NYCM Carbohydrate Depletion and Loading Review

Before I began the process of carbohydrate depletion and loading I wrote a post about it.  I promised I would write my thoughts and review but thinking about it I don’t have a lot to compare it too.  I’ve only run one marathon and during that marathon I still hit a wall and hit it hard.  That being said I will still review my thoughts.  I left my diet and nutrition to simmer for a week because I wanted a little bit more time to recover and think about it.  Though I cannot really say my diet this week is anything to blog about…

Carbohydrate depletion (Sunday-Tuesday).

From Sunday through Tuesday, I focused on having minimal carbohydrates.  I wasn’t strict about it but instead of having pancakes for breakfast, I opted for eggs.  Instead of having a sandwich for lunch I opted for a protein rich salad.  I made little choices.  I didn’t severely limit my carbohydrates and I didn’t limit my calorie intake at all I opted to chose protein and fat rich food versus carbohydrate rich food.

Wednesday was a normal day for me as I transitioned into carbohydrate loading.

Carbohydrate loading Thursday-Saturday. 

This was about the complete opposite. I consumed no salads and minimal vegetables.  Since I am not a fan of pasta I lived off of a lot of diner pancakes while traveling and a lot of rice and bread at home.  I didn’t find it too difficult but I did notice with just having more carbohydrates and less fat and protein I was a lot more hungry all the time.  I have a feeling with my drop of exercise, I overate but I was hungry and I would rather not be hungry at the starting line.

During the process thoughts:

Since we were traveling and the diner pancakes were good (ha), I didn’t find carbohydrate loading as hard as I thought it would.  For someone who prefers a 1 pound steak versus a big bowl of pasta I thought that would be my biggest struggle.  When I was carbohydrate loading I was constantly hungry and thirsty.  I held about 5 additional pounds of water weight.  (If you don’t hold water weight you aren’t doing it right).

I will say holding that additional water weight made me a little bit nervous but I knew it was for solid preparation.

Race thoughts:

I felt like I had a lot of energy but I did not feel like I had an amazing energy boost.  The combination of being up at 3:50 and the race not starting until 9:40 made for a long morning already.  I consumed pancakes at 4:00am and also a bagel at 7:30am.  (I had roughly 800 calories before the start). Then I had a gel at mile 8, 14 and 20.  (I had Gatorade at mile markers not directly before the mile I had a gel).

Would I try it again?

To be completely honest, I’m not entirely sure.  I am comparing oranges to apples but I have run my fastest half marathons on not carbohydrate loading and eating normally.  My dinner before any of my half marathon PRs has been a salmon salad from various restaurants (each time I know has had about 600-700 calories.  I like my dressing.  I have a more indepth list that will qualify it for a good prerace salad then qualifying gas station coffee).   That isn’t to say I don’t consume a lot of carbohydrates (or cut calories) but I do have a lot more protein normally.  Another point of interest was that my body was not used to eating that many carbohydrates. Due to a rare medical condition that my body fails to absorb sugars correctly, this probably came as a shock.  Since the primary factor keeping me at a normal blood glucose level is lifestyle choices (IE diet and exercise) I should have known that it wouldn’t work as well but I tried.  It was a lesson I would rather learn on my first marathon then 10th.  When I did change my diet to 80% carbohydrates, looking back I know my body didn’t absorb it all.  It honestly was a bit upsetting because for the last year I have felt normal (it hasn’t really effected much training so it’s unnecessary to talk about) but this was a reality check.

Next marathon, I think I will try something different.  I am going to eat closer to my normal meals until closer to the marathon (2 days before) and then eat a lot more carbohydrate rich food and see how my body reacts.  I thought my glycogen stores were full during the race but looking back I’m not entirely sure.  I think now I was completely depleted of energy at mile 20.  While that could have been a combination of a late start, no speed work, my body not used to running that quickly for 2 hours but it also was probably from a not having my storage completely full.

After looking back at nutrition I will be making a lot more changes before my next marathon.  I’m hoping to find a marathon that does not require a lot of travel or that I could stay at a friends or my family (not really possible my family since I don’t want to do the Shamrock full or the Norfolk Freedom full…) house to prepare food that I know will work better for me.   I think finding a marathon closer to home where I don’t have to be up and awake 6 hours prior and provide me a easier race logistic wise.

Questions for you:

Have you ever carb loaded for a race?

20 responses

  1. Hey! This is my first comment here, but I’ve been reading along for a while, and enjoying your marathon recaps. I think this whole depletion/loading thing probably is in the category of “don’t try anything new on (or, uh, the week before) race day” and suspect it probably had a lot to do with your bonk (sorry to read that btw – sounded pretty unpleasant!) Any time you have issues with diet and nutrient absorption, changing your diet can have pretty unpleasant consequences. I have a long list of things I can’t digest and have to really watch what I eat, both to make sure it’s not going to make me sick and to make sure I get enough calories, so I think I can understand how a sudden dietary change might have messed you up, even though we’re dealing with different health issues.

    ANYWAY. I think you did a great job for your first marathon and look forward to reading more!

    • I think you are right! It’s a lesson I learned the hard way. (I can’t even say how many times I’ve read don’t try anything new! I guess I have a hard head ha).

      I think looking back I had a very normal first marathon bonk and in my mind it felt worse then it actually was. My paced slower about 15 seconds per mile which isn’t the worst. It isn’t as if I added several minutes per mile, I just had never felt that before and it was yet another shock!

      • That’s true, it wasn’t some epic bonk/death march situation. Just your description of feeling low from Mile 15 on (I think? sorry if I misremembered) reminded me of how I feel on long runs when I haven’t eaten enough carbs – but lord knows there were enough other factors out there making it a tough day, early wakeup + sitting around for hours in the cold + wind + hills, so who knows!

        I think we just have to fine-tune these things with each race to find what works for us.

  2. “If you don’t hold water weight you aren’t doing it right”
    So, so true. And wise.
    I have a similar issue with blood sugar, and a traditional carb load makes me feel awful and doesn’t help me on race day. I literally just eat an extra sweet potato the day before.

    • I’ve run my fastest half marathons without any excess carbohydrate loading. I know comparing a half and full is comparing completely different beasts but I think I will stick to what I know. I’ve always wondered if I carb loaded for a half what would happen but I am not inclined to find out right now…

      Next marathon if that doesn’t work maybe I will go to a different carbohydrate method.

  3. Interesting post. I have been curious about this, and debated whether to mess with it or not before racing Philly. My coach and I decided that it would not make enough of a difference, and I also eat a lot of carbs anyway. I am kinda glad I am not trying it as you say it wasnt as life changing as you thought. The most important thing is making sure you get the carbs in the night before and the morning of….and of course consuming some kind of carbs on the run itself.

    Look forward to talking to you more about this. Are you gonna check out the expo at the marathon?


  4. One of the best marathoners in our area (I think he runs right under 2:30) is a big advocate of carb depletion/loading, but I’ve never tried it – mostly because I never have the time and energy to put into my diet during the week (usually I’m scarfing something at work, too hungry to care).
    But I do make sure to eat plenty and drink a lot of water the day before a marathon, and I do 4 gels (split into halves for better absorption) during the race. I usually do gatorade at stops when I don’t do gels. It’s individual, though – it did seem like you hit the wall really early, so maybe taking in more calories earlier is a good idea for you.
    One thing I’ve noticed: I always get a surge of energy (last of my stores!) right before a major bonk, so if I start feeling great around mile 15 – 18, I immediately take half a gel. Usually it takes effect before the rest of my glucose is totally spent and I’m bonking.
    Last thought: don’t confuse glucose needs with sodium needs. Sometimes a gel doesn’t help me as much as I thought it should, and it turns out all I needed was some salt. Probably not your problem on a cold day, but if i’m sweating extra that’s often the culprit.

  5. I’ve never tried carb loading, and I don’t think I ever will! I’m insulin resistant to an extent, despite all of the cardio that I do. PCOS is a bitch and will do that to do, even if you’re not massively overweight. So I have to be careful about the amount of carbs and sugars I consume too. Most of the marathons I’ve done have been in quite a carb depleted state, and I haven’t had a ‘hit the wall’ experience yet (touch wood…). Then again, I’m not running at anywhere near the calibre/speed that you are.

    I think the idea that runners need to eat huge amounts of carbs isn’t even accurate. Everyone is different and really it’s best to stick with what you know suits you best 🙂


  6. Although I haven’t done a carbo depletion/load, there is something to be said for topping off your energy stores and getting enough “good” carbs in the days leading up to a race. Totally comparing apples to oranges, but I make sure to eat more bananas, sweet potatoes, etc. before a triathlon.

  7. This was super interesting to read, and thank you for sharing your honest experience with carbohydrate depletion/loading. I haven’t purposely carb loaded for a race because I haven’t raced anything over a half. And I just don’t know much about all of that!

  8. All I know is that I’ve never done this for a half, but other than that I have nothing to contribute on the topic pertaining to marathons.
    Because of your medical condition, it could just be that a traditional carb depletion/loading might not work in your favor. This is all very curious to me as the marathon is a beast that I’ve never experienced, and carbo loading for it seems just as tricky as the race itself.

  9. I never really have since I have never done the depletion right. I think I’ve hit the wall more mentally than physically in each of my marathons. Because I have a super sensitive stomach I just get really nervous in general with my eats. I base my diet leading up to a race on plain foods I know won’t aggravate my system…and also tend to under eat prior. But I am yet to get through one without a stop. Sigh.

  10. Super glad you shared this! I posted about 7 carbo loading mistakes and think it’s important for people to better understand that how carbo loading theoretically works and who it works for 🙂 Loved watching all your instagrams and everything else about the race. It was a rough day for me, but what an experience!

  11. Thanks for sharing your experience! I’d say just go with what worked for your long runs. Don’t wait til your next marathon, practice nutrition and carb-loading in the days leading up to your 20+ mile training runs. I’ve heard that you don’t have to carb load too much because combined with your taper, you’ll still have more energy in your stores for race day. I’ve only run up to a 30k though so I am no authority on marathons 🙂 For my half marathons, I keep my diet the same, but maybe less veggies the night before. I tend to run smaller local races, but I’ve always wondered how much these big races screw with people’s nutrition plans since there’s so much time spent getting to the race and waiting around. I ran a 15k once that started 45 minutes late and I feel like it totally threw me off since I was hungry by the time we started running but didn’t want to take a gu yet.

    • That is a good idea! I think next training cycle I’ll take the 20 mile runs more seriously. Not that I didn’t take them seriously but I’ll do more “race day” preparation if that makes sense.

  12. I’ve never been much for carb loading. I never did when I swam (yup, I was a swimmer too!) or for any of my halfs or my full. I’ve read some about the depletion/loading and want to do more research on it before I try it for myself. It does make sense to me, but I’m not sure if my body would respond well to it. I don’t eat a lot of grains (I get my carbs from potatoes and fruit….and cookies) so I have a feeling it could be a shock to my body.
    That said, I did hit the wall pretty freaking hard in my first marathon. There were even tears.

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