Tales from the Carb Load, Pt. 1

Carb Loading: You’ve all heard of it before. The pasta party that many runners have the night before a big race in an effort to build up their glycogen stores. This process dates back to the 1960’s and was developed by a Swedish physiologist, a Mr. Gunvar Ahlborg. Ahlborg discovered that if athletes depleted their glycogen stores down to basically nothing 4 days before a race, and then spent the final three days leading up to the race ingesting obscene amounts of carbohydrates, their performance improved.

I did some research on this method as well as a few others. This method seemed pretty miserable to me for one main reason: carbohydrate depletion. I don’t care what purpose it serves, whether it’s weight loss or putting your muscles into “supercompensation” mode for storing glycogen, I do not like excessively low-carbohydrate diets regardless how short a time it’s for. Research has also shown that those who did not carb load properly after the depletion phase actually experienced decreased performance. I figured that for my first attempt at carb loading there was a pretty good chance I wasn’t going to do it properly, so I just didn’t want to take the risk.

Another method is the aforementioned pasta party the night before the race. As fun as eating a pound of pasta sounds, I knew it wasn’t really realistic for me. I can FORCE myself to eat a massive quantity of food in one sitting, but I feel gross as shit afterwards. I need at least an hour between feasts to space things out a bit 😉 Plus, any time I do eat a huge amount of food in one sitting, like at Christmas or Easter, I feel full and lethargic when I wake up the next morning. Not a great way to feel when running your first half marathon.

So what’s a carb loading newb to do? Since my run is this coming Sunday, I decided to up my carb intake to account for just above 65% of my total caloric intake Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday, and then reduce that to what I normally consume Saturday. I had initially planned on taking a long walk Saturday evening, however I think I’ll rest and just let all those carbs I worked so hard to eat the few days prior just hang out in my muscles and wait for Sunday. Technically during the carb load phase you aren’t supposed to workout but I’m continuing to lift at a lowered intensity for these three days. See? I’m already not doing it “right”. But that’s okay, I don’t think this will decrease my performance, if anything it may just not improve it. We’ll find out on Sunday! I love the trial and error process. And besides, I just ate three pieces of french toast with sliced banana smothered in maple syrup. I’m not complaining.

I have to admit though, after day 1 I definitely feel, well….fluffy, if you will. For every gram of glycogen your muscles store, they will store an additional 2+ grams of water. Great for race day, kinda messes with my head in the days leading up. But that’s okay! I know that will all disappear over the course of a two-hour run.

I’ve definitely found it a challenge to consume the amount of carbs I need without going over my allotted fat intake. I’ve had to substantially reduce the amount of fat I eat, which means I haven’t eaten peanut butter since Tuesday. Depressing, I know. I didn’t realize how much fat was hiding in everything! I ate some baked oatmeal that I made on Tuesday after my workout yesterday and what do you know, 8 grams of fat hiding in those oats! I then went out for lunch, which is probably not the best idea when you’re trying to watch everything you eat by the gram. We went for Lebanese food and I got what I thought would be a safe option, Mjadra. I honestly don’t even really know what Mjadra is besides delicious, but there was lots of green lentils, rice, and potatoes so I thought it was a safe bet. Myfitnesspal so rudely informed me (after I ate it of course) that there was 14 grams of fat in that little dish. Great. I could good bye to the falafels I had prepared for my dinner at work that night, because of course there’s fat in chickpeas. Thank god this is only for three days.

Today I feel a bit more prepared. I’m not going to dine out for the rest of this experiment so I have better control over what I’m eating. Today’s menu includes my banana french toast, a big, sugary post-workout smoothie from a smoothie bar that I would in most circumstances never order from, a ham and egg white bagel, risotto (fat reduced as much as possible of course), an array of fruits and vegetables (as little fiber as possible!), and I may or may not venture out to find some fat free froyo a bit later on. Only time will tell.

I’ll post another update tomorrow morning, as well as a recipe for granola bars that I was hoping to share today, but the clock is ticking and the gym is calling my name. Have a great Thursday everyone, Friday is just around the corner!

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2 thoughts on “Tales from the Carb Load, Pt. 1

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