What is carbohydrate loading and is it a good idea for me?

16 February, 2016 ,

QUICK ANSWER >>> The modern approach to “carbohydrate loading” can help your performance during a tournament. To carbohydrate load your muscles, you reduce practice intensity and increase carbohydrate and fluid intake for the three days before a tournament. This allows your muscles to build up their carbohydrate stores, thereby having more energy available when it counts.

The idea behind carbohydrate loading is to increase the amount of the storage form of carbs: glycogen. The glycogen stored in your body allows you to be better able to compete in a physically demanding event such as a tournament. Carbohydrate loading is not needed if you are playing in a single game.

In the past, carbohydrate loading meant going on a low carbohydrate diet for about 3 days together with exhaustive training, followed by a high carbohydrate diet for 1 to 2 days. This was an attempt to increase the amount of glycogen the body was able to store. This approach is not the one that hockey players should use. Instead, increase the carbohydrate and fluids in your diet three days prior to the first hockey game in your tournament and decrease the training to allow your body to store extra glycogen. Sounds easier, doesn’t it?

This approach helps your body to get ready for a tournament in three ways:

  1. You’re eating plenty of carbohydrates; the stuff glycogen is made of.
  2. Your body will store water along with the glycogen you are storing. If you get on the scale the morning of your game and you have gained a few pounds, congratulations!  This is a good sign you are on your way to getting ready for the game. Don’t worry about gaining weight; by the third period of the game all this extra water weight will be lost as sweat.
  3. By reducing your training, you will be storing that energy instead of using it up.


Glycogen is a type of carbohydrate you make. When you eat enough carbohydrates rich foods to fill all your glycogen stores, 75% will be stored in the muscles and 25% will be stored in the liver. Think of glycogen as a big web of sugar molecules stuck together. Glycogen is broken down into sugar when your body needs energy. When the liver breaks down glycogen, the sugar is released into the bloodstream so that it can go anywhere in the body. When the muscles break down glycogen, the sugar is only used locally in the muscles. You can increase the amount of glycogen in the muscles by physical training and by eating more carbohydrates.

This article is from the book “The Nutrition Edge for Hockey Performance”. To get the complete guide go here. To subscribe to our hockey newsletter, click here.

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Pearle Nerenberg

Pearle Nerenberg, MSc., R.D. is Canada’s leading expert on hockey nutrition, and author of the book The Nutrition Edge for Hockey Performance. She co-founded and chairs the Hockey Nutrition Network, an international non-profit organization dedicated to linking hockey players with top sports dietitians who have an expertise in hockey nutrition.

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