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The Ultimate Guide to Healthy Carbo-Loading

Why carbo-load?

Carbo-loading can be an extremely effective technique to provide your body with the energy needed to complete long, intense workouts or races. As the Mayo Clinic explains:

When you engage in long, intense athletic events, your body needs extra energy to keep going. The purpose of carbohydrate loading is to give you the energy to complete an endurance event with less fatigue, improving your athletic performance.

Who should carbo-load?

Carbo-loading isn’t necessary for everyone. For a 5k or other activities that are under an hour, there’s no need. Carbo-loading is most beneficial for endurance sports, i.e., physical activities lasting more than 90 minutes, such as marathon running, swimming, and cycling.

When to carbo-load?

The process should begin one week prior to race day with a decrease in carbohydrate intake to about 50% of total calories. By scaling back on carbs (and compensating with increased protein and fat intake), you deplete your carbohydrate stores to facilitate the loading process.

Then, 3-4 days before before the race, bump up your carb intake to 70% of total calories, while winding down your training. This will ensure that you don’t use up the energy that you’re attempting to store, and that you’re well-rested for race day.

What to carbo-load?

When most of us hear “carbo-loading” we think pasta, bread, pasta, energy bars, and, did I mention pasta? While these foods may have proven successful for you in you the past, I challenge you to take a more nutrition-focused approach this time around. Stock up on some of these healthier carbohydrate-rich foods before your next race!

  1. Bananas
  2. Sweet potatoes
  3. Fresh figs or dates
  4. Low-fat dairy
  5. Rolled oats
  6. Beans or lentils

Sample Day

Based on a 150-pound runner


1/2 cup of dry oatmeal
1 tablespoon honey
1 banana
1 cup orange juice


1 large sweet potato, baked
4-6 ounces of plain yogurt
2 slices of toast with fruit jam


1 Clif or Protein Bar of choice


1 whole-wheat tortilla with rice, beans, chicken and corn
1 cup chocolate milk
handful of dates or figs

*Add other high carbohydrate snacks, as needed

Morning of your event:

Make sure that you consume some carbs (whole wheat bagel or oatmeal with banana) about three hours before your event.

Things to consider when choosing high carbohydrate foods:

  • Avoid combining high carbohydrate foods with foods that are high in fat. Fat has a tendency to upset the stomach.
  • Be careful when choosing high carbohydrate foods that are also really high in fiber, or you may be spending time in the porta-potty come race day!
  • Consume naturally sugary fruits and fruit juices with caution. Too much of a good thing can be a bad thing for your digestive tract.

When it’s all said and done it’s not solely about the carbohydrates. Though they are the major energy source 90+ minutes into your race, including a little protein in your meals can help slow the release of carbohydrates–which means sustained energy for you endurance athletes.

Have you ever carbo-loaded for a race before?

What did you do to carbo-load?


  1. Runner’s World
  2. Mayo Clinic
  3. Eat Right

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