Ahhhh…summer! The majestic flocks of Canada geese have returned North, the snow is melting high up in the alpine, and the panicked, haggard breathing of the runner in front of you is escalating as you overtake him in your first 10-kilometre race of the year.
That’s right. For many of us, this is the start of race season. Whether you’re a runner, cyclist, triathlete, mountaineer or just really competitive, the drudgery of indoor training through the winter months is over and now it’s time to put all that hard work to use!
But before you rush up to the start line all “gung-ho” to get going, it’s worth making sure you’ve got the fuel to power your muscles. That starts with solid pre-race meals. If you’re about to do a 2-kilometre swim and all you’ve eaten that day is Cheerios, you’re in trouble.
So whats better than Cheerios? Well, a lot. But let’s first figure out what our bodies need.
Your body uses mostly fats and carbohydrates to fuel your muscles during exercise. Fats provide energy for days, but take a long time to convert. That’s why our bodies use fats for low intensity activities, like walking. Carbohydrates, on the other hand, can be converted into energy much more quickly and are more suitable for moderate or high-intensity activities like running or hard cycling. Ensuring you have enough carbohydrates during a race can make the difference between ”It was a fun” and ”It was fun and I got a personal best!”
Your body stores enough carbohydrates inside the muscles and liver to provide about 60 to 90 minutes worth of energy. So if your race is around that duration or longer, you need carbohydrates.
Loading the Carbs
That brings us to the magic of carbohydrate-loading. Carb-loading means eating more carbohydrates before a competition in order to increase energy stores in the muscles. If you’ve ever bonked or hit the wall during a race, that means you used up those energy stores!
To prevent bonking during 60 to 90 minute competitions, start eating more carbohydrates about 24 to 36 hours beforehand. Longer exercise sessions mean you may need to start carb-loading up to 72 hours before race time.
How much more, you ask? Approximately 10 grams of carbs per kilogram of body weight. So, a 80kg (176lb) person should eat about 800g of carbs for a 24 to 72 hour period before race time, depending on the length of the race.
An important note to remember before you start chowing down on bagels and pasta is that many carb-filled foods are also high in fibre. Be careful you don’t throw off your digestion. You want to have a solid run, not get the runs.
To give you some ideas, here are some examples of foods that contain about 100 grams of carbohydrates:
A little carb-loading can go a long way to making this your best race season yet.
Ready… Set… Load!