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Carbohydrate loading for endurance athletes

Carbohydrate loading for endurance athletes

Carb loading, a time-tested strategy for endurance athletes, has been a cornerstone of marathon preparation since the 1970s. While various methods exist, the approach is relatively straightforward: increase carbohydrate intake in the days leading up to the race to maximize glycogen stores. This guide outlines an effective carb-loading protocol, ensuring you're well-fueled for peak performance on race day.


Carb Loading Protocol:

To effectively carb load, aim for 10 to 12g of carbohydrate per kg of body weight (g/kg) daily for 36 to 48 hours leading up to the marathon. For instance, a 70kg person should target a daily intake of 700 to 840g of carbohydrate.

Smaller runners and many women may need to slightly exceed their typical calorie intake to meet these requirements. A range of 8 to 10g/kg/day can still lead to substantial muscle glycogen stores.

Managing Weight Gain:

Expect a notable increase in body weight during carb loading. This is primarily due to glycogen storage, which brings about a few hundred grams of added weight. Furthermore, glycogen storage involves a 3:1 ratio of water retention. Hence, a 400g increase in glycogen stores can lead to a body weight increase of 1.6 to 2.0kg.

While added weight may impact performance, the benefits of heightened glycogen availability and supplemental fluid outweigh this concern.

Selecting Carbohydrate-Rich Foods:

Choose carbohydrate-dense, palatable, and familiar foods for carb loading. Opt for options like rice, pasta, cereals, white bread, honey, syrups, jams, and pancakes. Keep fat and protein intake relatively low to avoid feeling overly full.

Avoid overindulging in high fat/high carbohydrate foods like cookies, ice cream, cakes, or pizza. Aim to maintain a calorie intake similar to your regular diet.

Consider incorporating carbohydrate-containing juices or fizzy drinks to effortlessly increase carbohydrate intake without causing excessive fullness.

Managing Fiber Intake:

Opt for low-fiber foods during carb loading to reduce digestive tract weight. Fiber, while a valuable nutrient, remains in the system for extended periods, potentially adding unnecessary bulk.

Sample Carb Loading Meal Plan:

Breakfast (170g Carbohydrate)

  • 100g Breakfast Cereal
  • 250ml Milk
  • 2 Slices White Toast with Jam
  • 1 Ripe Banana

Lunch (175g Carbohydrate)

  • 150g (Dry Weight) Pasta with Tomato Sauce
  • 500ml Orange Juice

Snack (120g Carbohydrate)

  • 2 Bagels with Honey
  • 1 Low-Fat Cereal Bar

Dinner (155g Carbohydrate)

  • 150g (Dry Weight) White Rice
  • Grilled Chicken Breast
  • 330ml Soda

Bedtime Snack (80g Carbohydrate)

  • 80g Breakfast Cereal
  • 150ml Milk

Incorporating these guidelines into your pre race routine will help ensure you're well-prepared to tackle the race with optimal energy stores. Remember, carb loading is a strategic approach, not a license for overindulgence. Stick to carbohydrate-rich, low-fat, and low-fiber options to fuel your performance.

Good luck!


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