Research has found that carbohydrate-loading diets improve endurance athletes’ performance. Carbohydrate loading can be accomplished in two stages: the depletion stage and the carbohydrate-loading stage. On day one of the depletion stage, the athlete trains to exhaustion in his or her sport in order to deplete muscle glycogen in specific muscles. The athlete must engage in the sport during this stage because carbohydrate loading only occurs in the specific muscles exercised. For the next three days, a high-fat, low-carbohydrate diet (60 to 120 grams carbohydrate) is consumed while the athlete trains moderately. During the carbohydrate-loading stage, the diet is switched to a high-carbohydrate intake (400 to 600 grams carbohydrate) for the next three days, while training time is reduced. This will result in muscle glycogen “packing,” increasing the muscle glycogen to a new, higher level.
Following a less stringent, modified carbohydrate-loading diet can eliminate potential problems with the classic carbohydrate-loading diet. The modified carbohydrate-loading plan is followed for six days prior to competition. It requires the athlete to consume a 50% carbohydrate diet for the first three days and then increase to a 70% carbohydrate diet (or 4.5 grams per pound of body weight) for the last three days before competition. The athlete begins training at a high aerobic intensity; then training time is gradually reduced on successive days.