Carbohydrate loading for marathons and triathlons can help you finish these tough events!  Marathons and triathlons are obviously very taxing on your body and you need to prepare for them carefully to avoid injuries and illnesses. Nutrition is a critical part of any training program.

Carbohydrates, stored in the muscles and liver as glycogen, are your body’s preferred source of fuel.  As such, carbohydrate loading is a technique that may help you during an intense running event. Each gram of carbohydrate contains 4 calories.

Your muscles normally store enough glycogen to support you during short-term exercise (usually about 1 hour). Exercise activities lasting 90 minutes or more usually puts you at risk of running out of glycogen. As a result, your performance will suffer.

Carbohydrate loading can remedy the problem of running out of glycogen during endurance events. You should start loading carbohydrates the week before the endurance event. To make room for carbohydrate loading, you need to first deplete your carbohydrate stores.

You do this by increasing daily protein and fat intake to make up for the decrease in carbohydrate intake (decrease carbs to 40%-50% of total calories). You will continue to do your normal training routine.

About 4 days before the event, you should increase carbohydrate intake to 60%-70% of total daily calories. This will be about 4.5 grams of carbohydrates per pound of body weight. 

Avoid foods high in fat and taper off on your training to avoid depleting your glycogen stores. You should not train a day or two before the event. Plan on incorporating a carbohydrate-rich diet during your training period to fully benefit from carbohydrate loading.

Men tend to benefit more from carbohydrate loading because of endocrine differences between the sexes. This causes men to use carbohydrates more during the endurance event. Also plan to replenish your carbohydrates during an event lasting more than 1 hour.  A snack, piece of fruit or sports drinks will work to accomplish this.

Some things to consider about carbohydrate loading:

1) You might gain weight (2 to 4 pounds) during the loading week.  If this hurts your performance, then loading might not be best for you.

2) High fiber carbohydrates might cause digestive problems such as cramps and bloating. You might want to limit these types of carbohydrates.

3) If you are diabetic, carbohydrate loading could effect your blood sugar levels. Get your doctor’s clearance and see a registered dietician before beginning a carbohydrate loading program. You might want to try carbohydrate loading to see how your performance improves. It may be that you don’t need to load up on carbohydrates to improve your performance.

-Cathering Ebeling and Mike Geary are co-authors of the popular ebook, Fat-Burning Kitchen, which shows you how to totally revamp your kitchen to make your body a fat-burning machine!

Mark Dilworth, BA, PES
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Lifestyle and Weight Management Specialist
Certified Nutrition Coach and Nutrition for Metabolic Health Specialist. Since 2006, I have helped thousands of clients and readers make lifestyle habit changes that helps you to achieve better long-term health, which includes body transformation and ideal body weight.
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