Unless you’ve been living on a desert island for the last decade, it’s likely that you’ve heard of carb loading.
But is gorging on a whole loaf of bread before going for a run really a healthy approach?
We chatted to Alex Dreyer, accredited Sports Dietitian, to set the record straight.
Carbohydrates are our body’s primary energy resource. They are broken down into sugar during digestion, which is then stored in our muscles as glycogen.
Our muscles store only enough glycogen to provide 90-120 minutes of high-exertion energy. So, the theory goes: the more carbs you eat, the more glycogen your body stores and the better you avoid fatigue.
But is carb loading the right strategy for everyone? If you’re doing the 4km, should your carbohydrate intake differ from that of a half marathon participant? In short, yes.
Let’s break it down in more detail.
Generally, carb loading is something only longer distance runners need to worry about.
Unless you’re doing multiple long training sessions per week (lasting 90-120 minutes), your carbohydrate intake doesn’t need to change.
Sorry to be the bearer of bad news – we know scoffing down that huge bowl of pasta is tempting!
Even the day before HBF Run for a Reason, you shouldn’t consume more carbohydrates than normal, as it will be extra bulk in your gut that you won’t use.
Focus instead on eating familiar foods and staying hydrated, as well as getting a good night’s sleep.
Not all carbs are created equal! Although you don’t need to carb load if you’re participating in a shorter distance, you should prioritise quality carbohydrates that will keep you full for longer.
Aim to include wholegrain and high-fibre carbs in most meals, as well as carbohydrate-rich vegetables.
Think wholemeal bread and pasta, brown rice and quinoa, rolled oats, legumes, lentils, sweet potatoes and all fruit and veggies with the skin left on.
As an adult, you should aim for three to six serves per day, spread out over three meals and two snacks (you'll need more if you're pregnant or breastfeeding).
A serve is roughly equal to one slice of bread, half a cup of porridge, rice, or pasta, or three medium crackers.
Good news – if you’re running in one of the longer distances, you can slide that gigantic bowl of pasta over!
Carbohydrate is your body’s primary fuel for hard exercise. Nourishing your body with high-energy food can increase your training volume and allow you to reach your potential in harder sessions.
Even if you are running in the 12km or half marathon, carb-loading might not be the best plan for you.
The high-energy diet doesn’t suit everybody and can cause some negative side-effects, especially if you have diabetes.
It’s a good idea to consult your GP or meet with an accredited dietitian to receive personalised advice.
This content is provided by Alex Dreyer, an accredited Sports Dietitian based in Perth.