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Carb loading for Runners

carb loading for runners

You always hear people talking about eating carbs for the race, going to pasta parties to carb up. But what exactly does that mean? How much carbs do you need? And how do you get them? Let’s talk about carbs.

Carbs are a source of energy for the body and as runners we need a lot of energy, especially if you are running a half or a full marathon.

When you eat carbs most of it is stored as glycogen in your muscles and liver. Glycogen is your body’s go-to form of energy, but not the only one. During a marathon you will burn glycogen and fat. Glycogen however is more efficient and easier for your body to burn than fat. So your body has to work harder to burn fat.

carbohydrates for runners

So when you run out of glycogen during your run and your body starts to burn fat you will notice that you’ll have a harder time running and you will slow down. In order to avoid this you need to have enough glycogen in your body and refuel during your run.

When you’re running a 5K or a 10K, this is not an issue, your body will have enough glycogen to get you to the finish. But from 90 minutes you are going to need to make sure you have enough energy and refuel.

How do you load up on carbs?

A pasta party is fine and all, but you can’t really fill your muscles with glycogen with just one meal. Rather than that you should start two or three days before your race. Since you’re not running those days to safe your strength the glycogen will accumulate in your muscles and you will be ‘carb loading’ as they say.

85 to 95 percent of your calories should come from carbs, or 4 grams of carbs to every pound of body weight, that’s 8.8 grams per kilo of body weight. So for example when you weigh 70 kilos you will need to consume 616 grams of carbs.

With every gram of stored carbohydrate you also store 3 grams of water, so that means you will be fuelled and hydrated.

carbs for runners

Carb loading is also something you might want to train. 5 or 6 weeks before your race, when you’re already running a long distance for your training, try and carb load. This way you can find out what food works best for you. Carb loading is only useful when you actually have a long run and will be out running 90 minutes or more.

There are two kinds of carbs, the Simple of High Glycaemic Index carbohydrates (GI) and the Complex carbohydrates.

The Simple carbs are made of just one or two sugar molecules and are easy to digest. The energy is also short-lived and you will need more food intake soon after. Examples of Simple carbs are Bananas, white toast, dried fried. Great food for before or during a race.

Complex carbohydrates are slow releasing and is what you need to carb load. Sources for complex carbs are whole fruits and vegetables, dairy, whole grains, rice, quinoa and sweet potatoes.

sport gels for runners

Of course during your race you still want to make sure you get some extra energy by drinking power drinks and eating sport gels or some dried fruit. When you’re running a longer run you want to start re-fuelling at 60 minutes and every 30 minutes after that.

If you carb loaded properly and re-fuel during the race you will cross that finish line still feeling great.


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