Ok, so you have a race coming up. You have trained for the past 10-18 weeks, put in the long runs, and now it is time to race. Everyone knows to “carbo-load” right? So the night before a race you’re going to go out and eat a big plate of spaghetti, right? Although that is what I did the first few races, I now know how wrong that is. Most endurance athletes make that same mistake and their performance suffers because of it. Carbo-loading is mainly for endurance events longer than 90 minutes. Carbo-loading when done effectively is the best way to prepare for that endurance event.
Your body stores carbohydrates (as glycogen) in the muscles and liver to be used later. Without carbo-loading, your body stores only enough fuel to last for about 90 minutes of exercising. After that you will “hit the wall,” or “bonk”; no matter what you call it, it will not be pleasant. Carbo-loading also helps you hydrate for your race. For every gram of carbohydrate you store, three grams of water attach to it. So if you carbo-load effectively, you will gain around five pounds. But not to worry, it is water weight and fuel that you will use up during the race.
Hydration is very important to your racing performance. The average person needs to drink half of their body weight in ounces a day. If you weight 150lbs, you need to drink 75 ounces a day. If you drink any diuretic drinks, such as coffee, tea, energy drinks, alcohol or sodas then you need to replace the fluid lost from them by drinking more water. Take the total ounces of the diuretic and multiply by 1.5 and that is how much water you need to add to your daily requirement of water due to drinking them. The easiest way to check to see if you are properly hydrated is by checking your urine. If the color of your urine is clear or light yellow, you are hydrated. If it is dark yellow you are dehydrated.
So how do you carbohydrate load effectively? For a 150-pound person, try to eat 560g – 700g per day for 2-3 days. To reach that goal, it isn’t necessary to radically increase your calories, just simply increase the proportion of carbs on your plate. Eat little and often to get enough carbohydrates. Instead of three super-sized meals, eat three regular-sized meals and add three snacks between meals.
Here is my daily carbo-loading plan:
1 bagel with 2 tablespoons strawberry jam (71 g)
1 medium banana (27 g)
8 ounces fruit yogurt (41 g)
8 ounces orange juice (26 g)
2 Nature Valley Oats ‘n Honey Granola Bars (29 g)
8 ounces Gatorade (14 g)
Large baked sweet potato with ¼ cup of salsa (69 g)
1 sourdough roll (40 g)
8 ounces chocolate milk (26 g)
1 large oatmeal cookie (56 g)
1 Clif Bar (42 g)
8 ounces Gatorade (14 g)
1 chicken burrito with rice, corn salsa, and black beans (105 g)
1 2-ounce bag Swedish Fish (51 g)
So now you know how to properly carbo-load. You will still need to refuel during a marathon using GU or sports drink. But with proper carbo-loading, you are sure to reach your potential and hit that PR goal.