Carb Loading for a Long Race? Here's How to Do It

Effective carb loading for marathon runners begins 3 to 5 days before the race. Check out this full carb-loading schedule.


You've heard or seen the stereotype of a runner eating a big plate of pasta the night before a marathon. But although a hearty helping of spaghetti is a pre-race tradition for many, effective carb loading for runners begins three to five days before the long race. Increasing your carbohydrate intake in the week leading up to a race can provide your muscles with a stream of glycogen that lasts well after the starting gun fires.

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During the days leading up to a race, an athlete should increase his or her intake of carbohydrates from 3.6 to 5.5 grams per pound of body weight.  Here is a sample three-day meal plan that will help you fuel up correctly.

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Day 1

Breakfast

  • 2 whole wheat pancakes topped with 1/2 cup of fresh berries
  • 8 oz. of orange juice

Snack 1

  • 1 banana with 2 tbsp. of peanut butter

Lunch

  • 1 chicken taco with 4 oz. of grilled chicken, 1 soft whole wheat tortilla, 1/2 cup of shredded lettuce, and 1/2 cup of 2% shredded cheese
  • 1 oz. of baked tortilla chips with in 1/4 cup of salsa
  • 8 oz. of cranberry juice

Snack 2

  • 6 oz. of Greek yogurt topped with 1/4 cup of granola

Dinner

  • 6 oz. of grilled salmon
  • 1 cup of wild rice
  • 1 cup of cooked black beans
  • 1 slice of angel food cake topped with 1/2 cup of fresh strawberries

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Nutrient Analysis

  • Calories: 2,788
  • Carbohydrates: 450 g
  • Protein: 147.5 g
  • Fat: 51 g

Day 2

Breakfast

  • 2 toasted whole wheat muffins
  • 2 tbsp. of natural peanut butter
  • 1 cup of fresh fruit
  • 6 oz. of orange juice

Snack 1

  • 1 medium apple
  • 8 oz. of  a sports drink
  • 1/4 cup of natural almonds

Lunch

  • Salad with 3 cups of fresh spinach, 4 oz. grilled chicken breast, 1/4 cup of dried cranberries, 1 hard boiled egg, 2 tbsp. of light vinaigrette dressing
  • 1 tbsp. shredded Parmesan cheese.
  • 1 cup of low-sodium chicken noodle soup with 5 saltine crackers
  • 8 oz. of water

Snack 2

  • 1 cup of raw vegetables and 1 oz. of whole wheat pretzels dipped in 2 tbsp. of hummus
  • 8 oz. of a sports drink

Dinner

  • Sandwich with 2 slices of whole wheat bread, 4 oz. grilled chicken breast, 2 tsp. of brown mustard, romaine lettuce, 1/2 cup of sliced roasted red bell peppers
  • 1 cup of cooked green beans
  • 1 medium baked potato with 1/2 cup of 2% cottage cheese
  • 8 oz. of chocolate milk

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Nutrient Analysis

  • Calories: 3,357
  • Carbohydrates: 554 g
  • Protein: 156.6 g
  • Fat: 61 g

Day 3

Breakfast

  • 1 cup of oatmeal with 1/2 cup of 2% milk
  • 1 tbsp. of natural peanut butter
  • 1 tsp. of honey
  • 1 tsp. of cinnamon
  • 1/4 cup each of raisins and walnuts
  • 6 oz. of orange juice

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Snack 1

  • 2 whole grain graham cracker sleeves
  • 1 cup of unsweetened applesauce

Lunch

(The day before a meal, your largest, most carb-heavy meal should be your lunch.)

  • 2 cups of spaghetti
  • 1 cup of marinara sauce
  • 1/2 cup of steamed broccoli
  • 2 slices of whole wheat bread
  • 8 oz. lemonade

Snack 2

  • 15 whole grain crackers dipped in 1 tbsp. of natural peanut butter
  • 1 medium orange

Dinner

(Aim for a light, mild dinner the night before a race)

  • 1 whole wheat pita stuffed with 2 oz. of lean luncheon meat (such as lean roast beef, turkey or chicken), 1/2 cup of shredded lettuce, 2 slices of tomato, 2 tbsp. spicy brown mustard, 1 oz. baked potato chips
  • 1 chewy granola bar
  • 8 oz. of a sports drink

Nutrient Analysis

  • Calories: 3,016
  • Carbohydrates: 539 g
  • Protein: 88 g
  • Fat: 56.5 g


Photo Credit: Getty Images // Thinkstock

Topics: PROTEIN | CARBS | SPORTS | OATMEAL | SPAGHETTI | SANDWICH | BREAKFAST | CHEESE | CHICKEN | LUNCH | PEANUT BUTTER | DINNER | SALMON | RECIPES