Carb Loading Before a Race: Benefits & Key Considerations

When training for a race or just ramping up to run longer distances, there are certain diet strategies that are proven to work well to provide an extra boost of energy and long-term stamina. One example of this is carb loading, which involves eating more rice, pasta, potatoes, and other high-carb foods the night before a big race.

There are some definite benefits to carb loading, but it’s also important to not neglect other foods and minerals to set the body up for success.

Here is some information about the carb loading diet for athletes, including the best way to carb load and the best carb loading foods.

Behind the Carb Loading Marathon Strategy

Foods that are rich in carbohydrates are great for supplying the body with energy, which is something that athletes definitely need to run long distances. Carbs are mostly stored in the muscles and liver as glycogen, which is easily accessible in the body.

Many runners describe a feeling known as “hitting the wall,” which occurs when the body runs out of glycogen and the body must start burning fat instead to use as energy. This causes runners to slow down and fail to meet their goals.

The Best Way to Carb Load

There is definitely a right way and a wrong way to carb load, so runners need to choose their carbs wisely. Some personal trainers suggest having a carb-heavy meal two nights before a big meal, rather than the night before it, in order to aid proper digestion and to allow the glycogen stores to restock themselves. Then instead of eating a towering plate of spaghetti the day before a race, choose well-balanced meals with carbs, proteins, and small amounts of fat. Another option is to taper training while gradually building up carb consumption a couple weeks before competition.

Best Carb Loading Foods

Not all carbs are created equal, and some carbs are definitely better for pre-race strategizing than others. As a general rule, skip foods made with refined flours and a high glycemic index. Instead, athletes should base their diets around the following best carb loading foods when preparing for a big race:

  • Brown rice
  • Quinoa
  • Old-fashioned oats
  • Potatoes
  • Bananas

Key Considerations for a Carb Loading Diet

One of the biggest issues with a carb loading diet is that athletes tend to neglect other important food groups, vitamins, and minerals while focusing on carbs. For example, hardworking athletes and especially runners, often need extra iron antioxidants to fuel their bodies with power and resilience during periods of hard training. In fact, it may be necessary to eat more fruits and vegetables and supplement the diet with iron in the weeks and days leading up to a big race.

Therefore, it’s important to remember balance in meals, even while focusing more heavily on carbs. Not only will this method help ease the body into dietary changes, but it will help sustain healthy energy for longer periods of time without the dreaded crash that so many runners experience.