Carb-Loading Tips (and other nutrition hints for endurance events)

 Anyone planning on participating in a marathon, triathlon, century ride, long hike, climb, or other endurance event this weekend or in the near future?

Here are a few quick tips for those of you who are carb loading for an endurance event:

  1. Start increasing your carbohydrate intake 3 to 4 days before the event. True carb loading is more than a pasta dinner the night before.
  2. Choose from a variety of carbohydrate sources including starchy vegetables (potatoes, yams, winter squash, peas, corn), grains (rice, quinoa, buckwheat, pasta, breads, etc.), and fruit and fruit juices. My “go to” when carb loading is fruit smoothies.
  3. Decrease intake of fat and don’t over-do protein during these days to help keep total calories in check and help prevent unnecessary gain in body fat while increasing your carb intake.
  4. Also use this time to work on hydration. Start your day with a big glass of water and keep drinking all day long. Go into your event well hydrated. Dehydration is one of the primary causes of gastrointestinal problems during endurance events. By the way, alcohol is dehydrating so avoid or limit prior to endurance events. If you do have a beer compensate with extra water before turning in for the night.
  5. Expect some weight gain but don’t be disturbed by it. This is the type of added weight that won’t slow you down in the long run. Your body stores carbohydrate as glycogen in your muscles . Glycogen is heavy (every molecule of glycogen is stored with 3 molecules of water) but it is fuel in the tank that will keep you going and get you across the finish line. Did you know that when a NASCAR crosses the start line 1/3 of it’s weight is fuel? But it’s worth it to start the race with a full tank to keep you from slowing down and to keep you going longer.
  6. The day before your event (and during your event) choose sources of carbohydrate that are easy to digest. For many athletes, this means doing the opposite of what you usually aim for – choosing foods that are low in fiber and more processed (but not full of chemicals or additives). White foods (pasta, rice, bread, potatoes w/o skins, etc.) may actually be the better choice at this time so that your body can easily digest them, extract the valuable carbohydrates, and get rid of any residue before event day. The day of an endurance event is no time to be needing extra stops to the porta-potty.
  7. Watch your sauces. Spaghetti dinners are a traditional pre-event meal for many athletes, but not everyone tolerates the red sauce well. Many athletes end up chewing on antacids during their events because of tomato sauce laden meals the night before. Tomatoes can cause the stomach to increase production of stomach acid, the same is true for peppers, caffeine, and foods that are high in vitamin C like citrus fruits. Creamy sauces that are high in fat are a problem too. Fat is slow to be digested and absorbed, and will slow down the absorption of everything else in your gut too. Though not as traditional, I find that white rice, toast or potatoes (baked, roasted, boiled) are a great choice for the pre-event meal.
  8. Add a bit more salt to your diet the day before to help front-load on sodium. Sodium is lost in sweat and needs to be replaced during endurance events, but you can get a head start by having a bit more on board prior to your event. So add some soy sauce to the rice or salt to the potatoes… then drink to quench your thirst.
  9. Stick with what works. Don’t try new foods or sports supplements on event day or the last few days prior to it. Stick with foods you know your body handles well. If you see something that looks like it would be a good option to incorporate into your nutrition strategy, plan to test it out during training before your next event. If you have never trained with the sports drink or supplements provided by event organizers, consider packing products that you know you can tolerate. Some surprises are not welcome during endurance events. New foods and supplements are like new shoes…they need to be tested and broken in before used in a major endurance event.
  10. Rest. This not only refers to getting plenty of sleep the night before your event, but also to backing off your training in the days before. Most good training plans taper training the week prior to endurance events, and with good reason. If you’re not trained by now, a few more days isn’t going to help. Your body needs time to recover from your last training session – to build and repair muscles, and boost your immune system. And of course, the only way to maximize the glycogen (fuel) stored by your muscles is to not burn it off during carb loading. Research  supports taking 2-3 days off prior to endurance events to make sure you are at your peak performance potential. If you insist on moving, limit it to 20 minutes of light training and stretching. Save it for race day, then show ‘em what you’ve got!

 

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