Carbohydrate Loading

In our muscles and liver energy from carbohydrates is stored in the form of glycogen. This glycogen supplies most of the energy for intense aerobic exercise. The longer a person exercises, the more these energy stores are depleted. Marathons severely lower muscle glycogen and cause fatigue.  Marathon runners use the term “hitting the wall” to describe sensations of fatigue and discomfort in the active muscles associated with severe glycogen depletion.  Carbohydrate loading combines a specific dietary regimen with exercise and results in increased glycogen reserves in the muscle.  Endurance athletes who compete longer than 60 minutes often use carbohydrate loading before competition because it increases muscle glycogen even more than just consuming a high-carbohydrate diet.  Normally each 100 grams of muscle contains about 1.7 grams of glycogen.  Carbohydrate loading allows the same amount of muscle to contain up to 5 grams of glycogen.

Below you will find a sample meal plan for both stages of carbohydrate loading.


Carbohydrate Loading Procedure


Stage 1- Depletion

Day 1: Exhausting exercise performed to deplete muscle glycogen in muscles used during running

Day 2: Moderate training; Low-carbohydrate food intake (60-100 grams per day); Take in a diet high in protein and fat

Stage 2- Carbohydrate loading

Days 5, 6, 7: High-carbohydrate food intake (400-700 grams per day); Maintain a normal percent of protein as well

Competition Day

Follow high-carbohydrate pre-competition meal





0.5 cup fruit juice

2 eggs

1 slice whole-wheat toast

1 glass whole milk

1 cup fruit juice

1 bowl hot or cold cereal

1 to 2 muffins

1 Tbsp butter

Coffee (cream/sugar)


6 oz hamburger

2 slices bread

Salad (normal size)

1 Tbsp mayonnaise and salad dressing

1 glass whole milk

2-3 oz hamburger with bun

1 cup juice

1 orange

1 Tbsp mayonnaise

Pie or cake (8-inch slice)


1 cup yogurt

1 cup yogurt, fruit, or cookies


2-3 pieces chicken, fried

1 baked potato with sour cream

0.5 cup vegetables

Iced tea (no sugar)

2 Tbsp butter

1-1.5 pieces chicken, baked

1 baked potato with sour cream

1 cup vegetables

0.5 cup sweetened pineapple

Iced tea (sugar)

1 Tbsp butter


1 glass whole milk

1 glass chocolate milk with 4 cookies