How to carbo-load effectively

If you’ve ever run a race, you know the drill – you get to eat sh*t loads of carb in the week leading up to the big day, right?! Hello the carbo-load fun times! Your training intensity decreases, you do a few easy runs, sit back and start shovelling the food in. No? Tempting. It’s always tempting to use racing as an excuse to binge, but it’s important not to bring out the 12 donut box of Krispy Kremes, and carbo load the right way…


effective carbo loading

Why do we carbo-load?

When we exercise, our body’s main source of fuel is glycogen. However, we can only store a certain amount at a time (around 15g/kg body weights stored), so we need to make sure these stores are replenished. If you haven’t fuelled properly, your body will have to rely on using fat for energy once you’ve run out of glycogen. Using fat for fuel is a much harder process, and creates that feeling of ‘hitting the wall’. Not fun. (ask my husband – he hit the wall during his first ever half-ironman, when I found him in the transition area after the bike gorging on Mars Bars!).

When should I start carbo-loading?

In order to ensure that your muscles are properly and completely loaded with glycogen you should start carbo-loading 2-3 days prior to your race. You must make sure that you’re not eating more calories than usual, but just that more calories are coming from carbs (in order to maintain your hard-worked for, lean race physique!). This means lowering your fat intake (there are 9 calories per gram of fat, and only 4 per gram of carbohydrate, so it will feel like you are eating more!), keeping a low protein intake (generally more difficult to digest) and eating plenty of carbohydrates.

What carbs should I be eating?

You want your meals to be easily digestible, so aim for low fibre carbohydrates, and minimise your fruit intake that can often be high in fibre. Avoid cremes and buttery sauces, and instead opt for oatmeal, bagels, yoghurt, rice etc. Think bagel or porridge for breakfast, rice and veg for lunch, and a mexican style burrito for dinner! Avoid any over processed foods that contain high amounts of refined sugar (cakes and pastries). But white options (white bread, potatoes) are good for these next few days. If you seen a couple of lbs increase on the scales that’s OK, you’ll be using that come race day!

The night before race day

Remember not to overfill yourself the night before: don’t eat too late, and eat a small, high carb meal to have you all set for race day. On the morning of the race, try to eat a few hours before race start time (hello early morning alarm call for breakfast!). Aim to eat a high carb brekkie such as a bagel or porridge. You can always pre-prepare this if you’re not at home for the race. A tote jar is perfect for pre-made soaked oats! HOWEVER, if you haven’t trained this way, don’t make changes now! Stick with what you know and what works for you, and try the high carb plan next time.

And think positive, believe in your training and enjoy the event. Here’s hoping there will be no wall involved in your race!

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