Carb Loading? 5 Foods to Try.

Abbott dietitian and marathoner offers alternatives to pasta to help you fuel your best race. A few might surprise you …

You've trained for months to reach your peak form to take on the challenge of 26.2 miles. Have you thought about your optimal fuel for race day? Check out these carb-loading tips from Abbott nutrition expert Ashley Ludlow, MS, RD, a Road Runners Club of America certified running coach and triathlete and marathoner, to help you run your best race.

1. Whole Grains

A natural choice when carb-loading, whole grains are recommended for at least half of your daily allotment of grains. This can include foods made from whole wheat, whole grain corn, brown rice, steel cut oats, cereals, quinoa and kamut. Antioxidant-rich, nutrient-dense and fiber-full whole grains provide health benefits that are essential to keeping your whole system running strong. But one note of caution — to avoid potential intestinal upset and surprises, skip the extremely fiber-rich sources in the hours before the race. Instead, grab familiar whole grains that are easy on your stomach.

2. Sweet Potatoes

Sweet potatoes are widely available and easily prepared in a variety of ways — roasted, baked, smashed or pureed. Loaded with vitamins A and C, beta-carotene, manganese and other nutrients that are essential for runners, sweet potatoes are a great pre-run snack; and for runners looking for a natural alternative to gels, they can even be enjoyed as a mid-run energy source.

3. Tart Cherries and Tart Cherry Juice

For years, runners have been adding tart cherry juice to their post-run protein smoothies when training. That's because this functional food not only tastes great and provides a healthy source of carbohydrates, it also has been proven to reduce pain and inflammation. To enjoy both the flavor and health benefits, be sure to choose a high-quality brand packed with real cherries and not just cherry flavoring.

4. Beets

Beetroot is a rich source of inorganic nitrate, which your body converts to nitric oxide and then uses as a vasodilator to assist in blood flow, muscle contraction, neurotransmission, and much more. Because of this nitric oxide, research has found that beets just might help you earn your next personal record. Supplementation with beetroot has been proven to help athletes run 1-2% faster in races ranging from 5Ks to marathons.

5. Tea with Honey

Not only is tea a great option when it comes to rehydration, it also offers health and performance benefits not every runner is aware of. Tea contains hundreds – if not thousands – of bioactive compounds, including potent health protectors like flavonoids, and performance-boosting caffeine. By adding a hint of honey and milk, runners can easily reap the health benefits that tea provides while also stocking their glycogen stores before the big day.

Hopefully, these superfoods are already in your regular diet, but if not, it would be a good idea to start testing how your body responds to each before you set foot on the race route, as the "nothing new on race day" mantra still applies.

The Finish Line

Wondering how to recover after you cross the finish line? Try a protein shake with some healthy carbs to help restock your glycogen stores and help your muscles begin their repair and recovery process as you head out for a much-deserved victory meal. Aim for an intake of 15-30 grams of protein within an hour of crossing the finish line to find yourself feeling stronger and less sore as you celebrate your accomplishment in the days ahead.

Abbott is the title sponsor of the Abbott World Marathon Majors, a series of six of the largest and most renowned marathons in the world: Tokyo Marathon, Boston Marathon, Virgin Money London Marathon, BMW BERLIN-MARATHON, Bank of America Chicago Marathon and TCS New York City Marathon. Click here to learn more.

This story was originally published on December 20, 2019. It was updated on August 17, 2021.