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Should You Carbo Load Before a Marathon?

How Long Do You Carbo Load Before a Big Race?

When training for a marathon or other endurance race, that last week before the big day can be the time you look forward to the most. Not only do you say goodbye to long grueling runs (in the interest of tapering), but that often-cited recommendation to carbo load for a few days gives us license to (somewhat) throw dietary caution to the wind — bring on that huge plate of pasta! But according to studies reported in The New York Times Well blog, following carbo-loading guidelines may mean we're eating more carbs than necessary.

Many people carbo load, or eat as many carbohydrates as possible in the days leading up to a race, because they believe that it allows their muscles to store glycogen, which gives them energy during the race (especially when hitting "the wall"). Two studies looked at whether or not this was true; in both studies, the runners who ate more carbs the day before a race finished faster than those who ate fewer carbs the day before. The interesting part, however, was that while the runners all thought they'd consumed the high amount of carbs recommended in carbo-loading plans (about six or seven grams for every kilogram of body weight), the majority didn't come close to consuming that amount.

This, the study authors theorize, shows that a short bout of high-carb consumption is all you need to perform your best at a race. And since many people experience bloating and fatigue from too much carbo loading, some now believe that just eating carbs the night before is more effective than doing it for a few days.

Not everyone completely agrees, of course, so the issue of carbo loading and which foods are best to eat before a race may still be debatable. But one thing's for sure: when preparing for a race, stick to simple carbs like pasta, juices, and rice and steer clear of high-fiber foods to avoid an upset stomach during the race.

Now tell us your tried-and-true carb plan before a race: do you carbo load for a few days, only the night before, or are your dietary habits the same as always?

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