Reactive nanolaminates afford a promising route for the low-temperature synthesis of zirconium diboride, an ultrahigh-temperature ceramic with metallic properties. Although the addition of carbon is known to facilitate sintering of ZrB2, its effect on the kinetics of the formation reaction has not been elucidated. We have employed a combined approach of nanocalorimetry and first-principles theoretical studies to investigate the kinetic role of carbon in the synthesis of ZrB2 using B4C/Zr reactive nanolaminates. Structural characterization of the laminates by XRD and TEM reveal that the reaction proceeds via interdiffusion of the B4C and Zr layers, which produces an amorphous Zr3B4C alloy. This amorphous alloy then crystallizes to form a supersaturated ZrB2(C) compound. A kinetic analysis shows that carbon lowers the energy barriers for both interdiffusion and crystallization by more than 20%. Energetic calculations based on first-principles modeling suggest that the reduction of the diffusion barrier may be attributed to the stronger bonding between Zr and C as compared to the bonding between Zr and B.