Carbo-Loading Before a Marathon

Carbo-Loading Before a Marathon
  • What to eat to run a marathon quicker and recover faster?
  • Why after 30 kilometers (18.5 miles) it becomes much harder to run, and the body refuses to keep going?
  • How to avoid the speed drop on the last few kilometers?

These issues have been solved for many years by sports nutrition manufacturers that produce a variety of gels, powders and energetics that help alleviate fatigue in marathon runners. But is it possible to cope with the marathon distance using no supplements?

Today we are going to discuss what to eat before running a marathon and how to carbo-load properly?

What to Eat before a Marathon

According to scientists, glycogen reserves in muscles and liver of humans are on average 120 g or 3,000-3,500 calories. This energy is enough for a well-trained amateur runner for about 30-35 km (18-20 miles) of continuous running in aerobic mode. After that, the body switches to using fat deposits – such a transit is associated with unpleasant sensations: dizziness, nausea, increased heart rate, heaviness in the legs. At this point many marathon participants start walking instead of running or go off the track.

Why runners need to keep to a diet before the marathon?

A special diet was made up to increase glycogen reserves to a level that would be enough for a full marathon distance, which is approximately 4000-4200 calories, depending on the body characteristics. This diet is known as “Carbohydrate Loading Before a Marathon” (abbreviated to Carbo-Load).

The idea of the diet is to deplete glycogen storage to a certain minimum limit, which will then force the body to accumulate it more for future use.

Stage 1: give up carbs

The amount of stored glycogen reduces for 2-3 days: this stage lasts from Monday to Wednesday (two full days are enough for beginners). At this time, you cannot eat foods that contain carbohydrates: bread, all kinds of cereals, potatoes, fruits, juices, sugars in any form, cookies, chocolate, most vegetables.

What is allowed on a low-carb diet before the marathon: meat, fish and seafood, eggs, dairy products (kefir, butter, milk, cheese, curd, yogurt, cream, sour cream), tomato juice, cucumbers (the amount of carbs per 100 g (3.5 ounce) of product should not exceed 5 grams (15 gran).

Workouts are aimed at glycogen reduction: long-distance running in a low heart rate zone, using fartlek. It is important not to overload the body, to keep energy for the marathon. The level of workouts and structure of training process during Carbo-Loading should be determined by the coach individually for each athlete.

After the first stage of the diet, glycogen stores are reduced to a minimum, and the body tries to switch to burning fat deposits.

Completing the high-protein diet is accompanied by the same unpleasant sensations as athletes have after 30-35 km of the marathon distance (dizziness, nausea, increased heart rate, heaviness in the legs) – it is a clear sign that everything is going well, and you can start the second stage of carbohydrate loading.

Related: Marathon Nutrition Plan: 45 Grams of Carbohydrates

Stage 2: load carbs!

From the Wednesday evening and till the Saturday evening, with a peak on Friday (two days before the marathon) the carbo-loading is carried out.

At this time, the menu of an athlete should consist of “slow” carbs: rice, all kinds of cereals, baked potatoes, durum wheat pasta, fruits (especially grapes). However, you don’t have to limit yourself only to carbs – give the body what it needs.

We recommend avoiding polysaccharides for cardo-loading before the marathon: biscuits, cakes, chocolate, sweets, ice cream, marshmallows and other unhealthy food choices. From these products you are not likely to replenish the glycogen storage, because your body will send them to fat deposits, which will negatively affect your weight and running speed.

The key cardo-loading day is two days before the start (i.e. Friday, if the marathon is on Sunday). Loading the day before or the morning before the start won’t give expected results.

Due to such diet, a marathon participant who adequately picked up the running pace, won’t experience the “wall” after 30-35 km (18-20 miles) of the distance. It would be possible to reach the finish line with no extra stress and unpleasant feelings.

The most important thing that may seem obvious for someone: the diet is not a panacea, it is only another instrument that helps to run a marathon relatively easily for those who are well-prepared for it.

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