How to successfully carbo-load:
What we will cover:
First let’s note the cardinal rule of running:
Never try anything new on race day.
Why Do Runners Carbo-load?
The reason why people ‘carbo-load’ is to restore your glycogen storage levels in the muscles. Glycogen storages get depleted over time during your training. The more you run & the longer you run, the more depleted your glycogen storages are.
How are Glycogen Storages Restored?
When we take rest days and reduce mileage [taper] while maintaining your usual diet, these storages will slowly build back up to normal. To build up glycogen storages more effectively, athletes will increase the ratio of carbohydrates they are consuming 4-7 days before the race. It takes time for the storages to refill to normal, so it is best to span this process out to 4-7 days before the race.
What is a ‘Glycogen Storage’?
The glycogen storages will NOT make you faster. The glycogen storages only come into play after going over 90 min of activity– for this reason you do NOT need to carbo-load before 5k-10k distance races. Glycogen will help you run longer & race without hitting a ‘wall’/running out of internal fuel during the race (given you run a smart race).
Should I just eat junk food?
The TYPE of carbohydrates you are eating is HUGE. All carbs are NOT created equal.
Simple carbs and starches break down almost immediately in the blood stream into sugars and do not get stored in your muscles glycogen storages for a later use.
Complex carbs take longer to break down and are stored in your muscles glycogen stores to get used at a later date when you need them (ie- when you are exercising NOT sitting on the couch tapering)
Simple vs Complex Carbs
When to eat simple carbs:
Simple carbs – take DURING or the race or right before the race or immediately after because they can be utilized right away.
Examples: baked potatoes, Soda, Gatorade, corn, white bread, white pasta, muffin, donughts, cake, candy, chips
Simple Carbs can be found on the race course of ultra marathons because they give your body the fuel it need immediately into the blood stream
These are things ultra marathons really eat on the course. You might have wondered, “why do they eat junk food when they are running”- now you know!
When to eat complex carbs:
Complex carbs- you would want to be eating in the week LEADING UP TO the race because they can be stored away from a later use.
Examples- oatmeal, whole grains/whole wheat anything, sweet potatoes, vegetables, etc
You can find great recipes for runners in this book Run Fast Eat Slow
How much should you eat?
You will not be running as much the taper week, so no need to increase the amount of calories you are eating. Rather, focus on getting more calories from complex carb sources.
I believe in intuitive eating. You should eat when you are hungry. Intuitive eating is best for people who watch their glycemic indexes in food.
What is Glycemic Index?
The glycemic index is essentially how much your blood sugar increases when you eat the food. Foods with a HIGH GI index rapidly increase your blood suagar. Foods with a LOW GI index create a more ‘steady’ blood sugar level.
High GI examples: bagel, donuts, fries, pretzels, candy, dried fruit, white rice, rice cakes, graham crackers, waffles, watermelon
Low GI examples: apple, grapefruit, tomatoes, carrots, lima beans, chikapeas, oatmeal, special k , frosted flakes, lentil soup, banana bread, yogurt,
GI index – key for weight loss & mood stabilization:
It’s not good to have massive spikes in blood sugar. Blood sugar spikes can cause you to feel hungry, lathergric, irritable, etc.
Feeling hungry when you are NOT actually hungry is the sensation that happens when you eat too many high GI foods throughout the day.
You should probably try eating things that have Lower glycemic indexes to stabilize your blood sugar throughout the day.
Everything in Moderation:
You can obviously still have treats and indulge. You can still eat high GI foods. Just know that the high GI foods constantly throughout the day lead to huge peaks & dips in blood sugar which can cause you to feel tired, sick, hungry, etc.
Summary How to Carbo-load
(spark notes version)
-Stick with complex carbs & low glycemic index foods 3-5 days before the race.
-Simple carbs during and right before the race
-You can certainly have treats during your taper and indulge!
-Just eat with a purpose and know the impact of what you put in your body 🙂