Carb-loading explained

Confused about carb-loading? If you've heard the term but the concept still eludes you, sports nutritionist, James Collins explains how, when and why maximising fuel stores can greatly benefit your race performance...

Carb-loading explained

Question 1:

What is meant by the term 'carb-loading'?

James says:Creamy mango & coconut smoothie
This is used to describe a period of high carbohydrate eating to maximise the body's glycogen stores in preparation for an endurance event. The science and practice in this area has shifted a lot in recent years. Previously a 'classic' approach involved training hard to deplete the body's glycogen, followed by a seven-day, high carbohydrate diet to replenish stores.

It is now believed that carbohydrate stores can be maximised over the two days before a race. This is achieved with high carbohydrate intakes - a rough guide equates to approximately 10g carbohydrate per kilogram of bodyweight - so for example, a runner weighing 60kg would aim to consume 600g of carbohydrate each day.

Experienced runners, who are used to the classic seven-day carb-load, or who find it difficult to eat regularly, may wish to begin three days before the race. There is no need to follow the seven day approach - it may even increase fat stores in some runners.

Question 2:Raspberry & pine nut bars

How and when should I start to carb-load before a race?

James says:
Ideally start to carb-load two days before an event, possibly three days for more experienced runners. The overall target is 8-10g of carbohydrate per kilogram of bodyweight. More practically, this means setting up a schedule of three meals with three snacks a day (morning, afternoon and evening).

Question 3:

What are some different ways to carb-load?

James says:Banana bread
Increasing your carbohydrate intake doesn't necessarily mean eating huge volumes of pasta. Firstly, increase the carbohydrate content of meals by adding a bigger portion of your preferred source of carbohydrate. Adding fruit juice to your meal will also help to up your intake.

Snacks will play an important role in reaching your goal - try to eat a high carbohydrate snack three times a day. Some good recipe options could include:
Raspberry & pine nut bars
Spanish tomato bread with jamon serrano
Feel-good muffins
Peach Melba smoothie
Healthy banana bread
Creamy mango & coconut smoothie

Question 4:

What should my portion size of carbohydrates be at each meal?

James says:Portion control
With each meal, try to aim to fill your plate half full with carbohydrate. Protein is less of a focus at the carb-loading stage, but still important for muscle tissue repair, so fill quarter of your plate with protein.

Don't worry about weight gain of a few kilograms during carb-loading. This is to be expected and much will be water weight that is bound to carbohydrate during storage in the body.


Are you training for an event this year? Share your tips and experiences below.

James Collins is a leading sport & exercise nutritionist. Currently head nutritionist for Arsenal Football Club, James was lead nutritionist for the England football team at the 2014 FIFA World Cup. He also advised Team GB teams and individuals for the London 2012 Olympic Games, and now towards Rio 2016. James sees clients at his Harley Street clinic, The Centre for Health and Human Performance in London. For more information, visit:

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Comments, questions and tips

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21st Apr, 2015
Modern endurance athletes are dumping carbs and taking on the far more effective and healthier option of a high fat, high protein diet. Good explanation here:
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