Carb Loading 101

How to fill out before contest day.

Let's summarize some contest-prep guidelines for calories, protein, carbs, and fat: Total calories should not be reduced below that which produces one to two pounds of weight loss per week. Six weeks or so out from contest day, you’ll want to reduce weight loss to one pound per week to save muscle. Protein should range between 1–1½ grams per pound of body weight. Carbohydrates should stay as high as possible while keeping protein in the ideal range and still allowing one to two pounds of weight loss per week. Resist the temptation to cut carbs too low. Fat can make up the rest and should fall between 15–20% of total calories. If this is your first contest, give yourself a week for every two pounds you think you’ll need to lose. 

Now, let's discuss how to fill out again before contest day. After months of dieting, your muscles are going to be fat from carb and water depletion. You need to replenish the glycogen in your muscle in order to get your fullness back. We call this carb loading. 

Traditional carb loading is accomplished by manipulating carb intake and training in two distinct phases. The carb-depletion phase involves depleting the muscle of its glycogen stores through a high volume of exercise and a very low carbohydrate intake. This depletion phase is then followed by a repletion phase. The repletion, or “loading” phase, consists of greatly reducing the volume of exercise, and at the same time, gorging on carbohydrate-rich foods for about three days. Successfully completing the depletion phase and the loading phase results in super-compensation of glycogen levels in the muscles and if done correctly (and a bit of luck) results in a much fuller appearance to your muscles. 

As anyone can attest who has tried traditional carb loading, it ain’t pleasant! Sure, the loading phase is a piece of cake, but the depletion phase can be killer. The reason it’s so difficult is the side effects of depleting your body’s glycogen stores. One of the first and most challenging is gnawing hunger. Not the kind you get just before dinnertime—I’m talking serious hunger that makes it difficult to concentrate. You’ll also experience symptoms of hypoglycemia; namely, weakness, loss of stamina, lethargy, and irritability. The loss of stamina makes it very difficult to complete the depletion workouts. Not to mention, it can make you very difficult to live with for a few days. 

Most people find this method extremely difficult. As mentioned earlier, the depletion phase tends to induce dizziness upon standing, fatigue, headache, and irritability, not to mention an intense appetite. In my personal experience I’ve also found the ensuing loading phase to cause significant bloating and unwanted water retention. Not everybody experiences this, but many do. Although not widely known, there is a modified method of carb loading that has shown to be just as effective as the traditional method. We’ll delve deeper into this new method next month! - FLEX


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