When should I start carb loading?
Carb loading should really start about one week before the race. It will start initially through default. You will be in taper period getting ready for the race which means running far less miles than the previous weeks. However, you'll notice that although you are running far less you are still eating a lot of food. This is due to a physiological process taking place in your body. Your body is trying to replenish its muscle and liver glycogen stores, that's why you are eating so much. As soon as you start that taper period the carb loading process begins,,, you might find that you are craving carbohydrate foods!
Over the previous couple of weeks during high mileage periods you had depleted the glycogen stores in your muscles. This is why your long 20-22 mile runs were quite a bit slower than your race pace goal. You would have been performing on below par glycogen levels and doing pretty good. Over these coming days that store should be replenished to maximum and this will give you extra energy and endurance come race day.
When should I actively start eating more carbs?
Four days before the race you should start the carb loading process proper. This means increasing your carbohydrate intake day on day for the following three days. On the final day of carb loading, which is 2 days before the race you should be eating about 80% of all you calories from carbohydrate food.
There are a lot of long distance runners who like myself get about 80% of calories from carbs on a daily basis throughout the whole year. If you fall in to that category, you should really try and increase the super high or complex carbohydrates on the third and second last day before the race.
This type of diet is know as a high carb, low fat and low protein diet. It's the only reliable way to maintain a constant weight, while staying injury free and running many miles.
What are the high complex carb foods?
When I consume these foods it is in the absence of saturated animal fat, this allows me to digest them pretty quickly and I don't get any bloating of gastrointestinal cramps.
What will happen if I don't carb load?
When do I stop?
On the day before the race you should rise and consume a high carbohydrate breakfast. This should really fill you up and the remainder of the day should be light eating. I like to practise the Japanese mantra 'leave the table 3/4 full' on this final day before the race.
On this final day you should pee quite a bit, it should be clear and your joints should feel less stiff. You should go for a very easy 5-6km run to loosen the body out and get a good night sleep.
Are all carb foods good?
Not all 'carbs' are good during a carb loading period. It doesn't take me to tell you that the super refined high sugar low nutrient dense foods are not going to do you any favours during these final days. You've probably trained really hard and made a lot of sacrifices and alienated you family, friends and colleagues. If so don't fall at the last hurdle. Eat well and be mindful about what you eat. Ask yourself the questions, is this food going to help me run or inhibit my run?
Runners World magazine ran an article (here) on how to carb load. They suggest that any type of carbs are good, even the crappy refined sugary products that have virtually no nutrients other than refined white sugar and saturated artery wall clogging fat. I couldn't disagree with them more and I don't think they should be pedalling this to the masses.
Here's why; they say that carbohydrate foods which contain fibre (fruit and vegetables) will give you gastrointestinal cramps and bloating. Fibre is an osmo-regulator in our gut. That means it draws water in and therefore keeps everything moving, which is what you want. A gut whose contents don't move, while sitting in a dry or arid environment will cause pain, discomfort and bloating.
During a marathon your body will need and use thousands of vitamins, minerals, salts, enzymes and electrolytes, snacking on sweets or food alternatives will yield none of the essential nutrients you will want on race day.
Is there anything else I should do?
Is is of primary importance that you increase your water intake over these few days. Carbohydrates are water soluble and require 4 units of water for every molecule of carbohydrate that is stored. You'll notice that your weight might increase by 1-2kg, don't worry. You might also notice that you joints feel a bit stiff and your muscles feel a bit sore. If that is the case the most likely reason is due to dehydration. Increase you water intake until your pee is clear.
Is that it?
No! One last thing.
The most important sleep is probably the sleep two nights before the race. Don't get stressed if you can not sleep the night before the race. So long as you slept well the night before you will be just fine.
Snacking on fruit over these few days will give you good energy, great nutrients and all fruits have a high water content.
OK, Is that it?
Run far, run fast but most of all RunSensible!