Carb Loading for Endurance Events

Yesterday afternoon, just when I was about to post this piece, I found out that tragedy had struck the Boston Marathon. I have always loved this race having grown up in the area and had spent the morning glued to the television watching race coverage with my boys. I still cannot believe that something so beautiful, and joyful has been spoiled for thousands of people in such a senseless way. Marathoners and Bostonians have a lot in common; we are tough, proud and don’t believe in the word can’t. I have no doubt that the city of Boston and the Boston Marathon will come back stronger than ever after this. I have decided to go forward and post what I wrote yesterday while thinking of those runners on the Boston Marathon course. I’m guessing that there might be even more people now inspired to run a full marathon in the wake of the tragedy yesterday. My heart goes out to everyone affected by this senseless act.

When it comes to nutrition before a big endurance event, there is a lot of room for confusion, nerves and second guessing. You’ve been training for many weeks/months. You’ve nailed all of your long runs, hill repeats and tempo runs (or century rides, hour plus swims and brick workouts). You’ve been right on top of your nutrition, making sure to fuel your body while it’s been working so hard. Seemingly out of the blue it’s taper time, with more time to think (read worry) you start second-guessing everything you do, including what to eat.

During the taper, it’s more important than ever to consume nutrient dense foods. Since you are decreasing your training time, you will need slightly less in terms of calories, but at the same time you want to support your body’s ability to repair and heal. Pack your plate with lots of colorful vegetables since they are naturally lower in calories and high in nutrients and phytochemicals. Make the majority of your grains whole grains and spread high quality protein throughout the day. If ever there was a time to become careful about what you eat, it’s now!

As the last few days prior to your event approach, it’s time to start thinking about carbohydrates. There have been numerous studies showing the benefits of carbohydrate loading prior to endurance events. How do you load? Many people think a big plate of pasta the night before is all it takes, but it’s a little more involved than that. For the last 2-3 days before race day, the percentage of carbohydrates (compared to fat and protein) should increase and become the majority of your diet. It’s especially important to have a high carbohydrate meal following your last few workouts because this is when your muscles will be primed for storage.

The entire day before the event will be focused on getting in lots of carbohydrates; this will take some planning because it’s not as easy as it sounds! The research shows that about 10g of carbohydrates per 1 kg of bodyweight, is most effective; for a 150-pound person, that would be about 680 grams or 2720 calories of carbohydrate in one day! Consuming high carbohydrate beverages (such as juices and sports drinks) throughout the day, and choosing lower fiber foods such as potatoes, bananas, pretzels, and white rice instead of higher fiber vegetables, fruits and grains will also help because you don’t want to load up your GI with fiber the day before your big event.

If you load correctly, you will gain about 3-4 pounds and feel very bloated and sluggish. This is due to water being retained along with the glycogen in your muscle tissue and will diminish once you begin to utilize all of this stored energy. Just remember, one day of carbohydrate loading cannot make up for poor nutrition during your training; feed your body well and it will reward you!

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