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Carb-Loading: Maximizing Glycogen Stores for Peak Performance in a Marathon

Posted by George Parker on
<b>Carb-Loading: Maximizing Glycogen Stores for Peak Performance in a Marathon</b>

“If you fail to plan, you are planning to fail.” – Benjamin Franklin

When running a marathon, one key factor that can make a significant difference is the optimization of your glycogen stores. Glycogen, the stored form of glucose, is the primary energy source during long-distance running. By strategically loading up on carbohydrates, you can ensure that your glycogen stores are at their maximum capacity, enabling you to perform at your best and avoid hitting the dreaded wall. This article will outline an effective carb-loading plan to help you achieve your peak performance.

6-Weeks to Race Day
You should begin your carb-loading process six weeks before a long run. This period will allow you to experiment with different foods and determine which ones agree or disagree with your digestive system. Understanding how your body reacts to various carbohydrate sources is essential to avoid any unpleasant surprises on race day. You won’t get the actual carb-loading benefits because it is only for one night, and you are not tapered. The goal is to practice eating carbs and finding foods that do not upset your stomach.

1-Week to Race Day
As you approach the final week before your race, it's time to create a carb-loading plan, especially if you will be traveling for the event. Planning will ensure you have access to the right foods and avoid any last-minute complications that could hinder your preparation.

3-4 Days to Race Day
Approximately +85% of your daily calorie intake should come from carbohydrates three to four days before the race. You cannot maximize glycogen stores in one meal, so this phase needs to last several days. By tapering your training volume and shifting to a carb-heavy diet, you create a powerful combination that allows your glycogen levels to accumulate. Aim for consuming around 4 grams of carbohydrates per pound of body weight. For me, at ~138 pounds, this translates to approximately 550 grams of carbs.

It's important to note that increasing your carbohydrate intake does not mean consuming more calories overall; instead, you are replacing other macronutrients with carbs. However, be prepared to see a slight increase in weight, as each gram of glycogen holds onto 3-4 grams of water. If the number on the scale starts increasing, that’s a sign you are carb-loading right! To avoid gastrointestinal issues, focus on consuming simple carbohydrates and reducing your fiber and fat intake during this period.

  • Breakfast: 1 bagel topped with 2 tablespoons of nut butter, side 1 cup mixed berries, a tablespoon of nut butter, and pair with 8 ounces of orange juice (105 grams of carbs).
  • Mid-morning snack: 2 Nature Valley Oats 'n Honey Bars and 4 Medjool dates (90 grams of carbs)
  • Lunch: Sandwich with 2 slices of white bread, 3 ounces of deli turkey, 1 ounce of Swiss cheese, and tomato slices; 1/2 cup of roasted chickpeas; 1 cup of grapes; and pair with 8 ounces of chocolate milk (150 grams).
  • Mid-afternoon snack: Medium sweet potato (microwaved), topped with cinnamon; 1 ounce of dark chocolate; and pair with 8 ounces of coconut water (80 grams).
  • Dinner: 1 1/2 cups of cooked white rice; 1 1/2 cups of cooked butternut squash; 4 ounces of grilled chicken; side salad (about 1 to 2 cups of lettuce and veggies combined); and pair with 16 ounces of a sports drink (155 grams).
  • Carb Total: 580 grams

Night Before Race Day
The night before the race, strike a balance between carb consumption and not overdoing it. Have a small, carb-heavy dinner, and ensure you eat early enough to give your body ample time to digest the food. Waking up on race day feeling hungry and energized is preferable to feeling bloated and heavy.

Race Day
On race morning, 3-4 hours before the start, aim to consume around 2 grams of carbs per kilogram of body weight. Opt for easily digestible options like a bagel, sports drink, and oatmeal. If you have an early race, eat breakfast and then go back to bed to allow for proper digestion.

Approximately one hour before the race, have a small snack such as a banana, energy bar, or bread, and sip a sports drink to maintain your carbohydrate levels.

Running a marathon is difficult and many things can happen beyond your control. Even with a great carb-loading plan, you may still hit the “wall” from glycogen depletion. But having a carb-loading plan will significantly increase the probability that you do not hit the wall and run your best.

Best wishes on chasing your running goals!

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