Carbo-Loading Do's & Don'ts
DO: Start early! If you're race is on Saturday, start emphasizing higher carbohydrate foods on Tuesday or Wednesday and ease into it.
Don't: Cram your carbo-loading into the last two meals pre-race. The goal is NOT to shock your GI system in the days leading up to a race, and starting a race with a heavy gut is simply not a fun feeling.
DO: Make sure you're properly tapering your workouts and not trying to fit in any last minute harder efforts (which works to deplete glycogen stores, not build them)
Don't: Don't push the calories as part of the carb-loading process. Since you are training less, simply by eating the same you should have an extra 300-500+ calories/day going towards fueling up your glycogen stores. By exercising less, maintaining normal nutritional intake but emphasizing carbohydrate rich fuel sources, you will already be filling your glycogen stores without adding extra bulk.
A few of my other favorite pre-race carbo-loading snacks: (1) graham crackers with almond butter + sliced strawberries + cinnamon (2) Curried rice, potatoes and chickpeas and (3) Sweet potato "trail mix" bowl featuring mashed sweet potato and banana, almond butter, diced apples, a sprinkle of coconut and cinnamon.
DO: Stick with tried and true carb-choices!
Don't: Try anything new! Race week is not the time to load up on fruits in an attempt to carb-load and ward off potential illness. Stick with your general eating routine, but simply alter the proportion of carbs to protein to fat at each meal to place greater emphasis on the carbs. If you tend to be prone to GI issues on race day, aim for lower fiber alternatives to your favorite fuels (i.e. white rice over brown rice)
DO: Aim to emphasize carbs immediately after your race-week workouts, when your muscles are most open to taking in those carbs to effectively build up glycogen stores.
Don't: Skimp out on protein! Your muscles cannot build glycogen without protein, so be sure to pair meals and snacks with a quality source of protein which will also contribute to greater sense of satiety.
DO: Use longer training sessions to practice your race-day fueling plan, including how you plan to carb0-load in the days/meals prior.
Don't: Allow pre-race anxiety to get the best of you. Anxiety can cause digestion to slow and potentially leave you feeling constipated. It also tends to cause some athletes to hap-hazardously try new things pre-race in an attempt to gain an extra edge (OR mindlessly munch on less-than-desirable pre-race foods). Stay relaxed and stick with what you've successfully tried in the past!!
As I mentioned, the orzo and roasted veggie pasta salad below is a favorite go-to pre-race meal for me. It works well because the orzo is rich in lower-fiber carbohydrates, while the chickpeas provide a quality source of protein. The roasted veggies can be adjusted based on how sensitive your gut tends to be on race day, but typically I'll emphasize more of the orzo, less on the veggies for carbo-loading purposes (see note below in directions). I am also fairly liberal with the addition of salt to this dish, particularly prior to races with expected hot and humid conditions, as it helps ensure my electrolyte levels are topped off to go with pre-race hydration.
The best part of this meal is that it travels well in a cooler giving me a reliable pre-race meal without the hassle of having to find a restaurant, fight crowds, and drop extra money on a pre-race dinner. Packing a pre-race meal is definitely the ideal situation in regards to knowing exactly what you're putting in your body pre-race, and allows me to sit back, relax and stay off my feet as much as possible (which I know my coach loves :)
Note: Pre-race, go with 16oz package of orzo to indicated quantities of veggies and chickpeas above. For a day-to-day fuel source, I prefer to cut the orzo down to 8oz to provide a greater balance of grains to veggies and protein.
Be sure to check out the Pineapple Fried Rice recipe below for another favorite pre-race meal of mine!
What's your top tip for successful carbo-loading pre-race?
Kristen Chang is Registered Dietitian Nutritionist (RDN), Certified Specialist in Sports Dietetics (CSSD) and triathlete residing in southwest Virginia with her husband and dogs. Follow along as she shares favorite fueling recipes, general wellness and sport nutrition tips and stories from her athletic endeavors.
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