Should I Carbo-Load Before a Race?

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Answered by: Hanvi, An Expert in the Nutrition and Staying Hydrated Category
A lot of runners, especially those new to racing, often have many questions when it comes to properly fueling the body for running. Runners often wonder about whether or not they are eating the right kind of food, and about how much food they should be consuming. As race day approaches, there seem to be one question that is most prevalent amongst runners that are racing for the very first time. Runners about to run their first marathon are more than likely wondering whether or not they should load up on carbohydrates the day before a race. They are basically trying to figure out if they should partake in a training method known as carbo-loading or carbohydrate loading.

To get to the answer of this question, one must first understand what it means to carbo-load. Carbo-loading is actually a two-step process. In order to complete the first step in carbohydrate loading, the runner must exhaust or use up all supply of glycogen in the body. The runner can accomplish this step by consuming a diet low in carbohydrates for three days. Once the runner has completed the first step, they will move on to the second step in carbohydrate loading. For the next three days, the runner will begin to make carbohydrates the main part of their diet. For every meal that they eat, they will have to make sure that 70 percent of the meal is made up of carbohydrates.

People that encourage runners to load up on carbohydrates do so because they believe it is an efficient way to up the amount of glycogen in the runner’s body. Glycogen in the body serves as a source of energy fuel for the runners, and energy is something that no long distance runner can ever do without. Therefore, it makes sense to carbo-load the day before a race, based on that alone.

However, there has been shown to be some downsides to carbohydrate loading. Runners that take in an excessive amount of food right before race day might actually be setting themselves up for failure. A lot of runners have a hard time sleeping the night before a race, perhaps due to excitement or anxiety. However, it will become even harder for runners to fall asleep if they have an extravagant amount of food sitting in their digestive system, and runners definitely do need sleep the night before the race. To make matters even worse, there is a really good chance that the runner will be experiencing an upset stomach on race day due to the large amount of food still sitting in their digestive system.

So what is a runner to do? Should they or should they not carbo-load before the big race? The answer is neither a definite yes nor a definite no. In order to benefit from what carbo-loading has to offer, while avoiding some of its negative consequences, runners should follow a modified version of carbo-loading. Instead of drastically increasing the amount of food and carbohydrates in the last three days before a race, runners should spread out the extra food and carbohydrates over a week’s time. This means eating a little excessively everyday for a week instead of binging at the last minute. Doing so will allow runners to properly fuel for their running event.

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