To Carb Load or not to Carb Load? Race Week Nutrition

Over the years, recommendations on how to fuel our body for endurance events have pushed carb loading from all angles. Pre-race pasta dinners are a real thing – and happening pretty much everywhere. It probably leaves you thinking, what does my body need? How should I best fuel myself before the marathon? (Or half marathon!) I hope this post will encourage you to look beyond just the night before the big race and focus on the week prior to really set yourself up for success.

After working with many clients to fuel their full and half marathon events over the years plus countless trials and errors in my own performance (we are our own best guinea pigs, right?!), below you will find some tried and true tips to help you fuel your best performance yet.

You’ve put in the work. Now, let’s optimize your nutrition this week to show off what you’ve got in those legs!

With your big race right around the corner, here are some tips on how to fuel your body this week before the marathon for optimal performance.

Continue to eat larger carbohydrate portions even as your training tapers. So, in theory – you don’t have to try to carbohydrate load. It happens naturally if as we taper, we continue to eat how we were during intense training. The extra carbohydrates we aren’t using for training will now be stored as glycogen to fuel our muscles on race day.

Manipulate your normal nutrition plan 2 days prior to race day. You don’t necessarily need to eat more. You need to eat different. Decrease your portions of protein, fat, and vegetables while increasing your portions of carbohydrates. You’re consuming the same amount of overall energy but with the majority from carbohydrates. See example below. 

Race Day NutritionNo weight concerns allowed this week. Now is not the time to be ‘cutting back’ or tracking your weight. If you’re executing proper race week nutrition, your weight will increase. That means you’re storing extra carbohydrates and fluid. Glycogen is 1 gram of sugar to 3 grams of water. Your weight increasing is a good sign that you are topping off those glycogen stores.

Don’t try anything new. Now is not the time for experimentation. Stick to foods you know your body will tolerate. If it’s a destination race, plan ahead. Pack foods you typically eat or know where you can locate upon arrival. Fifty percent of this advice is physical and 50% is mental. Routines build race day confidence. Don’t underestimate the performance benefits in routine. I’ve been known to request a microwave at hotels and pack coolers of food. 

Hydrate with the best of them. All the proper fueling in the world can be completely negated if you aren’t drinking enough. Remember- each gram of glycogen is stored in our muscles with 3 grams of water. Plus, dehydration makes it feel harder to perform at our goal pace. Carry a water bottle with you to the expo and be sure your urine is light yellow all day. Clear urine means you’re over hydrated – try to find the right balance. Over hydration doesn’t have any additional performance benefits and may even contribute to a serious condition called hyponatremia. And, stopping to pee mid race only slows your time! 

Watch your fiber. This is incredibly variable athlete to athlete and depends a lot on GI tolerance, race day nerves, and race intensity. When we perform at a high level, blood flow is diverted away from our GI tract and to our muscles. Rightful so. But, this also can cause GI cramps, diarrhea, and delayed gastric emptying. Many people find that eating low fiber foods the few days leading up to race day, leaves less roughage in their GI tract to cause issues.

Check the weather. Do you need to eat some additional salty foods? If the weather will be hotter than you are used to training in, you may want to try and store a little extra fluid in your body pre-race. This can be done by increasing sodium intake the day before the race and drinking extra fluids.

Trust your training. Let good nutrition highlight all your hard work. You’ve got this!

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