Do I need to carbohydrate load?

Do I need to carbohydrate load?

img11 October 2019

I still remember the first triathlon I ever did. Maybe more so the lead up to it, rather than the actual race itself. The day before I think I drank about a litre of powerade, gave up my beloved coffee, ate lots of carbohydrates and had the biggest pasta dish for dinner. And nope, I wasn’t competing in an Olympic distance race, not even a sprint… it was an enticer!

I had no idea about carbohydrate loading at this point in my life, and had only heard about people eating large amounts of pasta, rice and sports drinks in the lead up to a triathlon race. That’s just what you do right? Boy was I wrong! The morning of the race, I felt heavy, sluggish and could not keep any fluids down on the bike leg.

Carbohydrate loading is more complicated and individualised than just eating bulk pasta and rice the day before. Depending on your race (enticer vs sprint vs standard vs ironman), you may not actually need to increase your carbohydrate intake that much more. Or on the other hand, you may need to consume over 500g of carbohydrates (that’s about 10 cups of pasta!).

If you’re racing in an enticer or sprint distance, eating well in race week is going to be better preparation than eating lots of carbs the day before. Aim to eat lots of colourful fruits and vegetables, quality carbohydrates like brown rice, potatoes, pasta and oats, and lean proteins. Limit fried, fatty foods or alcohol. Drinking lots of fluids and eating hydrating foods throughout the week is also helpful. I like to sip on water, flavoured water, milky drinks, herbal teas, sparkling water or some electrolyte drinks.

If you’re racing an Olympic distance, aim to carbohydrate load for 1-2 days, starting 3 days out from race day. This allows you to drop the volume of food back down the day before your race to rest the gut. That way you don’t feel heavy and sluggish come race morning.

For most triathletes competing for over 1.5-2 hours, aiming to eat 6-8g of carbohydrates per kilogram of body weight per day is helpful to overload muscle glycogen stores. So a 70kg athlete, would need to eat about 420g to 560g of carbohydrates each day.

Drinking lots of fluids and eating lower fibre foods is helpful when carbohydrate loading too so you don’t get too bloated, feel heavy or get constipated. A sports dietitian can help you plan your carbohydrate loading well so you don’t experience this.

Happy eating and good luck racing!

Christie Johnson
AG Triathlete & Accredited Practising Dietitian


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