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Pre Race Eating: Carbo Loading, Not Sugar, Will Lead to Success

By Alix Shutello

It is the Wednesday a big race.  You’ve been training and maybe even lost a few pounds but now you are nervous. You want the race to go well. In an effort to hydrate you are running to the bathroom more often and maybe even crave sweets for comfort food. As race day nears, what should you be eating the next few days?

We have heard the term carbo-loading. It technically pertains to the process is a strategy used by endurance athletes such as marathon runners to maximize the storage of glycogen (or energy) in the muscles. Carbo-loading is normally part of a pre-race routine for races over 90 minutes.

There are many foods that contain carbohydrates; alcohol, general foods like bread and pasta and fruit, and drinks like soft drinks and juices. I recommend, as part any athlete’s overall diet that alcohol, soft drinks, and juices are kept to a minimum.


Please do not carbo load with alcohol.

Gingerbread Latte Margarita

Sure, a wee bit of indulgence won’t ruin your race but it’s not the time to party…especially in the summer months when dehydration is a major issue that should be taken seriously. In fact, before the Broadstreet 10-miler I ran in May, the race packet had announcements specific to drinking alcohol the night before the race and encouraged people not to.  If you are serious about doing well in your race on a Sunday, for example, and you are planning for a happy hour on Friday, conclude your evening early and go home and rest. 

I will tell you from experience that I went to a wine-tasting on a Friday night and tasted a LOT of wine. On the following Saturday night I ran the Rockville 8K at 9PM. Fortunately I had the whole day to drink tons of water and nurse my, um, hangover, but I’ll tell you, I was running a race on a cool evening, out of the sun and with plenty of waterstops. The conditions were good. I would not have faired so well if I were running a long race under the blaring heat of the sun on a humid day, should that have been the conditions. Just do yourself a favor, and save the partying for AFTER the race.


For most of us, carbo-loading is about eating big meals before a race but there is some science to it. As mentioned before, carbo-loading generally is a strategy used by endurance athletes such as marathon runners to maximize the storage of glycogen (or energy) in the muscles, and is widely used by all runners to fuel the body with sugar, basically.

I did not carbo load before my last 10-mile race on May 2. Instead, I chose to eat a turkey burger with a salad the night before and enjoyed one glass of wine. The week before the race I simply over ate on purpose – a few extra Oreos here; an extra helping of pasta there; all in an effort to keep fed. Before a race I am so nervous I am sure I burn off most of my calories just by being nervous. Add to the race the stress of getting to the race, even if it is in your home town can be daunting.


Remember that soft drinks and juices have carbohydrates but these are simple carbohydrates. Simple carbohydrates are things that are simple sugars that get metabolized  immediately for they need almost no digesting – they can enter the bloodstream right after being eaten.  Filling up on simple sugars before a race does an athlete no good; though you are hydrating, you are also ingesting sugar and sugar is a poison when taken in excess.  According to the Global Healing Center “Sugar taken every day produces a continuously overacid condition, and more and more minerals are required from deep in the body in the attempt to rectify the imbalance.”

Therefore, I suggest drinking water and, obviously, a sports drink does not constitute overdoing it on simple sugars; for after a work out one does need the electrolytes.

For more information on carbo-loading and the effects of sugar on the body read:

Sweet Facts You Should Know About Sugar

Replacing Blood Sugar Using Sports Gels




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