There's lots of information out there on how to eat right when you're training, what foods to include, how much water to drink, and what's the right carb-protein ratio. One of the nutrition trends that athletes sometimes consider is carb-loading. Depending on your situation and your sport, it may be helpful, but let's discuss if it should be a part of a nutrition plan for swimmers.
What is Carb-loading?
If you've read any sports nutrition articles or keep up with the latest fitness trends, then you've probably seen the term "carb-loading." Quite simply, carb-loading is a nutrition technique used by athletes to maximize their energy stores the week or day ahead of a competition.
But the more technical term for this popular nutrition strategy is "carbohydrate super compensation", which means you "deplete your body completely of carbs first and then continue to train long and hard whilst not replacing your body with any carbs."1 Then after you've finished your race or competition, you fuel up again by eating an increased amount of starchy carbs.
Although carbs should always be a part of a balanced diet, the timing and amount of carb-loading will be different for every swimmer. While some athletes find that carb-loading at dinner the night before works for them, others will find that it may upset their digestive system. Instead of waiting until the night before the race to experiment what works for you, try testing out your meal plan a week or two ahead of the big day. You may find that fueling up on carbs is better for your system at breakfast or lunch the day prior, giving your body time to fully digest the food the day before the race. Enjoying your normal dinner or a light pre-bedtime shake might be a better option for you.
How Should I Change My Diet?
There's lots of misconceptions about carb-loading, so before trying this nutrition technique, check with your team nutritionist or read our list of healthy carbs before indulging in heavy foods. Be sure to carb-load, and not fat-load. Many swimmers who use this nutrition tactic make the mistake of enjoying an extra dinner roll, including the extra butter, or having another helping of pasta with creamy sauce instead of a healthy vegetable based sauce. And be sure to integrate the fibrous carbs like green vegetables. Whatever you do, don't make any last minute changes to your diet the night before the race. Make sure that you're eating foods that your body is used to and can digest well so that you're not dealing with nausea and an upset stomach on the morning of the competition.
Who Should Carb-load?
Carb-loading isn't for everyone. If you're a child or teen swimmer, this nutrition strategy isn't for you. Young bodies metabolize food differently, as this excerpt from USA Swimming explains further: "Kids are not like adults when it comes to breaking down, utilizing, and storing carbohydrate. Young swimmers (and all child athletes) use fat more readily as an energy source, which is not the case for adults. Young swimmers have a limited ability to store large amounts of carbohydrate in their muscles."3 Swimmers in their childhood and teens should enjoy a balanced diet to avoid stomach problems from carb-loading on race day.
Swimmers who are competing in a triathlon may benefit the most from carb-loading, but this strategy can be counterproductive for swimmers who are competing in short races. To have the best performance on race day, your body needs good "long-term nutrition, and as USA Swimming coach Mike Mejia says what you eat in the months and weeks leading up to the meet is most important."4
For more articles about how to get the best nutrition for swimmers and stay healthy all season long, check out our blog at P2Life.com!