Carb Loading: Finally a Good Reason to Pig Out

I like science. I don’t understand it, but I like it. Science has some things to say about our sport, as I’m sure you’re aware. One of these things is called carbohydrate loading. Carb loading is, pretty much, stuffing your face with pasta (and other carbs) before a long endurance event, coincidentally like the one I have coming up this weekend.

But then things get ugly. Even a cursory search of ‘carb loading’ on Google gets various ways to approach it. A very short summary:

  1. The traditional ‘pasta party’, made famous by marathoners in the 1980s. This was a ce009-1giant meal of pasta the night before the race. 
  2. An accumulative carb load of several days before the event.
  3. Carb loading for 2 days (or so) running up to the event, but then eating normally the day before, so as to feel light (and ‘be’ light, I imagine) on the day.

All these roads are supposed to lead to the same destination: a maximization of the glycogen stores in your muscles, thereby giving you more long-term energy reserves to call on.


660 gr – more than this

Okay, assuming I have decided on the duration and timing of my face stuffing, I now need to know how much. This seems more clear cut, but simultaneously scary as hell. Most of what I have read wants me to eat around 10 grams of carbs per kg of weight each day (or just the one day, if I go that route) I’m carb loading. In my case that is 660 grams, or about 6 times my normal portion of pasta!

This leads to the obvious question (other than how it’s physically possible): aren’t I going to be heavier on race day because of all these extra carbs I’m sure I can’t get rid of by then? It’s a problem, and it’s addressed in a couple of the sites I checked. Apparently it is just the risk you take to avoid the bonk.

But, let’s say I get through all that and am still on board. Now what sort of carbs do I need? I have read everything from white rice to whole wheat pasta (both with their own contradictory scientific reasoning). Unfortunately, I haven’t seen beer. I guess that’s only good for recovery.

So, I call on you again, dear blog friends. What’s your secret to fueling properly for long races? And be quick about it, I only have a few days!

8 thoughts on “Carb Loading: Finally a Good Reason to Pig Out

  1. To be fair to history I was at a ‘pasta party’ the night before the Ben Nevis Hill race of 1972 or 73 (my memory isn’t that good) so it has been around for a long time. The theory at one time was to eat no carbs for a couple of days until you were half starving and then stuff your face the night before the race so that your body, imagining it was in hard times, would take on board more than than it could usually cope with. I don’t know whether it worked well but people certainly did it.

    • Yeah, I should have said that I heard about it first in the 80s. I’m about as good a historian as I am a scientist, it seems. The Ben Nevis Hill race sounds pretty painful, by the way. The theory sounds like it hasn’t changed much, TP, just the way people go at it.

      There’s a popular one in Australia that has you do some very short and powerful sprints the day before the race, then eat those tons of carbs, tricking the body, just like you said. Other than the hard sprints, I like the idea of that one.

  2. Gerry..bad bad idea to change anything 1 week before a race that is important to you….of course you must eat before the start, so do that as you normally would..then try to eat something every 20 mins. or so during the race… ( bites of a clif bar, banana, a gel etc.) I (as well as others) have found this to be the best way to stay on top of it… have made cream cheese and jam sandwiches on a semi-firm bread (not chewy) cut in in 4 pieces, wrapped it in foil…this way you can pop 1/4 in your mouth and done…real food is always better… They pack very flat so you can take a few…I have never believed in carb loading… a nice creme brûlée around kilometer 100 is always a nice treat 🙂


    • What you say makes some sense to me. I mean, you can’t carbo load for every single day of a multiple day race, for example, so I should probably practice what I’ll be doing in Haute Route later this summer. I know I can’t eat a big amount the day before because it bungs me up usually, but I wast thinking about testing it out a few days before.

      Nice tip on the mini-sandwiches. I was thinking about ‘real food’ just yesterday. Just have to find some peanut butter in this town!

  3. Gerry, Stephen’s on the money I think.
    I’ve never carbo-loaded to the degree, but riding regularly I eat a lot of pasta and bread anyway. The night before a big ride I have a big, but not massive (maybe a third of a 500g pack), bowl of pasta and a bolognese sauce for the protein. I start the day off with a big bowl of wholewheat cereal, a cup of muesli, a couple of big dollops of yoghurt, honey and banana. It needs about an hour to settle. Fuelling constantly during a ride is something I find difficult but it’s essential. I cut up small pieces of fruit cake which I can easily stuff down. On training rides I usually have a good stop somewhere and have some real food, and I noticed the lack of this on the last big event ride I did (165km). I swore I would take something like a sandwich – protein and carbs, but no sugars. As my mate Alex told me that day, sugar is like throwing kerosene on a fire, not much good on a ride. Post-ride is just as important, even though I don’t usually feel that hungry. Immediately after the ride the body is primed to take on protein for recovery, the amounts I’m not sure of. In the evening I usually have some roast chicken and vegetables, and a nice glass of red.

    • Thanks, James. I’ve had the occasional bonk on long races and I’m sure they were due to lack of fueling, but that means even less than I usually eat (no time for breakfast, for example), so at least i know I can make it through long events without carb loading intentionally.

      What your mate Alex says is interesting and brings up the obvious question: why are food stations loading with sugar?

      I like the fruitcake idea and have used it myself. Nice and heavy. I’ll think about the ‘real food’ aspect some more and see what I can come up with.

      • on the real food idea, I was even thinking of taking a pretty solid pie or sausage roll, cheese & bread, that sort of thing. I also like to take fresh fruit. By the way, I know Cadel eats loads of pasta, several serves.

  4. I´d like to share my lessons from science and expirience.
    There is just a quite little amount of carb what your body is able to store. you can´t really expand this. You just can train to use less-
    What I do:
    Normally three days before an event I ride an intensve ride with little food. i then want to run out of carbs. As soon as I arrive at home i drink a glass of apple juice (this part is the science I don´t understand, but it works). Within the first 30 minutes after the ride I eat pasta with also a lot of proteein. Like real eggs. the aim is to fill your repositry. I understood that these 30 minutes are crucial. so at the haute route it ist essential to eat proper within the first 30 minutes after the ride.

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