As the long-run distance increases in the training schedule pre-run nutrition becomes increasingly important. I want to discuss how you can improve your long runs and races through carbo-loading/fuel-loading.
What is carbo loading? Historical carbo-loading asked runners to starve themselves of carbohydrates for three days then double food intake for three days before the marathon. Muscles starved of carbohydrates would soak up extra carbs and store them in perfect timing for the race. Research supported this approach and runners benefited from it. As time passed, runners learned that it wasn’t necessary to go through the depletion stage, and all that was necessary was to increase calorie intake for three days leading up to the race.
Later it was discovered that you simply needed to double your carbohydrate intake for three days. Doubling food intake worked because runners would be tapering for their race and as they reduced their training workload while eating more their muscles would store the extra carbs.
Historical carbo loading emphasized high sugar and starch calories for several days. As time passed studies showed that fat loading produced results similar to carbohydrate loading. A high fat and high calorie diet consumed for several days before a run produced higher level results. Current techniques emphasize a more balanced diet used to double pre-race calories which is called fuel loading.
There are some issues with carbo-loading and fuel loading. Runners became aware of negative side effects of eating high quantities of wheat. The runner’s favorite carbo loading food is pasta. Pasta contains high amounts of gluten. Eating high quantities of pasta can cause inflammation and bloating which will slow you down which is a side effect of gluten. Many runners eat rice instead or other low gluten starches.
Runners often do not fuel load enough before a long run or a long race. It takes three days of doubled food intake to fully be ready. It’s not easy to overeat for three days which is why complex carbo drinks can help you double calorie intake. After a meal you can drink an extra 500 calories with a complex carbo mix such as Carbo-Pro. You can balance your nutrition by adding a protein drink to your carbo drink. There are many brands of protein drinks you can use that are either plant based or whey power based. I use Tailwind Recovery before and after running.
You can also fuel load with fat and to avoid the risk of animal fat deposits in arteries use plant based fats. Avocados, cashews, olive oil, flax and pumpkin seeds are examples of excellent sources of fat that you can use to fuel load for long distance running.
Practice makes perfect. Now is the time to test your fueling technique on your long runs and find what works best for you. You will have successful races with a more balanced approach.
You also want to consider what to have for breakfast before your Saturday long runs. Will you have toast and coffee or bagel and tea? How long before your run? Usually I wake up 2 hour before a race and have two Picky Bars. An hour before a race I drink Carbo-Pro. This works for me and you need to find out what works for you by trial and error.
Take advantage of your long runs to find out what works for you. Use the same approach on race day and you will succeed.