Is Carbohydrate Loading A Good Idea Before An Endurance Event?

Question: Is carbohydrate loading a good idea before an endurance event?

Answer: When people are training for endurance events one of the first questions they ask is: What do I need to do to carbohydrate load? The answer is: It depends, it depends on how long is your event. So if your event is only a 30-minute or even an hour [long], a 10K race, you don't need to do anything to carbohydrate load.

Your body has got plenty of carbohydrates stored in your muscles already. But if that endurance event is gonna be longer than say an hour-and-a-half, then yes. You need to look at: How am I gonna get my body to hang onto as many carbohydrates beforehand? So if your event's more than 90 minutes, will carbohydrate load, if it's not, you don't need to worry about it at all. Your pre-race or pre-event meal will be enough.

When you look at carbohydrate loading, what we used to think was that you had to really deplete your body on the front end a week out eat hardly any carbohydrates and train really hard, and then gradually taper your training down and then rapidly increase your carbohydrates. We realized that's not the case. It's unnecessary headaches, unnecessary weakness. There's no need to put our bodies through that torture.

We can do what's called modified carbohydrate loading to where you're tapering down your exercise. You never do that real depletion phase on carbohydrates though. Keep your normal carbohydrate intake; simply increase it in that week leading up to your event. And the way to increase it is not to throw in a big carb heavy dinner and that's it. You actually want it every three hours throughout the day and include a source of carbohydrate. It might be fresh fruit, it might be yogurt, it might be pasta. It can be all types of sources of carbohydrates, not just these vats of pasta at dinner.

So throughout your day, every three hours or so, start increasing more and more carbohydrates: the breads, the rice, the pastas, the fruits. Do that the week leading up into it as you're tapering down your workouts and your body will be saturated with carbohydrates for your endurance event.

Molly Kimball, R.D., Ochsners Elmwood Fitness Center
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