Should you really be carb loading before a running event? If so, how?


When it comes to the concept of carb loading, critics are even more divided than ‘Team Jacob’ and ‘Team Edward’ from the Twilight days. There’s no doubt that there are some benefits to carb loading, but it may not be as simple as simply indulging in a big bowl of pasta the night before your big event.

The facts about carb loading before a race

FACT: You need energy for a running race

Many runners talk about hitting ‘the wall’ during a race, and struggling to finish. During intense, continuous exercise, your muscles will become depleted of glycogen. Having excess glycogen in your body means once the supply in your muscles is exhausted, can start tapping into excess glycogen in order to keep providing yourself with energy and avoid the dreaded ‘wall’. This is the reason runner’s carb load: to create a glycogen excess. However, you don’t need to go overboard. If you have a balanced nutrition plan, then simply upping your carbohydrate intake by 50 per cent, two or three days before your race, should be enough.

MYTH: Every runner needs to carb load

Your muscles become depleted of glycogen after 90 minutes. So if you’re running a 5km race, or anything under the 90-minute mark, you don’t need to develop a carb loading strategy.

Giselle Bundchen

MYTH: A bowl of pasta the night before will give me energy for the race

Unfortunately, as fun as a pasta party can be, if you haven’t been carb-loading for 2-3 days before the event, a single carb-heavy meal the night before unlikely to do you much good. You simply can’t fill your muscles with glycogen from just one meal, which is why you need to start adding carbs to every meal in the three days leading up to the event. People who simply load up the night before can end up with gastrointestinal distress, which is probably the last thing you want before a race! Again, you don’t need to go crazy, just focus on making carbohydrates the centre of your meal for a few days before race day, and incorporate more carb-based snacks one day out from the race.

FACT: All carbs are not created equal

A lot of runners think that loading up on any type of carb will do the job. The truth is, eating anything and everything won’t work. You need to load up on simple, compact carbohydrates, as anything to fibrous will be difficult for you to digest, or you may find it simply too bulky to consume. Stick to carbohydrates coming from sports drinks, pasta and rice to avoid digestive troubles.

So, just to summerise…

Carb loading isn’t necessarily for everyone, and many people disagree on whether it is necessary. However, hitting ‘the wall’ during a race is a real issue. If you’ve already got a nutritious, balanced diet on a daily basis, then your body should be in top shape in the lead up to your race. By simply focusing on increasing the carb content in your meals in the 2-3 days leading up to your race, as opposed to going on an all-out carb binge, you’ll be setting yourself up for success. Good luck!

About Neil:

Neil Russell has over 10 years’ experience in Personal Training, Strength and Conditioning coaching and exercise rehabilitation. He has been a strength and conditioning coach for Australian and NZ representative athletes and a PT for internationally acclaimed actors, models and media personalities.

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Neil Russell
Neil Russell is the founder of ATLETA and one of the most highly qualified, experienced and sought after trainers in Sydney. He has trained Hollywood celebrities, models, top athletes and high profile corporate clients. He started working in the fitness industry as a gym instructor in 2001, while studying Human Movement Studies at the University of Technology, Sydney (UTS). In 2004, he spent hours performing physiological testing on athletes in the UTS human performance laboratory and wrote his thesis examining the physiology of team sports performance. For his research paper he received a First Class Honours Degree. Since completing his major work, Neil has built a reputation of being an authority on exercise and sports performance training having had a number of articles published in the Journal of Science and Medicine in Sport. He is currently the resident expert exercise consultant for Weight Watchers magazine, and has featured in other publications such as CLEO, Men’s Style and Woman’s Day. Neil also lectures at the State Sport Centre (ACPE) and has taught at UTS and UNSW. As an Exercise Physiologist Neil is able to safely help professional athletes and his personal training clients achieve their individual goals, even when they present with an injury or chronic pain. Boasting unparalleled professional experience and knowledge, combined with his passion for maximizing his clients physical and psychological wellbeing, Neil is the ideal person to help you achieve your goals.