Carb-Loading.

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I’m racing on Saturday, and since I’ve already written about tapering, I thought I would write today about carb-loading. I think this is a good topic because it is one more component that will affect race-day performance.

Clyde Wilson works at the Sports Medicine Institute in Palo Alto. SMI has worked with athletes such as Ryan Hall, Noah Ngeny, Magdalena Boulet, Jen Rhines, Meb Keflezighi, Bob Kennedy and Lauren Fleshman. Clyde also lectures at Stanford and UCSF Medical School.

Ryan Hall, in his book Running With Joy: My Daily Journey to the Marathon, pretty much summed up Clyde’s thoughts on carb loading:

“Dr. Clyde taught me that when carbo-loading, my body can store only about 400 extra calories from loading the day before, so there is no point in adding more than this amount to my typical intake. I also learned to spread the load over the two or three days before a race.”

Clyde suggests doubling your carbohydrate intake for one day and spreading it out over six equally-sized meals instead of three.

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Hal Higdon generally agrees. In Smart Running: Expert Advice On Training, Motivation, Injury Prevention, Nutrition and Good Health, he says:

“When someone mentions the term “carbo-loading” today, I often feel obligated to explain that it doesn’t work the way science once thought that it did and that they’re better off carbo-loading by adding carbohydrates the last three to four days before the race.”

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Magdalena Boulet, a 2:26 marathoner, says she has tried it all. However, this is her current approach:

I don’t put myself through a carb depletion phase because I didn’t like the way I felt during the depletion phase (lethargic, irritable and couldn’t concentrate). I prefer to use the latest method research that suggests you eat your normal diet all the way up until three days before the marathon race (my normal diet includes up to 60% cabs). Right after my last workout before the race, which is always 3 days out from the race, I switch to a higher percent carbohydrate diet (70%) and maintain it until the morning of the race.

Again, just like with anything related to running, you want to try this out prior to your race. Personally, I will say that I have found the approaches outlined above to be effective.

What are your thoughts on carb loading?

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16 Responses to Carb-Loading.

  1. I don’t go crazy and eat a pound of pasta and three beers the night before a race. I eat a little extra, avoid high fiber and fats and don’t drink too many beers.
    Spreading it out over three days sounds like more fun. After all of those miles and avoiding cookies and such, it’s nice to enjoy all of that goodness for a few days and not feel guilty about it.
    Cheers – Andy

  2. I have increased carbs 3-4 days before the race with the highest percentage the day before, cut down on raw veggies and fruits the day before and have been happy with that. And you can even carb load while paleo, who knew 🙂

  3. I don’t carb load in part because I eat a high carb diet normally and in part because I hate the bloated almost-nauseous feeling that comes after carb loading. No one wants to stand on the start line feeling puffy and slow! That being said, when I’m within 6 weeks of a race, I don’t drink alcohol, and during race week, it’s all white carbs for me.

  4. Martha B says:

    I’ve definitely dabbled in carb-loading, but have yet to find the perfect balance. I think it’s something I need to work on coming into fall racing season!

  5. sushismith says:

    Everyday is carb loading day for me! I’m only half joking, but my typical diet is high carb low fat vegan. I eat 80% of my calories from carbs, mostly starches like sweet potatoes and other starchy veggies. So far it’s worked as well as everything else I’ve tried, and I have really great digestion. It also helps that I stay hydrated as well (for the digestion).

  6. sushismith says:

    And good luck on your race 🙂

  7. Sweaty Mess says:

    As a new runner carb loading sounds like a dream, you mean I can eat all that stuff I’m supposed to avoid? Winning! In all seriousness, it definitely sounds like something with a thin line and something I’m going to dabble in as I get more races under my belt.

  8. fitfunmom says:

    I believe in carb-loading the three days before a race and have laid out a general plan for those three days — starting tomorrow! I stick with complex carbs until the night before a race. For pre-race dinner I usually have pasta with marinara sauce and grilled chicken, and pre-race breakfast is oatmeal and a banana (plus coffee and some sports drink). Good luck on your race!

  9. FLRunnerBoy says:

    I think to each his own on this topic. I’ve never been big on carbo-loading. Your body won’t suddenly absorb what it hasn’t grown accustomed to over the full duration of a training cycle. I’m more from the line of thinking that a nutritious sennsible meal prior to race day is best

  10. Hollie says:

    Nutrition was the thing I struggled the most with before NYC. I have been doing a lot of research and trying to figure out a better approach. I think I’m going to do the three days out and then have a higher percentage of carbohydrates.

  11. piratebobcat says:

    Totes agree. I like to increase carbs during the week and eat a fairly light dinner the night before a race or long run. I guess I’m smart.

  12. Carb-loading is the best invention EVER. I love that pug pic… My bulldog loves spaghetti. He eats it Lady and the Tramp style with me. Haha just kidding! Good luck on Saturday!!

  13. Shawna says:

    i don’t eat a lot of carbs in general (not bread/pasta/starch-based ones), so i don’t up them before a race. i just eat what i know works for my body!

  14. That pug picture is my favorite. I usually eat pasta the night before a marathon, but more because I know it settles well and it’s easy to get wherever the race is. I try to eat more carbs the days before the race, but I don’t track it or anything. Maybe I should and I’d be faster…

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