Do I Need to Carb-Load?

Do you really need this before your event?

It seems that there are many “events” in the fall. Tomorrow I venture on 50 miles of the Enchanted Circle Century in northern New Mexico followed by a half marathon next week and a marathon and another long bike ride in October. I know many people who participate in activities such as this, whether the long or short distances.

A few friends and acquaintances I know think that they need to carb load before a “big” race/event. By this I mean a 5K (3.1 miles) or 10K (6.2 miles) or a 15 mile bike ride. They are telling me that they are going to eat a “big plate of pasta” the night before a 5K!

With the “average” 5K run time of about 30 minutes (I know some of you are faster and some are slower and that is ok) making that 10K about an hour and a 15 mile bike ride about an hour and 15 minutes for many people, not one of these would need “carb-loading” in the traditional sense of needing to eat a “big plate of pasta.”

Would this be harmful? Absolutely not, just completely unnecessary, and most likely too many calories, in the context of how many calories would be burned in the real activity. Meaning the run or bike ride doesn’t come close to burning off all the calories consumed.

When is carb-loading necessary? When the event you are going to take part in is going to last over 90 minutes, referred to as “endurance events/activities,” such as a half marathon, marathon, triathlon, long bike rides generally over 25 miles.

What is carb-loading and why is it necessary? Carbohydrates help build up the glycogen stores in your muscles. We want to maximize that as much as we can so we don’t deplete those stores too early. This way we are less likely “to hit the wall” or “bonk.”

Carbohydrates and water are BFF in the body, so when we build up our glycogen stores, we “retain” more water. This is okay and it not permanent weight gain, but temporary. It will go away as we burn through the stored glycogen.

What should you have?

Short bout of exercise:  have your carbs with a mix of protein too: 3-5 ounces of protein such a salmon, chicken or lean beef is fine with a side a carbs such as 1 cup brown rice, mashed potatoes or whole grain pasta and 1-2 cups of vegetables.

Longer bouts of exercise:  have more carbohydrates: whole grain cereal such hearty oatmeal with nuts and dried fruit in the morning, yogurt mid morning, peanut butter and honey sandwich on whole grain bread for lunch, fruit and string cheese for afternoon snack and the “traditional” spaghetti with a whole grain pasta and salad for dinner. And fluids all day long.

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