Rethinking “Carb Loading”

Load up on bagels, bread and sports drinks the day before a race.   Eat all you can at the pre-race night pasta party. Finally, when you cross that finish line, it’s time to down the cookies and more coca cola in order to replenish those glycogen stores.  You deserve it,  you’ve earned it, right? Oh, my. I don’t know if this sort of advice could possibly be more antiquated… or erroneous! Not only is loading the body with grain-based items a bad idea from a gut-health standpoint, the body simply doesn’t store these carbohydrates as efficiently as it would if the carbs were a) sourced from actual food and b) eaten in small doses, balanced out with other real foods that should comprise the bulk of your eating (veggies, wild proteins and fats). In other words, even if you don’t follow a particularly Paleo eating regime and you happen to be an endurance athlete,  it would still behoove you to simply add small amounts of yam or sweet potato or other starchy veggies and high glycemic foods to your meals for a few days leading up to the event (depending on how long the event is), rather than just forcing in as much pasta, bread, bars and Gatorade as possible the day prior. While it may seem to ‘work’ for some people, insomuch as they don’t wake up with a terrible stomachache (or worse), consider that unless you can absolutely, honestly say with complete sincerity that you feel strong, focused, light, lean and energized during the whole entire race, your pre-fueling regime may need to be tinkered with a bit. For me, the days leading up to Ironman involve significantly more ‘feet up and resting’ that normal, but rather than lying around eating dates, yams, bananas and honey, I continue to eat predominately veggies, wild proteins, fats and just add some starch to each meal. Like a 1/2 cup or so. Recall that eating starch with some protein in small quantities after a workout allows for more rapid delivery of carbohydrate from the gut into the muscles and liver to be stored as glycogen. Similarly, when we eat an appropriately sized portion of Hawaiian Blue Sweet Potatoes (my fave when in Kona!) to a wild greens salad with grilled Ono, or a sautéed garlic spinach dinner with seared Mahi, we create nourishment for the body and up the fuel stores for the big race to come. It’s worth mentioning that energy levels during this time period during the last few days of taper sometimes leave a lot to be desired. For one thing, you’re forcing rest to an otherwise very active body and for another, you’re adding starch to the mix, which, under any other circumstance than getting ready for a race, would make no sense. It always proves to be worth it, though; come race day you’re chomping at the bit and raring to go with springs in your legs! Take away message- ditch the pre-race pasta, sports drinks (more to come on this topic, too!) and the idea that we should stuff it all in, in vast quantities. All we need is a little yam and banana along with our real food which, in combination that some fasted training has been incorporated in order to make fat burning easier, decreasing the need for carbs in the first place, will pave the way to a PR. Here’s a sneak peak into Pocket Paleo Workout; a recipe for Blue Sweet Potato Hash, a must-eat for those long, grueling rides and runs!