Carbohydrate Loading – Does it help?

Ahh carbs! Looks like I must be on a carb craze since my last post talked about my recent bagel addiction. But in reality tomorrow is my long run, and so I thought it would be wise to examine whether carbohydrate loading truly benefits a long run or a race.

I generally am not too picky about what I eat the day before a race or before a long run. However, I think it is something I should give more thought to. One time I ate mexican food the night before a 10 mile race. That did NOT make my GI tract happy. I made it through the race fine, but felt pretty terrible afterwards!! Lesson learned!

So what is a carbohydrate? It is a starch or sugar, which is your body’s main source of fuel. It is stored in the body in a structure known as glycogen. Generally your body only stores small amounts of glycogen in the muscles and liver – enough to get you through general recreational exercise. It has been shown that after 90 minutes of intense exercise, your body begins to run out of these glycogen stores, causing you to become fatigued (sometimes I think my body must run out of energy by mile 2 or 3! just kidding, but fatigue sets in way before 90 minutes for me many times!)

The role of carbohydrate loading involves the week of your long run or race, such as a marathon. According to they recommend consuming 70% of your calories from carbohydrates 3 or 4 days before your endurance event. Mayo Clinic also recommends cutting back on your activity and resting the day before, which has been shown to allow for increased glycogen stores in your muscles. There have been studies on men that showed carbohydrate loading increased glycogen stores from 25 to 100 percent the normal amount in muscles. Fewer studies have been shown in women, and many of the studies done are in fact controversial, not showing as much of a benefit.

There is controversial information on whether carbohydrate loading is in fact beneficial for anyone. There are a lot of other factors that also play into the role of fatigue during an endurance event – the shape you are in, hydration level, amount of fuel consumed during the event (which especially in a marathon is crucial).

Carbohydrate rich foods must also be consumed after the endurance event to ensure adequate replacement of glycogen stores. These types of foods include: breads, pasta, fruits, milk, starchy vegetables (like corn), legumes.

So is it really worthwhile? Again, from personal experience, I have not noticed any difference. I generally try to just eat a well balanced meal the night before a long run or endurance event – including a protein, carbohydrate and vegetable (but not too much vegetables – too much fiber!). I do not focus a whole week out on the foods I am eating, or specifically make sure that I am eating 70% worth of carbohydrates. Perhaps I would have more energy, I can’t honestly say. But, I have not noticed any deficits to this point in my training. The biggest thing for me is to make sure that if my event is long (such as a marathon) I consume fuel DURING the event. OH, and to not consume mexican food the night before :)!

Do any of you carbohydrate load before an endurance event?


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