Carb Loading (Glycogen Loading) Loading for Mom Runners: Pre-Race Nutrition Strategies for Optimal Performance

by | Jul 6, 2023

Carb loading is a misunderstood strategy in the running community. In working with a number of female athletes and mother runners, I’ve found there is a need for understanding how to carb load effectively, for both performance and metabolic benefits.

What is Carb Loading?

Glycogen loading, also known as carbohydrate loading or carb-loading, is a dietary strategy often used by athletes to maximize glycogen stores in the muscles before a competition or endurance event. Carb loading can be an effective part of pre-race nutrition to optimize performance for athletes, especially mother runners.

How to Carb Load Effectively

Here are some strategies to consider for optimal glycogen loading before a run or race:

1. Understand the purpose: The goal of glycogen loading is to increase the glycogen stores in your muscles, which can provide a readily available energy source during long or intense workouts. This can help delay fatigue and improve endurance.

2. Timing is important: Eating a high carb spaghetti dinner the night before your race isn’t enough! It’s typically recommended to begin glycogen loading 1-3 days before your event or intense workout. This gives your body enough time to store extra glycogen.

3. Increase carbohydrate intake: During the glycogen loading phase, you should consume a higher percentage of carbohydrates in your diet. Aim for around 7-12 grams of carbohydrates per kilogram of body weight per day. Choose nutritionally dense carbohydrates, but also be mindful of fiber intake, and choose lower fiber carbohydrates to prevent GI distress.

4. Moderate protein and fat intake: While carbohydrates should be the main focus, it’s important to maintain a balanced diet. Include moderate amounts of lean protein sources (such as poultry, fish, tofu, or beans) and healthy fats (like nuts, seeds, avocados, and olive oil). If maintaining the same amount of overall energy needs, know that protein and fat intake will decrease to offset the increased carbohydrate need, but including at least one serving of each per meal will help maintain overall nutrient needs. This will also provide sustained energy and help maintain stable blood sugar levels.

5. Spread out meals: Rather than relying on three large meals, distribute your carbohydrate intake throughout the day by having frequent, smaller meals and snacks. This helps optimize glycogen storage. This is especially helpful if you aren’t used to eating a lot of carbohydrates in your day.

6. Hydration: Proper hydration is essential for optimizing glycogen storage and overall performance. Drink plenty of water and consider electrolyte-rich beverages if you’re engaging in intense workouts or sweating excessively. Minerals are just as important pre race!

7. Avoid excessive fiber and high-fat meals: While fiber is important for a healthy diet, consuming excessive amounts in the days leading up to an event can lead to gastrointestinal discomfort. Similarly, high-fat meals can slow down digestion and hinder glycogen storage.

8. Practice your nutrition plan: If you plan to consume specific sports drinks, gels, or energy bars during your event, it’s crucial to try them during your training runs to ensure they agree with your stomach. Every individual is unique, and what works for one person may not work for another.

How to Build Carb Loading Into an Overall Race Plan

Other helpful pre-race nutrition tips to consider:

Plan your meals ahead: It’s important to have a well-thought-out nutrition plan leading up to the race day. Plan your meals and snacks in advance to ensure you have a balanced intake of macronutrients (carbohydrates, protein, and fat) and micronutrients (vitamins and minerals).

Pre-race dinner: The evening before the race, have a balanced dinner containing a good amount of carbohydrates, lean proteins, and healthy fats. Choose easily digestible options to minimize the risk of gastrointestinal distress. Examples include pasta with lean meat or fish, roasted vegetables, and a small side of healthy fats like avocado or olive oil.

Pre-race breakfast: Eat a well-balanced breakfast a few hours before the race to provide sustained energy. Include easily digestible carbohydrates like oatmeal, whole grain toast, or a banana. Add a moderate amount of protein from sources like Greek yogurt, eggs, or protein powder. Limit the amount of fat and fiber to avoid digestive discomfort during the race.

Timing is crucial: Allow enough time for your body to digest your pre-race meal. Typically, it’s recommended to eat a substantial meal 2-3 hours before the race. This gives your body enough time to absorb and utilize the nutrients effectively. If you prefer a smaller meal, you can have a light snack closer to the race.

Experiment during training: Pre-race nutrition should be practiced during your training runs to identify what works best for you. Test different foods, timing, and quantities to determine what fuels your body optimally and minimizes any digestive issues.

Remember that glycogen loading is most beneficial for prolonged or intense exercise lasting over 90 minutes. If your runs are typically shorter or less intense, maintaining a balanced diet with adequate carbohydrates overall should be sufficient for your energy needs.

Further Resources for Carb Loading

Want to personalize your nutrition plan and ensure it aligns with your specific needs and goals as a mother runner? Ask about 1:1 coaching or custom race fueling plans!

Hi, I’m Stephanie! I help everyday active women nourish their goals and fuel their lives.

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