If you are going over all the details of your upcoming race, trying to figure out how to do things the best way, then you are probably wondering if you should carb load.
But what exactly is carb loading, should you do it, and if so, how to do it right?
The technical mambo jambo, ADD version:
Our bodies store energy in the form of glycogen, in our muscles and liver.
Carbohydrates, or carbs, are our main source of glycogen.
Our bodies store enough glycogen for about 90 minutes of exercise.
See? That’s it.
Should I carb load?
Eating enough carbs before a race is not only beneficial for longer races, but it will also give you extra energy for races where you’ll be running less than 90 minutes.
Even if you are planning on consuming carbs before/during your race, carb loading a few days in advance will ensure you have the maximum energy available come race day.
However, there are a few negatives to carb loading to consider before you make the decision:
Feeling bloated: a change in diet, especially consuming extra carbohydrates, may make you feel bloated.
Water retention: Our bodies store 3 grams of water for every gram of glycogen.
Stiff muscles: extra carbs can make your muscles feel stiff and less flexible.
Change: sometimes the uncertainty of change doesn’t sit well on our minds, especially close to race day (see “make a plan” below).
The right way to carb load:
Do the math: By using a nutrition app like myfitnesspal or sparkpeople, figure out what percentage of your daily calories comes from carbs, so you can gradually increase them. Keep in mind you’ll want to eat around 7-8 grams of carbs for each KG (2.2 pounds) of your weight (this is what works for me, some suggestions go up to 10 grams per KG).
Practice: General guidelines are great to get an idea of what to do, but they are guidelines. Your body may respond better to a bit less or a bit more carbs than the recommended range, so take the time to experiment.
Make a plan: Figure out in advance what you will eat and drink every day during the carb loading phase, calculate the carb and calorie content to make sure you are on track with your needs.
Start 3-7 days before the race: The last 2 days before the race, consume 80% carbs, the days before that, range between 50% and 80%.
Choose wisely: Despite what you may have heard, carb loading is not about eating a lot of starchy junk food. Chose simple and nutritious foods, without a lot of extra fat and salt. Go for complex carbs the first few days (whole grain bread, whole wheat pasta, oats, etc.) and stick to simple carbs (white breads and flours) the day before the race.
Get them in: Some people actually enjoy eating a lot of bread, pasta and rice. But for others it is more difficult to eat a larger amount of carbohydrates. Healthy drinks are a great way to get some additional carbs without the extra feeling of fullness, think smoothies, shakes, and natural juices.
Don’t overeat the night before the race: Eat a medium sized meal, 12-15 hours before the race. You want to feel comfortably full after dinner, and actually wake up hungry the next morning.
Race day breakfast: Don’t go overboard with your race day breakfast, so you don’t feel too full and heavy when it’s time to run. A 200-300 calorie breakfast of mostly carbs, 2-3 hours before the race should be enough.
Have you ever tried carb loading? Did it work for you?