Carbohydrate Loading

Carbohydrate loading is not a new technique and is the norm in discussions with regards to the final weeks \ days in build-up to events of marathon distance and greater. It’s the act of consuming larger amounts of carbohydrates to increase glycogen storage in your body to provide extra energy during a physically demanding exercise, such as a marathon.

It is reported that a trained endurance athlete will have 20 to 50 % more muscle glycogen than untrained people, therefore they are more effective at carbohydrate loading prior to a key race than a less well-trained person. This will have knock on effects to race day fueling and the body’s ability to store carbs and the benefits you will see following carb loading.

Research suggest a high-carbohydrate diet over will see greater performance gains either a more balanced ‘Normal’ diet containing a mix of fat, protein and carbohydrate with an expected result of almost double the endurance capacity. This is also the common thinking over a ‘low-carbohydrate diet’ high fat / protein diet, where it is expected you will see a reduction in exercise performance over athletes on a high-carbohydrate diet. But this is very dependent on your normal training and diet plans.

So there are a number of ways to achieve ‘carb loading’, below are some common techniques;

Carb- depletion > Carb loading technique

Usually completed over a two week taper, with week two seeing a reduction in total mileage but keeping the higher training effort thus depleting the stores during a 3 day Carb- depletion diet. Then switching to a high-carbohydrate diet ‘Carb-loading’ phase with at least 70 % of energy intake in the form of carbohydrate over the reaming 3 / 4 days to load the muscle glycogen stores.

However reports and studies add doubt to the benefit and the science of a Carb-depletion phase.

Check out the post for more information on Carb-depletion.

London Marathon 2016

For an example of what carb loading would look like for my London Marathon 2016, Nutrition intake form Thursday > Saturday includes an increase of intake with cabohydrate focus, with high carb meals and foods plus smaller carb based snacks throughout the day.

With my start of carb-depletion weight 67kg, I would look to load 10g carbs per 1kg body weight. (10g x 67kg = 670g per day).  This will see an increase in kcals for the loading phase approximatly 2,680kcals base per day pre excercise.

London 2016 base plan (670g per day):
Thursday Friday Saturday
Breakfast Dorset – Simply Fruity Muesli with Alpro – Coconut Original topped with Chia charge. Honey trail mix and Banana Dorset – Simply Fruity Muesli with Alpro – Coconut Original. Dorset – Simply Fruity Muesli with Alpro – Coconut Original
Snacks (1) Soreen – Malt Fruit Loaf

Beet It Sport – Pro-elite Bar

M&S – Milk Chocolate Chip Cookie

Beet It Sport – Pro-elite Bar

New York Bakery Co. – Cinnamon & Raisin Bagels with Strawberry Conserve

Torq – Recovery Bar

Soreen – Malt Fruit Loaf

New York Bakery Co. – Cinnamon & Raisin Bagels with Strawberry Conserve

Lunch New York Bakery Co. – Cinnamon & Raisin Bagels with Strawberry Conserve

Torq – Recovery Bar

Gnocchi, Green Lentils with tomatoe sauce. Neds Noodle Bar

Udon noodles, squid with Yakisoba sauce + Lick banana & honey frozen yoghurt

Dinner Gnocchi, Salami, flat mushroom, and sweet potatoe with tomatoe sauce.

Vine leaves stuffed with Rice (3)

Organic Wholewheat Farfalle pasta, Salami with Creme Faiche.

Vine leaves stuffed with Rice (3)


Spaghetti Bolognese

Snacks (2) Rice pudding with 4 squares dark chocolate

Strawberry Conserve on toast

Rice pudding with 4 squares dark chocolate

Soreen – Malt Fruit Loaf

Medjool Dates

Nutella Oat Cookie

Beet It Sport – Pro-elite Bar

Ambrosia – Rice Pudding Pot

Drinks Beet It – Sport Shot

for Goodness Shakes! – Superberry Sports Drink

Banana \ espresso smoothie with SIS Rego recover powder (Vanilla)

Costa skinny Mocha Latte with hazelnut syrup

Beet It – Sport Shot

Banana Smoothie with for Goodness Shakes! – Superberry Sports Drink

Beet It – Sport Shot

for Goodness Shakes! – Chocmalt Sports Drink


Normal ‘Carbohydrate Loading’

The term ‘Normal Carbohydrate Loading’ is the most common undertaken with endurance athletes.  This phase is to be completed combine with a gradual taper over the last 2 \ 3 weeks before your event, with a dietary focus at the end of the ‘Carb-loading’ phase – 5 days before the race.

It is suggested the recommend intake is 8-10g od carbohydrate per kg body weight per day.

A couple of useful tips;

  1. Stick with foods that you are familiar, there is no need to try anything new in the final days build up. This can be tricky if staying away or traveling abroad.
  2. Try to stick with Wholegrain foods
  3. Eat regulary but not so your eith hungry or bloated
  4. Don’t over eat kcals, high-carb is not high calorie intake

Suggested diet – 3 days pre Event

It’s important to have a good balanced meal plan, lean meats and high carbohydrate foods, sticking to wholegrain foods is important. REMEMBER we are not talking about loading with extra food this is a high carbohydrate diet not a high kcal intake diet.

Complex carbohydrates are the most beneficial for your body and include such foods as potatoes, yams, beans, peas, wheat bread, bananas, macaroni, spaghetti, cereal, raisins, apples, bagels, syrup, brown rice, corn, apples, carrots, and root vegetables. Mix a variety of carbs into your diet to create a nice balance.

The following is just a suggested Normal ‘Carbohydrate Loading’ style meal plan with the ‘A Race’ on a Sunday, snacks would need to be added to to raise the grams in line with body weight calculations;

Suggested Food Diary by days (main meals):
Thursday Friday Saturday
Breakfast Polenta porridge with cinnamon and honey also try with banana Weetabix with semi-skimmed milk topped with blueberries and banana. Wholegrain porridge oats with banana and blackberries and cinnamon
Lunch Gnocchi with roasted sweet potato, spinach, avocado and poached egg. Red Quinoa Salad (chickpeas, avocado, tomatoes, peppers, turkey or chicken)

– (Lunch box meal ideal for traveling)

Soba Noodles, Chicken and fresh vegetables
Dinner Red Quinoa, Aduki Beans, sweet pointed peppers served with Pork tenderloin Wholemeal spaghetti with king prawns, red peppers, courgette, red chilli, spinach and chopped tomatoes. Spaghetti Bolognese or carbonara

It’s good to eat smaller portions with snacks, try adding things like Bagels with peanut butter, malt loaf, muesli (or other cereal), nuts, seeds and dried fruit are also other great snacks.  A late bowl of whole meal porridge oats always works and you can never beat rice pudding.

The day before your event we would suggest eating earlier in the day, so decent breakfast, mid morning snack and having your main meal for lunch.  Then dinner can be a lighter meal as you will probably be eating earlier and heading to bed. If your still hungry before bed a rice pudding pot is a winner or any cereal \ energy bar.

Just make sure you’re not hungry or on the other hand bloated, both are not a nice feeling in build up to you race.

Race day Tips

  1. Take your normal race day breakfast with you, this is common with endurance athletes not wanting to leave anything to chance.
  2. for an extra carb boost with breakfast try adding ‘Seed Shots’ or ‘Chia Charge Trail Mix’ with on your breakfast or as a side.
  3. Leave a minimum 2 hours between breakfast and race start. (take a snack if race is slightly later i.e. energy bar or banana)
  4. Don’t do anythng you have not tried or tested before

Carbohydrate intake during an Event

While consuming carbohydrate in the form of drinks, bars, chews and gels during long training runs and events aids your stores and is beneficial to sustaining performance, the requirement is greater for the non-well trained running due to the capacity of the muscles to store glycogen. Make sure you have a tried and tested race day nutrition plan.  For help try XMiles race day nutrition help service.

And finally…

Your body also stores around 3g of water for every gram of glycogen so during the carb-loading phase it’s not uncommon to gain extra weight (around 1-2kg). But don’t worry – this extra weight is primarily made up of the carbohydrate you’ll need to power you through your race, so you should use it all up on race day!


2 thoughts on “Carbohydrate Loading

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