Carb-load like a Champion

You will have heard about the importance of carb-loading before endurance events, but when should you start increasing your carbs before a marathon?

“I’m amazed at how many people don’t carb-load properly,” says nutritionist Monique Ryan, author of Sports Nutrition for Endurance Athletes. “They train so hard, then arrive with a huge handicap.” Here’s how to toe the line fully fuelled.

Why do runners carb-load?

Carbs are stored as glycogen, your body’s most accessible form of energy, says Ryan. “Filling your muscles with glycogen won’t make you faster, but it will allow you to run your best and help you avoid the wall,” says Benjamin Rapoport, a 2:55 marathon runner and university researcher.

Which carbs should runners eat more of?

“I eat a lot of rice,” says Rapoport. “But bread, porridge, pancakes, bagels and yoghurt are also easy-to-digest options.”

Many fruits are high in carbs but also in fibre, which can cause mid-race stomach trouble. “Bananas are a low-fibre choice,” says sports nutritionist Ilana Katz.

How to time your carb-load like a pro

Six weeks before the marathon:
Practise loading two days prior to your longest run – start eating more carbs and less fat and protein. “You’ll work out what foods agree and disagree with you,” says Katz.

One week before the marathon:
Make a plan. “A plan is especially important if you’re travelling to a race,” says Ryan. Pack plenty of snacks such as energy bars, sweets and crackers.

Two to three days before the marathon: Hit the switch. From now on, 85-95 per cent of your diet should be carbs. Eat after taper runs: “That’s when muscles best store glycogen,” explains Rapoport.

The night before the marathon:
Don’t overeat. Dinner should be small but carb-heavy. Eat on the early side so you have lots of time to digest. “You should wake up on Race Day hungry,” says Ryan.

The morning of the marathon:
Think big – three hours before the start, eat 150g of carbs, such as a bagel and yoghurt, says Ryan. Early race? “Get up at 03:00, eat, and go back to bed,” she says.

When should you carb-load?

You can’t completely stock your muscles and liver with glycogen in just a single meal, “which is why you should start carb-loading two or three days before your race,” says Ryan. As you will be on low mileage at that point, the glycogen will accumulate in your muscles.

And how much should you eat?

At this time, 85-95 per cent of your calories should come from carbs, says Katz. Ryan recommends 4g of carbs for every pound of body weight. Remember, you’re not eating many more calories per day than during the thick of your training, it’s just that more calories are coming from carbs.

If you step on the scales while carb-loading, expect to be at least four pounds above your usual weight. “With every gram of stored carbohydrate, you store an extra three grams of water,” says Katz. That means you will be well fuelled at the Start Line.

Runner's World