This happens to be the week after TriRock Philly and the week before Challenge Atlantic City races. And my clients are asking me about the pre-race meal. At Challenge Atlantic City, and ironman distance race, they provide an athletes dinner two days before the event. And many think they should be adding copious amounts of carbohydrates to their pre-race meals. Do you think so?. Do you carb load?
I used to carb load until I learned more about how it really is supposed to work. Essentially, carbohydrate or carb loading requires you to eat absolutely NO carbohydrates for 2 days. None, zero, el zippo. Then eat as many as you can for the next 2 days. This is basically a 4 day process and may increase your glycogen stores by a minimal amount. Seems like a lot of work for not that much benefit. And for women it is even less effective.
Carbohydrate loading, commonly referred to as carb-loading or carbo-loading, is a strategy used by endurance athletes, such as marathon runners, to maximize the storage of glycogen (or energy) in the muscles.
Carbohydrate loading is also used in healthcare to optimise the condition of patients prior to colorectal surgery.
Carbohydrate loading is generally recommended for endurance events lasting longer than 90 minutes. Many endurance athletes prefer foods with low glycemic indices for carbo-loading due to their minimal effect on serum glucose levels. Low glycemic foods commonly include fruits, vegetables, whole wheat pasta, and grains. Many marathoners and triathlon participants have large pasta dinners the night before the race. Since muscles also use amino acids extensively when functioning within aerobic limits, meals should also include adequate protein. Large portions before a race can, however, decrease race-day performance if the digestive system has not had the time to process the food. (from wikipedia.org)
They also mention that the original form of carb-loading did require complete depletion of carbohydrates before overloading phase began before an event. The modified version is to maintain a regular diet and increase carbohydrates to 70%. Hmm, wouldn’t this cause the body then to start burning sugars for energy rather than fat? If you were practicing a balanced diet with a normal amount of high quality carbohydrates, fats, high quality proteins and vegetables in a balance fashion throughout the day, your body would be in fat burning mode. Your body would be using fat for energy more than it would sugars and glycogen stores. Wouldn’t this carb-loading then throw the body very quickly into a sugar-burning mode with increases in insulin levels, which also then increase your fat stores negatively. Then come race day morning, you need more sugars consumed over time which will increase your likelihood of GI distress. If you just ate the way you normally eat, you would have enough to make it through your event 90 minutes or longer on your very own fine-tuned fat burning machine. With this one day of carb loading (or 2-3 for some people), you just created a sugar burning machine instead. For an endurance athlete, or Ironman athlete, this is not what you wanted to do!
” For optimal training performance, muscle glycogen stores must be replenished on a daily basis. ” (from PubMed.com)
For most athletes, an endurance event is 90 minutes or longer and usually at 75% effort where glycogen stores are used up gradually. Increase the intensity, and the stores can be depleted more quickly which also means, you need more sugar usually while training or racing. I know from working with clients, working with some professional athletes and also looking at what top pro athletes do in racing, they are not consuming more than 200 calories per hour during their events. Yes, there are a few who still suggest you need 400+ calories per hour, but most of my clients have found that 200-250 calories is what works for them, and some it is closer to 150 per hour with a focus on electrolyte replacement rather than carbohydrate intake. If you take in more sugars, you will get more GI distress. If you burn sugars in your daily regiment, you need to take in more sugars during training and racing. If you balance the blood sugars with balanced meals, your body uses more of those fat stores and your need for sugars drops significantly. Then you do not need as many sugars while training or racing since your body is using your own fat stores for energy! It really does work.
I used to take in some 200+ calories per hour on the bike, then added a Clif bar or something similar. So I probably took in some 350+ calories per hour on the bike. Wow, that is a lot!. (no wonder now why I was never that lean even when doing Ironman distance training and racing!) As I have optimized my body’s ability to use my fat stores for energy, my intake while riding is now closer to 100-120 calories per hour and sometimes I wonder if I even took in that much! And I probably didn’t need all those carbs I loaded up on the week before either! If I only knew 14 years ago what I know now…..
My clients now know what they need to eat and how much of which kind of carbohydrate. For many, wheat is bloating. I had one call me in a panic on Monday…”HELP! I feel so bloated!”. It was because they decided to drop the vegetables and increase the wheat/ carbs. Well, it backfired rather rapidly in this case – within a day. Had to remind them just to eat normally this week. your training is already lower than usual. Your glycogen stores will be plenty full with a regular meal plan without the bloating effect. I never carb load like I used to. Do you carb load? It might work against you more than you think. Just eat the way you normally eat. Don’t skip the carbohydrates, but don’t overload on them either!
For more information about balancing your blood sugar to optimize fat burning, or learning how to optimize your pre-race meals and race day nutrition, contact Joanna at Nutrition in Motion at 215-272-6774. Joanna Chodorowska is a sports nutrition coach and athlete. She works with athletes to incorporate more real food while optimizing recovery, race day performance and every day meals so you, the athlete can perform at your best come race day! She can also be found on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest and LinkedIn