10 Tips for Carbohydrate Loading

Ultra endurance athletes such as ironman triathletes manipulate their diet and exercise for approximately one week prior to a race. This is referred to as carbohydrate loading and has been shown to prolong athletic endurance in Ironman races.

There are really two important points to keep in mind for successful carb loading: first, tapered exercise levels and second, adequate dietary and fluid intake. The idea is that you want to maximize your glycogen (sugar) stores in your liver and muscles for race day by eating more calories than you burn. Some people complain that by doing this they feel bloated and feel "like they are gaining weight". Well, in fact they are. When your body stores carbs, it also stores water and this leads to weight gain. A gain of
about 2 pounds is an indicator that carb loading is occurring. For this reason, you have to listen to your body and do what feels right for you (ie. you don't have to gain 2 pounds, you may only gain 1, everybody is a little different). After all, it is a week before the race and you want to feel strong and healthy – not heavy and bloated.

Here are 10 tips that you should find helpful for the week leading up to
the race:

  1. Be sure to drink enough non-caffeinated liquids every day during the week prior to the event (ex. skim milk, juice, sports drinks, water, decaf tea). You should be going to the bathroom ~ 1 every 2-3 hours and your urine should be clear or pale yellow. 
  2. Eat at least 6 servings of fruits and vegetables each day (1 serving = 1 medium orange/banana OR 1/2 cup berries/broccoli OR 1 cup green salad). This is how you can get a lot of your carbs, as well as much needed vitamins and minerals. Breads, cereals, pasta, rice, bagels, tortillas, crackers, granola bars, plain cookies, energy bars, juice and sports drinks are vital sources of carbohydrates too. 
  3. Include a source of protein at every meal. In addition to lean red meat, fish and poultry, include foods such as milk, yogurt, almonds, eggs, tofu, shellfish and canned fish.
  4. Don’t skip meals. Try to eat a small snack after lunch and dinner. Listen to your body – eat if you are hungry and don’t stuff yourself either.
  5. Remember that it is just as important to taper your workouts in preparation for the race.
  6. Avoid junk foods such as ice cream, chocolate bars, chips and fried foods because they will fill your stomach, but not fuel your muscles. This is the time to treat your body like a temple. Only put nourishing foods in.
  7. Lightly salt your food at meal times (just a sprinkle). This will help ensure that your sodium levels are sitting at the higher end of normal for race day. Your body will draw on these stores as you sweat out a lot of sodium during the race.
  8. Eat a high carbohydrate meal the night before, such as pasta with a tomato-meat sauce, salad and a glass of milk. Follow this with a small snack before bed (e.g. a little cereal and milk, half a jam sandwich, fruit and yogurt, graham crackers and milk).
  9. Eat a high carbohydrate meal 3 hours before the race starts. Some examples of foods athletes should have are: cereal, milk, toast, pancakes, syrup, jam, peanut butter, juice, banana, peach, nectarine, bagels, English muffins. You should already have tried your pre-race breakfast plan during training.
  10. Don’t try any new foods or drinks from now until after the race. Even as you wander through the athlete expo, don’t try new bars, drinks or gels. Try to eat at home as much as you can and avoid going out to eat at restaurants and delis.

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