The Myths of Carb Loading Before a Race

October 4th, 2017

by Michael Ryan

Health & Nutrition

Carbohydrate loading, or carb loading, is a strategy used by endurance athletes, like marathoners, triathletes, hikers, etc. to prepare for the event by maximizing the storage of glycogen (energy) in their liver and muscles.

Carbohydrates are your body’s primary source of fuel for performing high-intensity exercises. However, most participants of such activities are not carb-loading the right way. This is because so many myths and misconceptions are floating around, preventing people from doing it the correct way. Here are 6 common myths about carb loading that you should be aware of before you take on your next race. 



1. Carb-loading means all-you-can-eat pasta a night before

The old misconception remains that you need to stock up on pasta and go crazy with the food as much as you can the night before the big race. What this actually does is upset the stomach and create unnecessary gastrointestinal distress on the morning of the race. Now, who would want that? It is therefore recommended that you do not crash binge on carbs, but instead increase its intake gradually for several days prior to the event. This will help your body get used to the carb inflow, and not create any last-minute problems.




2. You will put on weight

This myth is true to some extent because you actually gain weight with carb-loading, but this weight is water weight, not fat weight. A gain of 2-4 pounds is common, where for every glycogen gram you pack; your body collects three grams of water. Although the water weight may make you feel a little bit uncomfortable, it will never slow you down during the race. In fact, it can actually help you stay hydrated during the run due to all that stored water.



3. Green-light to eating junk food

It is important to remember that junk food, such as pizza, ice cream, candy bars, creamy pasta, and doughnuts don’t do much for your body, which makes them bad options to stock on right before your race. Sure, they’ve got carbs, but they are nowhere near as effective as whole carbs that are found in stuff like fruits, brown rice, quinoa, legumes, and potatoes. A good tip is to not eat too much fiber to avoid stomach complications during long race, which means staying away from peas, fiber-rich beans, lentils, and pretty much anything that speeds up your bowel movements.



4. You require a ton of calories

As mentioned before, if done correctly, carb-loading shouldn’t result in weight gain. You should focus on keeping your calorie consumption as close to normal as possible, but switch to having more carbs in place of fat. A good idea is to have nutritious, whole-carb-rich food meals. For snacks, go for stuff like whole-grain pretzels or crackers, raisins, or bananas instead of cheese or almonds. Keep your protein intake to an optimum level so that your muscles can remain recovered, strong and ready.



5. The more your Carb-load, the better

If you are going for a 5K or 10K, stop carb-loading for 7 or more days. However, if you are going for a race that is longer than 90 minutes, you can begin adding in additional carbs. In fact, some experts do not even recommend carb-loading for 5K or races that take less than 90 minutes. This is because our bodies already have stored glycogen, and an event that lasts less than 60 minutes does not deplete it by a lot.

 Unnecessary loading on additional fuel for days prior to the race can leave you feeling groggy or heavy on your feet. With events that have shorter durations, you should focus on consuming a healthy meal that is rich in carbs the night prior to and the morning of the rice. This will get your glycogen levels optimized.



6. Carb-Loading Always Works

This myth is completely false. Carb-loading doesn’t always work because everyone is different and will respond differently to the process on the basis of numerous factors, including fitness level, body’s response to insulin, etc. Females especially tend not to benefit from carb-loading as compared to men; however, the results from studies are mixed. For diabetic people, carb-loading may become a potential problem due to all the extra carbs ingested which can impact the blood sugars.

So in short, carb-loading is not for everyone and certainly doesn’t always work.  

Keywords: Carb Loading, Races, Dieting, Marathons, Health, Nutrition

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