Do people find that carbo-loading actually works?

Hi there,

 I have carbo-loaded for my last four marathon events, and have found it to be extremely beneficial each time.  However, after talking to many different people in the build up to races I find that no-one seems to rate it as an important piece of preparation anymore.  Has a better method come along, or do people not know enough about carbo-loading to want to do it?

All opinions invited.....


  • I've read that the depletion phase (where you cut out all carbs for a few days prior to the loading phase) is no longer considered necessary - it was based on a flawed study which showed depletion to be beneficial but which has since been disproved.  I'm pretty sure carb loading is still considered very beneficial however (I used it for my one marathon so far and will do so again in the future).
  • I just like eating pasta to be honest.
  • I have to admit, I don't see the first phase too much in the depletion manner - I look at it as time for the protein to assist in muscle repair, but I can see where you are coming from.

     I have a number of theories about the whole thing, but I want to see what others think too.

  • not sure if it works but carbs (and some protein) were very much what my body was craving leading up to first marathon (just completed - hoorah!). I went right off fatty foods like chocolate and cake which is quite strange for me.
  • Congratulations - which one did you complete?  I was at the fiasco called Chicago, but have done 3 others.
  • When I did my first marathon in 1982 (I think!!!), carbo depletion was the name of the game. Basically, I did my longest run a week before the marathon and I started the race completely knackered. How times have changed, thank heavens. Someone started a thread in the last few days on a very similar subject to this. A normal healthy diet and a good pasta meal the day before seems to do the job nowadays. I have chicken with pasta and pesto with a lump of broccali. Yummmmmmmmmmmmmmy.
  • My 'last meal' is always spaghetti bolognese. That's the evening before. I only have the ability on the morning of the race to eat a couple of flapjacks or energy bars, due to feeling nauseous..... I don't know why I get nervous, I just do. image
  • I read an article once that while men can carbo load on cakes, sweets or any old rubbish  just the night before women have to eat good quality carbs for longer.
  • I musat  say that eating a good pasta, bread dish a good 15 ish hours before a race works great for me.

    I also have found that giving my Shreddies with milk and a banana a good 2 and half hours to digest before the race works superb.

    I think it is a trail and error for everyone.

  • Probably not the best idea, but I had leftover Domino Pizza once for breakfast, before a run and I felt super charged!
  • If you thought that the carbo-loading -done properly of course- was to be beneficial to you and give you a better base to start the actual race with, then do you think you would try it?

    Personally, I can't NOT do it now as it has become part of my routine, but most people seem to manage fairly well without it, so i can see why it is dying off, but to me, if the elite runners can still do it, then it's good enough for me....

  • I've only once NOT carbo-loaded for a marathon, and I had a complete 'mare ... though the failure to carbo-load was probably less important than the 14 weeks without training due to injury image

    Like you, Vicki, I can't imagine NOT carbo-loading, and take the glycogen-loading theory as an act of faith. I like to have my main eating-day two days before the race, and a relatively light diet (but mainly carbohydrate) the day before. Having said that, I won't turn down the opportunity for a pizza-party the night before a marathon!

    I don't bother carbo-loading for shorter races but make a bit of an effort the day before 16+ mile training runs or long leg-mashing sessions out in the fells. 

  • Fell running always sounds fun - is it?  I should think that it provides a great fitness base to work from, marathon-wise.

     I too will not turn down pizza the night before a race, but I still mix it with some spag bol.  It always surprises me how dedicated I am toward the process, and how I just 'snap' right into the 2 different phases that i use - separating protein days from carb days.  And as everyone tells me - you are only an average runner - why do you do it?  I do it because I firmly believe it stops me from hitting the wall.

  • Vicki - what do you mean by carbo loading "done properly".  There are different ideas as to what carbo loading should consist of - from depletion then super compensation through to just eating more for a couple of days and eating normally but cutting the training load as part of a taper.    I've never met anyone that doesn't think you should eat a reasonable amount the day before - so to that extent I don't think the idea of carbo loading is dying off - but maybe you mean something more specific ?
  • Fell-running is for harder nutcases than me. I'm just a hillwalker who wears Inov8s, doesn't carry those ski-stick things, and sometimes runs the easy bits. But 20 miles of Highland undulations certainly feels like a good workout image

    I've never tried doing a depletion phase, though the idea of living on cheese and fillet steak for a couple of days is quite appealing. 

  • I mean in a more specific term. The way I was taught was a 10 day period - split into a depletion and a replenishment phase, with a training taper cut down to no more than 3 or 4 miles a day at a gentle pace.

    When I do the maths, as I am, for want of a better phrase 'Built like a brick s@/thouse', I burn off an average of 4000kcal per race, so I find that the carbo-loading works for me because I can get more fuel into my muscles by carbo-loading, as I am never going to manage eating 4000kcal on the day of the race - either before or after the race.

    Does that help?

  • Ive never done depletion but I have eaten up to 5 meals the day before a race. Carbo loading does work. And you get to have loads of nice mashed potato - yum
  • It's ok to eat cheese and fillet steak - but by day 5, the night before you start the carbs, you are begging for something, anything that isn't meat, egg or cheese. Even quorn is a little too high in carbs to have image
  • According to the charts, I burn off well under 2,000 calories during a marathon (I'm built like a scale model of a person, and my running is so efficient that I'd probably use up more calories knitting) and suspect I'd get by quite nicely on a normal diet leading up to the race, a bite of brekky and a bottle of Lucozade Sport. For my last marathon, I didn't take anything during the race apart from a few swigs of the supplied isotonic drink, and was fine.

    But that would be no fun at all image 

  • OK I think one reason why fewer people do carbo loading in the way you mean it is because research is mixed as to a depletion phase has any benefit at all.    With modern sports drinks I think there is less need for it too - is hitting the wall generally a problem - certainly for me I don't think lack of carbs is the limiting factor in my marathon performance - rather it's accumulated muscle damage or the ability of my muscles to work efficiently for the marathon distance.    Given all that I think a lot of people just don't want to experiment and experience the down sides of depleting carbs for the possible benefits of super compensation.
  • I am learning lots about myself after the fiasco that was the Chicago marathon.  Whilst I had prepared thoroughly and was fine in the 32C heat, many people weren't, so when I came home I started planning for various 'eventualities' that may crop up during my next races, and am just learning about how people run marathons in the hotter US states, and how their preparations may differ from ours, here in the UK.

    I want to be faster, fitter and even better prepared for the next one image

     Even though you burn off 2000 calories Velociraptor - that still doesn't take your average daily requirements into account. That is 2000 on top of what your body requires per day, so you can still have some fun image

  • That's fair enough Popsider - I didn't want to do it at first, but I wanted to make sure I was completely prepared, and I hadn't seen anything stating that people didn't take much notice anymore.  Now I wouldn't be without the process, but that's just me, purely because of the calories I burn off. I'm no Paula Radcliffe.

    Maybe it is just beneficial to the 'larger ' runner - those of us who aren't of a runner's build?

  • I'm not sure where to even start with carb loading , I only really like pasta twirls and porridge goes right through me. Frankly I'm worried about my first marathon , not about not getting round but having a gyppy stomach!! I'm out to 16 miles already but once I have been caught out by a bad stomach.

    I was proposing to take an energy gel every five miles during the race.

    Mind you that'll probably give me the trots!!
  • Part of the fun is that there is that there are lots of theories and what works for one may not work for another - certainly if I was a serious marathon runner I would probaby try your method at least once Vicki.   With you Mike I reckon be cautious - have a decent meal the night before but don't go over the top or you risk getting caught out with stomach problems.   I found that I have to go easy on the gels and sports drink or that's exactly what happens to me - I used water and a couple of energy bars that I carried with me - if it was available I might take a little sports drink too - but others may find different strategies work for them. 
  • Many peole who have problems with the gels find that it is usually a specific brand that causes problems, and so try many different ones. I personally prefer PowerBar gels, but they are difficult to get hold of - if I can't get them I either go without, or have jelly beans or jelly babies to get my energy.  I did London with 2 granola bars from Starbucks, but if you are dehydrated at all, then they are difficult to swallow.

    You could try your own 'energy' drink. I recommend a 50-50 mix of orange juice and water with a teaspoon of salt in.  Mix up to a tablespoon of sugar to taste.  It's pretty much natural, and with the lack of chemical additives in it, it may just help.

    Where and when is your first marathon Mike?

  • Shakespeare Marathon next April - I'm up to 16 miles already . On a half marathon I've used gels i at 5 miles then 1 at 11 but tonight I ran 13 with just a lucozade pouch drink and thats was just fine.

    I wouldn't use something I've not used before.
  • Sounds like you are making good progress so far Mike - you sound like you are working pretty methodically. Hope you feel that you are making progress image
  • It works every time for me!!!! Im not as good a runner as marathons etc, but 10ks and 10miles are my thing.

     But every training run I carb load for, it works and helps every time!

  • How many people would go through a depletion phase first, if they felt it would help the carbo-loading process.....?
Sign In or Register to comment.