I never gave a thought to this subject, as this charging phenomena is a naturally occurring processus for me. However not for most athletes, nor for my coaching clients. We can see how Gustav Iden and Kristian Blumenfelt are both on the constant high carb bandwagon. For a reason. I recently read the Life of Billy Bland, one of the most well known and toughest fell runners of all time. He also admits often in his book, that carbo loading was a big part of his success. We talk about the 1980’s ! So yes, it is something that works very well, it is well researched and it is damn well established in between high performing athletes. The problem is that often it gets bloody messed up, by inappropriate amounts of carbs, high volume meals and tons of added sugar.
1. Glycogen depletion
The first part not to mess up. This is about following a low to no carbohydrate approach for 3 to 5 days, around 7 to 8 days out of the race. That is the first section, where carbo loading gets its bad reputation. Athletes often feel like crap, bad, low and unfit. That is simply, because of bad lifestyle habits and bad application. If you eat bad stuff all the time, snacking on bars, candy, eating in restaurants, having breakfast from boulangeries, drinking alcohol and fizzy drinks, yeah, you clean up your diet and load it with fats, your body will resist. If you followed a simple lifestyle with home made breakfast of non-english porridge (nor butter, neither milk), lunch of salad with avocados and meat and dinner of rice and veggies, you would not have any issues, when switching to the low carb approach.
The second point to the bad rep is once you cut out carbs, people don’t know what to eat anymore, so either they go for the bad choices, or do not eat enough at all !
Eat healthfully, loads of healthy fats, ‘on their own’ with zero carbs. Eat enough calories. An example would be a big omelette made of 6 to 10 eggs, on ghee with non-cured bacon. Add tons of fibre, like roquettes, purselaine, spinach, chards, onions, garlic, leaks, shredded celery, persil…etc etc
For lunch, you can have a giant steak, again with salad, 1 to 3 avocados. Start with a starter of boiled snails, shrimps, mussels and razors if needed.
For dinner, you can slightly backload with carbs, but don’t go overboard. A little bowl of 30-50g of rice, a giant fish, grilled courgette and aubergine on olive oil.
I personally prefer bounded fats and don’t like to over dress my food with oils. You can precharge your stomach with coconut oil, mct and other fats, if you wanted, before meals. Just to elevate and approach your caloric needs.
I though, prefer, for instance to eat some nut butters or bread. Yes a low temp baked bread made of flax, sesame, chia, sunflower seeds, some coconut flower, baking powder, salt, some olive oil, an egg if wanted and here you go.
Loads of options. I recommend not to overload on liquid fats, nor on solids. Balance out your high nut intake with fatty fish, use tons of greens. Greens, greens, greens. Eat enough calories.
Training wise, if you followed my advice, you should not have any issues. During this period of a couple of days before a race, you cannot gain really, or loose any fitness. So, if someone says to me, that “I cannot do my regular workouts” when carb depleting, I always reply, that normally you are at the end of your taper, you should not do your regular workouts, but relax, freshen up and outside of some neuromuscular reminders, you should not work out.
When unloading on carbs, your body will shred water. Make sure, you elevate your salt (mineral) and water intake. Quinton Hypertonic is your best bet !
2. Carb loading / Carboloading
Easy. You don’t need to go overboard and eat more calories than usual. What you need is to switch percentages to around 90% of carbs coming from total calories. Simple, easy, nothing difficult ! Don’t forget: CARBS ! French fries, doughnuts, hamburger, bakery produce, restaurant food may seem like a good option, but often 30 to 70% of calories are actually coming from fat ! Look at French Fries. A single serving of french fries (100g) contains 196 calories, 13.1g of fat, 18.5g of carbs, 1.9g of protein. That is 117.9kcal of FAT what is 60%, 74kcals of Carb, what is only 37% ! What ? Yes indeed. On the other hand, 100g of boiled potatoes contain like 0.1g fat for 17g carbs 1.8g of protein. That is 0.9kcal of Fat, 61kcals of Carb and 7.2kcals of Protein.
Same true for pasta with veggies or pasta carbonara. Same true for sushi or rice with veggies. Same true for fruit or fruity icec-cream. I absolutely love ice cream and use it extensively. Except, that it is a lemon sorbet, with basically 0g of fat and 100% natural sugars !
Breakfast: 2 big sweet potatoes, 2 big potatoes. Greens. Salt and pepper if needed.
Lunch: salted polenta, salad made of lettuce, tomatoes, red onions, couple of olives.
Dinner: Rice, little chicken breast if wanted some prot, but not necessary, steamed or oven cooked veggies.
Breakfast: Porridge, dates, raisins, some sugar and cinnamon.
Lunch: Sushi, sashimi. I roll my own. If not that would be a 100€ meal just for me.
Dinner: Mashed potatoes, with extra manioca and yams. They will add some more complex carbs, without changing texture. Enhancing the meal actually, with more micro nutrients.
Want to snack ? That is because you haven’t eaten enough. Again. Eat some fruits, on their own. Don’t eat fruit salad. You eat 4 oranges or 4 apples or 4 bananas. Make sure, you eat enough during your next meal, so you won’t go hungry again in-between.
Food combination is key. Fruit is not a snack. Don’t eat it after a meal. It will ferment on top of your meal and mess up your stomach. Eat a little fruit not closer than 30min before a meal. Chew it well.
Fibre. Carbs are plants. Plants are fibre. Chose low rough fibre content foods at least the day before. No bell peppers, no radishes, no raw carrots, no celery. Steamed potatoes, sweet potatoes, pumpkin, rice, millet, fonio, cooking bananas. Avoid quinoa, wheat and barley pearls, cereal mixes and bars, nuts and beans. Avoid salads and greens. You can still drink a green juice, enhanced with beetroot. If you chose porridge as a pre-race breakfast, soak it overnight. You’ll half digestive risks.
We did not talk about pasta. Just F-it ! Think what you want about gluten. Be a freckin’ man and avoid it for 10 days before a race. Have your pizza and beer afterwards. I will be eating more likely rice, olives, avocado, a salad nicoise, maybe sushi or a giant bowl of gnocci with tomato sauce.
3. Training during the Carb loading
Extremely important ! If you messed this up, your whole carb loading system was for nothing.
Make sure you have low absorbing quality sport carbs on hand. Maurten, Cyclic Dextrin, Vitargo, Waxy Maze, High5 Slow Release, Ucan, etc etc.
If you did any training, but any, you drink your carbs, before, during and after. In my last cross country race, I ran 35km the day before. A 20km morning run, a 10km afternoon run and a 5km evening run. The am run was for empty my head, the afternoon run was some short race pace practice with low HR and the evening run was activation with 7 by 7 sec hills. My mates were asking how ? How can I run a 10km balls to the wall race so well, beating guys I have never beaten, after a 35km day.
For the 20km run, I had a porridge breakfast before with manioca starch mixed in and before the run I drank 30g of carbs, took 30g of carbs on the run and had an amino acid mix with 30g of carbs afterwards. Had a meal of carbs after shower. Same for the afternoon run. 30g of carbs before and 20g after. Same for the evening run of 30g of carbs before and 20after. Meals in-between. While I had never burnt as much calories during my sport, I consumed 190g of extra carbs. That is around 750kcals of extra.
What we must understand, that when we run, we cycle deeply these carbs into the muscle. Including amino acids. Also, we have this open window after training, when we also more efficacious top up our tanks. Instead of depleted body, I went into this race with no fatigue, fresh body and fresh mind. I admit, I use vitargo extensively. Science shows, that it is a starch that first of all doesn’t disturb the stomach and actually similar to a super starch and resistant starch, that feeds the stomach lining. Secondly, apparently it becomes very fast available as glycogen.
Use your 8 to 10 day system for bicarb loading. Take in a little bicarb every day. It will go a long way. More is not better. You will fart out your brain. Use 1 third of a teaspoon. Add it up till 1/2. Take it twice a day with plenty of water and keep it out of meals. It will greatly help with your hydration too, especially during the high fat low carb period ! You don’t need the 72euro Maurten system. It is really the edge on the pro level. Also if you had a quality diet, really a well tuned in stomach, the low end of maurten is 19g of sodium of a hydrogel meal. I already have tried 20 to 23 grams, what are basically one and half to 2 tea spoons of food grade baking soda for long runs. No issues at all. However for more brutal efforts, like 10k, XC, short sky running, I prefer 5 to 8g twice a day for 5 days. First thing in the morning, then far away from meals in the afternoon !
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