Carb Loading Before Marathon – The Ultimate Guide
You may have seen runners eating bowls of pasta in the days leading up to the marathon and this is for a good reason.
Loading up with carbohydrates leading up to a marathon can help store vital energy in your muscles to help you get through the event. This is why man runners start filling up with pasta the days before their event.
In this article, we break down the importance of carb-loading before a marathon and how it can benefit your performance. We also explain how to carbo-load effectively and show you what foods are best utilized during this period.
What Is Carb Loading?
Since carbohydrate (glycogen) is your body’s preferred fuel source for running races lasting longer than 90 minutes, it is important to store glycogen in the muscles and liver.
Because your body has a limited room to store energy, our bodies naturally run out of fuel after approximately 2 hours. However, if we can increase carbohydrate storage in the body, we can give ourselves the ability to run longer without running out of energy.
This is where carbohydrate loading (commonly referred to as carb-loading or carbo-loading) comes into play. Carb loading involves gradually increasing your carbohydrate intake over a period of days leading up to an event. Increasing your carbohydrate intake will provide excess glycogen storage, so your muscles can use this during long events like a marathon.
Carb loading can also be used for other endurance sports like rowing, cycling, and any other endurance sport that lasts for more than 90 minutes.
Does Carb Loading Increase Performance?
By carb-loading correctly, you can prevent the body from running out of fuel too early in a marathon. This can help prevent your pace from slowing down and your muscles from cramping. It can also help delay fatigue.
Once you have used up all your carbohydrate storage, your blood glucose levels will drop and the runner will rely more on fat as an energy source.
That means by carbo-loading before an event, you can prevent the body from running out of glycogen and delay fatigue from setting in too early.
How To Carb Load Correctly
To carbo-load correctly you will need to start loading with carbohydrates three to four days out from the marathon.
This involves eating more carbs at every meal, including snacks leading up to your marathon.
From 3 days out, aim to have at least 70% of your calories coming from carbs. Make sure you eat this long with unprocessed foods and lean protein.
However, it is important to know that our body stores carbohydrates best when it comes from starchy carbohydrates.
To get 70% of your calories from carbohydrates, try focusing on foods such as:
You can combine the above foods with unprocessed foods like vegetables, shrimp, cheese, and spinach. That way you will also get enough fat and protein in your diet and prevent any stomach issues from eating processed foods like pasta and help you keep a regular bowel movement leading up to the marathon.
During race day, try to reduce carbs from complex carbohydrates and move into more simple carbs. It is also important during the 4 days of carbo-loading that you don’t try to eat all your carbohydrates at once. Try to eat regular meals outside of your three main meals instead of trying to fill up on carbohydrates during breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Otherwise, you may find that you put excess weight on during the lead-up to the marathon.
It was also once believed that to fill your body with fuel, you needed to deplete your carbohydrate stores before you were to start carb loading. However, studies found that this involved a risk of injury and made runners feel tired, sore, and fatigued.
Research showed that these potential risks outweighed the benefits and since then, more people have moved to the more simple way of loading 3-4 days before their event.
However, regardless of your experience, it is important to test loading with carbs during training. Some people may find that perform worse on competition day or have to deal with stomach issues. So, testing carbohydrate loading 3-4 days before your longest run can help you fine-tune your loading and make any adjustments to your carb intake before your goal event.
Apart from increasing the number of carbohydrates leading up to the event, there is no need to change the type of foods you eat. Keeping your food similar to what you have eaten in the months previously will prevent any issues from arising during the loading week.
If you are still unsure how to load properly, speak to a sports nutritionist. They can help you put together a nutrition plan leading up to the event.
Alternatively, if you are unsure how to train correctly for a marathon, reach out to a running coach. they can help guide you with your training and help prepare you better during race week.
Why Do Runners Eat Pasta Before A Marathon?
You may have seen many runners fill up on pasta the night or even days before their marathon. This is due to the carbohydrate content in pasta. It is also a food that is high in starch (26% in cooked spaghetti).
Most runners know that pasta provides one of the highest forms of carbohydrate out of any food. It is also pleasant to eat and typically causes no stomach issues on race day.