You know a no-carb diet isn’t up your alley, but you don’t exactly want to fill up on a pre-race pasta feast every night either. The classic carb cycling schedule alternates between high- and low-carb days, six times a week, saving the seventh day for reward meals.
So should you just munch on meat during your low-carb days and pig out on pasta the rest of the week? Many trainers suggest taking a “cheat day” and allowing yourself to eat what you like, but make sure that approach isn’t setting you back. Once you’ve stocked your fridge and pantry with healthy grains, proteins and produce, coming up with a daily menu is key for achieving the best results. For both low- and high-carb days, be sure to eat breakfast as soon as possible when you wake up, then consume the rest of your calories across another four to six small meals throughout the day, advises Starnes. The calculators within this article use the equations below for a rough estimation of your daily needs.
Simply put, the more energy or fuel your body has during an endurance race, the better you’ll be able to perform.
Emphasis has generally been placed on completely depleting glycogen stores before race day, then going super carb-heavy two to three days before the race.
Use your taper week — the week before your race when you’re allowing your body to recover from training — to get your glycogen levels up to capacity.
For anyone who’s following a low carb diet, eating your vegetables is a key component for ensuring adequate dietary fiber, not to mention health promoting phytonutrients and antioxidants. Simply put, if you’re going to go on a low carb diet or any diet, you’ve got to make sure to eat your veggies!
The tricky part for many folks is determining which vegetables are ok to eat while on their diet. I decided I’d make a quick reference guide focusing on the vegetables people are most likely to eat. Shane Doll CPT, CSCS is a certified Charleston personal trainer, fat loss expert, speaker, and founder of Shaping Concepts. Chances are that these are universal laws that work across the board, and can deliver results no matter what the rest of your diet is composed of. Added sugar is the single worst ingredient in the diet. Although some people can tolerate moderate amounts of sugar without problems, most people are eating way too much (1). When people eat too much sugar, it overloads the liver, which is forced to turn the sugar into fat (2, 3). Part of the fat gets shipped out of the liver as VLDL cholesterol, raising blood triglycerides, but some of it also remains in the liver (4, 5). Sugar is believed to be a major driver of non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (6, 7). It has also been associated with many diseases, including some of the world’s biggest killers. Bottom Line: There is universal agreement that a lot of added sugar is unhealthy, and most successful diets recommend limiting it. Refined grains are made by pulverizing whole grains and removing the bran and endosperm, which are the fibrous and nutritious parts. For this reason, refined grains contain little more than starch, chains of glucose molecules. Refined starch provides lots of energy with almost no essential nutrients (empty calories).
Without the fiber found in the whole grain, starch can cause rapid spikes in blood sugar levels, leading to cravings and overeating a few hours later when blood sugar comes crashing down (12, 13). Studies have linked consumption of refined carbohydrates with all sorts of metabolic diseases, including obesity, type 2 diabetes and heart disease (14, 15, 16, 17, 18). Although some diets (like paleo and low-carb) take things a step further and eliminate grains altogether, all successful diets at least emphasize limiting refined grains and replacing them with their whole, healthier counterparts. Bottom Line: All successful diets eliminate refined grains like wheat flour, which is very unhealthy.
There is evidence that linoleic acid, the main omega-6 fatty acid in vegetable oils, gets incorporated into the body’s fat cells (20, 21). It also finds its way into LDL lipoproteins, making them much more likely to become oxidized.

They may also contribute to endothelial dysfunction, one of the earliest steps in the pathway towards heart disease (25, 26). There are also many observational studies linking vegetable oil consumption to cancer (31, 32, 33, 34). Also, the way these oils are manufactured is highly disgusting, and pretty much all of the beneficial nutrients are removed from the oils.
Out of all the diets and dietary patterns shown to be compatible with long-term health, none of them included industrial vegetable oils.
Keep in mind that this does not apply to coconut oil or olive oil, which are completely different and extremely healthy.
Bottom Line: Industrial vegetable oils are incredibly harmful and contribute to numerous problems at the cellular level.
Numerous studies link transfats to increased inflammation, and strong associations have been found between trans fat consumption and heart disease (36, 37).
Vegetables are high in antioxidants, all sorts of nutrients, and are loaded with fiber, which helps with weight loss and feeds the friendly bacteria in the gut (41, 42, 43). Bottom Line: All successful diets emphasize eating plenty of vegetables, and in most cases fruit as well. One interesting thing that all of these diets have in common, is that none of them emphasize calorie restriction. Instead, they put the emphasis on eating whole, single ingredient, healthy foods. Although calories are obviously important for weight management, simply restricting calories without regard to the foods you eat is rarely effective in the long-term. Instead of trying to lose weight or restrict calories, make it your goal to nourish your body and become healthier.
Most successful diets emphasize a lifestyle change that includes whole foods, and let weight loss follow as a natural side effect. Centenarians now represent the fastest growing segment of the American population, and 25% of children born today are expected to live beyond 100. While there is no definitive scientific explanation for longevity, the same themes keep recurring in responses from centenarians in interviews. Multiple studies have shown that happiness, contentment and optimism are strongly connected to longevity. Depending on your health and fitness objectives, however, you might want to alter your setup for the week. As a general rule, though it will vary from person to person, Crandall says that women should take in around 1,200 calories and men around 1,500 on low-carb days, with slightly more on high-carb days. For athletes, especially endurance athletes like marathon runners (or anyone competing for 90 minutes or more), carbs become even more essential to “supersaturate the muscles and liver glycogen stores,” says Leslie Bonci, MPH, RD, CSSD, RDN, director of sports nutrition at the UPMC Center for Sports Medicine. More specifically, if your glycogen levels are high then you can delay fatigue longer and hopefully prevent “hitting a wall,” when your carbs stores are depleted and your body turns to muscle for energy.
However, Kastor and Bonci agree that in recent years, marathoners aren’t being as extreme with the process. While society may lead you to believe this isn’t a good thing, it could be an advantage come race day.
Kastor recommends that mileage this week should be about 50 to 60 percent of what you ran during the heaviest training week, and you should be eating roughly the same amount of calories. This dish should be easily digestible in order to top off your glycogen levels and help your body retain fluids. Kastor recommends a bowl of oatmeal with brown sugar, salt and sliced bananas one and a half to two hours before start time.
In reality, all vegetables are fair game, but obviously some are higher in carb counts than others. However, depending on the amount there’s a lot of flexibility with numerous other vegetables. With a staff of over 10 certified fitness professionals, Shaping Concepts provides personal fitness training in Charleston with a specialty on weight loss and body transformation for middle age adults.

Pleasant, Daniel Island, Isle of Palms, Sullivan's Island, and the Bluffton-Hilton Head areas. For this reason, most successful diets make it one of the main priorities to cut back on added sugar. One of the main ones is their high content of polyunsaturated omega-6 fatty acids, which most people are eating way too much of (19). Some observational studies show them to be protective, but many controlled trials suggest that they may be harmful (27, 28, 29, 30). Therefore, just like added sugars and refined grains, vegetable oils classify as “empty” calories. Numerous studies show that vegetable consumption is linked to reduced risk of disease (38, 39, 40). Even low-carb diets allow berries and small amounts of fruit (a low-carb diet is NOT no-carb). Positive thoughts are said to even strengthen your immune system, reduce pain and provide stress relief. Although its roots are in the world of bodybuilding, trainers are turning to the nutrition strategy to help clients achieve their goals — whether they’re trying to slim down or build muscle — or both. For instance, to lose weight, you might aim for five low-carb days interspersed with two high-carb days, suggests Starnes. Starnes recommends calculating the correct portions of each macronutrient by getting a certain number of grams per pound of body weight.
But you may also know that complex carbs provide energy and therefore shouldn’t be totally avoided — especially when it comes to endurance competitions. In order to get those energy stores to peak levels, research has shown that runners need to consume a higher amount than normal of these starchy foods in the days leading up to the big event. Too many carbs can lead to sleep issues for certain individuals, plus some runners find that ingredients like the inevitable tomato sauce on top of their pasta pile can be slightly acidic in their stomach, Bonci points out. That can mean a half-cup of cereal, plain pasta or rice, a serving of crackers, a piece of fruit, a small glass of juice or an extra slice of bread.
While these are great for juicing and have very low carb counts, most people won’t be eating these raw or cooked. On the other hand, if gaining weight and adding muscle is your goal, think about including four or even five high-carb days. For some athletes, carb loading might even be the difference between setting a PR or getting a DNF on race day. If you start to experience sleepless nights, bloating, and possibly even GI issues like nausea and gas, try cutting back.
Go with whatever carbs you have the best track record with and that won’t upset your stomach. To power through low-carb days, try to get your protein from chicken, fish, lean beef, eggs or tofu and complement it with non-starchy veggies — basically anything besides potatoes, corn and peas is fair game. As a general rule, says Starnes, do the majority of your shopping around the perimeter of the grocery store; you’ll load up on fresh staples and sidestep preservative-packed processed foods. And how have the rules changed since the days of scarfing down that big bowl of spaghetti and tomato sauce?
We turned to our running and nutrition experts to break down why, when and how to carbo load.

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