Thursday Training Tip #9 : Carbo-loading for endurance

As I, and a few of my readers, are running a marathon this weekend I thought I would make this week’s Thursday Training Tip about carbo-loading. Despite what a lot of people think, and most of us hope, carbo-loading for endurance events like half and full marathons isn’t a licence to gorge on pasta, fizzy drinks and sugary cereal. Carbo-loading is an important part of race preparation, and should receive the same level of focus as your physical and mental preparation.


Now, before the food bit, a bit about your training. If you’re about to start your carbo-load and you’re still running, STOP RUNNING! Most people follow a taper plan before a marathon, but then bottle it in the last few days and think if they don’t run they’ll lose their edge. This is simply not true. The repair and fuelling of your muscles you will be able to achieve in the last few days will help to deliver you to the starting line in the best possible condition to race. Your marathon performance was already set about 3 weeks before the race, running lots up to the event will hinder, not help.

Here are 8 tips to help you get the most out of your carbo-loading:-

Save the ‘loading’ for later:

If you are tapering properly, keeping the same diet during the last two weeks out from the marathon will yield a natural carbo-load as your energy expenditure drops. As the intensity of your sessions drops, those extra calories will manifest themselves as glycogen in your body. However, it is important that you eat carbs for energy, not fat. Carbs will convert to glycogen, fat doesn’t.

Keep your ‘load’ close to the race:

It’s the last 72-48 hours before the race that you need to start ‘loading’. Doing it beforehand or over several days won’t fill you up even more, and can in fact leave you sluggish as your body struggles to deal with the massive carb intake (or worse, decides you’re now living the life of plenty and starts storing it as fat).

Eat what you know:

Don’t drastically change your diet – this can lead to stomach upsets. Try to stick to unprocessed foods. Pasta, rice, wholemeal breads, oats, beans, lentils and beans are good sources.

good carbohydrate loading foods

Water, water, water:

Drink loads of water! For every gram of glycogen stored, your body needs to store 3 grams of water. Make sure you’re producing a good volume of urine every 2-4 hours (that’s about 5-7 trips to the loo a day), and that it is pale yellow in colour. If it looks like pure water, it is, and you can reduce your intake.

3 days to go – It’s ‘load’ time:

A 70kg runner needs about 350 – 490 grams of carbohydrates a day (5-7g per kg of bodyweight) making up about 60% of their total calorie intake. In the load period 72-48 hours out from the race, increase this intake to 8-10g per kg of bodyweight – our 70kg runner is now looking to intake 560-700g of carbohydrate per day and take 75-85% of calorie intake as carbs.

As you’ll be eating more, add meals into your day, don’t make your meals larger. 5 small meals is a lot more palatable than 3 massive meals. It will also help keep your sugar levels from bouncing around too much, and avoid the ‘taper crazies’.

Also, supplement your carb intake from food with carbs from liquid as well. Sports drinks are best, try drinking 1-1.5 litres of your favourite sports drink to help ‘top up’ between meals, but you can use fruit juice and fizzy drinks as well. But don’t stop drinking water. Just gauge your hydration levels from your urination amount and colour.


Here’s an example of what to eat during your ‘loading’ phase (courtesy of the Australian Institute of Sport)

Breakfast 3 cups of low-fibre breakfast cereal with 1 1/2 cups of reduced fat milk
1 medium banana
250ml orange juice
Snack toasted muffin with honey
500ml sports drink
Lunch 2 sandwiches (4 slices of bread) with filling as desired
200g tub of low-fat fruit yoghurt
375ml can of soft drink
Snack banana smoothie made with low-fat milk, banana and honey
cereal bar
Dinner 1 cup of pasta sauce with 2 cups of cooked pasta
3 slices of garlic bread
2 glasses of cordial
Late Snack toasted muffin and jam
500ml sports drink

Tomorrow is M-Day:

On the last day, make sure 85-95% of your energy intake is carbs. Try to eat dinner early so you have time to digest and get the carbs to your muscles (and your food through your digestive tract).


Start eating 3-4 hours before the race starts, trying to get about 150 calories of carbohydrate in. Don’t overeat! You’ve already loaded your body with glycogen, the breakfast is just to replace the calories lost from your sleep. As you make your way to the race, make sure to be drinking sports drink to ensure optimum hydration and ‘brim your tank’ with energy. Tip: if you’ve got an early race start, get up, eat, then go back to bed. But be sure to set your alarm again!

During the race:

OK, this isn’t technically carb loading, but you need to keep up your energy intake during the race. Gels, sports drink, candy, flat coke are good sources.

So, there you have it. And as luck would have it, my girlfriend has just returned from her running club so it’s time for me to make pasta with courgette, chilli and garlic for dinner. Yum!

Happy running everyone!


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About getgoing-getrunning

Hi, I’m Bernie and I’m a just guy who writes about the things which get me going and get me running, even though my running is never going to result in me standing on a podium!

Posted on October 17, 2013, in Marathon Training, Thursday Training Tip, Training Tips and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.

  1. Bernie,
    Good advice. I’m not convinced that carbo-loading days in advance does anything. Your muscles can only hold so much glycogen, 1-2% of their weight is what I have read.
    I’m eating fairly normally today. Saturday night I’ll eat some extra carbs. Sunday morning on my way to the race I’ll have a bagel or two. Before the race I’ll take a Gatorade 01 shot, or what ever it’s called. I think all of this will load by belly with carbs and my blood with sugar.
    During the race I fuel early and often to avoid glycogen depletion and the dreaded bonk.
    I can’t believe how much food theyrecommend! Ilike to eat but I’m not sure I could eat all of that.
    It should be an interesting day. Good luck with your marathon.

    • Thanks a lot Andy. It certainly is a lot, and I’m not eating that much, but I’m only 66kg so those figures are for someone heavier.
      Despite my cold I’m bouncing off the walls though!
      All the best for your race as well!

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