Carb-Loading


Carbs fuel your run!

High carbohydrates, particularly glucose, keep your body performing during a marathon. Glucose is converted into vital energy that helps fuel moving muscles – the faster and more you run, the more glucose you use up! Here are some key things to think about glucose:

  • Glucose is required for you to optimally burn fat during your run. During long runs, fat is the other critical nutrient that turns to fuel. However, your body will only utilize fat once the glucose is depleted. Your intensity begins to slow because its takes your body longer to convert fat.
  • Glucose levels are monitored through your brain constantly, so the brain detects when the glucose level drops in the blood causing needless muscle fatigue. Having enough glucose in your system can keep you from hitting the dreaded “wall.”
  • You have a limitless ability to store fat but not glucose. Your body stores glucose in the liver and in your muscles as glycogen. Also your body can just store enough glycogen for around 90 minutes of strenuous exercise, which explains why experienced runners believe in “carb-loading” before a marathon or half marathon.

“Carb loading” the right way.

When consuming carbohydrate meals prior to a race, you want your muscles and liver to store the maximum amount of glycogen to prevent poorly fueled muscles. This is only necessary if you’re doing endurance race events. You will notice some weight gain. Carbs cling to the water in the body so as you store more glycogen, your body will hold more water. This is good because it indicates that you have fueled up properly and it helps keep you from becoming dehydrated during your run. You should lose the 2-3 pounds within a day or two. However, if you’re carb-loading every day, you will notice unwanted tightness in your running shorts. To get the most out of carb-loading:

  • Increase your carbohydrates 1 to 3 days prior to a long run.. Most runners load up at dinner the night before a big race event. Instead, you may want to eat most of your carbohydrates for breakfast or lunch the day before the event. This earlier meal allows more time for the food to move through your system.
  • It’s recommended that runners need to eat 4-10 grams of carbohydrates for every pound of body weight (for a 150 pound runner that’s 600 grams, or 2,400 calories, of carbs each day). Endurance or ultra-marathon runners consume up to 10 grams for every pound of body weight. Reduce the fats and increase the carbs to 85 to 95 percent of the meals prior to the race.
  • 3 to 4 hours before running, go for the easy to digest high-carbohydrates, low-fat meal. For example, a bagel and peanut butter, cereal, an energy bar, pancakes, oatmeal, or a smoothie.
  • Avoid anything you aren’t used to eating before longer runs. Limit high-fat foods like butter, creamy sauces, cheese, ice cream, and reduce your protein intake. Both nutrients will take longer to digest and fill you up faster.

Carbs are essential before, during, and after a run.

Taking in carbs during a run slows down the rate at which you utilize your stored glycogen and helps keep you going longer, which is why there are sports drinks and gels at stations at long race events. Furthermore, when you eat carbohydrates and protein post-run, you set your body up to ideally restock glycogen stores for the next workout and help rebuild muscles. A couple of things to remember when fueling your body:

  • 30 minutes before running, have a simple carb snack like a bagel, a banana, dried fruit, applesauce, or sports beans.
  • During intense training, try to drink 8 ounces of a sports drink or consume 1 to 2 sports gels with water each 45 to 60 minutes.
  • Within 30 to 60 minutes after your workout, have a snack or food that includes carbohydrates and protein. Some great choices: chocolate milk, a banana, or beer with a serving of almonds.