Notes from LinkedIn: Carbo-Loading and the Marathon

Originally posted on LinkedIn where I contribute weekly stories as part of their INfluencers Program. 

Despite the devastation of the hurricane this past week and despite the backlash from some quarters of the city, the New York City marathon is set to be held as scheduled on Sunday. Even as 47,000 runners get set to pound the pavement, I'm still thinking about food. We've all heard of carbo-loading before the big race, but does it really work?

According to a recent article in The New York Times, yes and no. Two independent studies, one undertaken during the London Marathon in 2009 and one recently completed by a team at the University of Michigan, found that those runners who ate the most carbohydrates the day before the race experienced the greatest sustained energy during their run. Of course everyone in training should always be consuming nutritious foods, but the teams found that just the carbo-loading of the day before actually had a significant effect. Contrary to marathon lore, what runners ate the morning of or what they had eaten the week prior in terms of carbohydrates had minimal impact on their performance.

If you're running those 26.2 miles on Sunday, tomorrow is the day you should really pay attention to your eating habits. But what should you eat? According to the studies, as summarized in the Times, "the minimum effective 'dose' of carbohydrates was at least six or seven grams for every kilogram of a person’s body weight, or about a quarter-ounce of carbohydrates for every 2.2 pounds of body weight. By that formula, a 220-pound runner would need to consume at least 25 ounces, or more than 700 grams, of carbohydrates on the day before a marathon to finish faster." Translation: just eat more carbs!

In order to maximize your energy potential, researchers reccomend not increasing the overall amount you eat but rather simply replacing many of the fats and proteins in your normal daily diet with carbohydrates. The simplest way to do this is to choose concentrated sources of carbs, such as "juices, pasta, rice, and sweets."

So runners out there, tomorrow and tomorrow only, EAT MORE CARBS! Here are some of my suggestions for delicious, carbo-loaded foods to get you through race day.

Marion Cunningham's Raised Waffles Recipe

Whole-Wheat Pear Scones

Butternut Squash Pizza

Twice Baked Sweet Potato

Pomegranate, Blueberry, and Banana Smoothie

Spaghetti with Fresh Cherry Tomato Sauce

But remember not to go too crazy with your eating. Just like you shouldn't try out a new pair of shoes on race day, stick to familiar foods you already know and enjoy in order to keep your body fit and healthy all throughout the race!

What are you going to eat? Happy eating and happier running!