If you ask any runner what the most important nutrient for sustained energy is they will usually say 'carbs' and lots of them. Since the 1960s researchers have explored the benefits of storing and using carbohydrates within the body for long-distance running, with an aggressive 7 days of carbohydrate loading prior to an event as a key strategy (1).
Fast forward to the 21st century and we now have fairly solid advice about how to improve sports performance endurance 3-4 days before an event with the potential to extend endurance or running by 20% (2).
The key to understanding carbohydrate loading is to answer the questions below:
- Will I be exercising for more than 90 minutes?
- Do I have the resources & time to allocate to buying/consuming these foods?
The Strategy 2-3 days before
Leading up to an event or practice of an event, it is advised to rest and consume 7-10g of carbohydrates per kilogram of body weight for males and 5-8g per kg for females, this offers the best chance of loading up your glycogen (stored glucose) stores. For example a 90kg male will need to consume between 630g-900g of carbohydrates 2-3 days prior to an event, with minimum amount of exercise requirements within this time frame (2).
This will be achieved effectively the more you practice carb loading before an event. It is not advised to leave this task to the week of the event, as gut issues might arise leading to a few quick bush poos or purges during the event.
Type of carbohydrate intake
Both food and liquid forms of carbohydrates can be adequate 2-3 days leading up to a running endurance event. For those with a good appetite food should be the priority to ensure you store enough carbohydrates (glycogen) for your event. Those with a poor appetite or struggle to eat the volume of carbohydrates required would do best with consuming meals and carbohydrate drinks in between to top them up to the amount needed per day.
Meals including protein and carbohydrates such as potato and pasta offer the best storage in our body, but also different types of breads, rice puddings and cereals can be useful. Below is an example of a 1 day carbohydrate loading meal plan for a 65 kg female endurance runner aiming for 7 grams of carbohydrate per kg of body weight.
Building an effective carbohydrate loading eating plan takes time and commitment. Apps such as myfitness pal can be useful to assist you with information on foods that contain carbohydrates, but if you need support on this then reach out to your local Sports Dietitian or look up Sports Dietitian Australia website (3).
(1) Hawley, J. A., Schabort, E. J., Noakes, T. D., & Dennis, S. C. (1997). Carbohydrate-loading and exercise performance. An update. Sports Medicine (Auckland, N.Z.), 24(2), 73–81. https://doi.org/10.2165/00007256-199724020-00001
(2) Burke, L., Deakin, V., & Allanson, B. (2015). Clinical sports nutrition. Mcgraw-Hill Education (Australia) Pty Ltd.
(3) Carb Loading for Success: What You Need to Know. (2017, June 27). Sports Dietitians Australia (SDA). https://www.sportsdietitians.com.au/sda-blog/carb-loading-success/
Written by Luke Daley,