A Practical Guide to the Carbo Load (aka, why I love the taper)

By Jeff Knight

If you’re like me, the taper drives you crazy. Phantom injuries, heavy legs, nightmares of waking up to the sound of the starting gun on race day (!) and a paralyzing feel that you are magically out of shape. But, BUT, there is one bright spot among all this. No, its not getting to wake up at 5:00AM instead of 4:40AM (that’s nice too) instead, its these two words: carbo load.

zazzle.com (fun to say, goofy shirts)

zazzle.com (fun to say, goofy shirts)

Yes, I admit, I have – what will undoubtedly be the cause of an actual soft spot if I quit running – a soft spot for carbohydrates. Imagine the scene from American Beauty where the girl is covered in rose petals. I imagine that as bagels instead of rose petals. Or think Scrooge McDuck swimming through a vault full of pasta. Thats me. This, while typically a nemesis of training, I’ve found has served me well for one week of the training cycle.

And while the skeptics out there may call carbo loading a product of the evil grain lobby, I disagree. I believe carbo loading has some real value and that’s what we’ll cover today. I’ll break down why we should carbo load, give some historical context, talk about current methods and provide a practical guideline. So grab a potato and read on.

>>WHY CARBO LOAD?<<

Before we take this as a hall pass to stuff our faces with croissants, lets understand why we stuff our faces with croissants.  Just like a car engine, our bodies use fuel when we run. However, we are more like a hybrid car in that we use a mix of fuel sources. The two main fuel sources we use when running are carbohydrates and fats. And while there is some interesting talk of high, HIGH-fat diets being the new silver bullet for endurance running, currently, the most important fuel source for marathoners or half marathoners is carbohydrates.  (On an unrelated note, if you ever want me to get on my soap box, ask me about low carb diets for runners.)

Why are carbs so important? Lets look at a graph…

….Stay with me!!…

….its just one graph…and maybe a table but one graph for now! Silly picture will come later.

Relationship between running pace and fuel usage.

Relationship between running pace and fuel usage (numbers and such are hypothetical and simply represent the relationship).

The above graph shows the relationship between the type of fuel we use when exercising and the pace at which we exercise. As you can see, the distribution between fats (green line) and carbs (orange line) are opposite. If we start with a walk, we use primarily fat. As we speed up to an easy-paced run, we sill use primarily fat but a little more carbs. Then as we get to marathon pace or half marathon pace, the two lines cross and we find ourselves using more carbohydrates than fats. We can continue this all the way to a 400-meter sprint where we use virtually zero fat as fuel.

“as we get to marathon pace or half marathon pace, the two lines cross and we find ourselves using more carbohydrates than fats.”

“So what?” you might ask, we use more carbohydrates than fats when racing. Well, carbohydrates are stored in limited supply in the body. Normally we carry enough around to run ~16 miles at MGP. A la, “the wall” at 16 miles. This means fuel and NOT fitness is going to prevent us from reaching a goal.  That sucks! (This is in comparison to fat, which we store enough fuel to run like 1,600 miles.) But, BUT, what’s even more crazy is under a normal diet, we only keep our glycogen fuel tanks full to 90%! And, the good news is we can do something to store more carbohydrates than we normally do. We can do something to fill the fuel tanks that final 10% and that is carbo loading.

To summarize, the crux is carbohydrates are the most important fuel source during the race and we don’t store enough under normal conditions to sustain race pace beyond ~16 miles. Then the question becomes, how can we store more fuel than normal? How do we store enough fuel that, in combination with gels/chews, that fuel doesn’t limit our race performance?  How can we go into the race with the fuel tanks topped off instead of leaving them at our normal point of 90% full?

>>HISTORICAL STUDIES<<

(I like this stuff which means you have to suffer through it with me – XOXO) Back in the 1960s, some grad students were sitting around bored. (I’m assuming) They were probably runners or cyclists and they had some equipment to look at how much carbohydrates they could store in the muscle (e.g., a muscle biopsy).  They also knew that if you worked out really hard, ate a lot of bread that you’d have more carbohydrates stored in your muscles than normal. Knowing that carbs were an important fuel, they did what any bored grad student would do, they started screwing around with the best ways to maximize carbohydrate storage. One of these guys was names Ahlborg and so this went on to be called the Ahlborg method.

The Ahlborg method went like this. About a week out from your key race, you run yourself to pieces. Think a monster track workout (maybe 6x1M at 10k pace). After that workout, they would essentially starve themselves with an Adkin’s Diet (2010, yall!). After starving for a few days, they would do ANOTHER monster workout except this time, they would go carb-crazy post workout. Then over the next few days until their race, they would eat and eat and eat every carb in site. The end result was the fuel tanks would be at 100% entering the race. Moving those tanks from the normal 90% full up to the now, topped-out 100% is called supercompensation.

See any problems with this? How about two huge workouts the week of your race? How about a low-carb diet the week of your race? We also know how important carbs are to recovery (chocolate milk, anyone?) and not having that after the first workout?

Basically, runners would feel like shit for three days in the final week before their A-race and they would sometimes get hurt from the low-carb diet. How is that for the final week of the taper?? Super good for the head, right?!?!

yeah…umm…no

>>CURRENT METHODS<<

Fortunately there are some new methods that are almost just as good as the Ahlborg method when it comes to storing carbs and far superior when it comes to not being a mental wreck on race week (think sobbing, fetal position, dark corner).

Thankfully, in the 1980s, some even more bored grad students got tired of feeling like shit on race week. They found out that you can get the tanks to 100% without the supercompensation effect.  These guys basically found that if you just do your normal diet (50% carbs) up till the final 3 days before your race and then stuffed your face with every carb in site, you could fill the tanks up to just about the same level as Ahlborg and Co. “What type of running did the do?”, you might ask. Basically what we would do for a taper. A basic drop in mileage each day with all runs at a moderate pace.

Man, thats like so simple. Like, why the hell didn’t we do that in the first place? That said, everything was a little more gritty when it came to endurance sports in the 60s.

1960 Rome Olympics - Marathon (no Hokas in that one)

1960 Rome Olympics – Marathon (no Hokas in that one)

Anyways, thank goodness for these guys. They should get an award.  Like maybe we should name the method after them!

Nah…lets just call it the Non-depletion Method (not my choice!). Poor guys.

Anyways, there are still some practical problems with the Non-depletion Method:

  1. Carbs make you bloated. Everytime you store carbs you store water. Carbs love water. Thats just their chemistry. While this water isn’t bad from the perspective of race-day hydration but it does make you feel like a fatty.
  2. Along the same lines, no one likes to feel like a fatty the day before a race.
  3. If you typically don’t eat a ton of carbs, carbo loading may cause stomach issues on race day if you don’t provide time to normalize.

As a result, here is the method I like for carboloading

T-7 Days T-6 Days T-5 Days T-4 Days T-3 Days T-2 Days T-1 Days Race Day
Mixed Diet Mixed Diet High-carb Diet High-carb Diet High-carb Diet High-carb Diet Carb-heavy breakfast, normal diet the rest of the day. Eat food that makes you feel fast. Is that smoke from my shoes?

**The running portion of this method is your normal, taper-week running. 

First off, if you skipped my asterisks (never skip the asterisks!), this method does not require you to do anything different with your running. Just run like normal. Next, up until 5 days from race-day, just eat a normal, mixed diet. The mixed diet is a roughly a 50/50 mix of carbs to fat+protein.  I define this as normal because thats probably true for most folks. On any given day, a distance runner is probably going to derive half of the calories in their diet from carbs while the other half comes from a blend of fat and protein. Running isn’t a strict science so lets not go crazy here either. Ballpark 50/50.

Next, starting 5 days from race day, ramp up that carb intake. At this point your want to derive 70% or more of your daily calorie intake from carbs! Yep, its time to feel like a fatty. A grumpy-cat, fatty.

au.news.yahoo.com

(au.news.yahoo.com) Cat pictures help you get up-votes on reddit

Keep eating every delicious, beautiful carb until T-1 day. Finally, on the day before the race, you should taper off of the carbs and start eating like normal. Maybe do a late breakfast/brunch with pancakes or french toast but from there on out, eat what you like. Whether thats salad, grilled chicken (protein) or maybe even rice. Whatever it is, I strongly encourage you to normalize that day before the race.

I believe this method will help you top the tanks off to 100% 36-48 hours out while allowing you to keep those tanks and get your normal diet into place when it matter most. Plus, plus, this may help give you a little wiggle room if you don’t quit nail that 70% number on all 4 days. In otherwords, say you travel 2 days from your race and you don’t quite get 70% of your calories from carbs, no worries, you’ve been nailing it your other days.

>>DUDE, I TAKE GELS.<<

Now a rebuttal to a question that wasn’t even asked. If you take gels on race day, carboloading may be considered a safety net. In fact, some exercise physiologists would argue carbloading is pointless if you take gels on race day but, as a coach, I disagree. While we gel on race day, most of us don’t take in near enough fuel to fully support the effort.  The recommended fuel intake during a marathon is 1-1.2 g/min…so 60 to 70 g of carbs per hour. If one gel is 25-28g of carbs, you’d need 2+ gels per hour or two gels and gatorade per hour. Who does that out there?

This is why I believe a combination of carboloading and gels are the best way to ensure you do not bonk on race day. (If you don’t gel, then carboloading is KEY!!)

>>PRACTICAL APPROACH<<

That whole 70% carbs thing is confusing. Sure there are apps and stuff but I have I also have an easier method.

Math. First off you need your weight. Get on scale but before you do it flip it over and flip the switch to the unit that all the rest of the world (except Madagascar) uses, KG. If you have a discriminatory scale, you’ll probably want to Dogpile “how many kG are in [insert weight in lbs] lbs”. Or if you’re really old school, you’ll take your weight and divide by 2.2.

#calculators

From there, the goal is to get 8-10 g of carbs/kg of bodyweight. Meaning, if you weight 50 kg, you would need 400-500 g of carbs that day.  Lets check my math, assume 4 calories per gram of carbs. That makes 1,600 to 2,000 calories from carbs. If you normally eat 2700 calories per day, that would mean you’d get you 60-75% of your calories from carbs. Not bad. This is much easier for me because all you need to do is look at the back of packages and boxes. Or yahoo “how many g or carbs are in [insert item]?”

Be aware though. This is a lot of carbs. Like a lot. Here is an after-hours text message from one Chris McClung.

IMG_5181

This is a sampling of after-hours texts between Rogue Employees #supercool

If you mess this part up its because you totally estimate how many carbs you are taking in so below I’ll give you an example diet as well as some ideas for getting some bonus carbs in.

>>DIET<<

For this example, lets take person that weighs 150lbs (male or female), thats 68kg. According to the conversion of 8-10 g of carbs/kg of bodyweight, that person would want to ingest between 550-650g of carbs per day during the carbo-loading phase.

Lets see how that might break down:

Breakfast

  • Cinnamon Raisin Bagel – 55g Carbs
  • Honey (1 tbls) – 17g
  • Taco Deli – Black bean, avocado, pico – 30g
  • Smoothie – 55g
  • Coffee with cream and honey – 10g

Mid-morning snack 

  • Skratch (16oz) – 20g
  • Muffin – 50g
  • Apple – 19g
  • Honey Peanut Butter – 8g

Lunch

  • Stir-fry (a la White Chicken and Broccoli from Zen) w/ extra rice – 75g
  • Melon (1.5C) – 22g
  • Picky Bar – 28g

Afternoon snack 

  • Fruit, Plain yogurt, Honey and Granola – 42g
  • Coffee with cream and honey – 10g
  • Skratch (16oz) – 20g

Dinner

  • Pasta with veggies and sauce – 55g
  • Garlic Bread (2 slices) – 15g
  • Strawberries (1C) – 12g

Post-dinner snack 

  • Two slices Toast – 18g
  • Jelly (2 tbls) – 30g

Grand Total: ~591g Carbs

Whew! I’m stuffed!  So whats the theme here?  To me, its a few fold.

  1. Eat sweet and eat often – think fruit, honey and grain everywhere. Smoothies are particularly nice because they are so dense. Snacks between every meal are key!
  2. Drink it – Skratch, Sports drinks (beware of 0 calorie!) or Juice. Also, add honey to coffee or tea even if you don’t normally.
  3. High quality – While processed grains (white rice, white bread) are more dense, you can get by with the whole grain types. Also, notice you could add soda, cake, donuts or other low-quality stuff in there but you don’t have to. Keep that in mind!
  4. Cook it and pack it! – Eating this much takes planning.

When its all said and done, race day will be here and you will be prepared to rock and roll. And, if you are like me (e.g., carboholic), this is the best part of the training cycle (outside of the neurosis), so grab a fork and chowdown with the same tenacity as you hit those miles.


headshotJeff Knight is the head of all things training at Rogue Running. He loves to use “his scientific background” as an excuse to make everyone run as many hills as possible. He also coaches Team Rogue el Jefe, where they run a lot of hills.  You can reach him with and and all questions at jeffknight@roguerunning.com

Drink up: a goal reached, a challenge issued

One year ago, we posted a blog exposing the fact that Rogue used a total of 215,000 paper cups (that’s 795 pounds!!) in 2011, and challenging you to help us reduce that number in 2012.

Well, if there’s one thing that Rogues know how to do, it’s how to take on a challenge and reach a goal. This was no exception! Thanks to your efforts, we cut our paper cup usage in half, to 110,000, despite having more runners than ever enrolled in our training programs!

Of course, we think we can do even better. We see more and more of you running with handheld bottles or belts, but we want to see more. Besides the obvious environmental benefits, these bottles can make a significant impact on your training and racing performance, especially in the summer.

Most runners lose 1-1.5 liters of water per hour, likely more during these hot & humid months, and should be drinking about 10 oz every three miles in order to stay hydrated, sufficiently cooled and performing optimally. Losing just 2% of your body weight through sweating (that’s just three pounds for a 150 pound runner) has a significant impact on performance.

Carrying a handheld bottle or wearing a belt allows you to drink steadily throughout your run, which is much more effective than flooding your system at each water stop (not to mention easier on the stomach). Besides, how much water are you really taking in with those little cups? Not much.

Another benefit: handheld bottles provide extra storage space for the necessities – gels, salt tabs, car keys, a few dollars. The bottles available are ergonomic, lightweight and literally fit like a glove – a comfortable and convenient way to make your training runs stronger, your races faster and our paper waste lighter.

Both Rogue stores have a variety of handheld bottles available, and the best choice is the one that fits your hand most comfortably. There is an array of other hydration products, however, from backpack-style packs to electrolyte supplements.

Several recommendations follow:

IMG_6113Nathan Vapor Wrap

A great option for those runners away from water for multiple hours!

Features include:

*2 L hydration bladder

*A wraparound style that hugs your upper back and shoulders for a secure fit

*Cargo room for a jacket or other gear

*A pocket for a water bottle on front strap

*A detachable cell phone pocket

*A side zip pockets for nutrition

*Men and women-specific designs, ensuring a perfect fit

 

  IMG_6103 Ultimate Direction SJ

UD boasts the newest in lightweight hydration! Features include:

*Two front loaded bottles instead of an interior bladder

*Lightweight divided storage compartments

*Safety whistle

*Front pockets for nutrition and accessories

 

IMG_6108Fuel Belt Revenge R20 and R30

A minimal hydration belt with the following features:

*Once size fits all

*2,3,or 4 bottle options

*A storage compartment for keys and gel (add on pockets available)

*Economically priced

 

IMG_6099Succeed S-Caps

*The only vegetarian salt tab!

*Helps reduce cramping

*Includes buffers to help with nausea

*Offers sodium and potassium electrolyte replenishment, which is a necessity for heavy sweaters in our humid climate.

*Can taken before and during exercise

 

IMG_6095E Gel

*Offers 150 calories compared to 100 in most other gels

*Includes 237 grams of sodium (nearly double that of Gu Roctane)

*Includes 85 g potassium (50% more than Gu Roctane)

*Offers essential amino acids as well as vitamins A & C

 

Rogue Running has two locations:

Downtown Austin: 500 San Marcos St. 78702 / 512.493.0920

Cedar Park: 2800 E. Whitestone Blvd. 78613 / 512.777.4467

Biff! Bam! Bonk!

by John Schrup

My good friend James wrote me an email recently.  You all know James.  Hot wife.  Coaches for Rogue, knows a lot of stuff.  Looks like he might have played an Amish dude in that Harrison Ford vehicle, Witness, from back in the day, except for the electric yellow Frees and the Euro-style glasses.  Well, his beard looks like it was in the movie.  He’s got one of those Amish beards.

Anyway, he wrote me an email while we were sitting next to each other in a meeting and suggested I write something for the blog on bonking.  You know, hitting the wall?  Screwing the pooch?  Shitting the bed? (James himself has also written a great piece on the topic)

Maybe you’ve experienced it?  If you’re a marathoner, at some point you have.  If you haven’t, oh don’t you worry your pretty little head, you will.  Oh, yes.  You will.  And there will be no mistaking it when you do.  You’re doing your long run, or your race, or whatever and then it’s kinda like getting hit by a truck, except if the truck were made out of a planet.

Hitting the wall, or bonking, if you come from the le monde du cyclisme, is when the body runs out of ready available fuel.  Glycogen is the form of carbohydrate that the body uses for fuel, and is stored mostly in the muscles and liver.  When that is depleted…bonkity bonk bonk.  The average person stores about 90 minutes worth of glycogen; a moderately trained person can go about two hours on the same amount of fuel.  Back in the day, when they did studies with runners and fuel efficiency, the runners could make it about 18-20 miles in two hours, and then the wheels came off.  That is where we get the mythological 20 mile “wall.”  But also because 20 is a nice, round number.  19.27 doesn’t have the same ring to it.  Neither does 18.6, unless you call it by its other name, 30K.

Since the dawn of marathon training history, we’ve done long runs to build mitochondria, capillaries, muscle strength, blah blah blah.  And also to make the body more fuel efficient.  Conventional wisdom would have you do, say, a 10 mile run first.  90 minutes, whatever.  Then every week or every other week you’d add to that, slowly teaching the body to go farther and farther using your body’s own fuel supply.  And at some point in the training program, you’d get up on a Saturday or Sunday morning to meet your posse for the long run and everything would be all fine and dandy, and then at maybe 15 miles, I don’t know, two and a half hours or something, you’d start to feel a little funny.  A little sluggish maybe.  You look at your watch.  There are symbols there you recognize.  Numbers.  But you don’t know what they mean and you can’t figure out for the life of you why they are changing.  You know you’re supposed to know, but you don’t know.  And then maybe you trip over some stray air, and splat! You’re checking the pavement for cracks.  Except real up close.  Moving your legs is not only difficult, it becomes surreal when you think about the tunnel vision and that the part of your face where you put the water isn’t working the way you think it should.

But somewhere along the way, it was discovered that if you refuel on the go, you can make it to the finish line without looking like you got hit by that planet truck.  Cyclists had been doing it for years.   When I was a kid, I thought it was so cool to watch video of le Tour and there were guys eating ham sandwiches and pastries while climbing le Tourmalet or Alpe d’Huez or some shit.  Frank Shorter drank de-carbonated Cokes when he raced.  Same thing.

And when marathoning became the everyman’s Everest, it was determined that it was necessary to refuel often so that you didn’t have a whole Rock and Roll marathon full of zombies, all sideways and drooling, lurching toward the finish line.  And all the training programs bought it and so coaches began to instruct everyone to take heed and start sucking gels or chomping bloks every 45 minutes or whatever.  On training runs.  And so that evolved—or devolved, if you’re old school—into a bunch of people taking gels at mile 3 of a 10 mile run.  (Working on the floor one Friday afternoon, a guy came in and bough six gels of various syrupy sweet flavors.  I asked him if he was stocking up for the next couple of weeks.  No, he said, rather boastfully.  Got a long run tomorrow.  Fourteener.  As if he was climbing a peak and not running to Crestview and back.  I know, right?)

So here it is:  If you are running less than two, two and a half hours you are not supposed to supplement with carbohydrate.  Blasphemy, I know.  But, but….No.  You’re aren’t supposed to.  One of the primary goals of a long run is to make you more efficient in fuel expenditure.  And so if you are supplementing along the way, you are not allowing your body to do what it is supposed to do, you are not going to achieve the benefit that you set out to achieve.  You aren’t.  Each workout has a purpose.

Yes, there are times when you should supplement carbohydrate in training.  But those times are few and far between.  In our group, we have two longer tempo runs that can be viewed as a race simulation or race prep or whatever the kids are calling them these days.  Then, we take carbohydrate not to help us to get further down the road on that day, but because we are going to supplement a bit on race day and we need to make sure we know when and how to do it, to make sure our stomachs are ok with it.

And these days, with modern training methods, even four hour or four hour plus marathoners should need no more than one gel along the way on race day.  I know.  But I’m dead serious.  Your program should be such that you can train your body to go much, much further on very little carbohydrate.  And in fact—get this—most of us aren’t moving fast enough to have to worry about it anyway.  The marathon is a race against fuel depletion.  There are two types of fuel in use—carbohydrates and fatty acids.  We have a limited amount of carbohydrate, which we’ve already discussed.  And then we have a nearly unlimited amount of fat in our bodies for use as fuel.  And your body’s preferred fuel at your marathon race pace is mostly fat.  So why not make use of that?

There are several ways to make your body more fuel efficient.  There are several ways to train your body to burn fat at a greater rate.  Those are for another rant.  But for now, the easiest way to do that is to use carbohydrate supplements only sparingly.  Don’t be afraid of bonking or running low on energy.  You’re supposed to bonk.  It’s how your body adapts.  It’s how you become better.  It’s how the big boys and girls do it, and how you should do it to.

Next time, when I can find a soap box and a steady stream of caffeine infused beverages, I’ll tell you a little bit about everything.

Organic gel- be a tester!

*Note: Thomas needs a few more testers, but will not accept any more applications after Wednesday, July 28. It only takes 5 minutes to fill out, and you will receive an ample amount of nutrition product to train with!

Liquid Gold is an organic energy gel that provides runners with a
great tasting boost of carbohydrates and electrolytes when they need
it most. The improved formula is ready for testing, and that’s where
you come in. We need 150 people to train with Liquid Gold and offer
feedback with no gimmicks or cost to you.

If this sounds like an opportunity you can’t pass up, fill out the
Volunteer Survey and send it back to thomas.simpson@glorybeefoods.com.

If you are chosen to test Liquid Gold, you will receive an initial 5
serving flask along with an agreement form. You can also expect a 3
pound jug of Liquid Gold and a refillable single serving flask to
follow after returning the agreement form. If you don’t like our
product let us know before filling out the agreement form, but keep
the flask as a thank you for your time.

Get the application here!

Super Eats

These may be touted as “age-erasing” foods in the article, but every single item on this list is also extremely beneficial to your running.

There is no magic bullet – you won’t drop a minute off of your 5K time simply by eating one of these foods – but routinely incorporating as many of these items as possible into your regular diet will do wonders for your health and thus your running. Note the lack of packaging involved with this list!

How many of these foods are regularly found on your table?

Foodie!

Things are busier than ever around Rogue, and the blog has certainly suffered over the past week!

It’s time to start picking it back up, and I’m going to start with everyone’s favorite topic: nutrition!

Olympic Gold Medalist swimmer Garrett Weber-Gale is a co-founder of AthleticFoodie, a company dedicated to helping people live a better life through better nutrition. AthleticFoodie provides healthy recipes and nutrition tips for athletes, specifically focused on eating for peak performance.

You can view short video clips and also check out Garrett’s blog, all great sources of athlete-specific nutrition information, ideas and tips.

You need them…but what ARE they?

You hear it over and over and over again – you need to replace your electrolytes!

But what exactly are electrolytes? Where do they go, and why do you need to replace them? What products actually work, and which are just backed by big marketing budgets?

An average healthy person gets more than a sufficient amount of electrolytes through their diet, but those of us putting in the miles are sweating them right out – and electrolytes are not someting that you can afford to be short on in those final miles, or later in the day.

Running Times published a very good article, in plain english, that explains what an electrolyte actually is, its chemical function in the body, who does (and doesn’t) need to concern themselves with supplementing them and how to best do that. It’s important to understand the science behind the ‘rules’ and to know what it is exactly that you are spending your money on and, much more importantly, putting into your body. Read on.