Maximizing Your Performance: Carbohydrate Loading

Are you ready for the big race? Many of you, including myself, are gearing up for St. Anthony's this weekend. To prepare for an endurance race, many athletes load up on carbohydrates. Most often when endurance athletes think about carbohydrate loading, a big pasta dinner the night before a race comes to mind. Often referred to as "carbo-loading" this strategy is simply tapering for the race as your training program dictates and eating an adequate amount of carbohydrate so that you replace any exercise glycogen deficits and fill your muscle stores to capacity. Historically, the carbo loading protocol called for an exhaustive workout one week before a long race (90 minutes-plus) and then consuming a very low-carb diet (10%) for the next 3-4 days while training lightly. Finally, athletes followed a very high-carb diet (90%) the next 3-4 days while continuing to train lightly. This method had many drawbacks. Athletes weren't keen on performing an exhaustive workout just a week before a big race, as the plan required. Also, maintaining a 10 percent carbohydrate diet for three or four days left athletes feeling lethargic, irritable, and tired.

Fortunately other methods were found to be equally effective. A newer carbo-loading protocol know as the "No-Depletion Carbo-Loading Method" calls for athletes to eat a normal diet of 55 to 60 percent carbohydrate until three days before racing, and then switch to a 70 percent carbohydrate diet for the final three days, plus race morning. As for exercise, this tamer carbo-loading method suggests one last longer workout (but not an exhaustive workout) done a week from race day followed by increasingly shorter workouts throughout race week.

Another even shorter method was developed by researchers called the" Western Australia Carbo-Loading Method." During the pre-race week, eat normally while training lightly until the day before a longer race. On the morning of the day before the race, perform a very brief, very high-intensity workout. The aim over the next 24 hours is to consume 12 grams of carbohydrate per kilogram of lean bodyweight, which is a mighty large amount! Less than 10% of calories should come from fat and protein and 90% from carbohydrate an impossible task without the use of a sports drink. The Western Australia carbo-loading strategy works best if preceded by several days of reduced training so that your body will be rested, regenerated, and race-ready. In fact, several days of reduced training combined with your normal diet will substantially increase your glycogen storage level even before the final day's workout and carbohydrate binge.

The bottom line: Increase your intake of carbohydrates including whole grains such as oatmeal, brown rice, and quinoa; starchy vegetables such as sweet potatoes and squash; and fruits such as apples, bananas and grapes prior to race day. To achieve up to 70 percent of carbohydrate in your diet, keep protein to modest amounts, and fat to low amounts in your diet. An example of a carbohydrate rich meal would be 3 ounces of salmon, 1 cup of brown rice, a baked sweet potato, and a salad. Generally, easy to digest foods, nothing overly spicy, and cooked foods are best tolerated the day before a race.

Jennifer Patzkowsky, MS, RD/LDN, is a competitive endurance athlete who provides nutritional counseling and meal planning to athletes and people interested in improving their health/fitness. For more information on her services, please contact her at (863) 513-2635 or