You hear all your life that carbohydrates are bad for you; they make you fat. Then you enter the realm of running or endurance training, and this new idea of “carbo-loading” is introduced.  If you were like me, you’re thinking “wait – aren’t carbs bad?”  Well, not necessarily.

We all know that if we are trying to lose weight, then reducing carbohydrates is an effective way of doing that, but running or training for a long period of time, such as over 60 – 90 minutes long,  can deplete your storage of glycogen, or energy, which carbohydrates helps to develop.  According to Runner’s World when you do not make enough glycogen, eat enough carbs before a long endurance event, such as a marathon, or hard training session, you “hit the wall”. In layman’s terms, your body decides to give up and you can’t go any further.

So now that we know we need to eat more carbs before a race, we need to discuss the proper way to do it, and what are the optimal foods to eat. Most people talk about carbo-loading the day before an event, but in actuality, you need to begin adding more carbs to your meals a few days to a week in advance, and you should be adding them to every meal. But be careful; make sure you eat foods that you have tried before. It is no fun, to be feeling miserable before your race/event because you have been eating foods that your body doesn’t like.

Now let’s talk about foods that are rich in carbohydrates and healthy for you at the same time. Because we are athletes, and we want to make sure that what goes in our body is good for us, too. Running Times provides a very comprehensive list –

Starches: bread, pasta, rice, cereal, bagel, oatmeal, pancake, English muffin, tortilla, couscous, low-fat muffin, gnocchi, polenta and quinoa

Starchy vegetables: potatoes, peas, pumpkin, squash, beans and lentils

Fruit: bananas, apples, peaches, pears, pineapple, oranges, cherries, mango, kiwi, any form of dried fruit, canned fruit

Dairy: flavored low-fat milk, low-fat yogurt

Snacks: pretzels, animal crackers, Fig Newtons, low-fat granola bar, low-fat crackers, baked chips, and graham crackers

Beverages: flavored low-fat milk, juice, sports drink, Boost or Ensure, low-fat smoothie

Sports Bars/Energy Bars: PowerBar Performance Bar, Clif Bar, Honey Stinger Bar
(Some sports bars are geared toward high protein, not high carb. These are not the bars to choose when carb loading.) 

Extras: honey, fruit preserves or jam and maple syrup

They also suggest drinking your carbs, “add a glass of milk or juice to meals instead of drinking just water. Between meals sip on warm cider, a smoothie, or even sports drink to keep you feeling light on your feet while also stocking glycogen stores and potentially boosting race day stamina.”

If you want to carbo-load like a pro, check out this article on how to run your fastest marathon.