One of my many passions is carbohydrates. There is nothing I love more than a good carbohydrate loading plan. With many important races coming up, such as the Ottawa Marathon and the Sulphur Springs Trail race, I thought it was time to re-address carbohydrate loading. Most endurance athletes have heard of carbohydrate loading, and probably chowed down on a plate of pasta the night before a race. However, most athletes don’t feel confident when it comes to carbohydrate loading.

Why should you carbohydrate load?

Carbohydrates are stored in the body as glycogen. This stored glycogen is a very important energy source during exercise, but there is a limited amount of glycogen stored in the body. The much feared “hitting the wall” or running out of energy near the end of a race is often caused when the body’s glycogen stores have become depleted. The goal of carbohydrate loading is to create higher stores of body glycogen that can then be used during endurance exercise events.

Who should be carbohydrate loading?

Carbohydrate loading is not beneficial for everyone. Generally, it only offers an advantage for those that will competing in events lasting longer than 90 minutes such as a triathlon, half-marathon, marathon, or cycling.

How do you carbohydrate load?

The optimal daily carbohydrate target is 10-12 grams of carbohydrates per kg of bodyweight. For instance, a runner weighing 85 kg should aim for 850-1020 grams of carbohydrates per day in the days leading up to a big race. Good sources of carbohydrates include grain products such as bread, pasta and cereal, as well as fruits, vegetables, low fat milk, legumes and sugary foods.

Here are the most common mistakes I see when it comes to carbohydrate loading:

Fat loading:

Many runners make the mistake of fat loading (or just plain overeating), as well as carbohydrate loading. For instance, they load up their pasta with Alfredo sauce or glob extra butter on their bagel. These extra fats don’t help load up your body’s glycogen stores. To carbohydrate load properly, trade the fats for carbohydrate rich foods. For instance, skip the butter on your bagel and have jam or honey instead.

Not eating enough carbohydrates:

The minimum 10 grams of carbohydrates per kg of body weight is A LOT of carbohydrates. Most people don’t “naturally” eat this amount of carbohydrates. I analyze clients’ diets on a regular basis and as a result, I have a pretty good idea of the carbohydrate range most people are hitting. In my experience, most people are not eating enough carbohydrates to support daily training yet alone to support carbohydrate loading. This amount of carbohydrates can’t just all be consumed in the night before a big race.

Not practicing:

As I said above, 10 grams of carbohydrates per kg of body weight is much more carbohydrates than most people typically eat. Suddenly eating a lot of carbohydrates has the potential to cause GI issues, so it is important to always practice your carbohydrate loading plan in practice well in advance of the race. For instance, if you commonly do your long run on Saturday, try carbohydrate loading on the Wednesday to Friday to see how it makes you feel on your Saturday long run. This helps to ensure that your carbohydrate plan will work on race-day.

With the Ottawa Marathon less than 3 weeks away, I’m ensuring that I have my nutrition strategies well practiced, so that I can enter the race with as many factors under my control as possible. I will be following my carbohydrate loading plan this Wednesday, Thursday and Friday to see how I feel on Saturday’s long run. If all goes well, then I will follow this same plan on the Thursday, Friday and Saturday before the race.

I’m offering a new service of creating completely personalized carbohydrate loading plans. Carbohydrate plans are not one size fits all. Every person has a different carbohydrate target based on body weight. For $50, I will create a 3-day meal plan that hits your individualized carbohydrate target and also takes into consideration your food and lifestyle preferences. For instance, if you know that you will only have access to restaurants in the days leading up to the race, then I ensure options for this are included in your meal plan. This service is offered completely via the Internet, so it’s available to everyone regardless of location. If you would like more information please e-mail me at megankuikmanRD@gmail.com

With all the time and energy devoted to training, don’t let improper carbohydrate loading ruin your race. Proper carbohydrate loading can truly make the difference between race day agony and success. Ensure that your diet includes ample carbohydrates in the days leading up to the race, so that you can perform at your very best.

Categories: Megan Kuikman

Megan Kuikman

Hello! I’m Megan Kuikman. I’m a Registered Dietitian with specialized training in sports nutrition. My goal is to help athletes and active individuals achieve a healthy attitude towards health, training, and food. I empower athletes to fuel properly for training in order to restore their health and enhance performance. You can get in touch with me at: hello@megankuikmanRD.ca

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