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Carbo Loading : How to Carbo-Load Before a Race

For many runners, carbohydrate loading or carbo-loading is as much of an event as the race itself.  But, not everyone carbohydrate loads effectively.  Listed here are tips for making sure you are properly creating sufficient glycogen stores. 

Start 3 Days Before Race
The human body can only store approximately 3,500 calories of carbohydrates before the excess is stored as fat.  Therefore, starting your carbohydrate loading weeks ahead of your big race will be ineffective.  Instead, begin loading up 72 hours before race time.

Calculate your Needs
Next, you should determine exactly how many carbohydrates you need to consume throughout the day.  The recommended amount for carbohydrate loading is 8 – 10 grams of carbs per kg of body weight.  Therefore, a 140 lb runner requires 500 – 630 grams of carbohydrates per day. 

Limit Yourself to Small Meals
Your body can only absorb a set number of carbohydrates in one sitting, typically from meals that total 800 calories or less.  Instead of trying to reach your carbohydrate quota in one sitting, aim to do so evenly throughout the day, with 3 small(ish) meals and 3 carbohydrate-heavy snacks.

See Also,  Proper Fueling For Runners

Don’t Forget Drinks
Many people find it difficult to consume the volume of food required to reach their carbohydrate needs.  Do not forget that carbohydrate-laden drinks count toward your carb total.  Fruit juice, sports drinks, and specialty coffees can all contribute to your carbohydrate loading. 

Watch Fat Content
The most efficient way for the body to produce energy is to convert glycogen stored in the muscles into glucose, via a mechanism that occurs in the liver.  A second process that is less efficient is the conversion of fat into energy.  When carbohydrate loading, it is important to limit fat as much as possible in the final days before the race to ensure the competing energy conversion process does not occur. 

Complex vs. Simple Carbohydrates
The carbohydrate loading phase should not be treated as a carbohydrate free-for-all.  Avoid gorging yourself on simple carbohydrates and refined sugars such as cookies and cakes.  Instead, choose wholesome and whole-grain options.  Brown rice, quinoa, and whole wheat bread are all great options.  However, the night before the race you may want to eat simple carbohydrates, such as white rice or pasta, in order to avoid mixing high fiber with an anxiety-induced finicky stomach. 

Continue throughout Race Day
Carbohydrate loading should continue through race day.  Eat a high-carb breakfast 2 – 3 hours before the race such as oatmeal or pancakes.  If the race is especially early, set an alarm to wake up for breakfast and then go back to sleep.  Fueling with sufficient carbohydrates in the 12 hours prior to race time is the most crucial window, as this glycogen will be most readily available.  During the event continue to provide your muscles with a steady stream of energy by consuming 30 – 60 grams of carbohydrates per hour.  Energy gels, chews, sports drinks, orange slices, and bananas are all excellent fuel sources throughout the race.