Carb Loading: What Is It and Should You Do It Before Your Next Competition
Carb loading is a method of eating high amounts of carbohydrates prior to a bodybuilding competition. Some believe it’s necessary if one wants to perform at their best during competitions. Others say that carbs are not needed and they’re better off just training hard all the time instead. There are many reasons why some people think carbs aren’t required, but there are others who feel like they need them for performance purposes.
So which side is right?
The Truth About Carbs
Before we get into the details of carb loading, let’s first define what exactly is a carbohydrate. A carbohydrate is any simple sugar (or starch) found naturally in plants or other sources such as fruit and vegetables. Most types of carbohydrates are broken down into glucose when consumed by your body. Glucose is used for energy and helps regulate blood sugar levels throughout the day. When you consume too much glucose, it causes a spike in blood sugar.
This happens because your liver converts the excess glucose into fat. If you don’t have enough insulin production, then your pancreas will secrete extra insulin to prevent excessive blood sugar from rising too high.
When your body doesn’t produce enough insulin, then the excess glucose enters the bloodstream and is stored as fat. It can also lead to serious health issues. So the main reason why people carb load is to ensure that they have enough energy for the competition without running the risk of their blood sugar levels dropping too low and causing fatigue. Some people with insulin sensitivity might still have an issue with this, but if you have proper management of your blood sugar levels then you should be expected to perform at your best. The following are some tips to control blood sugar levels and prevent them from entering the danger zone.
Here are some things you can do before a competition to control your blood sugar levels!
1. Plan ahead
Make sure you keep your diet strict until the day before the competition. Don’t start eating unhealthy foods like fast food or junk food. If possible, try to keep your diet relatively healthy by eating nutritious meals and snacks throughout the entire week before the competition.
2. Watch the sugar
Avoid foods with refined sugars. This includes cakes, pastries, candies, sodas, and other similar foods. Instead of these foods, eat whole grain breads, oatmeal, sweet potatoes, or other starchy vegetables. These foods provide your body with slow burning fuel that will keep you fuller for a longer period of time than if you were to eat high-sugar foods.
3. Keep it light
Don’t eat too much, especially foods that are high in fat or protein. Eating a large meal makes your stomach work harder to digest the food and this requires more blood flow. Eating foods that are high in fat or protein can also cause stomach upset and this will only make you feel worse before the competition. A light meal or just some small snacks like crackers and peanut butter, apples and peanut butter, or other similar snacks should do the trick.
4. Stay Hydrated
Drinking enough water is important for the day of competition because it helps to keep your concentration levels high and it prevents fatigue. Try to drink small amounts of water frequently instead of drinking two large glasses of water. Large amounts of water at one time can be detrimental to some people causing them to have to use the washroom more often than usual or causing stomach cramps. It is best to drink about 6-8 ounces of water every 15-20 minutes.
5. Portion Control
Controlling your portions is a good idea because eating too much can cause your blood sugar levels to spike or dip too low and this can make you feel very tired and fatigued. Plan your meals ahead so that you eat regular small meals that add up to about 500 calories for each meal.
6. Complex Carbs
While simple carbs can be helpful before exercise because they are a fast source of energy, eating more complex carbs as well will provide long-term fuel for your body. This will help keep your blood sugar levels stable and prevent spikes that can cause fatigue. Complex carbs include things like pasta, brown rice and whole grain breads.
7. Don’t Forget the Protein
Protein is a crucial element to a pre-competition diet because it helps to stabilize blood sugar levels. This is important because when you exercise your body begins to burn stored carbohydrates for energy and if your body doesn’t have much stored carbohydrates then it may begin to break down muscle tissue into sugar. By eating some lean proteins, you increase the time that your stored carbohydrates will last and prevent your body from breaking down muscle mass. Foods high in protein include chicken, fish, eggs and low-fat dairy products.
The day before the competition keep your activities light and relaxing. It is very important to get a good night’s sleep the night before a competition because this will help you to wake up feeling refreshed and well rested, which leads into our next tip.
9. Wake Up Early
Waking up early on the day of the competition is very important. If you wake up early, this will give you plenty of time to get to the competition on-time and still have time to warm-up before your event. It is also a good idea to set TWO alarm clocks because it is always best to have a back-up just in case your first alarm fails to go off.
10. Review Event before Competition
Before the competition, take a few moments to go over the rules of the competition with your coach. This will ensure that you are both on the same page and it will also help to relieve some of your pre-competition jitters.
11. Positive Self-Talk
This is also known as self-hypnosis and it can really help to reduce your jitters before a competition. Tell yourself “I have done this many times before and I know I will do well today”. Remind yourself that you have prepared for this and that you have no reason to be nervous. Use as many positive statements as you can to convince yourself that you will do well.
12. Don’t Worry About Other Competitors
This may be difficult because you may find it hard to not think about the competitors in your event that are next to you warming up. Just remember that everyone is a little nervous so don’t start thinking that everyone else is a lot more prepared than you are and this will make you feel more nervous than you really need to be. This is your competition and you need to be confident that you can beat everyone else that is in your competition.
13. Listen to Your Body
Throughout the day of the competition you may notice yourself feeling fatigued or achy. This may be due to a lack of sleep or simply not eating as much as you should have throughout the day. Always listen to your body and keep an eye on how you are feeling. If something isn’t right then it is always better to stop and take a break as to not get injured.
14. Arrive Early
This may seem like common sense, but it is always best to arrive early to any competition. Many times the coach will have you arrive even earlier than the official starting time so that you can meet with him/her one-on-one for a last minute pep talk and to go over any last minute details. This way if the competition starts late you won’t have been sitting around bored for an extended period of time.
Just as it sounds, warming up is very important. You want to loosen up your muscles in a slow and methodical manner. Don’t do anything too vigorous such as jumping jacks because you want to save your energy for the real thing. Warming up should take roughly 15-30 minutes before the start of your competition depending on what event you are competing in, how long you’re competing and how much you’ve rested leading up to the event.
16. Don’t Forget Your Supplies
Before walking into the competition make sure you have everything with you that you need. This includes your equipment, music selection, water bottle, etc. Many times while in the middle of a competition people tend to forget small details such as these and will have to go back and get them, which can be very disruptive to your performance.
17. Stay Away From Noise & Distractions
Before the start of your competition make sure you are in a place where there is minimal noise and distraction. This includes talking to people not associated with your event. Many times people will come up to you and try to have a conversation just as your event is about to start, this will cause you to mentally take you eyes off the prize at hand.
18. Watch Others Before Your Event
Many events have a group performance and then an individual performance. If this is the case then watching others perform will take your mind of of your own upcoming performance. This may be hard for some people because they don’t like seeing others fail, but remember everyone was once in your shoes so you don’t want to make things harder for yourself by not being able to focus while others are performing.
19. Eliminate All Distractions
If at all possible eliminate ALL distractions before you perform. This includes turning off your cell phone and telling all your friends and relatives that you do not want to be bothered unless it is an absolute emergency. Many people find it hard to stay focused when they know others are around them, behind them or even looking on. By eliminating as many distractions as you can, you will be able to stay in the “zone”.
20. Think Positive
It’s been said many times over, but it can not be stressed enough. You need to think positive while you’re competing. Start off by telling yourself “I am ________” Fill in the blank with your own words. I’m not telling you to lie to yourself and say you’re going to win a medal when you don’t even make the finals, but you need to have confidence in yourself or else no one else will.
21. Always Dress The Part
There is a saying that you “dress for success” and this is especially true when it comes to performing. While you want to remain as comfortable as possible remember that you need to look the part as well. This means wearing clothes that will allow you freedom of movement and won’t get in the way while you’re performing. Even if it’s hot out, it’s better to be slightly overdressed than underdressed.
22. Listen To Your Music
This may seem like a no-brainer to some people, but you’d be surprised how many people step on the field or platform without listening to their music beforehand. This may only be for a few minutes, but those few minutes can make a big difference in your performance. So make sure that when you start your music YOU are ready and not the other way around.
23. Have A Game Plan
Similar to having a routine, it helps to have a game plan. If you know exactly what you’re going to play before you even start your music you’ll be less likely to get flustered if things don’t go as planned. Of course it won’t always be possible to stick perfectly to your game plan, but at least you’ll have one and won’t be playing completely blind.
24. Watch Others
If at all possible watch others perform before you take the stage yourself. This could be from actually attending a competition or even just watching a video. By watching others you’ll get an idea of what is expected of you, how things are judged and perhaps how you’d like to perform. Watching others can give you an idea of what works and what doesn’t.
25. Get A Good Night’s Sleep
It should go without saying that you need to get a good night’s sleep before any major performance. This is even more important if the competition is going to be the next day. The reason for this is threefold. One, you don’t want to be tired while performing as it could cause you to make mistakes. Second, you need all your energy as fatigue can cause weaker playing.
Lastly, and most importantly, if you don’t get enough sleep your immune system is going to be weaker which could cause issues on an entirely different front.
26. Use Good Equipment
You wouldn’t attempt a marathon on a broken leg so why would you play your instrument when something is wrong with it?
Whether it be faulty strings or a poorly adjusted instrument it could cause issues for you during the competition. If at all possible have your musical equipment checked over by a professional before the competition just to ensure everything is in perfect working condition.
27. Don’t Play Sight Reads
Sight reading means playing a piece of music that you’ve never seen before. Some competitions may have you do this so don’t be caught off guard. If you practice enough you should be able to play most pieces of music with little effort. Just because you haven’t seen the notes before doesn’t mean that you can’t play them.
28. Dress In Layers
This may seem like common sense, but you would be surprised by how many musicians forget to do this. Dress in layers and take them off if you get too hot or put them back on if you get cold and you’ll stay more comfortable throughout your performance. If the stage is outdoors then it’s going to be hot regardless of what you do so dress for the outdoor temperature and leave before the competition starts to cool down and warm up again when it’s over.
29. Be Ready For The Judges Feedback
Whether you win or lose the competition, be ready to accept the judges feedback on your performance. They are there to help you improve your playing after all.
30. Practise, Practise, Practise
The number one most important thing in competitions and in music in general is practice. The more you practice the better you’ll be and the less stress you’ll feel once it’s all over. Practising also helps prevent injury by warming up and cooling down your hands. Most importantly, the more you practise the more familiar you’ll become with the pieces of music you need to play.
Bio: I am a professional musician who has been playing for over twenty years. I primarily work as a pianist in wedding and party bands in addition to doing private shows for special occasions. I have played piano since I was 5 years old and picked up the accordion later on in life when I needed an instrument to play in my high school band.
Since then I have combined my love of music with my writing skills and have written professionally for various music publications, concert promoters and even a music school or two. When I am not writing about music or playing it myself I am teaching private piano lessons to help support my music habit.
My main instruments are piano and accordion but I also can play keyboard, drums, bass and guitar to a limited degree. My main genres are classical, rock and metal but I also enjoy jazz, blues and pop.
With all of this experience I have decided to write a few articles on music and music competitions. I hope you find my advice helpful.
Learn how to play piano: Easy Step by Step Instructions
Learn how to play piano fast: Smart way to learn easily
Music Competition: Learn how to prepare and win!
More Piano Resources
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Sources & references used in this article:
- What is this “carb loading” I keep hearing about? (RD Rachel Hannah, DIPSN IOC – drdelanghe.com)
- CARBS (WABIV Turner – 1971 – anitabean.co.uk)
- Search for the competitive edge: a history of dietary fads and supplements (EA Applegate, LE Grivetti – The Journal of Nutrition, 1997 – academic.oup.com)
- Quick Hit Summary (J Cooper – caseperformance.com)
- Carbo-loading: tips for endurance athletes (ETP Store, ETP Calculator)