Maximizing Performance through Carbohydrates

By: Joel Janssen

Carbohydrates are necessary to aid in maintaining blood glucose levels and replenishing muscle glycogen stores. Since muscle glycogen stores are directly related to athletic performance, defined in this post as endurance at high loads and power output, we know maintaining saturated glycogen stores are important. We will analyze from broad to specific ways in which we can allow optimization of muscle glycogen stores, and therefore athletic performance.

Macronutrient Distribution

First of all, it is necessary to have proper intake of fats, which should range from 20-35% of your caloric intake. Next, we must fulfill protein requirements, which will range depending on what type of athlete we are dealing with, but as a general guideline 1g of protein/lb of body weight should be adequate for most athletes. The rest of your caloric intake will come from carbohydrates. 

To illustrate what this macronutrient breakdown looks like, let’s use a 170lbs male athlete who needs a caloric intake of 2500 calories to maintain his current weight.

For fat:  2500 cal x 25% = 625 cal                625 cal / 9 cal per gram = 69g fat

For protein: 170lbs x 1g protein per lb bodyweight = 170g protein = 680 cal

For carbohydrates: 2500 – 625 – 680 = 1195 cal  1195 / 4 = 298.75 g, about 300g carbs

Carbohydrate Intake Timing: Backloading

Now that we have maximized our carbohydrate intake by covering all the other macronutrient intake necessities, we need to get those carbs into the muscle to restore glycogen stores. A simple way to do this is through carb backloading. Carb backloading is the idea that the majority of your carbohydrate intake should be consumed post-workout. Post-workout your muscles are primed to be more sensitive to insulin, the hormone that is responsible for the uptake of carbs into your body’s tissues (including muscle). Therefore, consuming carbs post-workout allows them to be taken up more efficiently. A pre-workout carb source is also advisable to ensure high blood glucose levels during athletic performance. The amounts and specific timing of consumption have a lot of variability depending on the athlete, but use these as general guidelines and allow it to work in conjunction with your regular lifestyle and schedule.

Supplemental Help: Leucine

As stated above,  your muscles are more sensitive to insulin post-workout,  allowing carbs to be taken up  easier and more efficiently. So what would happen if we were able to increase the amount of insulin released? We would have a two pronged attack on maximizing carb uptake by muscle. This is where leucine comes into play. Leucine, when ingested in conjunction with glucose, has a synergestic effect on insulin release, meaning it increases the amount of insulin released. As an aside, leucine also upregulates muscle protein synthesis via the mTOR pathway, which promotes muscle growth. Based on the methods used in studies, I would suggest consuming 5-7g leucine plus 25g glucose, such as Gatorade powder, immediately post-workout. Wait about 15-30min during which insulin concentrations will climb, and then consume a high carb/high protein/very low fat meal.

Putting it all Together:

As stated in the intro, we moved from broad to specific suggestions. This means that the most important ones are the broad ones, as they are the base of the pyramid so to speak.

To summarize:

  • First ensure your macro nutrient intake is optimal
  • Second, time your intake of carbs to follow the backloading principle
  • Third, and least important of all, utilize supplements to fully maximize utilization of carbs. Carbs are important for athletic performance, as they restore muscle glycogen stores, which correlate to athletic performance.


Do you carb-backload? Would it be something you’d try? Do you supplement with Leucine? Comment below and remember to “like” us on facebook!


My name is Joel Janssen, and I’m a powerlifter with roots in bodybuilding. I started weight training as a means to become a better hockey player, and lifting has now outlived my hockey career. I am currently completing my BSc undergrad degree in Honours Kinesiology at uWaterloo.



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