Anne Marie Mulholland

Anne Marie Mulholland: Nailing down championship carbohydrate loading

With championship games well underway, as a player, it is important you do everything within your power to show up and make the greatest contribution possible to the game. It is important to understand that your nutritional preparation for a game should not begin on match day, but in the 24-36 hours pre-match to prepare your body for the demands of the game ahead.

So, with that in mind, let’s talk about carbohydrate loading:

Carbohydrate loading is the process of increasing your carbohydrate intake (i.e. bread/pasta/potato/rice/couscous/fruit/fruit juices etc) at least 24 hours pre-match, to maximise your muscles’ energy stores (muscle glycogen); your body’s primary energy source during a match.

With this in mind, by eating a little more carbohydrate the day before a game, excess carbohydrate not immediately required by your body is stored in muscle as an energy reserve which is drawn upon during intense exercise. Think about it like this; if you go into a match with your tank half empty, you will get tired and fatigued much quicker, limiting your impact upon the game (particularly in the last 15-20 minutes of the match). Therefore, by filling your tank up i.e. maximising your muscle glycogen stores, you are increasing your energy availability for the game.

It is a simple process: increasing total carbohydrate intake the day before a game = increasing your ability to reach maximal intensities for a longer period of time. So, as a player, shouldn’t you do all in your power to maximise your impact to upcoming games?

How can I effectively carbohydrate load?

Carbohydrate loading isn’t as fancy or complex as it may sound. It simply means increasing your carbohydrate intake the day before a match through your meals and snacks. For those who want to be a little more specific, aim for 5-7g of carbohydrate per kg of body weight throughout the day. For example, for an 80kg player, you will be aiming for 400-560g of carbohydrate the day before a match, depending on your individual tolerance and how long you expect to play in the game. Yes, of course we can never accurately predict how long we will play or if we are starting a game, as this lies with management decisions. However, if you typically come on in the last 10-15 minutes of a game, naturally you will not require the same amount of energy as someone playing a full 60 minutes, therefore requiring a smaller degree of carbohydrate loading the day prior to the match. As you can imagine, excess carbohydrate/energy that is not utilised in a game can indeed lead to unwanted gains in body fat long-term and therefore something to consider when deciding upon the degree of carbohydrate loading required.

It is not uncommon for players to feel overwhelmed by the larger quantities of carbohydrate foods required the day before a game. Further, I would stress to avoid eating excess quantities that make you feel unwell, as this will not benefit your performance or your dietary intake for the remainder of the day. There are a few simpler methods of increasing carbohydrate intake the day before a game, while catering to individual tolerance:

1. Increase your carbohydrate portions at main meals by at least one cupped handful e.g. add an extra handful of pasta to your spaghetti bolognese.

2. Get to know your carbohydrate booster foods.

Carbohydrate boosters:

High carbohydrate snacks are an easy way to increase the energy content of your diet when prepping for a championship match, while managing your hunger levels and avoiding feeling extremely full or unwell. Aim for at least 2-3 of these carbohydrate booster snacks the day before a game to help reach your carbohydrate requirements:

A medium bagel with peanut butter and banana (~45g carbs)

1 small glass of breakfast orange juice (~15g carbs)

5 jelly sweets (~25g carbs)

3 jaffa cakes (~25g carbs)

2 small pancakes with jam (~45g carbs)

2 slices toast with a tin of baked beans (~80g carbs)

1 slice banana bread (~30g carbs)

1 medium bowl rice pudding with 1 tbsp jam (~ 60g carbs)

1 small fruit smoothie (~30g carbs)

Food should never be a ‘chore’ to consume and should be something we enjoy and look forward to – so don’t take this away. Carbohydrate loading should be individualised and made to work for you and around your daily schedule (made easier with a little thought/pre-planning). Don’t see this as a means of overloading your body and making yourself feel unwell but take the approach of enhancing your regular meals and snacks with carbohydrate dense options. For further information on this topic, head to my Instagram page @theperformancedietitian or message/email me for a little more guidance.

Anne-Marie is a Sport Dietitian with a BSc in Dietetics and MSc in Sport Nutrition. Anne-Marie has experience in both Clinical and Sport environments and currently works within the IRFU as a Performance Nutritionist. You can catch Anne-Marie on Instagram @theperformancedietitian and Twitter @AnneMarie_Mul

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