Carb loading for the Marathon

The carb load is an important part of any marathon training cycle. Get it right and you will have enough energy to see you through your 26.2 race, get it wrong and you may struggle. Worse than struggle.... it can ruin your race!

VLM 2014 was my first attempt at a marathon. I was worried about 'hitting the wall'! I didn't really know much about carb loading at the time but I decided to eat an extremely large amount of carbs the day before the race. Looking back, it was a ridicules thing to do. I literally ate enough pasta/bread for 3 people! I also had far too many sports drinks trying to up my carb intake.

My race that year was completely spoilt by the most horrendous stomach cramps that came on around the 9 mile mark and by mile 20 were incredibly painful. I had to run the last 7 miles with one hand down my pants to try and relieve the pain. It totally ruined my race.

Had it not been London I would have pulled out, but I was determined to finish. After the race, I looked back on my race prep and realised I had made some huge errors with my carb load. I thought I was being clever taking on all these extra carbs the day before the big race but it was my lack of experience mixed with some nerves that added to my poor decision!

Let's look at the things NOT TO DO during the carb loading process.

• Don't eat to excess
• Don't eat huge portion sizes (especially the day before race day)
• Don't eat mindlessly with no plan
• Don't drink too many sports drinks the day before
• Don't start your carb load the day before the race, start 3/4 days out
• Don't try and work it out yourself, if you’re not sure ask others for help
• Don't try anything new on race day (or the day before!)

The carb load isn't an excuse to start eating all kinds of junk food either! Read up about the process online or ask an experienced marathon runner for advice.

The process of carb loading should start 3/4 days out from race day and continue right up to the race. Don't just eat as much as you can, instead make smart choices by eating carb rich meals while cutting down on protein and fats. Meals should all be normal size and absolutely NOT supersize portions! It takes time to take onboard the carbs and to store them as glycogen, that's why you should start the process early in race week. You can't fully load up from one meal alone.

The exception to the 'no huge portions' rule is my pre-race meal. I like to have a bigger 'pre-race meal' 2 days before my race. A big bowl of pasta works well for me. This is the only time I will have a slightly bigger portion. This gives me plenty of time to digest the meal and store the carbs as energy whilst preventing the bloat on race morning. The last thing I want is to start the race with a bloated belly again! After this bigger meal, I then go back to the normal size carb rich meals and snacks. Don't have a huge meal the day before your race as it could give you problems during your race. Think about it.... would you want to run a race after stuffing your face at an 'all you can eat buffet'? It’s not a good idea!

Race Day

My pre-race breakfast will be toast with jam and a banana, or some porridge, plus a few sips on a sports drink. Try to eat breakfast early. 2-3 hours before the starting gun. Stick to your usual pre-race breakfast but again, it should be carb rich.

One very handy tip I have found that works is to plan your food intake for the 4 days leading up to the race. Write it down as a meal plan. Treat your carb load as important as your training plan. Following a meal plan will help keep you on the right track and prevent any nervous last minute monster meals that could ruin your big day.

The theory of the carb load is basically substituting your regular diet with the same structure and portions, just swapping nearly everything on the plate to carbs for 3/4 days prior to race day.

A sample of a day during my carb load looks like this...

Breakfast- Porridge with honey

Lunch- Large sweet potato with small amount of tuna/cheese

Dinner- Pasta with tomato source. Bread roll

Snacks- Banana, apple, fruit yogurt, handful of haribo sweets

Drinks- Water, full sugar lemonade, sports drink

The 3/4 days leading up to race day will all look quite similar to those above. Some good carb choices include pasta, rice, sweet potatoes, white potatoes, bread, bagels, fruit, yogurt and even rice pudding.

Its best to practice your carb load during the training cycle and ideally before a 20+ mile run.

One other thing to mention is don't worry about weight gain during the carb loading. Your body will be storing the glycogen as energy, it will also store some water weight too. If you have carb loaded correctly then expect to gain a few pounds. It’s a good sign you've done things right. You will start the race fully fuelled and ready to take on the challenge of 26.2!

And finally, I'd like to wish all the best to those of you running VLM this year! I'll be there giving it my all as I've some unfinished business with this race! I'm following my own advice and doing the carb load properly this time! Lol

Happy and healthy running!