“Attention, runners! Repeat after us: Carbs are good for me. In fact, carbohydrates aren’t just nutritious in the days leading up to a big race like a marathon- they’re essential” (Hall, 2015, para. 1). Most endurance runners understand the basic concept of carb loading before a race for energy purpose. After all, carbohydrates are a great source of energy, and will help carry any 13.1 or 26.2 mile runner through the finish line. But, the problem is, most runners are unaware of when they should start loading up on carbohydrates.
Energy Intake For an Athlete
It’s amazing how many runners train so hard, dedicating themselves to a race 5 months to a year down the road, but very few of these athletes properly train their body of proper nutrition, let alone eat the right amount of carbohydrates before the big race day. The proper amount of carbohydrates consumed before both long and short duration of exercise, significantly reduces the amount of premature fatigue which allows the athlete to benefit from their intense training. Most of the carbohydrates that are absorbed from the foods that are consumed, are stored as glycogen in the muscles and liver. Adequate consumption of carbohydrates should be fulfilled through a week long duration, before a race.
7 Days of Carbohydrates
Seven days before competition, an athlete should make sure to practice necessary skills to ensure all areas of the sport have been focused on, and to make any corrections needed. During this time, the athlete will be covering the full distance of their race (during practice) and exhausting their body. Full replenishment is needed in order to restore energy and glycogen that was used up during practice. To maximize the carbohydrate storage in an endurance athlete, one must eat several smaller meals (6) throughout the day, as most athletes train twice daily. Adequate consumption of proper food before a workout ensures the muscles will benefit from training and the athlete will be full of energy, which results in less fatigue. “Consuming at least 400 calories from carbohydrate (100 grams) immediately after the training regimen is desirable, followed by at least 800 calories (200 grams) during the next several hours” (Benardot, 2012, pg. 168).
6-5 Days Before Competition
During this time, exercise is tremendously reduced, therefore, energy intake should also be minimal. Exercise is reduced during practice by eliminating the amount of weight, or repetitions performed during regular and intense workouts. During runs, the amount of distance performed is also significantly reduced, to not overload stress to the muscles. Consistent carbohydrate and fluid intake is still high at this point.
4-3 Days Before Competition
During this time, final strategies are made for competition. Key elements and final tuning are performed throughout this time. Low to moderate intensity workouts are performed. Carbohydrate consumption is still high throughout the final days before competition. Protein intake should be around 1.7g per kg per day for tissue recovery (Benardot, 2012). Limiting the amount of physical and psychological activity throughout the day (aside from training) will ensure the athlete is rested before the race day.
2-1 Days Before Competition
Two days before the race should be limited to only one training session which should not exceed more than an hour and a half. During this time, the athlete should review mental strategy for performance of the race. Limited fine tuning should be accomplished, with very minimal stress to the body. High carbohydrate consumption is still required at this time. The day before competition should be 100% recovery. This day is used to relax all the muscles that have been used throughout training, to be ready to perform the following day. Most athletes will have massages and relaxation time (physically and mentally). If the mind permits (not anxious), walking the course of the run is okay, as long as the muscles are not overused and are properly rested. At this point, coaches should have informed the athlete of their competition and competitors, and understanding what is expected of the athlete to win. “The carbohydrate foods you consume should be high in starch and relatively low in fiber. Pasta, bread, rice, and fruits (without seeds or skins) are excellent choices. Vegetables and legumes tend to have lots of fiber but may produce gas (causing you to become uncomfortable and bloated)” (Benardot, 2012, pg. 169). Proper fluid intake is necessary for hydration the following day.
Proper Carb Loading
When an athlete runs out of glycogen from carbohydrates, the body slows down as it has to process fat into energy (McDowell, 2011). The reason behind carb loading is to properly fuel (in time/intervals) your muscles with glycogen for an intense race day. It is impossible to fuel muscles in one meal, therefore carb loading is necessary several days (up to a week) in advance. Depending on the duration (distance) of the exercise, will help determine the outcome of how many days (pre-race) in advance to start fuel the body with the proper amount of carbohydrates. Glycogen stores are the fuel for the muscles. Without this, an athlete will be unsuccessful.
Implication and Conclusion
Carb loading is an effective nutritional approach to optimal performance, as long as the duration, timing, and proper carbs are considered. Limiting the amount of fat and protein intake will ensure the adequate amount of glycogen from carbohydrates to be stored in the muscles and liver for performance. Glycogen-depleting phase can bring athletes to unnecessary risks. Hitting “the wall” is the feeling that long distance runners feel when their glycogen stores are completely drained, which causes the athletes performance to crash (Sola, 2015). Carbohydrate consumption is always considered on the athlete's unique needs; which refers to their duration of activity, daily nutritional intake, rest, and more. A golden rule among nutritionist, coaches, and athletes is to never try anything new before a big race. This gesture indicates no new foods, activity, and clothing should be imposed during this time. “Competition day is not the time for running around the house screaming, “Where did I put my running shoes!” Leave nothing to chance, and have a backup plan for everything that might go awry” (Benardot, 2012, pg. 171).
Benardot, D. (2012). Advanced sports nutrition (2nd ed). Champaign, IL: Human Kinetics.
Hall, A. (2015, April 13). The 5 Carbs You Should Be Eating Before The Big Race. Retrieved from http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2015/04/12/carbo-load-the-right-way_n_7035070.html
McDowell, D. (2011, September 27). The Right Way to Carb-load Before a Race. Retrieved from http://www.runnersworld.com/nutrition-for-runners/the-right-way-to-carbo-load-before-a-race
Solga, C. (2015, August 05). Basics of Carb-Loading for Sports Performance. Retrieved from http://www.eatright.org/resource/fitness/sports-and-performance/fueling-your-workout/basics-of-carbohydrate-loading-for-sports-performance