Carbo-Loading for the Marathon

There’s a lot of conflicting advice and studies out there about how to carbo-load before a long distance race.  If you’re unfamiliar with the concept, the idea is to increase the percentage of your calories coming from carbohydrates in order to maximize the amount of glycogen stored in your muscles on race day (the primary source of energy during an endurance event).  Think of it as filling up the tank of your car with gas; you know you’re going to use up nearly all the gas on race day so you want to fill up the reservoir as much as possible.

When runners “hit the wall” in a marathon, the point at which their bodies are exhausted and start to slow down, it’s because they’ve depleted their glycogen stores.  So proper carbo-loading is key to avoid hitting the wall!

For my first marathon, I didn’t do a whole lot of research and figured that carbo-loading must mean eating a lot of carbs for the 2-3 weeks before the race.  I ate a ton of pasta and rice and also gained quite a bit of weight, which probably slowed me a down a little on race day.  I also didn’t hit the wall.

So I definitely intended to carbo-load before this marathon, but I also didn’t want to carbo-load any more than I really needed to.  I’ve done a little more research this time around, and found that while studies vary on how long you should carbo-load, most seem to indicate that glycogen stores fill up pretty quickly, so you don’t need to carbo-load more than a couple of days prior to the race (oops..).  But they also indicate that carbo-loading only on the morning of the race is insufficient (hence the ever-popular pre-race pasta dinners).

So what am I doing? Here’s my plan: the week prior to the marathon (this week), I’m increasing my carbohydrate intake without increasing my calories too much by making swaps: eating sandwiches instead of salads, and casseroles instead of smoothies.  I finished up the last of my salad greens and goat cheese on Monday and starting eating more carbs for dinner on Tuesday.

goodbye, salads!

001Meal plan for the week:

blueberry muffins and roasted potatoes/ sweet potatoes for breakfast

ham, manchego cheese and quince paste paninis for lunch (weird, I know…we had quince paste sitting around the house and apparently it goes with manchego cheese and ham, so that’s what I got)

mexican casserole for dinner (I’m trying to use up the 30+ corn tortillas I have sitting around from a previous recipe – why do corn tortillas come in a minimum quantity of 50!?)

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Snacks are mostly power crunch bars (no other reason than they’re portable, taste great and I have a lot of meetings to attend this week) and bananas.  LOTS of bananas – not only are they a great source of carbs, they also have potassium, which is great for muscle recovery and may prevent muscle cramps!004

The day before the marathon, I’ll aim to get most of my calories from carbs, but not go crazy since my glycogen stores should slowly be filling up during the week.  Probably pancakes for breakfast, a sandwich for lunch (Primanti Bros??), and pasta for dinner.  And lots and lots of water – hydration is just as important as carbohydrate consumption this week!

Do you carbo-load before marathons?

Have you ever hit the wall during a race?


2 thoughts on “Carbo-Loading for the Marathon

  1. this is one of the things i’m nervous about. i read that you should NOT do the pasta dinner the night before because it’ll be too heavy and in your system…that you should carbo load a few days prior to that and go light the day before?? but like you said, there are tons of different opinions and research out there on this. i certainly don’t want to hit the wall, but want to have enough. i keep meaning to try making sweet potato fries!

    1. Dawn H.

      I think it depends on how quickly your stomach can clear the carbs – I ate a normal amount of pasta the night before (didn’t stuff myself) and felt comfortable the next day. I also took gels throughout the race (especially during the first half) and I think that also helped me avoid the wall. Sweet potato fries are awesome!

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