Friday, February 26, 2010

The best thing about marathon training: carb-loading

I love my carbs. Yessiree, I do. Bread. Pasta. Cookies. Pizza. Cake. Fruit. Chips. Potatoes. I've never met a carb I didn't like. So it's only natural that I would gravitate toward an activity where a major component of preparation is eating lots of carbs. Unfortunately, many of the above listed carbs are not the IDEAL carbs for carb-loading before a long run. If you carb-loaded on cookies, cake and chips, you would also be fat-loading, and that's really counterproductive. Drat! No Cookie Casserole for dinner tonight! (I don't think Cookie Casserole is a real thing. I could be wrong...)

So, alas, I have to be careful about my carb selection. Even though I'm logging 30 miles per week these days, I'm still prone to weight gain (because running 30 miles per week makes a gal HUNGRY). So eating any old carb just won't do. I try to stay away from processed stuff, going for whole grains, veggies, and legumes as much as possible.

So what exactly is carb-loading, why do we need it and how do we do it?

Carb-loading is a way of increasing your body's stored glycogen before an endurance event. Glycogen is the body's readily-available fuel source, and is stored in the liver and muscles (thanks to Julie for clarifying that!). The body typically stores enough glycogen to get a marathoner to about Mile 20 (give or take a few miles - it depends on the runner's unique physiology and running intensity). But, as my alert readers know, a marathon is 26.2 miles... So you may be wondering how you would run those remaining 6.2 miles with no fuel. Well, simply put, you can't. That, my friends, is The Wall. When you run out of glycogen, your body will not go any further. You cannot will your way past The Wall. Once you hit The Wall, you're done. The best way to deal with The Wall is to prevent it. Carb-loading is one way of doing this. Carb-loading actually increases the body's capacity to store glycogen, so you have more fuel available come race day (or long run day, as the case may be).

The old school of thought for carb-loading was that you should deplete you carb stores for several days before switching to a high-carb diet, to maximize your glycogen stores. This method has come out of favor, thankfully. Today's carb-loading method simply involves eating a greater percentage of calories from carbs over the 2-3 days before a long run or long race. This is a method I can get on board with. More carbs? Sign me up! But if you read the fine print, it says "Eating more carbs should not be the result of eating more calories." DOH! Stupid fine print!

So, basically, eat the same amount of food you normally do, but make more of it carb-based. Have pasta, but don't have two pounds of pasta.

And let's not forget our good friend, protein. We need him too! Protein slows the digestion of said carbs, giving a sort of time-release effect - that sounds perfect for a long-distance endurance event! So it's important to have a little protein during carb-loading.

What's my carb-loading meal of choice? Though I am a fan of pasta, my carb-loading tool of choice is usually homemade pizza. We make the crust from scratch, using a blend of whole wheat and white flour, and top it with lots of tasty veggies and part-skim mozzarella cheese. Here's our fabulous pizza:

The hubby and I will be making one tonight, as we prepare for our 16 mile run in the morning. We'd love to share with everyone, but we're carb-loading and need all the pizza we can get. So you'll have to make your own.

Peace. Love. Train.

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