Carbo Loading Done Right & Pasta Primavera Recipe

Now that I’m only four days out from the marathon I’ve turned my attention to final race day preparations.  Today, this includes two things.  Banishing my sick husband to the guest room (am I a terrible wife?) and starting to carbo load.

I think carbo loading is by far one of the greatest benefits of race week.  I mean, we’re talking all you can eat pasta, pizza, ice cream, right?  WRONG! While this week is fun, there are definite rules behind it. Carbo loading is so simple yet so misunderstood.  Throw in ‘clean’ carbo loading and people really start to freak.  Trust me…..been there, done that.   Below I’m going to explain {my version} of the who, what, when & how of proper carbo loading.


Who should carbo load? Before reading all this information, you should determine if carbo loading is appropriate for you.  If you’re participating in a short event like a 5k or 10k you don’t need to carbo load.  You will not be taxing your muscles enough to tap into the reserve energy that carbo loading builds up.  Think endurance events  15k, 1/2 marathon, marathon, etc.

What is carbo loading? To understand how to properly carbo load you have to first understand the science and benefit behind it.  The main point of carbo loading is to make sure your glycogen stores are full before the big event.  So what exactly is glycogen?  Merriam-Webster defines it as, “a white amorphous tasteless polysaccharide (C6H10O5)x that is the principal form in which glucose is stored in animal tissues and especially muscle and liver tissue”.

Gina defines glycogen as, “the energy stores that fuel your muscles.”

Glycogen is what keeps your muscles moving during endurance events like marathons, triathlons, etc…  It keeps you from hitting the dreaded “wall” where your muscles literally shut down.

When do you carbo load?  You might think that one big pasta meal before the race is sufficient but you would be guilty of the stereotypical carbo load mentality.  Research has shown in order to reach optimal glycogen levels you need to start upping the carb intake 48-72 hours before the race. Yep, 2-3 days!  If you show up to a race with just one carb heavy meal under your belt, you’re starting the race off on the wrong foot.  I really like to start increasing my carb intake 5 days before the race (in my case, the marathon on Sunday).

How do you carbo load & how much is enough?  This is completely subjective for each person but all the books and articles I’ve read suggest that 80-95% of your daily calories (leading up the the race) should be from carbs I found this carb calculator online if you want to see the breakdown of how many carbs you should aim for.  Preferably your increased glycogen stores will be from complex carbs (whole grains, vegetables and legumes) in the week leading up to the race and then simple carbs (refined wheat, fruits) the day prior to the event.  The reason I like to switch to simple carbs the day prior is because, for me at least, they’re digested easily.  Try to stay away from fats and refined sugars.

Speaking of digestion.  The day before the race, I really like to have my last big carb meal during the day and not at night.  I want to make sure to give my body enough time to have any ummm adverse reactions (you know what I’m talking about) before the marathon.

Clean eating has it’s own challenges when it comes to carbo loading.  It’s really easy to follow a clean diet 2-3 days out from the race but the day before I tend to relax a bit.  I’ll order pasta made with refined noodles or thin crust pizza made with white flour.  I had a twitter follower @jennvoss ask about paleo carbo loading and found a great article that explained the Paleo carbo loading how-to’s.  I don’t know enough about Paleo eating to even offer an opinion in that area.

So what are some clean foods that are high in carbs?  Look at stocking your fridge and pantry with whole wheat pasta, brown rice, granola, whole wheat pancakes & waffles (YUM!), oatmeal, figs, dates, raisins, baked potatoes & sweet potatoes, yams, beans (eat those early in the week, not the day or two before the race due to the fiber content), peas, bananas, berries, citrus, etc….

Just to give you an idea of how I’ll carbo load this week, I started last night with a yummy pasta primavera.  This hearty dish is packed full of veggies and the whole wheat noodles provide a stick with you punch.  Since hubby doesn’t really care for veggies (might be why he’s sick….) I’ll actually eat this for a few different meals.

pasta primavera


My breakfasts will consist of my either favorite Nature’s Path flax cereal with raisins or RAW oats.  Lunch – a sammich and veggies.  Dinner – Either a pasta or rice dish.  My snacks (I live for my snacks!) will be fruit, crackers, granola, or yogurt.  And race morning will be cereal, part of a bagel and then 30 minutes before the race I’ll drink about 6oz of Cytomax.  WHEW! I think that covers everything for this post.  Are you tired of reading yet??

Just one more morsel of advice….. Stay away from the scales this week!! You will gain weight, possibly even a few pounds, but it’s OKAY.

Question:  How do you prefer to carbo load before a big event? What’s your favorite pre-race meal?


30 thoughts on “Carbo Loading Done Right & Pasta Primavera Recipe

  1. That pasta looks super yummy and I love your carbo loading tips! It gets me that people think they should eat pasta or a ton of carbs before a race, actually that does not work for me! I just run and workout less that week and make sure to get good nutrition so I can race well. Really you don’t need to eat any more food that usual if it’s a 1/2 or 15K, just the drop in workouts should be enough.

    If I ate a huge plate of pasta for dinner though… my tummy would hate me during a race! Gotta practice before those long runs to know what really works!

    • Thanks Amy! I completely agree that race nutrition is totally subjective. My tum-tum would not be happy to have a belly full of spaghetti getting jostled around during a race. It would be bad news. Loved reading your thoughts!! ❤

  2. Good advice…and you really broke it down nicely. I think that it is a personal thing though because usually pancakes are my go to before and pizza immediately after a hard run or race, and nothing else really changed. It’s about the only thing I do specifically. But it took a lot to figure that out because I kept trying to do it the “right” way. Now I know that what’s right is what my body needs. 🙂 I don’t do much different though for any runs less than 15 miles or so. That seems to be the magic number for me. I do use gel or shotblox, etc, though before a long run and that works best.

    • Glad you found what works for you, Sheri! My magic number is 14. Anything longer then 14 and I know I need to make sure to get a carby meal the night before. I’m a big fan of thin crust pizza pre-race; it seems to be less greasy then regular. And don’t get me started on pancakes – YUM!!

  3. Thank you for posting this, I definitely needed to read this. I plan on reading it again before my half next month. You have both educated & inspired me, thank you. I am going to make the pasta, looks delicious. Good luck in your race!

  4. When I was carb loading for the marathon, I read on a few places that if your weight is upwards of 4 pounds more than its normal on each of your loading days, you’re doing it right. That totally freaked me out at first, but also made complete sense.

    Love this post, thanks for sharing!

  5. Great tips girlie! I love how you emphasize that carb intake should be within that week AND not necessarily be bad things! I’ve been eating cleaner so have been using gluten free and paleo methods lately….and surprisingly they work just as effectively as pasta!

  6. Finally someone who cares about the SCIENCE behind carbo loading!!! This is all really beneficial information. I knew about most of it but I had never heard about switching from complex to simple carbs. I always eat carb-heavy because that’s just what I like but someday maybe I’ll come up with a meal plan that I would really see the difference in.

    • Yay, for being a research nerd! I’ve never been one of those people who were good at ‘because that’s the way it is’ answers. Give me data, let me see why we need to do it. The switching from complex to simple is just what I like to do; no research behind it other than it works for me. 🙂 If you eat a lot of carbs regularly, which I’m sure you do with all your track meets, you probably don’t need to carbo load. Just do what’s right for you.

  7. Lots of great information! I’ve known runners who carbo-load before short events–I’m talking 5-Ks–and I tried to nicely explain to them it wasn’t necessary. They didn’t get it. And then I kept my runner’s rant to myself. 😉 I don’t have a lot of experience carbo-loading for longer races, but for triathlons I have a carb-heavy breakfast and lunch the day before the race and start to easy off the “carbo gas” once dinnertime rolls around. Like you wrote, I want my body to be totally done digesting once the race begins–I need all the energy I can get! 🙂

  8. this is a super interesting post. i have never been a huge carb loader for my half marathons because I found they don’t necessarily help me. plus being celiac the gluten free options for pasta suck in my opinion. haha I feel like for me protein is a huge deal before a race

  9. Great tips!! I do think carb loading is abused and many people dont fully understand it. Also what works for one may not work for all. I find it easier on my stomach come race morning to eat my heavy carbs 2 days before and then eat light the day leading up to the race morning. Peanut butter and jelly sandwiches are golden for my prerace dinner.. anything else and I’m in the portolet 3x+ LOL

  10. Ummm… lets be real I forget to carb load for half marathons and am out of town and at the mercy of restaurants for fulls… worst prepared runner ever. Way to be responsible.
    I totally agree with you about only really needing to do it for half marathons or longer. Cracks me up when nonrunners go craboloading for their once a year 10K. Can you imagine. We run that far numerous times a week and would be so full or carbs.

    • It’s so flipping difficult to have the proper nutrition when your out of town. I’m pretty OCD so I actually travel with my cereal, bowl & spoon and then I’ll go buy a small pint of milk just so I can have some normalcy on race morning.

  11. Looks yummy! I love making whole grain pancakes (sometimes add flax, chia seeds and/or chopped nuts too!).

    Still stumped about how to carbo load without whole grains to replenish glycogen stores….(aka paleo diet), but to each his own right?

  12. what a great post! i didnt know half of the info that you shared. i learned a ton! and that recipe looks delish! im definitely going to try it out! xxoo ❤

  13. Great information, Gina!!

    I always treat myself to pancakes the morning after a big run for me (you know, 5ks lol) 😉

    This is useful, though, to understand the proper HOW and WHY! 🙂

    So excited for your race.. you’re gonna do awesome!!!

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