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Are you a runner looking to get into more endurance-type races, but are paralyzed by the question of pre-race nutrition? The truth of the matter is that as an endurance athlete you must face the importance of nutrition if you don’t want your performance to suffer. You’ve probably heard the term “carb-loading” before but may not understand what it means or why it’s important. This article will cover what carb-loading is, why it’s important for endurance athletes, and how to implement a pre-race meal plan.
If we’re going to talk in terms of endurance performance and nutrition, first we must define what classifies as an endurance event. Endurance events are defined as moderate-to-high-intensity physical exertion sustained for 90 minutes or more. This could include but is not limited to, running, biking, and swimming races. Therefore, if you compete in under 90 minutes, even if it is at a high intensity, carb-loading will not be necessary.
So, what is carb-loading, anyway? Carb-loading means tapering down your training in the pre-race days and upping your carbohydrate intake in an effort to increase fuel supply in your muscles for the race. Simply put, it is eating an extra serving of pasta, potatoes, bread, and grains in the days leading up to the big race.
Carb-loading is crucial for those who compete in high-intensity activities because it prolongs your muscles’ ability to continue working without fatigue (generally referred to as “hitting-the-wall”). Hitting-the-wall occurs when muscles are depleted of their quick energy stores (glycogen). Therefore, in order to avoid such a phenomenon, one must make sure said stores are full. Enter carb-loading. Carbohydrates are the simplest and fastest energy form for our muscles to metabolize and use during exercise. Carbohydrates are stored as glycogen within the muscles. Due to carbohydrates being stored right on sight of where they will be utilized, energy can be readily available to the muscles when glycogen stores are full. Therefore, increasing glycogen stores (i.e. carb-loading) ultimately leads to a more comfortable race with better performance outcomes.
If you are new to the concept of carb-loading and finding it difficult to follow some of the complex equations and carb-loading meal plans, start simple by following these few steps:
1. Make sure in the days leading up to the big race every meal has some high carb food in it (i.e. bread, pasta, rice, potatoes, sweet potatoes, cereals, fruit, etc.)
2. Avoid foods high in protein and fat the meal directly before a big race as proteins and fats will make you feel fuller and require more energy to be expended on digestion rather than performance.
3. Make sure you are hydrating heavily in the days leading up to the race as well as during your race.
4. If your race starts early in the AM try drinking a carbohydrate filled beverage right before your race rather than eating breakfast to keep your stomach at ease while still fueling muscles.
5. If your race starts later in the day try eating a simple carbohydrate meal ~3 hours to race start time.