As marathon season approaches, many runners are trying to figure out how to fuel up (i.e. carb load) for the big race. Below are the must-dos for any plant-based runner in training to stay fit, healthy, and nourished prior to race day.
But first, an introduction to the importance of carb loading: One of the best parts of training for a marathon is eating carbs, on carbs, on carbs. Carb loading is a must (preferably a week prior to race day) to replenish those depleted glycogen stores. An important note to remember is your glycogen stores are your main source of fuel on race day. Glucose is stored as glycogen in the muscles and liver, waiting to be used. Fat is also burned for fuel during your runs, but the body does not easily use fat as energy. For this reason, the purpose of carb-loading is to avoid “the crash” during a marathon. The crash happens when all glycogen stores are depleted and your body switches to using fat as its main source of energy. Converting fat to energy is a longer process and can slow the body down drastically. This is not an ideal situation when you need energy fast to keep moving, which is why carb-loading is a must for long-distance runners.
I am here to help as there are many opinions on what you should and should not eat. Remember, only you know your body best, and what works for you, may not work for someone else. The first question I get asked is what kind of carbs to consume. For endurance purposes, I recommend complex carbs (i.e. brown rice) if you can digest them well. The reasoning for brown rice over white rice is to avoid blood sugar spikes. Yes, both types of rice will be stored as glycogen, but if you want to sustain energy levels while you are carb loading, complex carbs are the way to go.
Another element of carb loading to consider is the complexity of your meals. Your primary goal for every meal is to keep meals simple. I often ate sweet potatoes (no skin) with coconut oil and sea salt, gluten-free brown rice pasta with sautéed mushrooms and marinara sauce. A lot of people wonder, why not eat the skin of the sweet potato? Your week of carb loading is the only time to limit your fiber intake. Remember, this is only for a week. The reason to decrease fiber intake is to eliminate gas and bloating. Simple digestion is key!
Enjoy low-fiber fruit juices. Fruit juices are going to be useful to get a high amount of carbs when pasta is too much to bear. Again, keep digestion simple by going for high-carb, low-fiber fruits such as strawberries, bananas, melon, pineapple, and grapes. Veggie juices are great as long as they are made with a juicer that extracts the pulp. (Nutrition Nugget: leftover “pulp” from a juicer is really the majority of fiber that was in the vegetables and fruit you juiced! This is why using a blender is often better for juice making to intake all the fiber from your fruit and veggies–just not when you’re carb loading!) 🙂
As race day closely approaches, give yourself at least a week’s time to carb load. In order to carb-load properly, complete a trial run a week before race day. Run as far as you would run the real race. This will be your depletion day. This practice run will deplete all your glycogen stores to start fresh. Plus, this trial run gives you an idea of how far you can go without crashing. Mine was about the 8-mile mark with 5-and-half more to go. It is important to note this time so you know when to feed yourself a high carb snack before the crash hits on race day.
Long story short, enjoy your carbs for an amazing run!
Are you a runner or endurance athlete? What carb loading tips have helped you the most?
Also by Katherine: What I Eat in a Day: Meal Confessions of a Vegan Nutritionist
Related: Cross-Training for a Marathon
Yoga for Runners: 8 Deep Stretches for Long Legs
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Photo: Alex Wong via Unsplash