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Carb Loading

Carb Loading

I have been asked a few times about nutrition for a marathon, what to eat, whether to carb load etc etc. Now this is not an area of speciality for me, so I asked Mr Rhys Harries (an ultra marathon runner) to share his ideas on the subject, as well as what he himself does to prepare for the big day, and these are his words….

“It’s that time of year again where Endurance events are back in the game. The London Marathon being one of many events coming up in the weeks ahead and with thousands of people participating it would probably be a good time to write about Carb Loading.

Over the last few years I’ve tried as many different Carb Loading techniques as I can think of. Some have been brilliant, others not so but one thing I’m certain of is that it works and works well! However everybody is different so you can’t do something completely different to you training because the chances are your gut wont like it or you just won’t feel like you want to. Below are some techniques I’ve tried and why I think they worked or didn’t work:

1) This method is one that gets mixed reviews but I find this one to be the best for me. Every time I do it well I feel like I’m on form come the event. (However you need to have tried this in training, I wouldn’t just do it off the cuff!) Basically it’s a week long process (the week leading up) – Day one – Day three is a pretty low calorie diet, something like 2,000 calories which seems insane when you consider what your up to over the coming weekend. It’s high in protein, high in Veg (Mountains of veg with a chicken breast style), high in fruit and pretty low in CARBS. Personally I start the day off with oats every day so that doesn’t chance but the rest of the meals are pretty low carb. WHY?? After 3 days of this your body has completely rid of its glycogen stores meaning its frigging desperate for sugar (Carbs) and personally after 3 days of this having just come off big marathon training I can consume 5-6000 calories a day over the next two days and I’m only weighing about 72-75kgs at this time. Without the cut the first three days you wouldn’t be able to eat this much but believe me after two 5000 calorie days you are bouncing and ready to go! The important thing is to follow up the day before the race with much less food, just a ‘normal amount like you always eat’. If you get this rite you are bouncing on the start line. Dangers are that it’s easy to get wrong and you end up a bit full on the day. Also if were being sensible, I can’t imagine it being that healthy but theres no doubting how well it works and for only one time once every blue moon it’s not going to harm anyone in my eyes.

Also when your eating 5000 calories in a day it’s not all about just eating well. There’s only so much veg, wholemeal foods you can eat before the fibre etc makes you way to full. As long as your body is familiar with it eat as much of everything as you can. I’ve been known to eat 10 jaffa cakes with a cuppa tea on a carb load followed by lunch of massive amounts of veg and a big sweet potato and fish. Before having an afternoon snack of 4 ham rolls followed by a dinner of a 12″ pizza with afters of whole tub of Ben and Jerrys! I’m lolling at that as I write it but IT works, and the enxt day I’m still fairly full which is why you need the day before to be a ‘normal’ day of eating with foods that are as close to what you’ve been eating in your training as possible.

2) The second method and most sensible is the week before just to eat ‘normally’ each day but with a bit more carbs each day. E.g. if you eat 3000 then eat 3500 each day. This method means your body doesn’t go in to any extremes the week before and for 90% of people this is definitely the best option! Option one is risky and can be horrible if you get it wrong but by far the best if it’s done well. This way of doing it where by you just eat a little bit more each day is a safer bet and will still give you a plenty of loaded up glycogen levels to put in the effort you want.
You just need to make sure that your carb levels are high each day, like 400-450grams. You will feel a bit sluggish in the week but this is the case for any carb load method because you eat a lot of food and don’t do hardly any training. However Carb loading works – how many of us have had a weekend off mid training, eatan what we think is too much over a weekend, drunk a bit too much but then come Monday we feel like we can keep going all day?? Well this, without thinking is a carb load and why you feel like you can go for longer. So don’t feel like you need to do any extra training in the last week, just relax, stretch and eat a fair bit.

The only thing I wouldn’t do is eat a ridiculous amount the day before, keep the big eating for in the week.

3)Final method and one I’m not doing again is just forgetting about loading but then the day before going nuts because I’m in some sort of panic because I think I need to load up. This left standing on the start line the next day with my stomach just way too full and me feeling like I’m huge and sluggish. I ended up feeling like crap all day and just wasn’t up for it ending up doing rubbish.

Each to there own as everybody is different and if I was to recommend anything to the average person I would say option two, a steady increase in carbs all week/5days before, it won’t be as much of a shock to the system and a much safer bet to feeling good on the day! When I’ve done my best I’ve used the first option and believe it works best but only if you’ve tried it in your training because I think it’s too much of a shock for the average person to do it randomly a week before.

Anyhow, talk over about Carb loading….DON’T WORRY TOO MUCH ABOUT IT AT ALL, putting the training in is far more important. Best attitude is to go out and enjoy the whole thing. It’s a much better experience and much more worth it I think. At the end of the day were not breaking any records just wanting to achieve something.”

Rhys Harries (endurance athlete)

For more information about Rhys and his training have a look at his blog

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