We’ve all heard of the famed pre-race ritual of carbohydrate loading, but why do we do it? Well the answer is simple. Carbohydrate loading aims to maximize the amount of glycogen stored in muscles directly prior to a particular athletic event. Muscles will then draw deeply on these glycogen reserves during the athletic activity, converting glycogen into energy, and that energy into movement.
To efficiently perform carbohydrate loading, you should gradually increase carbohydrate and fluid intake in the days prior to a race. Consider beginning to increase carb and fluid intake during the week prior to a regatta when training intensity tapers downward. Since training intensity decreases, you use less glycogen. So by replenishing your glycogen reserves with more glycogen than what you burn, you can maximize your glycogen stores. Keep in mind that coordinating an increase in fluid intake along with increased carbohydrate consumption can cause temporary weight gain. For rowers in a specific weight class, practice carbohydrate loading to better understand how your body weight fluctuates with increased carbohydrate and fluid consumption. This preparation will help prevent you from being too heavy during a pre-race weigh in.
Unfortunately there is a limit to how fast your cells can convert excess glucose, a commonly consumed carbohydrate, into glycogen. Spread your daily food intake over six smaller meals in order to maintain blood sugar levels to ensure your body is continually converting glucose into glycogen. Eating multiple small meals a day puts less emphasis on dinner, which means your dinner portion will be smaller than normal.
In addition to eating carbs regularly to increase glycogen stores, also focus on drinking plenty of water. For every 1 gram of glycogen your muscles store, your muscles also require 3 grams of water. This emphasizes the importance of hydrating during carbohydrate loading efforts.
During long training sessions, muscle glycogen stores can become depleted. At this point your body begins to burn the muscle you have worked hard to build. To avoid burning significant amounts of muscle for energy, consume sufficient carbohydrates prior to and during exercise such that you have ample glycogen reserves for your training session.
By gradually increasing carbohydrate intake during the week prior to competition in tandem with an increase in fluid consumption, you can help ensure your glycogen stores will be at a maximum when you line up at the start on race day.