How to Carb Load for Race Day

woman drinking

Getting ready for a big race?  Wondering what all the carb-loading hype is about?  The purpose of carbohydrate loading is to give you the energy you need to complete an endurance event with less fatigue and to improve your athletic performance on race day. Heavy training will deplete your muscle glycogen stores, so in the lead up to a race a combination of tapered training and increased carbohydrate intake with have your muscles replenished and perfectly primed for race day.   

What is carb loading? 

Carbohydrate loading is the process of topping up your glycogen stores ready for race day. The aim is for you to hit race day morning feeling lean and energetic and ready to perform your best.

Carb loading requires an increased intake of simple carbohydrates, while at the same time a reduction in your training load (ie tapering) which results in the perfect race day preparation. 

Let’s take a look at what’s required…

woman holding a glass of smoothie

When do I start carb loading?

Consider increasing your carbohydrate intake 2-3 days prior to a big race like an Ironman event or a staged bike race. Keep in mind that you should consume most of your carbohydrates by lunchtime the day before, and a big bowl of past the night before simply won’t cut it and, it will likely have you feeling sluggish as you try to digest it.

By starting at least 48 hours out, you will give your body plenty of time to absorb the carbohydrates it needs in the few days leading up top the race.

What should I be eating?

Race week is not the time to try anything new and run the risk of upsetting your digestion, and so you should stick to what you know.    

Big training weekends and race simulations are an ideal time to test out a simplified version of your carbohydrate loading plan.  

And remember, just because your training buddy swears by a particular food (and had an awesome race last time) it doesn’t mean it will work for you. 

Stick to simple carbs that are easy to digest and you already know make you feel good.

japanese maki dish

Simple carbohydrates for the win

Ideally your race week is filled with simple carbohydrate sources which are low in fibre and easy to digest. There are plenty of options that aren’t pasta! Try sushi and an orange juice for lunch, or quinoa with steamed veggies.

Dinner could be steamed potatoes or roast sweet potato with a small serve of protein and greens. 

Sweet treats such as creamed rice, stewed fruits and custard are all great carb options that are easily digested and are perfect for snacks.

creamed rice

Add liquid carbohydrates

A really great way of adding carbohydrates without feeling sluggish and full is in liquid form – with the added bonus of hydration too.  Try a banana smoothie for breakfast with protein powder, banana, almond milk and honey. 

Throughout the day, mix 1-2 litres of Bindi Sports Hydration at half strength and sip regularly in the days leading into your race for maximum hydration, carbs and electrolyte loading.

Banana Smoothie

Did we say hydrate?  

All the carbs in the world won’t help if you’re not well hydrated at the start line. Don’t go anywhere without your water bottle – and especially don’t get caught out in a long hot registration queue without one! smoothie/protein shake mix if you are on a long-haul flight.

man holding a water bottle

What should I have for dinner the night before a race?

If you follow these guidelines for the 2-3 days prior to your race, then dinner the night before isn’t so important, as the carb-loading should all be done. Instead, choose a light meal that satisfies your hunger, such as some white rice with steamed veggies and protein such as grilled chicken or tofu. Try a honey-soy marinade to increase your salt and carb levels too.

Remember, the aim is to get to the start line feeling lean and energised, and this simple carb-loading prep will have you ready to smash your performance!  

rice with steamed veggies and tofu


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