Carb Loading Plan
Most athletes understand what a carb load is: Taking in large amounts of carbohydrates to top off glycogen stores. While carb loading is common practice among competitors before endurance events, it is often done incorrectly, negating the performance benefit. Understanding the basics of this practice in a bit more detail can help you achieve the performance boost you’re after.
To get the most out of your carbohydrate load, aim for the right kind of carbs — simple, high-carbohydrate foods that are also low in fiber, protein and fat, like 100% juice, white pasta, dried fruit and tomato sauce. While donuts and pizza are high in carbohydrates, they also contain high amounts of fat and protein which slows the absorption of fuel and makes the body feel more sluggish leading up to your race. Empty calorie carbohydrate sources, like candy and soda, are also not advised as they cause sugar cravings and energy imbalances.
In addition to choosing the right carbs, aim for the right amount. Daily calorie intake should stay roughly the same during this carb-loading period as it was during your training. As you’re likely tapering and working out less, those extra calories will be used for race day energy. About 70% of your daily carbohydrate intake should be from appropriate carbohydrate sources with the remaining 25% split between roughly 10% protein and 20% fat.
Choosing the wrong carbohydrate sources can leave you bloated, constipated and sluggish. To avoid these issues, focus on the carbohydrate sources listed above. Balance is key; a bit of fiber from whole carbohydrate sources like potatoes is important to keep nutrients high and your gut running smooth, but this isn’t the time to go overboard on bran, whole grains or fruit. Adding simple carb sources is beneficial during this time but should never be the sole source of intake. Eating carbohydrate-rich foods that are familiar to your normal intake is always a safe bet; this isn’t the time for culinary experimentation!
An important fact to keep in mind when carb loading is weight gain will happen. Luckily, this weight is only water weight and will be quickly depleted during your race. For each gram of glycogen you store (to use for that personal record!), your body holds onto about 3 grams of water. A good sign you’ve carb loaded correctly is seeing a 2–4 pound gain on race day morning.