How does carbo loading affect race preparation?

Written for Yellow Ribbon Prison Run 2012 Race Preparation Articles

Before we can answer this question, we need to understand the principles behind carbohydrate loading or commonly known as “carbo loading”.

Principles of Carbohydrates and its Metabolism

Carbohydrates are the main source of substrate which is metabolized to provide energy during physical activities. During metabolism, it is broken down into glucose which reacts with oxygen to give rise to energy, carbon dioxide and water. Does carbo loading work for short distances? Probably not as our normal levels of carbohydrate storage is more than enough to supply our muscles with energy for any activity less than 90 minutes. In a review of studies carried out by the Sports Science Institute of South Africa, they found that by elevating starting muscle glucose storage, fatigue will be postponed by approximately 20% in endurance events lasting more than 90minutes.

What can we learn from this information?

It is likely that cargo loading will work better if your event is more than 90minutes. Thus, if your target time for your 10km is less than 90minutes, you are less likely to require any special carbo loading regimen before your event. However, if your fitness requires you to run the 10km in more than 90minutes, you may benefit from some extent of cargo loading.

How do you carbo load?

The classical carbo loading regimen lasts for 7 days. It involves 3-4 days of carbohydrate depletion. Meaning for the first 3 days, you need to run the same amount in training and yet eat only proteins and fats in your diet, in an attempt to drain the carbohydrate stores in your body. This will lead to a rebound phenomenon when you start eating carbohydrates on the 4-7 days and your carbohydrates store will increase to its maximum capacity.

It is logical that some people may not be able to tolerate this regimen as carbohydrate restriction puts you at risk of poor recovery and fatigue which may not be ideal one week before a race. Thus, recently, there is a new ‘modified’ regime which merely includes 3 days of high carbohydrate in-take 3 days before the key race while tapering (i.e. reducing your training intensity and mileage).

What to eat?

To keep things really simple, it just means that for 3 days before the race (which you estimate will last more than 90minutes), we eat lots and lots of carbohydrates while running less. Doing the math, we realize that our carbohydrate stores will definitely increase if we run less and eat more! Eat food rich in carbs such as rice and pasta. But try to avoid carbohydrates that may be mixed with high amounts of fats such as Nasi Briyani.

My favorite is pastamania’s aglio olio which is a really simple dish of olive oil and pasta. You should try it too!

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