Carb Loading for Runners
We have all heard about carb loading and the importance of it before racing, but when exactly should we do it? Here is some information I have found on the subject.
From Running Times:
A full belly isn’t necessarily full of healthy carbs that will help you race successfully, so it is important to effectively carb load.
1) 90 Minutes or Longer
Carbohydrate loading is appropriate for races lasting 90 minutes or longer. Such events begin to exhaust glycogen stores. By carbohydrate loading, a runner may be able to sustain pace longer, supporting endurance performance.
2) Know Thy Carbs
Most runners know good sources of carbohydrates are bread, and, well, pasta. So that means you should eat more bread and more pasta to carb load, right? It’s true that eating bread and pasta will support carbohydrate loading, but there are other great sources of carbohydrates to keep in mind when carbohydrate loading.
Great carbohydrate-rich food sources:
Starches: bread, pasta, rice, cereal, bagel, oatmeal, pancake, English muffin, tortilla, couscous, low-fat muffin, gnocchi, polenta and quinoa
Starchy vegetables: potatoes, peas, pumpkin, squash, beans and lentils
Fruit: bananas, apples, peaches, pears, pineapple, oranges, cherries, mango, kiwi, any form of dried fruit, canned fruit
Dairy: flavored low-fat milk, low-fat yogurt
Snacks: pretzels, animal crackers, Fig Newtons, low-fat granola bar, low-fat crackers, baked chips, and graham crackers
Beverages: flavored low-fat milk, juice, sports drink, Boost or Ensure, low-fat smoothie
Sports Bars/Energy Bars: PowerBar Performance Bar, Clif Bar, Honey Stinger Bar
(Some sports bars are geared toward high protein, not high carb. These are not the bars to choose when carb loading.)
Extras: honey, fruit preserves or jam and maple syrup
3) Drink Thy Carbs
Carbohydrate loading can feel a little awkward. Since training is scaled back it may be a bit uncomfortable to feel like you’re eating a decent amount without putting in all of the miles. Drinking your carbohydrates is a great way to incorporate carbohydrates without feeling weighed down or bloated.
Add a glass of milk or juice to meals instead of drinking just water. Between meals sip on warm cider, a smoothie, or even sports drink to keep you feeling light on your feet while also stocking glycogen stores and potentially boosting race day stamina.
4) Be Mindful of Fiber
It’s well-known that fiber is a part of a healthy diet; however, when carbohydrate loading it’s worth considering limiting fiber. This isn’t the time to eat the cereal or tortilla pumped with 10–15g of fiber. Fiber absorbs fluid and either swells up or forms a gel that can rob much-needed room for sufficient carbohydrates. Too much fiber when carb loading may produce a sense of fullness that will leave you less inclined to keep stocking glycogen stores. Another potential downfall of excessive fiber, if you’re not used to it, is that it may contribute to race day gastrointestinal distress. For example, eating a black bean burrito the night before a marathon may not be the best option for the fiber sensitive runner.
On the other hand, there are a lot of people who suffer from irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) or who have trouble with regular bowel patterns. For those who still want to promote bowel regularity, it’s beneficial to include a moderate amount of fiber during this time. Having healthy bowel elimination will promote the desire to keep eating and reduce the risk of race day gastrointestinal distress.
5) Go Very Low Fat
Fat can really contribute to feeling a greater sense of fullness and discomfort; it adds unwanted calories, and it doesn’t provide any benefit during carbohydrate loading for race day performance. Skimp on the fat. Eating very low-fat will allow a runner to avoid excessive calorie consumption, weight gain, and the general sense of race day sluggishness that comes with them.
You can skimp on the fat by eating a sandwich without the cheese, avoiding creamy sauces and gravies, limiting nuts and nut butters, adding minimal oils and butters to cooking and skipping them in topping bread or a baked potato, limiting fatty breads like croissants, Danishes and fatty muffins, switching from mayonnaise to mustard on a sandwich, avoiding fried foods (this includes chicken or fish in a pasta or on a sandwich), Fatty desserts, salad dressings, sour cream and casseroles are other common ways fat can slip into the diet.
6) Eat Often
You don’t have to eat massive meals. Eating small frequent meals can help in avoiding feeling heavy, full and bloated.
7) Consider Your Last Meal
The last meal the night before a long race doesn’t need to leave you rolling away from the table. For some it may be a lighter meal because effort was made to go heavier in carbs at earlier meals. Also, consider the timing of this meal. It’s helpful to have this meal early enough in the evening that the meal is well digested by race time. A large 10 p.m. pre-marathon meal may not be the best idea before a 5:30 a.m. race start. If the meal ends up on the early side consider topping off the tank before bed with an easy to digest option like a Boost or Ensure, low-fat pudding, or applesauce.
8) Test it Out
The average 150-pound runner needs about 550–650g of carbohydrate/day to maximize glycogen stores. Those with a bigger or smaller frame will want to adjust according to their body weight. It’s wise to test out what a 550–600g carbohydrate day feels like during training. A great day to do this is before a long-run training day. This will help in understanding how to incorporate sufficient carbohydrates not only in daily training, but when carbohydrate loading. It also will help gauge if you feel like this is a sufficient amount of carbohydrates to fuel a successful race day performance.
More is not necessarily better. For that 150-pound runner, about 600g of carbohydrates should be sufficient to maximize glycogen stores. This runner doesn’t need to consume 750g a day to gain any additional ergogenic benefit.
9) Avoid Drastic Changes
Stick with foods that you are familiar and comfortable consuming. This isn’t the time to experiment or make any drastic changes to the diet. For example, if you don’t normally eat a diet rich in fruit, this isn’t the time to eat fruit all day long when carb loading.
Carbohydrate loading is an effective way to maximize glycogen stores and race day performance. Be sure to consider carbohydrate loading before your next endurance event.
Reader question…what is your typical pre-race meal?