The Perils of Loading


BY BRIAN FRANK

You have almost certainly heard experts and veteran athletes say you should “race like you train” and “never try something new on race day,” right? Evidently, most athletes don’t think this applies to the days leading up to the event too. I constantly see athletes massively changing their calorie, fluid, and sodium intake just before a big endurance event, competitive or not. These practices contradict the old adages and human physiology!

The simple truth is that maintaining constant calorie, fluid, and sodium intake while you simultaneously reduce expenditures in the taper phase leading up to your event allows you to “load” all of these things as much as possible.

Hopefully, you have read our fueling booklet, the 5 Secrets to Success, and incorporated those practices immediately prior, during, and after your training and racing routine for complete success. But what do you do in the 72 hours prior to race morning? Keep reading for the answers.

In the old days, athletes were erroneously told that consuming copious amounts of calories, fluid, and sodium during endurance events would allow them to achieve optimum performance. 400-600 calories, 40- and “never try something new on race day,” right? Evidently, most athletes don’t think this applies to the days leading up to the event too. I constantly see athletes massively changing their calorie, fluid, and sodium intake just before a big endurance event, competitive or not. These practices contradict the old adages and human physiology! The simple truth is that maintaining constant calorie, fluid, and sodium intake while you simultaneously reduce expenditures in the taper phase leading up to your event allows you to “load” all of these things as much as possible. Hopefully, you have read our fueling booklet, the 5 Secrets to Success, and incorporated those practices immediately prior, during, and after your training and racing routine for complete success. But what do you do in the 72 hours prior to race morning? Keep reading for the answers. In the old days, athletes were erroneously told that consuming copious amounts of calories, fluid, and sodium during endurance events would allow them to achieve optimum performance. 400-600 calories, 40- 60 ounces of fluids, and 1-3 grams of sodium per hour were recommended in the ’80s. Whenever exercise or competition went beyond three hours, stomach and GI problems were almost universal. Today it’s rare to find anyone still advocating these crazy numbers, at least in this country. Europe and Asia are another story.

As you know if you have read our literature, hourly intakes of 120-180 calories, 20-25 ounces of fluids, and 400- 600 mg of salt (sodium chloride)—as part of a full-spectrum electrolyte replenishment product—are more reasonable and effective upper limits. We’ve been advocating this for three decades and these numbers are now moreor- less the accepted wisdom of the crowd.

Unfortunately, the myths regarding “loading” in the days leading up to a big, hot event are still surprisingly pervasive. So, let me dispel this one more time and hope you will avoid making these mistakes this year and beyond.

Calories

We typically eat too many already. Increasing calorie intake during days of lower physical activity before an event only makes more work, fills your stomach and intestines, and likely leads to increased fat storage.

Fluid/Water

We are not camels and cannot store water. Suddenly increasing daily intake by more than 10% will overly dilute the electrolytes in your blood, which increases the potential for serious issues associated with hyponatremia. Additionally, all that unnecessary water will excessively fill your bladder, causing you to prematurely lose electrolytes courtesy of frequent elimination.

Salt/Sodium

Again, we typically consume too much. Increasing it even more will not improve heat tolerance. In fact, it puts the body into survival mode where it seeks to jettison the excess to avoid toxicity. Whatever your normal daily sodium intake in the weeks prior to an event, keep it the same all the way up to race start. Then, from the start of the event, consume reasonable amounts throughout.

The idea of “loading” anything in the days prior to a big event is not only outdated but completely counterproductive. Don’t do it!

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