Carb-Loading: Necessity or Fad

There are too many myths and “facts” circulating on any given day when it comes to nutrition and fitness. So-called fitness gurus tell you to eat on a consistent schedule, some even suggesting interrupting your sleep schedule to stick to the routine. Fortunately, getting healthy and staying healthy is a lot simpler than people make it out to be, which likely stems from health and fitness being a multi-billion dollar industry.

When it comes to carbs, people have a longstanding love-hate relationship. Some people believe that carb-loading before a workout is ideal. Others believe that consuming too many carbohydrates before an activity will make you sluggish, leading to ineffective exercise. The truth is somewhere in between.

Eating Carbs Before Working Out

According to a study published in the Journal of Applied Physiology, consuming carbs can affect the intensity and duration of intense exercise. For the study, participants either consumed high-carbs at 1.5g of body weight or low-carbs. The group consuming more carbohydrates maintained performance levels longer than those consuming less. However, the low carb group did experience greater fat oxidation.

Therefore, eating carbs before a workout depends on the exercise and its intensity. For lower intensity activities, like walking, you can avoid the extra calories, but if you want to extend your workout, even light exercise, carb-loading can help your performance.

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Carb-Loading and Endurance Work Outs

If you are planning a long-lasting activity requiring high endurance levels, carb-loading can help. If you want to go for a 90-minute bike ride, and you want your performance to remain strong throughout, consuming 1.5 carbs times your body weight in kilograms is a safe and effective formula. For example, a 120 lb female (54.4 kg) should consume 81.6 kg before the activity, and a 180 lb man (81.6 kg) should consume 122.4 g.

However, it is necessary to listen to your body. Every person is unique, meaning that their carbohydrate requirements for endurance are not the same. Some people do better with less; the important thing is to uncover what works for you.

Maintaining Sustainable Behaviors

Typically, the longer the exercise, the more critical it is to carb-load, but it should never feel forced. If forcing yourself to eat carbs before a workout drains your ambition, don’t do it. While there are some minor benefits to consuming carbohydrates before an endurance activity, it is more important that you complete the exercise.

The goal of both health and fitness is to find sustainable behaviors. You want to do things that encourage active participation in your life, something that motivates you to live healthily and thrive. If carb-loading is an uncomfortable practice that leaves you feeling lethargic or unmotivated, then avoid it. Focus on the behaviors and habits you enjoy that still move you in the right direction.

Carb-loading is not a myth, and it can be useful for certain exercises. If you do not perform endurance activities like sustained sprints or biking, you might not experience a tremendous benefit from the practice. Have you ever tried carb-loading? What was your experience, and would you recommend it to others? Leave a comment below.