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Carbohydrate loading - pros and cons

Today we will talk about the pros and cons of carbohydrate loading before sports, and also offer an alternative.

Carbohydrate loading (carb loading) is practiced by many athletes. Especially in those sports that require great endurance (more than 1.5 hours). They are loaded with carbohydrates a couple of days before the competition. Athletes are loaded with different carbohydrates, eat a lot of sugar, protein and energy bars, etc. Their goal is to increase muscle and liver glycogen stores. Glycogen is stored glucose molecules. Athletes do this to increase energy and prevent fatigue during competition.

How it works

Glycogen stored in the muscles provides glucose to the muscles. And the glycogen stored in the liver releases glucose into the blood, which is delivered to the brain. The amount of glucose that can be stored in the liver and in the muscles is very different. The liver can store 100 grams of glucose, and the muscles can store 500 grams. Carbohydrate loading is done so that you do not get tired longer. But if you look at the type of fuel burned, namely, glucose, then it ends very quickly.

Cons of carbohydrate loading

  • Limited energy supply. If you look at the amount of stored glycogen, then it will be only in the region of 1700-2000 kilocalories. This will give energy for a maximum of 90-120 minutes.
  • Mental and physical exhaustion. When sugar runs out, mental and physical exhaustion appears. Sooner or later, you will hit a wall when you run out of sugar and hypoglycemia sets in. Weakness will arise, you will become tired, both physically and mentally. This is to force you to eat and drink sugar during your workout.
  • There is bloating and pain in the abdomen. When carb-loaded, there is a lot of gas, bloating and pain in the abdomen, because excessive fermentation occurs in the stomach. And it will happen during the training itself.
  • Diarrhea. This is one of the side effects. Diarrhea is a big problem because it causes the body to lose water and electrolytes, including potassium, calcium, magnesium as well as sodium. It is very dangerous to exercise after diarrhea because electrolytes provide energy to the heart. If you do endurance exercise with barely noticeable amounts of essential electrolytes, then you are at great risk.
  • Fluid retention. When you carb-load, you retain fluid. Each glucose molecule holds 3-4 water molecules. So, potentially, you can carry 2.5 liters of water right inside your body.
  • May raise blood pressure. When you eat carbohydrates, sodium and water are retained in the body, which can increase blood pressure. But it can also happen for another reason. If there are so many empty carbohydrates in the form of sugar, then the body's reserves of potassium, magnesium and other electrolytes are depleted. And an imbalance between sodium retention and potassium deficiency can cause high blood pressure.
  • Inflammation and leaky gut syndrome. The term "leaky gut" describes the process by which large molecules from the gut enter the bloodstream, when mechanisms called "impermeable septums" needed to seal holes between intestinal cells instead open up. Sugar is oxidizing, it can affect the eyes, the heart, the kidneys, the nerves. Sugar can keep the body inflamed, and who needs sore muscles or joints in a sporting event?
  • Depletion of vitamins and minerals. If you use empty carbohydrates for the purpose of carbohydrate loading, then the body becomes deficient in potassium, magnesium, calcium and vitamin B1. These vitamins and minerals act as antioxidants and counteract the negative effects of high blood sugar. The more carbohydrates you eat, the more vitamin B1 you need. Vitamin B1 deficiency has many symptoms: accumulation of lactic acid (excess lactic acid is definitely not needed in training), neuritis (nerve pain), lactic acidosis (accumulation of lactate in the body), cognitive problems (stress, anxiety). Therefore, if you do carb loading, then in parallel you need to do loading with vitamin B1. As well as loading with potassium, magnesium and calcium. Without these vitamins and minerals, you will not be able to produce the required amount of energy during training and competition.

Benefits of carb loading

Insulin resistance may develop due to the abuse of carbohydrates and sugar. This applies to elite athletes. Elite athletes have three times higher insulin sensitivity than non-professional athletes. Elite athletes don't develop insulin resistance as severely, so that's a plus. But, to be honest, this is the only plus that we could find so far. It should be noted that this only applies to elite athletes. This does not apply to lower class athletes.


Given all the disadvantages of carbohydrate loading, we do not think that this one plus (reducing insulin resistance) is worth it.


You need to adapt the body to use fat as energy. If you adapt the body to burn fat, then energy reserves become almost limitless. Even a person without excess weight has about 100,000 kilocalories of energy in the form of fat, and only 1,700 kcal in the form of sugar. As you can see, the difference is huge. More and more athletes are adapting to fat burning because they see that by using fat stores they get an advantage that they did not have before. When adapting to fat, the number of calories you can use for energy is practically unlimited.

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