With the Kaiser Permanente Half Marathon, 10K and 5K coming up this Sunday, it’s a good time to talk about how what you eat affects how you run. Carbo-loading is an important strategy advocated by runners and nutritionists to boost race performance.
“Carbo-loading is very helpful strategy for high-intensity exercise,” says Heather D’Eliso Gordon, sports dietician and nutrition health coach in the Health Education Department at Kaiser Permanente San Francisco. “For your regular runs, you probably don’t need to worry about it. But for races, when your primary goal is performance, you want to carbo-load.”
Carbo-loading helps you avoid “hitting a wall” in terms of endurance and running out of steam, Gordon says. This happens when you deplete the glycogen stored in your muscles — the equivalent of running out of gas. Carbo-loading is like topping off that tank. Here’s how to do it.
2 Days Ahead: Start Boosting Carbs Now
If you’re not already eating a high-carb diet, start now. You need the energy for this final training push, and you don’t want to introduce major dietary changes in the last days before a race and risk upsetting your system.
Experts advise starting serious carbo-loading 3-7 days before the race. At this point, 85 to 95 percent of your calories should come from carbohydrates. During these last few days you’ll also want to cut back your running to allow glycogen to accumulate. If this sounds difficult, practice; do a couple of days of carbo-loading before each of your upcoming longer training runs to get a feel for it.
Choose Carbs You Like
Pick some favorite high-carb foods and incorporate them into your pre-race ritual. Jodi Thirtyacre, captain of the Kaiser Permanente training teams, eats a bowl of pasta the night before a race. On race-day morning, she eats toast topped with peanut butter and banana at least two hours before start time. (More of Jodi’s food tips for race day here.)
Other popular foods for efficient carbo-loading include:
•Bread or bagels
•Tortillas or crackers
•Sweets, including candy
Fiber can be a problem for endurance running, causing digestive issues during a race. To get around that, some experts suggest peeling fruit and potatoes before eating. Watch out for fats, such as butter and cream-based pasta sauces, which can slow you down. And don’t overeat the night and morning before the race.
After the Race
What you eat post-race matters too, because it affects recovery. It’s extremely important to eat a carb-heavy snack within half an hour after a run to replace lost glycogen in your muscles.
Kaiser Permanente Race Team Captain Jodi Thirtyacre says her post-race meal of choice is a vegetarian burrito, made with beans, cheese, rice, salsa, and guacamole. It’s got plenty of carbs, lots of protein, and healthy fats thanks to the avocado.