Carbohydrates have a bad rap among people trying to lose weight. That said, fitness enthusiasts and endurance athletes often rely on carbohydrates to provide energy, preserve muscle, and improve performance. Carb loading for runners is ideal when doing intense training in preparation for an upcoming long distance race, like a half marathon or full. Carb loading is not just about filling up on baked goods or just any other carbohydrate-rich foods you can find before the big day. Proper carb-loading involves making smart choices for what to eat and when, because not all carbs are created equally.
Carb Loading for Runners
When carb loading is done improperly, you risk handicapping your race and forfeiting all the training you’ve done. But when done properly, carb loading can fuel your run and keep you in the race. The excess glycogen (glucose) from carbohydrates are stored by the body for later use, This serves as fuel for the marathoner over the course of a run and prevents them from hitting the dreaded “wall.” If you’ve ever run, like I have, you know the wall is a terrible thing to hit.
Here are some tips on how to carb load without draining your wallet.
Types of Carb-Loading
Carb loading for runners, and endurance athletes, should be properly timed to increase and improve glycogen storage in the muscles for better performance. The programs listed below are meant to be completed in the days immediately before an event.
- The classic 6-day carb-loading program involves exercising while consuming a low-carb diet (15% of calories from carbs) for the first 3 days. This combination depletes the body’s glycogen stores, which will then be replenished on days 4 through 6 with a high-carb diet (70% of calories from carbs). This carb-loading program also reduces the amount of exercise on day 4 and prescribes rest on days 5 and 6.
- A variation on the classic 6-day program does away with the depletion phase entirely. Instead, you consume a moderate-carb diet (50% of calories from carbs) for the first 3 days before switching to a high-carb diet. You will also gradually decrease the amount of exercise over the course of the program.
- The 3-day program involves performing one exercise session at the beginning until your body starts to feel like it’s at its limit. For the remainder of the 3 days, you will consume a high-carbohydrate diet and perform no exercise at all.
- The 1-day program entails not exercising at all the day before an event and consuming 7 to 10 grams of carbohydrates per kilogram of your body weight.
This is not a comprehensive list, as there are probably as many types of carb loading cycles as there are types of races. When carb loading for a big race, your specific carb loading program should be tailored to your goals and your body needs.
What Foods Are Good for Carb-Loading?
The best foods for carb loading are those with little to no added fats. A plate of spaghetti doused in Alfredo cream sauce might seem appealing, but the oil, butter and cheese in the sauce are all high in fat. Mixed with the carbs of the pasta, it just takes longer to digest. This will leave you feeling heavy during the race and slow you down on your way to the finish line.
If you’re going to carb load, simple and healthy carbohydrates are the way to go. Some of the best options include oats, whole-wheat pasta, white bread, baked potatoes, yogurt, bagels, and rice. Not only are these packed with simple carbohydrates, but they are also budget-friendly. Pancakes and waffles are also very easy to digest, so go ahead and indulge yourself—just don’t drown them in butter and syrup! Fruits are also high in carbohydrates. However, they are also high in fiber, which may lead to tummy troubles mid-race. Stick to bananas, dates, and raisins if you want some fruit. You can also lower the fiber content of apples, peaches, and pears if you peel them before eating.
Be sure to check out my other posts for runners while you’re here!
And remember, carb loading for runners is best saved for intense training for long distance runs. Be sure to journal when carb loading, so you can get a feel for which carbs work best for you.
Have a great run!