Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Carb-Loading: Two Approaches

Yesterday's post ("Breaking Through the Wall"), spurred some great comments and emails from readers wanting more information on carb-loading before a race. So, I did a little digging to widen my horizons on the topic. Here's what I found.

First of all (like I said in yesterday's post) carb-loading is all fine-and-dandy and does play a very important role in preparing you for race day, but you need to make sure your getting a steady stream of high-quality complex carbs all through your training. Always keep in the back of your mind that your body has a limit to the amount of glycogen (fuel) it can hold. It's not able to keep a huge reserve, so you need to keep replenishing the supply. The carb-goal for a runner should be to keep an optimal amount of carbs in the tank at all times.

Glycogen is a runner's fuel and carb-loading is how a runner tops-off his/her tank. A typical runner's "tank" provides enough fuel for about a 20-mile run. In my digging I discovered two different approaches to carb-loading. The first approach is more traditional and involves carb-loading over a week. The second approach is based on newer thinking and involves doing most of the carb-loading the day before the race in addtion to a very short but intense workout.

Traditional Approach: The Mayo Clinic recommends carb-loading in two phases
Phase 1: About 7 days prior to race day, your carbohydrate intake should be about 50 to 55 percent of your total calories. Continue training at your normal level to deplete your carbohydrate stores and make room for the carb-loading that takes place in Phase 2.
Phase 2: About 3-4 days before race day, increase your carbohydrate intake to 70 percent of your daily calories—or about 4.5 grams of carbohydrates per pound of body weight. Cut back on foods higher in fat to compensate for the extra carbohydrate-rich foods. Also scale back your training to avoid depleting your glycogen stores. Rest completely for a day before the event.
For a sample carb-loading meal plan from Stephen DeBoer, a marathon runner and registered dietitian at Mayo Clinic, Rochester, Minn. [click here].

New Approach: If you've tried the more traditional method of carb-loading and it didn't seem to work for you, you may want to give this method reported in the L.A. Examiner a try. It's based on a study by the University of Western Australia. I have not tried this method, so I can't speak first-hand of its results, but many runners swear by it. To read the actual L.A. Examiner article [click here].

Step 1: Eat lightly and normally the week before the marathon.
Step 2: The day before your marathon, do a 3 minute, very-high-intensity speed workout in the morning. (For the reporter who wrote the article, that meant running two-plus all-out laps at the track.)
Step 3: Consume 12 grams of carbs for every kilo of lean body mass spread over the next 24 hours. That's a HUGE amount of carbs. (The reporter who wrote the article is a runner who weighed 150lbs. To get in this amount of carbs, he drank four 18-ounce cans of ABB Carboforce . He said ten 12-ounce bottles of the new Gatorade Carbohydrate Energy Formula would work as well too.)

Keep in mind that carb-loading isn't the "end-all." You'll still need to replenish your carb stores during the race to maintain your blood sugar levels—this is when sports drink and gels are particularly effective.

Like most things, carb-loading can have its drawbacks and may not be right for every runner.

Most runners will experience some temporary weight gain from carb-loading. Don't panic, much of this weight is extra water, but if the extra weight is so much that it affects your performance you may want to reconsider carb-loading on your next race or adjust the amount of carbs you ingest.
Carb-loading can cause some runners to experience digestive discomfort. The Mayo Clinic suggests avoiding or limiting some high-fiber foods (beans, bran and broccoli) one or two days before the raced.
Carb-loading can also affect your blood sugar levels. The Mayo Clinic suggests consulting with a doctor or a registered dietitian before starting carb-loading, especially if you have diabetes, and especially if it's your first experience with carb-loading.

21 comments:

kristen said...

Thanks for the great info. Hey, do peanut butter cups count as complex carbs, cause I think they should.

RunnerDude said...

Hey Kristen! Hmmmm...peanut butter cups....hmmm...well, you know there's the protein in the peanut butter and then there's the carbs in the chocolate, not to mention the antioxidants. LOL!! I'll leave that one up to you. LOL!!

JenZen said...

Man - all that sugar (to drink all those gatorades) would KILL my stomach. I'd be running to the bathroom more than running on the road. Ha. I like the Mayo clinic plan.

RunnerDude said...

Hey JenZen! I'm thinking the same thing! Think if I tried the newer version, I'd try to get in as much complex carb as I could before going to the drinks.

The Lazy Triathlete said...

I think I will stick with the first approach. Talk about bloating on the second one.

And Peanut Butter cups are my favorite chocolate.

RunnerDude said...

Hey The Lazy Triathlete! I'm with you man. I'm liking the peanut butter cup theory too. Maybe there's some research to back it up. LOL!

HEATHER said...

Great info, thanks for sharing! Although you sold me from the start with the spaghettio cans...do those count as carb loading? haha!

RunnerDude said...

Hey Heather! Well if the group concensus is that peanut butter cups count, then I think we can include the spaghettio's. LOL!!! Thanks for reading! Enjoying yor blog as well.

NY Wolve said...

very helpful! I have read so many conflicting reports about it, and this is a great summary.

RunnerDude said...

Hey NY Wolve! Yep, there's always a new way to do something. Hopefully I can plow through some things and present alternatives for you guys. Thanks for reading!!

Mel-2nd Chances said...

thanks for stopping by my blog today! :)

runnerinsight.com said...

Thank you for this information! Peanuts should be counted a complex carbs? . . Keep posting please; )

RunnerDude said...

Hey Mel-2nd Chances! Sure thing! Enjoyed your blog. I'll be back! Thanks for reading

Tanya said...

Thanks for the info. I've been looking for a sample meal plan for carb loading, this gave me some great ideas. If peanut butter cups count as complex carbs, I'm definitely on board!

Prosperity said...

Your information is awesome. I look forward to continuing to follow.

I Run for Fun said...

Very interesting post. There still seem to be so many different schools of thought on carb-loading.

RunnerDude said...

Hey Tanya! Glad to have provided some useful info for ya. Cool car!!!

RunnerDude said...

Hey Prosperity! Thanks for the feedback and for being a RunnerDude reader!

RunnerDude said...

Hey I Run For! I know what you mean. There are even variations of the two I posted about. Hopefully I've given the readers some food for thought and they'll use it to experiment with what works for them. Thanks for reading!

ImpactElite said...

Thanks for the info! I carbo-load before soccer tournaments (4 or more games over two days) and I've been looking for some solid, easy information and your post provided it. The "Western Austrailia" version actually works great for me. I'm bloated the day before, but once I wake up the day of the game or race, I feel fine. It works, I swear!

RunnerDude said...

Hey Impactelite! Welcome to the blog! Wow! 4 soccer games over 2 days. Intense. Glad the info was helpful. Thanks for the feedback!