How to carb-load and not get fat

The best thing about long distance running is carb-loading! But as much as we love stuffing our face with spaghetti, getting the ratio right is essential for athletic performance, not to mention your waistline...

How to carb-load and not get fat

If you’re tapering before a marathon, it’s easy to get carried away and go overboard on the carbs, resulting in a nasty shock when stepping on the scales.

Although fuelling your muscles is essential before a long distance event, piling on the pounds before a big race may well make the not insignificant task at hand even harder. As well as dragging extra weight around the course, some people feel sluggish after overeating.

Taper time

We know that extra glycogen can be stored in our muscles through carb loading, i.e. eating starches and sugars. Firstly it’s important to remember that during your taper, you’ll be burning fewer calories than you were during the middle of your training programme. So it’s best to keep your calorie intake the same as when you were training hard, as this gives you a slight excess in energy which can be stored.


You don’t need to be eating more, but you do need to change the ratio of carbs to fat and protein in your diet. A normal balanced diet should be around 40 per cent calories from carbs, 30 per cent from protein and 30 per cent from fat.

3-4 days before the race

Begin carb loading 3 to 4 days before the big day. At this point, carbohydrates should make up around 70 per cent of your calorific intake, leaving you with 15 per cent protein and 15 per cent fat.

So you’ll need to cut back on fat and protein in compensation for the extra carbohydrate load. Try to take on carbohydrates in the form of snacks or meals immediately after exercise, as this is when the body most readily stores glycogen in the muscles.

2 days before the race

Two to three days before your race, increase your carb intake further: now 85-95 per cent of your energy intake should be from carbohydrates. Remember that this is not the time to experiment with new foods: stick to what’s familiar.

Which carbs should I eat?

It’s best to go for a variety, not just force yourself to eat the same meal of rice or pasta over and over again. Rice, potatoes, pasta, bread, bagels, sweet potato, cereals and fruit are all good options. It’s best to mix it up, with some complex carbs (brown rice, pasta, oats) as well as some simple ones (white bread, white rice, bagels) to make sure you’re getting a wide range of vitamins and minerals.

Don’t skip the veggies and pulses completely either, you’ll need these to ensure your vitamin levels are topped up. For more carb-loading tips, click here

Is weight gain normal?

Don’t obsess over a little weight gain, as this is in fact perfectly normal. Along with each gram of glycogen your muscles will also store around 3 grams of water. Carb loading for most runners will mean gaining approximately 2 to 4lb (1-2kg) of extra weight, but don't beat yourself if the scales start to tip slightly. You're about to take on a life-changing long distance race and you need that fuel to get you across the finish line like the running star that you are. Good luck!

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