Should You Carb-Load Before Cycling Rides? | Barton Haynes

Bart Haynes here in Spokane, WA here to talk about eating before riding again. Last week I talked about why I don’t carb load before races anymore, and I wanted to continue with a similar conversation about eating and riding. The reason this post is about carb loading is because you, like most everyone else, carb load before races. This post is about you.

The question is, while cyclists’ carb load before races, should you be doing it before riding?

How useful is carb loading?

Carb loading can be immensely useful over the course of a race. A 1997 study found that carb loading can improve performance by 2-3 percent in events that are 75+ minutes. 

While this doesn’t sound like much, over the course of 6 hours of riding we are talking about 15 minutes of improvement, not to mention how much better you might feel at hour-4 of riding. If you’ve ever hit your wall due to carbohydrate depletion while riding, then you know how frustrating and terrible feeling it is. 

In that sense, carb loading can be the difference between hitting that wall and suffering for the last 2 hours of your race, or riding hard and feeling good the entire time. 

Should you carb load before every ride?

Barton Haynes Carb

In the above referenced study, an important point is that it results in performance gains for longer rides. Whether or not it will be useful depends on how long and hard you will be riding. 

If you are only going for a 30 mile ride, it won’t be useful. It will only be useful for rides that are at least a couple hours at high intensity, or longer 4+ hour rides at moderate intensity. 

So the answer is that for most daily riding, carb loading is likely not useful. 

How NOT to carb load

When you do carb load, it won’t be useful if you carb load with starchy foods that you might not be used to. My problem with carb loading and the reason I don’t do it anymore is because it’s not a part of my normal diet and I can’t seem to do it without running into stomach problems and energy management issues during a race. 

So, don’t carb load exclusively with starchy foods. Carb load from a variety of sources. And by carb load, don’t only eat carbohydrates, just eat carb-centric meals, and more carbs than your normally eat.