Do cyclists really need to carb-load before a big ride?

We take a look at what the benefits of carb-loading really are - and how to do it right

A bowl of pasta for carb loading before a cycling event
(Image credit: Future)

One thing is certain, carbohydrates are the unchallenged king of fuels for hard, prolonged efforts. If you want to achieve your full potential, you need to be fully fuelled when you reach the start line - and that requires effective carb-loading.

The key point to bear in mind is that the body is able to store only enough glycogen (carbohydrate in its stored form) for around 90 minutes of hard cycling (above 60 per cent of your aerobic max) - or around two hours for lean, light, super-efficient elite athletes. If your target is a sportive that will take several hours to complete, you’ll almost certainly benefit from making sure your carb stores are filled to the max before you take to the start line.

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David Bradford
Features editor

David Bradford is features editor of Cycling Weekly (print edition). He has been writing and editing professionally for more than 15 years, and has published work in national newspapers and magazines including the Independent, the Guardian, the Times, the Irish Times, and Runner’s World. Alongside his love of cycling, David is a long-distance runner with a marathon PB of two hours 28 minutes. Having been diagnosed with retinitis pigmentosa (RP) in 2006, he also writes about sight loss and hosts the podcast Ways of Not Seeing.