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Marathon Sports Tip of the Week: Carb Loading

Posted by Steve Silva, Boston.com Staff  March 24, 2014 07:06 AM

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One of my favorite episodes of “The Office” was the Michael Scott's Dunder Mifflin Scranton Meredith Palmer Memorial Celebrity Rabies Awareness Pro-Am Fun Run Race for the Cure episode. For those of you who are not familiar with the episode, it involves a scene where Michael shows us the completely wrong way to carb load before a race. Hilarity ensues.

As funny as this episode is, and as good a job as it does at showing us what NOT to do, many runners have differing ideas about the proper way to carb load.

What is “carb loading?" Carb loading is a strategy used by endurance athletes – including marathoners like you – to maximize the storage of glycogen in their muscles. In an earlier Tip we discussed what glycogen is and how our body utilizes it during extended periods of aerobic activity. Carb loading is what we do in the days leading up to an endurance event to ensure that our glycogen stores are topped off.

The last couple weeks of our training involve a taper – a decrease in weekly mileage and distance of long runs. In order to effectively carb load, we should be taking in the same amount of carbs during this last week of taper as we do during our peak weeks. If it were a math equation it would look like this:

50 miles per week + X grams of carbs per week = glycogen maintenance
25 miles per week + X grams of carbs per week = maximized glycogen storage

There are many people who still think of carb loading as a big pasta dinner the night before the race. Typically the body doesn’t have enough time to process that sort of meal into our glycogen stores. Having pasta the night before a race isn’t a bad thing, but we get greater benefit from a sustained intake of carbohydrates over several days before a marathon.

Beginning Friday, April 18, be aware of your carbohydrate consumption. Try to make sure it’s about 60-70 percent of your caloric intake. Remember – smaller portions eaten more frequently are easier for our bodies to process. We also gain more nutritive value from what we eat if the portions are smaller but eaten more often.

Dan Soleau is Brand Development Manager at Marathon Sports. He’ll provide weekly training tips for those preparing for the Boston Marathon. Dan has completed 6 marathons and an Ironman. He is a mentor for the One Fund’s Boston Marathon team, coach for the Spaulding Rehabilitation Boston Marathon team, and will be running the 2014 Boston Marathon. Follow him on Twitter at @dansoleau or follow Marathon Sports at @marathon_sports

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Look for updates, news, analysis and commentary from the following.
  • Steve Silva, Boston.com senior producer, two-time Boston Marathon sub-four hour runner.
  • Ty Velde is a 16-time Boston qualifier who's completed 12 consecutive Boston Marathons and 25 marathons overall. Ty is now training for his 13th Boston run and will provide training tips for those who train solo and outside, no matter what temperature it is.
  • Rich 'Shifter' Horgan is a 19-time Dana-Farber Marathon Challenge team member who runs in honor of his father, who died of colon cancer. He will provide updates on local running events with a focus on the charitable organizations that provide Boston Marathon entries for their organization's fund raising purposes

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