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Debunking the Carb Loading Myth

Race training season is upon us!  Let’s take a minute to de-bunk the carb loading myth that we hear so often leading up to a race.  Simply put, carb loading actually robs us of the opportunity to burn fat.  From a very basic physiological point of view, when we carb load by eating pastas and breads, which are also forms of glucose, that glucose is stored as glycogen in the muscle.  We must first burn all of the glycogen before we have the opportunity to burn fat.  Let’s dig in a little more…

Problems with carb loading

Problem 1:  We gain weight.  As we just noted, we don’t ever allow ourselves to burn fat because we are always burning glycogen, or carbs.

Problem 2:  We gain fat.  The carbs we don’t burn get converted into fat in the body. This means that when we are not running or training the excess carbs that aren’t stored as glycogen are stored as fat.  

Problem 3:  It’s a vicious cycle.  Burning carbs as fuel is not sustainable.  We have to continue to replenish carbs as we have trained our bodies to depend on them and the storage is limited.  Burning fat is a longer lasting, much more sustainable fuel, and we have at least two times more storage as compared to carbs, not to mention it supports increased metabolism and a lean body.

 

The solutions to carb loading

Solution 1: Count carbs.  Start getting used to cutting carb intake so that you can begin to burn fat as fuel. On lighter training days limit carbs between 100 grams to 50 grams. On longer training days try not to exceed 150 grams.

Solution 2: Stay away from added sugar.  If you feel like you need to use some form of carbs as fuel then you should stay away from anything that has added sugar.  That’s pretty much any sports drink or energy bar.  The added sugar ferments in your stomach and causes bloating, dehydration, and gas.  While at the same time making you dependent on continuously re-loading with carbs once you begin to run low.  Yet, again not allowing you to burn fat.  Instead try using things like sweet potatoes, yams, and rice, white potatoes and fruit.  These will provide satiety without the side effects.

Solution 3:  Train low and race high.  This is a good way to begin to bridge the gap.  Simply put, when you are training, try and limit carb intake to 50 grams or less, thus allowing the body to get used to burning fat.  When you race increase carb intake, using the foods listed above. Keep in mind that the old rule of carb loading doesn’t apply because I can only store about 2000 calories of carbs as energy in my muscle.

 

We don’t need to carb load during training unless we are working for over 1.5 hours.  Most of us store about 2000 calories of glycogen in the body at any point in time.  That is plenty of glycogen to burn for at least 1.5 hours of aggressive running.

Soooo… who’s running the Hot Dash this weekend?  If you are and you want to hang with us, meet at Fly Feet at 7:45 a.m. on Saturday for a light warm up and we’ll jog over to the race together – it’s just over a mile from the studio.  Afterwards we’ll meet back and celebrate with some coffee and light snacks!

Fly Feet Running - 21 Day Challenge