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When it comes to sports nutrition, the conversation tends to be all about carbohydrates when cardiovascular exercise is concerned. And although carbohydrates can be a valuable component of a runner's diet, different events -- such as sprinting -- may benefit from specialized dietary approaches involving specific intake levels and timing. One approach is carb-loading, although it may not be as beneficial for sprinters as it is for other athletes.
Carbohydrates are one of three primary macronutrients found in food that your body uses for specific functions -- the other two are protein and fats. Carbohydrates are your body's main source of energy, as your body metabolizes this type of nutrient into energy more easily than protein and fats. Using an enzyme called amylase, your body converts carbohydrates into glucose, a form of energy your body can use to power your athletic exploits, as well as your everyday activities.
Carbohydrate Loading Explained
Carbohydrate loading is a dietary strategy that involves consuming large quantities of carbohydrates several days before an athletic event, in the hopes of amassing a substantial amount of stored energy for your performance. During this period, athletes typically reduce the amount of activity they perform, such as training runs and workouts, in order to avoid tapping into the stored energy reserves. MayoClinic.com recommends structuring your diet so that carbohydrates comprise 50 to 55 percent of calories about a week before your event. Three to four days before the event, increase the concentration of carbohydrates to 70 percent of your diet.
Carbohydrate Loading and Sprinting
According to MayoClinic.com, carbohydrate loading is "most beneficial if you're an endurance athlete - such as a marathon runner, swimmer or cyclist - preparing for an event that will last 90 minutes or more." Meanwhile, the Australian Sports Commission notes that carbohydrate loading isn't required for sprint events because they don't deplete glycogen levels like endurance events. Carbohydrate loading can also cause digestive discomfort and weight gain -- though most of it tends to be water -- which may hinder your sprint performance significantly.
Better Approaches for Sprinters
Although you should prioritize carbohydrates in your diet as a sprinter, carbohydrate loading is not optimal. Instead of focusing on loading carbohydrates for days ahead of time, ensure that you eat a diet that has plenty of carbohydrates and focus on having carbohydrate-rich snacks one to two hours before competition, in addition to a larger meal four hours before competition. This will give you enough energy to compete but not so many carbohydrates that you will overload your body and hinder your performance.