Carbohydrate loading - OK for high school athlete?
Courtesy University of Illinois
The aim of csrbohydrate loading is to increase the amount of glycogen, or animal starch, stored in liver and muscle tissues. The body makes glycogen from extra carbohydrates it has. This stored glycogen can be broken down and used for energy when needed. That\'s why it\'s good for athletes to have sufficient glycogen stores in their bodies at the start of an event.
Carbohydrate-loading is practiced by mature athletes who participate in endurance events such as long-distance running and swimming of long duration. To begin, the athlete eats a high-protein, high-fat, low-carbohydrate diet for a few days. While on this diet, the athlete exercises strenuously. This depletes, or lowers, the body\'s glycogen stores. After the depletion phase and just a few days before the event, the competitor eats a very high-carbohydrate diet (for example, pancakes, rice, and noodles). During this period, the athlete exercises very little. This eating and exercise routine increases the body\'s stores of glycogen in liver and muscle tissue, so more carbohydrates are available for muscle energy during endurance events. Carbohydrate loading should not be confused with a diet high in carbohydrates, which is recommended for all athletes, including teenagers.
Carbohydrate loading routines have not been thoroughly tested for the rapidly growing high-school athlete. The disadvantages may outweigh the advantages. Events for most high-school athletes are not long enough to exhaust the normal levels of muscle glycogen. Ultra-high tissue levels of glycogen are not necessary for most sport activities. During the high-protein, high-fat phase of carbohydrate loading, even the mature athlete may not perform as well and may feel exhausted. Young athletes find it difficult to practice during this phase. During the final phase, the body retains water and gains weight.
So full-blown carbohydrate loading is probably not in the best interest of the high-school athlete. However, young athletes can ensure adequate glycogen stores by eating more starchy foods and reducing exercise the last twenty-four to forty-eight hours before the event. This very modified form of carbohydrate loading has proved beneficial to some young athletes.