A Runner's Guide To Carb Loading Before An Event
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A Runner's Guide To Carb Loading Before An Event

by Darren Round on Sep 16, 2014

Inexperienced runners and newbies to guantlet-like endurance events are often intimidated by the idea of carb loading.

In premise it makes sense: load up on tons of energy that the body can use during the race. But let's address the common questions.

A Deeper Perspective on Carb Loading

Right now, at this very moment there’s only so much energy stored within your body that you could tap into if you just decided to take off running for 90 or more minutes. Once it’s gone, you’re in trouble. Your body is a biological miracle worker, so if your stomach is empty and you didn’t have much to eat this morning, it’ll tap into muscle and fat reserves. Regardless, you won’t make very good time and you’ll end up plodding along.

Here’s the math:

A typical runner might have somewhere between 80 and 120 mmol of glycogen/kg (energy) in their muscles. On the flip-side, a runner that was wise and loaded up on carbs has closer to 200. So who do you think is going to probably run longer, faster and with less overbearing fatigue to battle through?

Carb Loading Tactic #1: Rest and Eat!

Beginning a week out from the running event you need to get much more rest and eat plenty of healthy carbs. No, not just plate after plate of spaghetti or endless pieces of bread with jam. We’ll get to that more in a moment. First, you work out less and by working out less you end up saving tons of calories you would have otherwise used! So…you don’t actually have to dramatically increase your intake of carbs! As an endurance lover, it should already be high enough.

So no, you won’t have to worry about suddenly putting on weight. No more long runs. No more super-intense HIIT training. None of that. Take it easy and continue to enjoy a healthy carb-dominate diet. Remember that drastic changes to your diet could lead to digestion trouble and that’s the last thing you want.

Carb Loading Tactic #2: Avoid Too Much Fat! Embrace Protein

Yes, fat is critical. Many average runners try to load up on fat and carbs and avoid protein in the week leading up to a race. The only issue here is that fat-energy isn’t really stored directly in muscle tissue. It sits in the digestive tracts and fat cells.

When it comes to protein, your body still needs it! The key here is smaller portions. So, basically, if the average person’s meal breaks down to portions like this:

  • 40% Protein
  • 40% Carbs
  • 20% Fat

During your carb loading week you stick with something like this and work out less so that your body can store the carbs for use during the race:

  • 60% Carbs
  • 30% Fat
  • 10% Protein

Or in other words, consume around 3-5 grams of carbs per pound of body weight. You can split them up however you like, but make sure each meal or snack has fat and protein in it as well.

If that’s what you tend to eat anyways, then you’re in great shape. Again, all you really need to do to “carb load” is to cut down on your workouts in the last week, and then completely rest for two days before the race. Make sense? That could equate to upwards of 1200-2000 extra calories for the race and a higher percentage of glycogen in muscle tissue. 

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