I’ll be honest! When I first started running, before I even thought about becoming a personal trainer, I heard someone was carb-loading and immediately thought to myself, “They just want cheat days for days!”. Who doesn’t love to go back for a second helping of mac n’ cheese?
Before lifting a finger and turning a page to do some research, I hung my ol’ knowledge hat on anecdotal evidence… Better known as “hype”. But the hype had to come from somewhere. And now that I am a certified personal trainer, I know of the “somewhere”. I can go to see for myself.
But first, here’s some science for your brain hole!
When you consume a carb, your body breaks it down into a small molecular chain called glucose. Now, glucose is readily available to use for energy. However, when glucose is not fueling movement soon after ingestion, it connects with other chains of glucose and stored in the muscles and liver as longer complex molecular chains called glycogen. When energy signals are sent from your brain to your muscles and liver, your body releases enzymes that attack the chains of glycogen. The aftermath of said attacks is energy ready glucose molecules… But unfortunately, if energy signals never come from your brain hole, glycogen will continue to be stored as fat. As is the case for 2 out of 3 adults in the United States. Huzzah!… Science!
So below is our Buzzfeed-esque list of best practices for carb-loading before an endurance event lasting 90 minutes or longer.
Carb-Loading Starts The Week Before Your Event
That’s right, squad! Hype and pre-race traditions will have you believe that carb-loading is a “night before” activity, fun for the whole family! While this is partly true, you’d be doing yourself and your training a disservice if you only stuffed your face with pasta and breadsticks the night before your event. Applying your newly obtained science knowledge from the paragraph above; the key here is to build up your glycogen stores. This happens in the days leading up to your event. If you’re only carb-loading the night before, you will be building up your glucose stores, and then using them soon after you start your event the next early morning.
By focusing on increasing your body’s supply of the larger and more complex chains of glycogen, you are giving your muscles a much longer lifespan before fatigue. Since we are talking about longer and more complex molecular chains, it will take longer for your body to use them. This is why it is so important to implement the below best practices for events lasting 90 minutes or longer.
Days 1-3: Your daily calorie intake should be 50% carbohydrates
Days 4-6: Your daily calorie intake should be 80% carbohydrates
Day 7 (night before event): Pasta dinner time, squad! Stuff your face, because your daily calorie intake should be >80% carbohydrates.
Glucose is Important the Morning of Your Event
Since you’ve put in the work in building your glycogen stores, you don’t want to go using them right off the start line. That’s why it is always a good idea to give your blood sugar a little boost in the morning, about 2 hours before gun time. Since we now know that glucose is an immediate fuel for energy, we want to be sure to burn that first, before we bring out the big guns, or your stored glycogen chains. I recommend a plain bagel with peanut butter and a banana. But anything high in carbs, and moderate in protein will do. Remember, this is more of a “pre-race snack,” it’s not a full out breakfast. If you overeat, or eat too soon before gun time, you will run the risk of poopy pants during your race. :o)
Not All Carbs Are Created Equal
Sugar is a carb, squad. However, ‘tis not the carb we are looking for the week before your event. We don’t want you going out and grabbing bags of Jelly Bellies before your race. I am guilty of that one… It was Easter weekend, okay?!
Instead, think “clean”! Think of clean starches like potatoes (not french fries), whole grain breads, wheat pasta, etc. These are sources containing “complex carbs,” which contain other nutrients such as fibers. So, in order to avoid any race bathroom mishaps, carb-loading with complex carbs days 1-4, then switch to simple carbs (white breads, white pasta, etc.) days 5-7.
Anybody who has run a long event before probably has experience with a “taper period” the weeks before the event itself. For those of you unfamiliar with the term, tapering period is where the training volume is gradually decreased before an endurance event. This helps relieve stress on your muscles for quicker recovery, reduces the risk of injury, but also helps your body with it’s carb-loading endeavors.
While you are building your body’s glycogen stores in the week before your event, it is important to reduce your training volume as to not dip into that energy reserve while you’re building it up.
Carbs Are Necessary During Your Event as Well!
Squad, do not forget to properly fuel during your event. Just because you knocked it out of the park, and carb-loaded correctly to build up your fuel reserves, doesn’t mean your body will not need help along the way. In fact, your body will burn through that fuel faster than you think! Especially for us here in Florida; the heat is a huge factor in how much fuel your body will need.
You should be consuming 30 to 60 grams of carbohydrates every 45 minutes to an hour of exercise. Notice I said “exercise,” there. This should be the rule during your training as well. If your training run is longer than an hour, implement this strategy! You do not want to be trying something new during your event. Therefore, train with the fuel you will be using on race day. Kenny and I usually prefer GU energy gels, or PowerBar Performance Energy Gel. The later of which contains 27 grams of carbohydrates.
That’s all for now, Squad!
We hope you are still reading, because that hopefully means we have kept your interest! We also hope you have a few actionable take-aways from this research. Please feel free to contact us for any questions or suggestions on topics you’d like to learn about next.
Thank you so much for reading!
Stay Motivated | Be Amazing
CP & KH
Bryant, Cedric X., and Daniel J. Green. ACE’s essentials of exercise science for fitness professionals. San Diego, CA: American Council on Exercise, 2012.
Whitney, Eleanor Noss, and Sharon Rady Rolfes. Understanding Nutrition. Stamford, CT: Cengage Learning, 2016.
Ogden, Cynthia L., Ph.D., Margaret D. Carroll, M.S.P.H., Brian K. Kit, M.D., M.P.H, and Katherine M. Flegal, Ph.D. “Overweight & Obesity Statistics | NIDDK.” National Institutes of Health. January 2012. Accessed April 17, 2017. https://www.niddk.nih.gov/health-information/health-statistics/overweight-obesity.