No carbs on long runs


After I completed my last training plan in January I started my new plan in February after recovering from the 50 mile ultra.  However, I included something extra that was not included in my past training plans.  That’s right.  Lately I have stopped taking in carbs before and during long runs, including sports drinks with carbs. (I am sticking to water and electrolytes.) Many of you may think this is crazy, and I know some are astonished by it,  but hear me out.

I read in an article at McMillan Running that stated there is a benefit to endurance on long runs if we training the body to optimize usage of carbs and fat burned while on the run.  Most of us have become accustomed to fueling on our long training runs, so this should not be done as a crash but should be done slowly.  On each long run intake less and less carbs before and during until you are able to eliminate them. (This is for training run times between 2 and 3 hours, and not competition. I always carry a gel with me just in case I run into trouble while on the run.)

The thinking is that your body will become better at using the energy it has, and less dependant on fuel during the run.  Thereby boosting stamina and endurance, as your body uses the glycogen and fat stores it already has.  Meanwhile this also trains your muscles to run through fatigue that will happen during those longer runs, and help you build up resilience for the race.

To optimize glycogen stores I DO make sure to carbo-load immediately after all of my runs.  Many people seem to carbo-load only a few days prior to the marathon, but this is thought to be wrong by many nutritionists.  Sure there is a benefit to loading the night before to ensure your pre-race day nutrition is good.  However, loading a few days before the race does nothing to increase your stores.  It takes weeks, not days, to train your system to boost the glycogen stores.  Your body rebuilds the glycogen stores after each run, because you used them during the training runs.  So you need to feed the body what it needs immediately after the training runs.  It has been proven that the first hour after a workout is when your body is like a sponge and ready to absorb at a HIGHER rate than later. (This includes protein as well as carbs, so is also the best time to take in some protein.)

OK, now I am done.  Everyone feel free to pounce on this topic, but realize that I am not saying that this approach is for everyone.  Further, I am not saying that it is necessary.  However, it is the approach that I am trying based on some of my reading.  I will inform later if I actually benefit from it.

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13 responses to “No carbs on long runs”

  1. No pouncing, but for every article you read that says this you’ll find another which says that. Not that what you’re stating isn’t true, I’ve learned the post-race meal is very important to recover quicker…but I’ve also learned that the 3-4 days prior to a major endurance race is key to storing the glycogen you used up, and in fact, the night before isn’t as vital to carb-loading as is the 2-3 days before the last day. Anway….

    I’ve also read a lot about the carb-depletion endurance run and how it’s suppose to help you learn to not lean on carbs for your run. I personally don’t have a problem with this but I think at my age, that’s not something that’s going to happen and I don’t want any more crappy runs than I’ve already endured trying to get my body into a no-carb needed state.

    I love how you bring up the topic though :).

  2. So you mean, I can eat a large all meat pizza with extra cheese the day before my race, because my body hasnt worked up its levels for this tasty goodness?? I am SOLD!!!

    In all seriousiness. its a good topic.

  3. Hey thanks for the shout out! I actually just read something similar in a chapter of The Runner’s Body. Basically they said that super endurance runners, such as ultra marathoners, aka YOU can benefit from a higher protein diet because, as you said, you can train your body to use your stores efficiently. It does make sense and I am interested to see how it works for you.

  4. I wouldn’t want to try it b/c I have nailed down the right combo for my needs. But we all are an experiment of one, so if it does the trick for you, go for it!

  5. This is interesting because I’ve actually considered a higher fat based fuel. ie, Nuts…. it does make you think. We’ll use Adam as our experiment 🙂

  6. I agree with Adam. I don’t fuel while I run. I too take a gel pack “just in case”, but have no problem running 10-13 miles without any kind of fuel. I only drink water when I train or race. Post run, I immediately have a protein shake. I also do not “carb-load” the night before a race. I eat a normal meal. In fact last year before I PR’d, I ate ribs the night before with very little carbs. Now when I bike, especially 80-100 miles (those are my favorite rides) I still only drink water and will have a granola bar or gel pack at mile 50-60 and possibly at mile 80 depending on the weather and how hard we have ridden. I am a very healthy eater and do adjust if I need to accordingly when I bike and run, but have found “less is more” for me. 😀

  7. I think its more important to train your body the way you will treat it on race day. I’m not sure that starving your body on long runs will lead to an optimal workout. IMHO…

  8. You’re on fire with good topics lately!

    I love Greg McMillan, and find his advice to be solid. Besides, he’s the Masters Mountain Marathon Champion, isn’t he?

    I know this article you refer to. I think he has seen this method work for a lot of people, so it must have some merit. As for individual use, it’s a matter of knowing your own body and what it takes (and doesn’t take) to get you race ready.

    If I continue to have a problem with late race fade, I may implement this as a tool.

    Good post!

  9. I read this a year or so ago, and then a bunch of the other articles saying it doesn’t work. So, I went with the idea that I will gel during my marathon, so I should gel during training.

  10. Interesting….. What is your body fat %? I’m hovering right around 10% so I’d be afriad that I’d totaly crash and burn if I tried this.

  11. Very interesting. Hadn’t heard this approach before, but it does make sense. I often wonder if people “over” carbo load during long runs thus working against themselves. Seems like it’s working for you.

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