It’s all too familiar to hear the joke or the even the serious comment about athletes needing to “carbo-load” before a big sporting event or competition. We’ve all heard the term, but how necessary is the act of loading up on carbohydrates before strenuous physical activity?

The science behind loading up on carbohydrate-heavy foods before marathons or a big ballgame, comes from the thought that foods high in carbs such as pasta and breads can help increase our levels of stored glucose – glucose that we’ll need for our muscles during an endurance event. But is the practice really enough? Or necessary?

The professionals at Great Lakes Orthopedics and Sports Medicine believe that carbo-loading can be beneficial – but only if done methodically and properly. Here are some tips to keep in mind.

  • Hold back before loading up. As part of your regular training diet, consider sticking to low carb foods for the duration. Then, when you’re ready to “load” the day(s) before you and your muscles will really notice the benefit of the added carbs.

  • The act of loading up on carbohydrates should only be conducted as a regular part of your training schedule. Don’t try to down a ton of pasta the night before a long run, for the first time ever. This can lead to adverse outcomes like digestion and other issues. Try it occasionally before a big training activity to make sure you body reacts appropriately.

  • Carbo-loading is only helpful for exercise that will last longer than 90 minutes. This includes, running, hiking, swimming, cycling, you name it.

  • Carbo-loading should occur for 72 hours before your event.

  • Do not overeat during carbo-loading activities. Simply add more carbs to your diet.