The Proper Way To Carbo-Load For A Big Run

Since I’ve started training for my half marathon, I’ve learned a lot of things — among them being the importance of time management and the absolute power in believing in yourself.

I have also come across useful factoids on picking out the perfect running shoe for your feet and nutritious mid-race munchies. That being said, one thing that has still flown over my head is the all important carbo-loading. Is it smart to do? Is there a time frame I have to stay within? There are simply so many variables!

I’m Italian, so I’m no stranger to carbo-loading… That is, in the “recreational sense”. Of course it should be noted that after I eat a slab of lasagna, I typically wash it down with an espresso, not run over thirteen miles (but maybe espresso would help!). Who wouldn’t want to devour copious amounts of pasta before their race? But if you’re going to do that, you might as well do it the right way. There was no point in sacrificing hard work for penne anyways, right?

Before you stuff your face, it’s important to know what carbs can contribute to your body.

What are Carbs?

Carbohydrates are used by the body to make glucose which, in turn, provides us with energy. They are stored in your muscles and your liver, and is the body’s easiest source to draw energy from. During a half marathon, your body burns both carbs and fat, but fat is harder to convert to fuel, making carbs essential. The conversion of fat to energy often slows the body down when there are no carbs to shoulder the burden. For every ounce of carbs your store in your body, you store three ounces of water. This helps keep the body hydrated, especially in endurance workouts such as long marathon runs.

carbo loading tips for marathon

What Kind of Carbs Should I Eat?

Foods like oatmeal, pasta, bread, yogurt, and rice are all easily digestible options. And while foods like white bread and potatoes are normally the type of carb to stay away from, if someone is carbo-loading, they are actually not the worst option and definitely not off limits.

Easy digestion is key when doing a carbo-load, so be sure to skin your potato to remove any extra harder-to-digest fiber.  It should be noted that you can even get carbs from fruits, such as, bananas, apples, or pears if you’re not about indulging on pasta. Remember to skin them too! And be sure to avoid anything high in fat that could prohibit carb conversion. This means butter, cheese, or anything creamy. Save those treats for after the race.

When Should I Eat Them?

You can’t eat a huge plate of pasta an hour before the race and have it kick in around mile four. Carbs need time to accumulate in your muscles. You should also be running very little mileage in the days leading up to the race, so your carbs aren’t expended. Around two or three days before your race is when you should switch over into your carbo-loading phase. Don’t forget to hydrate properly as well. And yes, I’m aware that beer has carbs, but those types of empty carbs will only slow you down. In addition, alcoholic beer with dehydrate you pre-race. Save it for your post-race celebrations.

carbo loading tips for marathon

And Most Importantly, How Much?

Three days before the race, 85-90% of the calories you’re taking in should be from carbs. Can I get an AMEN? The goal is to consume about three to five grams carbohydrates per pound of body weight– luckily I’ve been doing this well before signing up for a half marathon… I can say I’ve literally been training my entire life for this moment. is also a great resource for runners who want hard numbers on how they should prepare for their race.

So there you have it folks, carbs are your friends! They’re vital to your race day success, and provide a mini indulgence before you move your body into hyper drive. You don’t have to tell me twice.

For more on Food & Fitness, check out our articles here.

Do you think carbo-loading is smart, or are you hesitant about all the starch?


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