Carbo-Loading 101

With just over one-week until the Scotiabank Waterfront Toronto Marathon, I am starting to think about carbohydrate loading. Proper carbohydrate loading for an endurance event can make a huge difference in performance. However, many athletes believe that they are carbohydrate loading when they aren’t actually consuming the recommended amount of carbohydrates. I know that I have personally fallen into this trap. It’s much harder than you think to consume the required amount of carbohydrates when carbohydrate loading.

bicycleCarbohydrate loading is not beneficial for all athletic events. Carbohydrate loading should generally only be used by athletes competing in events longer than 90 minutes in duration. For those competing in events of shorter duration, carbohydrate loading can actually be detrimental to performance. The overall goal of carbohydrate loading is to create higher body glycogen stores. This is achieved by consuming higher amounts of carbohydrates and simultaneously reducing the training volume, also known as tapering.

The optimal carbohydrate targets for carbohydrate loading are 10-12 grams of carbohydrates daily per kg of bodyweight. This amount of carbohydrates should be consumed for the 36-48 hours before the event. Traditionally, individuals who were carbohydrate loading were told to consume few carbohydrates for the days before beginning carbohydrate loading. However, this is not only extremely hard to follow, but also has not been shown to increase glycogen storage. Therefore, there is no need to limit your carbohydrate intake before you begin carbohydrate loading.

So what exactly does 10 grams of carbohydrates per kg of bodyweight look like? You might be a little shocked. See below for what an 85 kg individual would have to eat in one day to consume approximately 10 grams of carbohydrates per kg of bodyweight.

bread

So what exactly does 10 grams of carbohydrates per kg of bodyweight look like? You might be a little shocked. See below for what an 85 kg individual would have to eat in one day to consume approximately 10 grams of carbohydrates per kg of bodyweight.

Breakfast:

  • 1 bagel with 4 tsp. jam
  • 1 cup corn flakes with 1 cup of milk
  • 1 banana
  • 1 cup orange juice

Snack:

  • 30 animal crackers
  • 7 dates

Lunch:

  • 2 cheese sandwiches
  • 2 cups of banana chips
  • 1 orange
  • Banana smoothie

Snack:

  • 1 mango
  • 75 pretzel sticks

Dinner:

  • 3 cups spaghetti
  • 2 dinner rolls
  • 2 cups green beans
  • 1 cup apple-juice

Snack:

  • 1 cup life cereal with 1 cup milk

Obviously, it’s not as easy as it looks to consume this amount of carbohydrates, especially if your training volume has decreased and you don’t feel as hungry. Evidently, eating the beloved big plate of pasta the night before the marathon isn’t going to cut it.

When carbohydrate loading, you may notice a slight increase, approximately 1kg, in body weight. Don’t worry; this is a good sign, since it means that the carbohydrate loading is working. This increased weight should not be from increased fat stores, but rather carbohydrates being stored as glycogen and the water that is stored along with it.

runnerRemember to always practice first. It’s not a good idea to carbohydrate load before your marathon if you’ve never done it before. For many people, suddenly adding extremely high amounts of carbohydrates to the diet can cause GI distress. I highly recommend that you practice carbohydrate loading before your weekly long run. For instance, if you typically have your long run on Saturdays, then practice carbohydrate loading on Friday to see how it will make you feel. This helps to ensure that it’s going to work on race-day!

In honour of carbohydrate loading and Thanksgiving, I’ve added a new recipe for squash and sweet potato soup. Pair with a slice of warm bread and enjoy on a cool fall-day 🙂

Don’t forget to follow me on Instagram: the.running.dietitian

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