In the lead up to a race, I get a lot of comments that it’s time to enjoy some bagels and pasta because all runners carbohydrate load, right? After my first few races, I realized that for the most part carbo-loading simply left me feeling groggy, bloated and lethargic on race day.
Now I realize that this all to common experience is from getting incomplete information from running buddies. And no one big bowl of pasta the night before is not carbo-loading. I’ve experimented and read some new information that is allowing me to take better advantage of the glycogen stores in my muscles for optimal race day performance!
Mistake #1: Skipping carb depletion phase. This is the one area that many folks never hear about because we want to get straight to the part about eating! Here is the process as described by The Complete Nutrition Guide for Triathletes
- Seven days prior to the event do a long or strenuous workout which will deplete your body of glucose.
- For the next 3 days maintain a lower carb diet of 35-50% of total calories
- For the final 2 days prior to the race switch to 75% of calories from carbohydrates, while dramatically decreasing overall work volume (the other 25% is largely protein)
Mistake #2: Simple carbs. We’ve heard it a million times “not all carbs are created equal” and yet somehow in the lead up to race week we toss aside our normally good habits for junk food carbs. I believe this is because nerves and emotions are running high. Ideal carbo loading: potatoes, fruits, vegetables, whole grains – a huge pasta dinner only works for a few folks…sorry!
Mistake #3: Loading unnecessarily. If you are doing a 5K, stop green lighting a week of carb binging. If you are doing a race that will take you longer than 90 minutes, then you can start to add in extra carbs per the above process.
Mistake #4: Loading too long. Carbohydrate loading needs only to be done for about 2 days prior to the race, not 7. We want a week of morning bagels and afternoon granola bowls, but in reality you only need a couple of days after the depletion mentioned in mistake #1 to optimally fuel your muscles.
Mistake #5: Weight gain freak out. Carbs make you retain water…this is actually a blessing on race day to help you prevent dehydration! So just remember you’ll be losing most of that water and if you’ve been loading on good carbs you haven’t put on any actual fat in those 2 short days.
Mistake #6: Skipping your last load. Nerves result in stomach issues for a lot of runners/triathletes, so they try to skip out or skimp on race morning fuel. You must give your muscles this last boost of glucose to help you prevent energy lulls, mood swings and obviously fatigue.
Mistake #7: High sugar pre-race fuel. When you eat a meal high in sugar it releases insulin, which tells the body to start storing glucose for later because it has sugar available. So all that carbo-loading is now being stored in your muscles instead of freely available when you start the race. Aim for 1-3 grams (depending on how far in advance you eat) of high quality carbs, low fat and low fiber – oatmeal with banana or yogurt w/ fruit if you can stomach it.
Having gathered all of this information, I will still say that as with all racing techniques, I think it’s personal. You have to find out what works best for you! I personally love eating veggies the day before a race even though everyone says not to…and I don’t drink 10oz of water every 10 minutes because that makes me want to hurl. But if you are considering carbo-loading now you have more info to get the most out of it!
If your focus is getting to racing weight then checkout the book Racing Weight by Matt Fitzgeraldwhich also talks about fueling and the impact of carbs.