If you are training for a full or half marathon, or another endurance event, you have probably heard the expression “hit the wall,” bandied about. Hitting the wall or bonking describes the extreme fatigue experienced when glycogen stores in the muscles and liver are depleted. Glycogen equals energy. If this has happened to you chances are high you don’t want it to happen again. Carb loading may be the answer. Carb loading is simply eating extra carbs before an endurance event to build up glycogen stores so you have enough energy to endure. Thinking of trying this technique? Here are some tips…
Although many race sponsors host a big pasta dinner the night before the race that isn’t sufficient time to build your glycogen stores. It won’t hurt but neither will it help as much as carb loading a few days before the big event. Without enough glycogen your body will be forced to use fat for fuel, which takes more time to convert.
Stick to the basics
You’ll likely taper your training in the days before the big event. That means you won’t be using as much energy, and if you are carb loading properly, your muscles should be at full glycogen capacity. In these few days it is a good idea to go for easily digestible carbs. Avoid high-fat, high-fiber choices. Too much fat means too many calories and too much fiber may mean gastrointestinal upset. Stick to the basics before the race. If you don’t know how your body will respond to a food product, don’t chance it. Good choices include:
• Peeled apples – fiber is in the skin
• Bread (bagels, waffles, muffins, etc.)
How much is enough?
In the final days before your event most of your calories should come from carbs. Aim for two to four grams of carbs for every pound of body weight. Expect a shift on the scale, too. Carbs increase water weight so don’t panic.
What about performance?
Carbs are not a magic bullet. They will help you finish the race but not necessarily faster. There is no real short-cut to preparedness if you have a performance goal you want to nail.
Special considerations for women
Women are thought to burn fat for fuel more readily than glycogen. Estrogen has a role here. To determine what works best for you keep a training and food journal. You’ll want to know what to eat to fuel your best workout. Early experimentation will help you nail the right formula on race day.