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Should You Carbo-load Before a Race?

Here’s an article recently shared with me on Carbo-loading.  Many tend to still follow this strategy before a 1/2 marathon or marathon.  My advice, and what I follow, is to maintain to eat healthy whole foods and possibly increase your intake of carbohydrates that are not processed in the days leading up to the event.  While there may be some benefits to glycogen stores, it’s more beneficial to train your body over a months or years of training to be efficient at burning fat.

Read what Bonnie Coberly, a Certified Health Counselor, has to say about this topic. 

While “carbo-loading” might seem like the best way to prep your body for race day, whether or not to carbo-load hinges on a variety of factors: including what activity your race entails, your diet prior to the event, and how much effort you will expend on race day.

Much like the rest of your race training, there is science behind when and if carbo-loading before a race is the best strategy. Here are some fundamentals to consider before you fill your plate at the pre-race pasta party.

How carbs can help race performance.

Carbo-loading for a race typically conjures images of endless pasta bowls and loaves of bread. These foods are indeed high in carbohydrates, which the body then stores as glycogen. Because the body easily accesses glycogen for energy, it makes sense to assume that consuming as many carbs as possible before the race is akin to piling energy reserves. After all, the more energy you store, the easier it is for your body to find and use.

While eating a lot of the carbs can work to your advantage to build your glycogen supply, it’s not an instant guarantee of enhanced performance.

Your body has to perform enough “work” (in the sense of energy consumption) that your body can use the glycogen to its advantage. If it doesn’t, the carbs you consumed in an attempt to give your body some extra fuel could get converted to fat. Your body can use fat as a source of energy, too — but it’s harder for it to access and process. As a result, it could cause you to feel sluggish and heavy. (When you hear of an athlete “hitting the wall” in an endurance race, this often means her body has run out of glycogen, and the body is now using fat for the energy supply). This is good news if your intent is to lose body fat — but bad if your goal is to enhance race performance.

How many carbs do you really need?

How many carbs you need to effectively carbo-load depends on a few factors: the type of carbs, when you consume them, and how much energy you will exert during your race.

Food likes bagels, pasta, bananas, cereal and bread often make an appearance at pre-race and finish-line parties for good reason: They tend to be fairly easy to digest, are high in carbohydrates, and easy for the body to turn into glycogen. Unlike some other high-carb fruits like apples or peaches (which one typically eats with the skin), they’re also low in fiber (too much of it can cause stomach upset during the race).

However, filling your body with the glycogen it needs is a process that one night of “all you can eat” pasta before your race won’t accomplish. Because it’s likely that you will train less intensely during the days before your race, try to consume carbs for about 85 percent of your caloric intake. As Monique Ryan, leading sports dietitian told Runner’s World, this equates to “about four grams of carbs for every pound of body weight.”

When carbo-loading, you may add a couple of pounds with consistent carbo-loading. Though you will likely shed them as your body uses the energy reserves, assuming you’ve “loaded” to reflect the energy you use during a race.

If you’re running an endurance race — like a half marathon or longer, strategic carbo-loading could be effective. Likewise if you plan on sprinting throughout a shorter race, or perform high-intensity sprints, this could cause rapid glycogen depletion in the muscles, explains nutritionist expert, Janet Walberg-Rankin.

Yet if race intensity is kept to a minimum, or it takes less than an hour to complete, carbo-loading probably isn’t as beneficial as simply adopting a healthy diet throughout your training.

Author Bio:

Bonnie Coberly is a Certified Health Counselor from the Institute for Integrative Nutrition at Columbia University. Bonnie is now focused on educating her clients at Natural Horizons Wellness Centers on the importance of healthier life decisions.



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