Carbo-loading: Tips for endurance athletes

Weight gain

Athletes who have properly carbo-loaded should gain about one to three pounds -- but don't panic! This weight gain is good; it reflects water weight and indicates you have done a good job of fueling your muscles. For every ounce of carb stored in your body, you store almost three ounces water.


Be sure to drink extra water, juices, and even soda pop, if desired. Abstain from too much wine, beer, and alcoholic beverages; they are not only poor sources of carbs, but are also dehydrating. Drink enough alcohol-free beverages to produce a significant volume of urine every two to four hours. The urine should be pale yellow, like lemonade. Don't bother to overhydrate; your body is like a sponge and can absorb just so much fluid.


Many endurance athletes eat only carbs and totally avoid protein-rich foods the days before their event. Bad idea. Your body needs protein on a daily basis. Hence, you can and should eat a small serving of low-fat proteins such as poached eggs, yogurt, turkey or chicken as the accompaniment to most meals (not the main focus), or plant proteins, such as beans and lentils (as tolerated).

Event day

Carb-loading is just part of the fueling plan. What you eat on the day of the event is critically important and helps to spare your limited muscle glycogen stores. So fuel yourself wisely both before and during the event -- and hopefully you will enjoy miles of smiles!

Tools for carbo-loading

When carbo-loading, you want to consume about three to five grams carbohydrates per pound of body weight. (This comes to a diet with about 60% of calories from carbohydrates.) Divide your target grams of carbohydrates into three parts of the day (breakfast+snack; lunch+snack; dinner+ snack),and choose foods to hit your target! You can find carbohydrate info on food labels and

Sample 50 gram carbohydrate choices for the foundation of a meal or snack

  • Wheaties, 2 cups
  • Nature Valley Granola Bar, 2 packets (4 bars)
  • Thomas' Bagel, 1 (3.5 oz)
  • Banana, 2 medium
  • Orange juice, 16 ounces
  • Apple, 2 medium
  • Raisins, 1/2 cup
  • Pepperidge Farm multi-grain bread, 2.5 slices
  • Baked potato, 1 large (6.5 ounces)
  • Pasta, 1 cup cooked
  • Rice, 1 cup cooked
  • Fig Newtons, 5
  • Flavored Yogurt + 3 graham cracker squares

Sports nutritionist Nancy Clark, M.S., R.D., counsels both casual and competitive athletes in her private practice at Healthworks (617-383-6100), the premier fitness center in Chestnut Hill, MA. Her best-selling Sports Nutrition Guidebook, Food Guide for Marathoners and The Cyclist's Food Guide are available at or

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