Rapid Loading

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Some athletes prefer not to taper their exercise for two to three weeks before an endurance event; they are barely willing to take off one day for rest. To satisfy the needs of these intense athletes, researchers developed the following rapid-load program (Fairchild et al. 2002):

  1. One day before the event, the subjects cycled very hard (130 percent VO2max) on stationary bikes for two and a half minutes, and then in the last half minute they did an all-out effort to total exhaustion and depletion of muscle glycogen.
  2. As soon as tolerable, they started to consume a very high carbohydrate diet, targeting about 5 grams of carbohydrate per pound (10 g per kg) of body weight, eaten over the course of the day. This means that an athlete who weighed 150 pounds (68 kg) needed to eat about 750 grams of carbohydrate, which is the equivalent of 3,000 calories of carbohydrate. Because they were filling up on so much carbohydrate, they had little room for fat or protein in that day's diet (only 10 percent of total calories, as opposed to a standard day with 45 percent of calories from protein and fat).
  3. Throughout the day they rested and consumed carbohydrate-loading beverages, juices, gels, and other forms of carbohydrate-dense products. By resting, the athletes gave their muscles the opportunity to superload using the abundance of carbohydrate that flooded the system. The athletes were able to achieve levels of glycogen as high as those reached by athletes who carbohydrate loaded for three to six days.

If this rapid-load protocol sounds enticing to you, be sure to practice it before the event. The drastic change in diet may lead to intestinal problems. And the intense exercise before the event may leave you tired.

weeks (Costill et al. 1985). Research suggests that a 10- to 13-day taper can be better than a 7-day taper (Zarkadas, Carter, and Banister 1994).

Because you will be exercising less during the preevent taper, you do not need to eat hundreds of additional calories when carbohydrate loading. Simply maintain your standard intake (this should be about 3 to 5 g of carbohydrate per pound of body weight, or 6 to 10 g per kg). The 600 to 1,000 or so calories that you generally burn during training will be used to give your muscles extra fuel. By saving the calories that you otherwise would have burned during training, you can approximately double your glycogen stores and will be able to exercise harder during the third hour of your event (Rauch et al. 1995).

You'll know you have carbohydrate loaded properly if you gain 2 to 4 pounds (1 to 2 kg) of water weight. With each ounce (30 g) of stored glycogen, you store about 3 ounces (90 ml) of water. This water becomes available during exercise and reduces dehydration.

  1. Eat enough protein. Because endurance athletes burn some protein for energy, they should take special care to eat two small servings every day of protein-rich foods in addition to getting protein from two or three dairy servings. Even when carbohydrate loading, your diet should include about 0.6 to 0.7 gram of protein per pound (1.3 to 1.6 g per kilogram) of body weight.
  2. Do not fat load. To reduce your fat intake to 20 to 25 percent of your calories, choose toast with jam rather than with butter, pancakes moistened with maple syrup rather than with margarine, and pasta with tomato sauce rather than with oil and cheese. A little fat is OK, but don't fat load.

To achieve a carbohydrate-based diet with about 4 grams of carbohydrate per pound (600 g of carbohydrate for a 150 lb person, or 2,400 calories of carbohydrate), you need to trade some of the fat calories to make room for more carbohydrate. For example, trade the fat calories in two pats of butter and a dollop of sour cream for a second plain baked potato. When you trade fat for more carbohydrate, you need to eat a larger volume of food to obtain adequate calories. A 1-pound (500 g) box of spaghetti cooks into a mountain of pasta but provides only 1,600 calories. That's a reasonable calorie goal for a hefty premarathon meal, but it may be more volume than anticipated. See table 6.2 for a sample carbohydrate-loading menu.

5. Choose fiber-rich foods. Fiber-rich foods promote regular bowel movements and keep your system running smoothly. Bran cereal, wholewheat bread, oatmeal, fruits, and vegetables are some good choices. If you carbohydrate load on too much white bread, pasta, rice, and other refined products, you're likely to become constipated, particularly if you are doing less training. Yet the day before an event, some athletes (who

Table 6.2 Sample Carbohydrate-Loading Menu

The following high-carbohydrate diet provides about 4.5 grams of carbohydrate per pound (9 grams per kilogram) of body weight for a 150-pound (68 kilogram) marathoner. The menu includes adequate protein (0.8 grams per pound, or 1.8 grams per kilogram) to maintain muscles.

Food Calories Carbohydrate (g)

Table 6.2 Sample Carbohydrate-Loading Menu

The following high-carbohydrate diet provides about 4.5 grams of carbohydrate per pound (9 grams per kilogram) of body weight for a 150-pound (68 kilogram) marathoner. The menu includes adequate protein (0.8 grams per pound, or 1.8 grams per kilogram) to maintain muscles.

Food Calories Carbohydrate (g)




Oatmeal, 1 cup dry, cooked in



Milk, 1%, 16 oz (480 ml)



Raisins, 1/4 cup



Brown sugar, 1 1/2 tbsp



Apple juice, 8 oz (240 ml)






Sub sandwich roll, 6 in. (4 oz)



Lean meat, 4 oz (125 g)



Fruit yogurt, 8 oz (230 g)



Grape juice, 12 oz (360 ml)






Fig Newtons, 6



Jelly beans, 15 large






Spaghetti, 2 cups cooked



Spaghetti sauce, 1 cup (240 ml)



Italian bread, 2 slices



Root beer, 12 oz (360 ml)






Canned peaches in syrup, 1 cup





646 g

do not worry about constipation) prefer to eat very low fiber diets so that they have less intestinal fullness. They carbohydrate load on pretzels, juices, gelatin, sherbet, white breads, rice, and pasta. Through trial and error, you'll learn what works for your body. If you are worried about diarrhea, avoid fiber-rich foods before an event.

6. Plan meal times carefully. NYC Marathon queen Grete Waitz once said she never ate a very big meal the night before a marathon because it usually would give her trouble the next day. She preferred to eat a bigger lunch. You, too, might find that pattern works well for your intestinal tract. That is, instead of relying on a huge pasta dinner the night before the event, you might want to enjoy a substantial carbohydrate fest at breakfast or lunch. This earlier meal allows plenty of time for the food to move through your system—and reduces the stress of fretting about portable toilets. Plus, you also might sleep better. And if you are a traveling athlete, you'll be able to more easily get a table at a restaurant that might be overcrowded at dinner time.

You can also carbohydrate load two days before if you will be too nervous to eat much the day before the event. (The glycogen stays in your muscles until you exercise.) Then graze on crackers, chicken noodle soup, and other easily tolerated foods the day before your competition.

You'll be better off eating a little bit too much than too little the day before the event, but don't overfeed yourself. Learning the right balance takes practice. Each long training session leading up to the endurance event offers the opportunity to learn which food—and how much of it—to eat. You need to train your intestinal tract as well as your heart, lungs, and muscles. Remember to practice your preevent carbohydrate-loading meal during training so you'll have no surprises on the day of the event.

7. Drink extra fluids. To reduce your risk of starting the event dehydrated, be sure to drink extra water and juice. Abstain from too much wine, beer, and alcoholic beverages; they are not only poor sources of carbohydrate but also dehydrating. Drink enough alcohol-free beverages to produce a significant volume of urine every two to four hours. The urine should be pale yellow, like lemonade. Don't bother to overhydrate; your body is like a sponge and can absorb only so much fluid.

On the morning of competition, drink another two or three glasses of water up to two hours before the event (to allow plenty of time to excrete the excess) and then another cup or two 5 to 10 minutes before race time. See chapters 8 and 10 for more information about proper hydration tactics.

  1. Be sensible about your selections. Do not carbohydrate load on fruit only; you're likely to get diarrhea. Do not carbohydrate load on refined white bread products only; you will likely become constipated. Do not carbohydrate load on beer; you'll become dehydrated. Do not do too much last-minute training; you'll fatigue your muscles. And do not blow it all by eating unfamiliar foods that might upset your system. Change your exercise program more than your diet.
  2. Eat breakfast on event day. Carbohydrate loading is just part of the fueling plan. Eating enough breakfast before the endurance event is very important; it will prevent hunger and help maintain normal blood sugar level. Equally important is choosing food you're familiar with. As I mentioned before, you should determine which foods in what amounts work best for you long before the day of your event.

Don't try any new foods. That festive pancake breakfast may settle like Mississippi mud, and so may the unfamiliar energy bar you've been saving for the occasion. See chapters 8, 9, and 10 for more information about preexercise fueling, as well as fueling during the event. With wise eating, you can enjoy miles of smiles.

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