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How to Carb-Load the Right Way

If you’ve ever registered for a race (or known a serious runner), you’ve probably had (or heard stories about) an epic pasta-filled meal the night before the starting gun fires. Carbohydrates are the primary way to top off your glycogen stores. But there are other ways beyond just white bread and pasta to get the energy you need to reach the finish line strong.

Why carb-load at all?

Consuming carbohydrates before exercise tops off the stored glucose in your muscles and liver—also called glycogen—and reduces chance of premature fatigue for athletes of all types.¹ Muscle glycogen is the primary source of energy during endurance activity, so you definitely don’t want to run out. While all athletes can benefit from carbs in the 20-30 minutes before exercise, endurance athletes competing in a longer event (half-marathon or greater for runners, long distance bike race or triathlon) should focus on carb-loading the week before race day.

The right way to carb-load

While there is emphasis on the meal immediately before you start off from the gates, your carb consumption the entire week leading up to your race should be higher than normal. While it may seem counter-intuitive to eat more, when you’re training less (if you’re tapering correctly), it is actually the best way to get race-day ready. Beginning one week before the event, increase your carbohydrate and fluid intake gradually.¹ You can start by adding one more serving of fruit, grain or starchy vegetable to a meal or snack. Focus on getting enough water and rest in the days leading up to your event to ensure the highest rate of glycogen storage. A good goal is to avoid feelings of hunger and thirst the week before your event. The two days before your race should be the highest in carbohydrates, with moderate protein intake, and slightly lower fat and fiber intake.¹

Don’t worry if you jump on the scale and discover that you’re a couple pounds heavier. If you’ve carb-loaded properly you’ll gain 2 to 4 pounds of water weight, because for every once of stored glycogen, you store an extra 3 ounces of water.² This water weight will drop away as soon as your done with your race.

Carb-load deliciously and nutritiously

White pasta, you bore me. Beyond fresh fruit and whole grains, why not try out some of these recipes instead?
Overnight Oats—5 Ways
Baked Apple Crumbles
Roasted Cauliflower and Chickpea Quinoa Bowl
Apple Oatmeal Smoothie
Sweet Potato Fries
Gluten-free Pizza
Quinoa “Fried Rice”

Like anything in your training plan, it’s best to try a pre-race meal during training, rather than for the first time the night before your big day. No one wants a last-minute stomach surprise!

There will always be weaknesses in your training to work on—your focus has to be on getting better through constant improvement. Head to to address your training weakness and be better.


1. Bernadot, D. (2012). Advanced Sports Nutrition. Human Kinetics. 2nd ed.
2. Clark, N. (2008). Nancy Clark’s Sport Nutrition Guidebook. Human Kinetics 4th ed.

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