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What is Carbo-Loading?

Malcolm Tatum
Updated Jan 29, 2024
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Carbo-loading is an approach to building energy reserves that is sometimes employed with competitive sports or endurance training. The basic idea of carbo-loading is attributed to Gunvar Ahlborg, a scientist residing in Sweden during the 1960’s. Ahlborg developed the concept that if the glycogen reserves of the body were thoroughly depleted, the body would be able to store additional stores of glycogen if a huge amount of carbohydrates were consumed immediately after the period of depletion was complete.

The purported benefit of carbo-loading is to use this dual process of depletion and mass storage of carbohydrates is that the practice will allow the body to develop an additional resource of energy. This extra store of energy can then be called upon during sporting events. As a result, the athlete is able to function for a longer period of time and endure more rigorous conditions than would be possible otherwise.

While the carbohydrate intake phase of carbo-loading can be accomplished with any foods that are rich in carbs, pasta appears to be the carb food of choice. Pasta tends to break down in the system quickly, which in turn allows the carbohydrates to be absorbed and be available for use in the short term. It is not unusual for athletes who are competing in a competition the next day to enjoy a large dinner the night before that centers around pasta dishes.

By the 1980’s, the idea of packing carbohydrates as part of the training process was common. However, the process of attempting to totally deplete the level of glycogen before refueling had begun to fall out of favor. Instead, carbo-loading began to involve consuming ample amounts of carbohydrates for several days before a competition. At the same time, the level of intense training decreased during the last two or three days before the actual competitive event.

Today, the original carbo-loading process of depletion followed by packing carbohydrates and the modified version that developed in the 1980’s are both in common usage. There is even a third carbo-loading approach that involves mild to moderate training for several days before the event, but calls for massive loading of carbs a few hours before the actual competition. Athletes report significant results using all these approaches, noting that the end result is there is more available energy to expend during the more intense periods of the competitions.

WiseGeek is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Malcolm Tatum
By Malcolm Tatum
Malcolm Tatum, a former teleconferencing industry professional, followed his passion for trivia, research, and writing to become a full-time freelance writer. He has contributed articles to a variety of print and online publications, including WiseGeek, and his work has also been featured in poetry collections, devotional anthologies, and newspapers. When not writing, Malcolm enjoys collecting vinyl records, following minor league baseball, and cycling.
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Malcolm Tatum
Malcolm Tatum
Malcolm Tatum, a former teleconferencing industry professional, followed his passion for trivia, research, and writing...
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