The Best Foods for Carb Loading

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Assortment of bagels (Image: c8501089/iStock/Getty Images)

With a big sporting event or mammoth training session on the horizon, you may be worried about sustaining your energy levels and maintaining performance. Fear not -- with a concept known as carb loading, you can manipulate your nutrition to ensure that you're feeling and performing your best come the big day. When planning your carb loading, it's vital you pick the right foods.

Carb-Loading Principles

When you train hard, your body burns glycogen -- the stored form of carbohydrate in your muscles -- for fuel. To keep on going, this glycogen needs to be replenished. By loading up on carbs before your race or event, you can ensure that your glycogen stores are at full capacity, giving you sustained energy. During your carb load, you need between 3 and 5 grams of carbohydrate per pound of body weight each day.

Pick of the Bunch

Easily digestible carbs are your best bet. These enter the bloodstream relatively quickly and can help provide fast-release energy. Sports nutritionist Nancy Clark suggests granola bars, bagels, higher-sugar fruits like bananas and raisins, cereals, white potatoes, pasta, flavored yogurts, rice and fig bars. If you're struggling to eat this much carbohydrate, then liquid sources -- such as sports drinks and small amounts of fruit juice -- may be useful.

What to Avoid

While high-fiber foods are usually a healthy addition to your diet, a carb-loading phase is one time where you want to limit fiber. Higher-fiber foods are slower to digest and can cause bloating and gas. This means that eating lots of vegetables or beans isn't a good idea. You also want to limit your consumption of whole grains and higher-fiber fruits like berries or apples, while avoiding any foods that have added fiber, such as high-fiber or bran cereals.

Finding Your Best Plan

No one carbohydrate-loading protocol or set list of foods will work for everyone. A good idea is to try out a carb load with a variety of foods two to three weeks before your big event, so you can see what you respond to best. Avoid introducing any foods just before or on the big day, and stick to simple, single-ingredient carb foods with a low fat content and low to moderate protein content as much as possible.

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