Don’t be surprised that even people who are not into endurance sports have heard of carbo-loading. However, very few people, even some of those who are into endurance sports, have a good understanding of what carbo-loading really means. From the way the word sounds and spells, many people just guess or assume that carbo-loading simply means loading the body with carbohydrates.
Trekking can be considered a form of endurance sports, so it would be appropriate for me to shed some light on this issue which relates to performance enhancement. This article aims to teach you how to give yourself an unfair advantage over trekkers who don’t really understand carbo-loading.
To understand carbo-loading, we must first take a look at skeletal muscles and glycogen or animal starch, the fuel which the muscles store and use up during prolonged exercise. Depletion of glycogen stores will result in muscular fatigue.
Actually, a more appropriate and descriptive term for the strategy of carbo-loading is glycogen supercompensation. This technique works by packing more than the usual amount of glycogen stores into the muscles and you won’t achieve that simply by consuming large quantities of carbohydrates. This is because there is a “normal” limit to the amount of glycogen that can be stored in our muscles. Any excess will be converted into fat. To create more packing space for glycogen, the body must first be starved of carbohydrates. There are basically two stages in the process of glycogen supercompensation.
In the first stage intense exercise targeting specific muscles are performed to the point of exhaustion. This is aimed to deplete glycogen stores. This is followed by a high protein and high fat diet for 3 days. Food types taken at this stage includes cheese, sardines, chicken, eggs, butter, fruit juice, vegetables. Specific muscles are exercised to ensure that glycogen stores are depleted. In reaction to this depletion, the body produces more glycogen synthesising enzymes. This is an attempt to compensate for the lack of carbohydrates in the diet.
In the second stage, the floodgates are open. On the 4th or 5th day after carbohydrate starvation, the diet is switched to a high carbohydrate one. Plenty of bread, noodles, potatoes and rice are taken. Excess enzymes accumulated during glycogen depletion will end up supercompensating by storing more than the usual amount of glycogen. Swollen with glycogen, these muscles will not fatigue so easily during prolonged activity. That is carbo-loading.
Points to Note
1. Do not get carried away. The carbohydrate starvation stage can be very uncomfortable. The long-term ill-effects of carbo-loading have not been established and there are risks of damage to one’s health. This technique should not be employed unless you are in a competitive situation. It is definitely not advisable for people who have a family history of diabetes.
2. It only works for sports like distance running. Short duration sports will not benefit from carbo-loading. Some people modify the glycogen depletion stage by shortening it to just one day.
3. Women benefit less from carbo-loading than men because women burn fat long before their glycogen stores are depleted. Theoretically, women’s muscles fatigue slower than men’s.
4. Your weight may go up as a result of carbo-loading. Doing it too frequently may result in significant weight gain.
© Chan Joon Yee 2009
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