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Coach's Column with Namrita O'Dea

Posted by: Shannon Boffeli |May 25, 2010 10:34 PM

This week our question goes to Namrita O'Dea. A licensed dietitian and member of the Topeak/Ergon racing team. O'Dea helps riders fine tune their bodies for maximum performance through her business 55 Nine Performance Nutrition.

Question: Do you recommend carbo loading before races and if so what is the protocol? Are their differences when carbo loading for XC vs. Ultra-Endurance vs. Multi day races?

It is well known that the time to exhaustion is directly related to the initial amount of glycogen stores in the muscle.  For any race lasting an hour or more, carbohydrate-loading is recommended.  However, the suggested method may not be what you typically think of when you think of "carbo loading”.  Traditional carbohydrate-loading involved depletion of carbohydrate stores through training and high protein/fat diet 7 to 3 days out, followed by a very high carbohydrate diet (~90%) and no training for the 3 days leading up to the event.

However, more recent research shows that the depletion phase is not necessary and can also be counter productive to performing your best on race day.  Instead, a moderate 50% carbohydrate diet transitioning to a higher 70% carbohydrate diet increases glycogen stores just as well.  Regardless of the type of race, XC vs. ultra-endurance, you will want to follow a similar fueling plan in the days prior to the event.  As for a multi-day race, it will also be important to refuel with carbohydrates after each stage in order to start fresh the following day.  In 1983, Sherman devised the following modified plan for carbohydrate loading:

7 to 3 days prior to race day:

- 50% of total calories from carbohydrate, or 350 grams

- Begin tapering in training hours

3 days to 1 day out   

- 70% of total calories from carbohydrate, or 500-600 grams

- Continue tapering in training hours

Obviously, there is more to this for multi-day racing.  You would still want to taper and carbohydrate load in the days prior to the start of the event.  In addition, after each stage you would aim for close to 8 to 10 grams of carbohydrate per kilogram of your body weight.  The best way to do this is using a recovery drink immediately after completing the stage and then taking in carbohydrates with small amounts of protein every 2 hours for the next 6 hours. 


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