90 mins to 40 mins for 3-4 days while eating a 50% carb diet
- Follow this with two days of 20 min workouts while eating a 70% carb diet
- Then, have a rest day prior to competition/event with a 70% carb diet
The classic method is probably more effective than the Sherman method, due to certain hormones that get released which increases glucose absorption in the muscle tissue.
However, the Sherman method is the healthier route to take as it places less demands on the body. Try experimenting with these two glycogen loading techniques to see which one works best for you and your goals.
The Do’s and Don’ts of carb loading
Eating more carbs is not necessarily analogous to greater glycogen stores. Remember, your muscle tissue can only store so much glucose in them.
So, how do you know how much is too much?
Well, that’s where things get muddy. Taking individual specificity into consideration leaves one with the conclusion that it’s based on sheer trial and error rather than some “cookie-cutter” formula. This in fact would be an accurate assumption.
Keep in mind though, that if you follow the classic or Sherman method’s protocol you should be fine. As far as the actual number of grams per day goes, that’s greatly based on your activity level, your weight, the event you’re training for, etc.
Your best bet is to simply stick with the recommended percent (%) values I’ve given you for the two methods above.
So, if you take anything from these foregoing statements let it be that force-feeding yourself 1,000g of carbs a day will not give you better results. I get how appealing the whole “More is better!” mantra is, but it’s inaccurate and false.
To help you ensure that things go as planned with your carb loading regimen, try practicing it several times before your big competition. This is the best way to allow you to truly see how your body will react to carb loading.
Carb load for about a week and then perform some sort of vigorous or long-distance activity and see how your body feels. From this experience, you should be able to decipher whether or not you need to carb up more next time or if it was just enough.
Applying your knowledge in practical ways will truly allow you to take your performance to the next level. Experience is key here, especially because most individual’s bodies will react differently to the same protocol.
Replenishing glycogen stores after exercise
Okay, so you’ve properly carb loaded for about a week and you just ran a marathon. After you do some cool down stretches and douse your body in water, now what?
After a very grueling bout of exercise, you can bet that your glycogen stores will surely be depleted. This will become conspicuous very quickly as you’ll experience a high amount of fatigue and exhaustion. Besides several other factors, this fatigue is greatly due to glycogen depletion.
So, what can you do to combat this?
Ingesting some simple sugars immediately after exercise and repeating every two hours for the next six hours will refill your glycogen stores very quickly. This will allow you to recover much faster than if you merely drank water.
So, drink a Powerade or two after your bout of exercise to ensure proper recovery and quick glucose (energy) absorption.
Carbohydrate loading is used by athletes all over the world to help them perform at their peak. If you truly want to have the edge over your competitors, then carb loading is a must!
The glycogen in your muscles is converted into ATP which is what allows your muscles to contract and perform work. The greater your muscle’s glycogen reserves are filled, the more energy your muscles will have to complete your grueling workouts. However, keep in mind that there is a ceiling that will only allow you to actually utilize and store so much carbs.
There’s good news though. The more you exercise, the larger your muscle’s glycogen stores get. So, consistent training will actually allow you to store more carbohydrates in your muscle tissue overtime.
The main two methods of carb loading are The Classic Method and The Sherman Method. They are both very effective at saturating your muscles with carbohydrates. The Classic Method is known for its effectiveness, as well as the potential danger of developing ketoacidosis. On the other hand, The Sherman Method is a much safer way to carb load and is also very effective.
Don’t forget about recovery. Recovering from a long bout of exercise is perhaps just as important as preparing for it. Ingest some sort of simple sugar immediately after exercise and repeat every two hours for the following six hours to ensure that your muscle’s depleted glycogen stores are refilled with glucose.
There’s no question that carb loading is extremely effective at providing your muscles with more energy to withstand greater demands for longer periods of time. If you want to take you performance to the next level, then it’s in your best interest to adopt this protocol to not only prepare you for any long bouts of exercise you may take on, but to also give you a mental edge with the foreknowledge that you’ve done all that you can to be in tip top shape.