What is Glycogen?
Glycogen is a molecule that is derived from glucose and is primarily stored in liver and muscle cells for use later as energy. These molecules are stored by the body when there is excess starch or carbohydrates for energy consumption. They will only be activated for use after the carbohydrates are used up by the body for its energy requirements.
Much of glycogen storage is in the liver. These glycogen stores are essential for the body’s maintenance of sugar levels. Those that are stored in muscle cells are usually used up during quick bursts of activity like in jumping activities or heavy weight lifting. But aside from the liver and muscles, the brain and kidneys also store a small amount of glycogen.
In people with low-carbohydrate diets, they tend to use up glycogen stores immediately. Our bodies need to maintain a certain level of sugar in the blood and this level will decrease when all the energy from carbohydrates are already consumed. When this happens, the carbohydrates stored or glycogen will be activated to maintain normal cellular activities in the body. This is the main concept behind low-carbohydrate diets. People will eat fewer carbohydrates on purpose so the body will use up stored energy in the form of glycogen. This way, there is a greater chance for a person to loose some weight.
But for a certain group of people like endurance athletes, they try to avoid depleting glycogen stores in the body. In endurance events, it is expected that the body will use up the energy from carbohydrates and the energy from glycogen stores sometime later in the event. This may result to a decrease in performance, which athletes do not want to happen. To prevent this from happening, endurance athletes typically load up on carbohydrate-rich foods before any event and many of them also eat up starchy foods immediately after the said event to help in muscle restoration and repair.