Before a longish race it has become common to ‘carb load’ for three days before the event. This is achieved by simply increasing the amount of carbohydrate eaten. The theory behind it is that you will start the race with the maximum amount of energy stored. This will still only be enough to last for about 60-90 minutes. It will not make you run faster but will give you a better chance of running the best race you can.
A bit more science:
When you eat carbohydrates, most of it gets stored as glycogen in your liver and muscles. This is the body’s most accessible form of energy. When glycogen levels are depleted you hit what is commonly known as the wall.
On a normal day you require about 60% of your food to be carbohydrates or around 5-7 g of carbohydrate per kilo of body weight. When carb loading this amount should increase to 8-10 g per kilo of body weight. In calorific terms, there are around 4 calories per gram of carbohydrate. So if I weigh 64 kilos I normally need 320 – 448 grams of carbohydrate (about 1280 – 1792 calories). When carb loading however I should be aiming for 512 – 640 grams of carbohydrate ( 2048 – 2560 calories).
To be honest this amazes me, as well as feels rather daunting. This week I have drastically reduced my running (to almost 0), on the advice from my good friend. The interesting thing is that I have not felt less hungry. I cannot work out if this means that I usually eat too little to keep me properly fueled or that I am simply eating out of greed this week. What do you think?
So how can you achieve this extra carbohydrate intake? One way would be to increase the proportion of carbohydrate on your plate as well as eating some more snacks throughout the day.
For a quick way to top up your carb count, try one of these quick-and-easy snacks. Each is crammed with 75 g (300 kcal) of carbohydrate:
- 1 large handful of raisins, dried apricots or other dried fruit
- 2 energy bars
- 3 slices of bread thinly spread with honey
- 4 thick slices of bread or toast
- 5 rice cakes spread with jam
(Taken from this article from Runnersworld)
I can do that (although I am not sure that I can stomach 1 energy bar let alone 2 and 3-4 slices of bread is a meal for me!) Oh well I will give it my absolute best shot.
Don’t leave out protein from your diet at this time as it slows down the absorption of carbohydrates rather than giving you a quick hit. Nearer race day it is also crucial for muscle repair.
One final point is that extra Carbohydrates means that your body stores extra water so you may well gain weight but that should all disappear after the race! In fact I read in one article that if you do gain a bit of weight before the race then you get a gold star as you have loaded on the carbs well and are properly hydrated.