Carbo Loading for Your Turkey Trot

Ah, carbs. We’re geared up to eat them for Thanksgiving and they’re a classic means to fuel up before a race. And I’m a little sheepish to admit that I don’t even know how carbo loading before a big race is properly done…I’ve never researched the topic since I’ve never run a race longer than 5 miles and assumed that I didn’t need it. But now seems like the perfect time to figure this out. Carb season is here, turkey trots loom on the horizon, and I’m dreaming about a 10K or half marathon in 2013. Here were my key questions, and what I learned while poking around on the internet:

What duration race do I need to carbo load for?

The Mayo Clinic notes that for most recreational activities, your body uses existing energy stores for fuel; carbo loading is most beneficial when preparing for an event lasting 90+ minutes. They say that otherwise eating a diet that garners half or more of its calories from carbs is sufficient.

What carbs should I eat? 

According to Runner’s World, tortillas, oatmeal, bread, pancakes, waffles, bagels, yogurt, and juice are all easy-to-digest carb options. They also suggest steering clear of high carb + high fiber fruits (they recommend eating bananas) as well as high-fat foods and too much protein, the latter two of which are sources that take longer to digest and fill you up faster than carbs.

How much should I eat?

You might want to do a little math before going on a carb feeding frenzy. Runner’s World references the recommendation to eat about 4 grams of carbs per pound of body weight (e.g., for a 150 pound person, 600 grams — or 2,400 calories — of carbs). They also reference this running endurance calculator for those who want to input more specifics into the equation.

When should I start carbo loading and how should I pace it?

Runner’s World offers a 6-week plan to get yourself in the carbo loading mindset, and the Mayo Clinic indicates that carbo loading is traditionally done in two steps the week before your high endurance activity. They suggest that the first step is to adjust your carb intake so that it reflects about 50% of your total calories, and then a few days before the event to increase that percentage to about 70%. Both sources offer handy sample meal plans.

I’m ready to strap on the carb feedbag and go! Anything else I should consider?

Greatist makes the good point to be cautious about a few things when carbo loading, specifically: 1) hormones (where you are in your cycle can impact the effectiveness of carbo loading), 2) fiber intake (some high carb foods also are high in fiber…not great, mid race), 3) weight gain (it’s simple math…), and 4) blood sugar level (avoid spikes and slumps in blood sugar by balancing carbs with other nutrients).

So what should I do before my turkey trot?

This is my personal opinion based on above sources and my own experience: Most turkey trots I’m seeing (for example, those people have shared via our Fall Fun Run) are 5Ks or thereabouts, so presumably, you don’t need a protracted carbo loading plan. However, I would be inclined to follow the day-before/day-of-race prescription of Runner’s World: the night before, have a relatively small but carb-heavy dinner (eaten on the early side so you have time to digest) and for breakfast, about 150 grams of carbs three hours before your race start (e.g., bagel + yogurt or sports drink + oatmeal). AND, perhaps most importantly, to adhere to the routine that works for you. If you’ve got a fuel pattern that works for you on similar distance training runs, stick with it for race day!

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  1. This is so awesomely helpful for any race, not just before Thanksgiving. I’m always wondering how much to eat before so as to not over eat.

    Great job!

  2. I agree with Marie. I was so confused about this topic: how would a person carbo load before THANKSGIVING?! It didn’t occur to me until you wrote this that you don’t really need to for such a short race.


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