There are three main types of nutrient stores that are contained in the human body: Glycogen, fat, and protein. Glycogen is the first nutrient that your body relies on whenever you are exercising and, with extended periods of exercise, such as a 10k+ race or an endurance based fitness competition, this store of energy can become depleted. Any long distance runner can tell you that they reached a point in their race where they felt like they just could not continue on. This is the moment that their glycogen store has become depleted and is where we get the phenomenon “hitting the wall”. Your body then starts to rely on your fat stores for energy, but the process to convert fat is much slower than the initial glycogen conversion. This is why the last small part of the marathon is the hardest part and is also why a big focus for runners is how to delay glycogen depletion until the last possible second. Luckily, there is a strategy that’s been researched for the last 40 years on this very issue: Carbohydrate Loading. Carbohydrates, when digested, are what your body converts into glycogen and is what is stored in your muscles. The theory of Carbohydrate Loading is that if you consume more carbs than normal, then your muscles will have more stored glycogen and it will take longer for this store to become depleted. A common program for Carbohydrate Loading is called the “Classic 3-Day”.
The “Classic 3 Day”
With this 3 day program, you are going to start 3 days before your race or competition. On the first day, you are going to perform an intense workout in order to completely or nearly completely deplete your muscle glycogen stores. You are basically making it so you start on a clean slate. Then for the rest of day one, you are going to consume around 4.5 grams of carbohydrates per pound of body weight (about 10 grams per kilogram). This means that you are going to want to eat more breads and pastas. To account for the increase in calories from consuming more carbohydrates, you are going to have to limit your intake of fats for this 3 day period. The next 2 days, you are going to do little to no exercise but you are going to keep consuming the same amount of carbohydrates. At the end of the 3 days, if you consumed the correct amount of carbs, your muscles should me at, or near max glycogen storage.
If you are running a long distance race or competing in an endurance based fitness competition, one of your goals is probably to keep your energy level high as long as possible. This can be improved by training, but if you are within a couple days of your race, you’ve done all the training you can do. But there is still something you can do to help you keep a high energy level and that is Carbohydrate Loading. Carbohydrate Loading maximizes the amount of glycogen stored in your muscles, pushing back the point at which you hit the wall and therefore getting you better race results. For more tips on how to improve your results, visit The Keys to Running a Better Race.
- Ohio University Exercise Physiology