Monthly Archives: March 2015

7 Ways to a Faster YOU!

This is the article I wrote for Healthworks.my ! If you have already read it on their website, just scroll through to view the pictures.

Do check out Healthworks.my and like their Facebook page. It is your one-stop-place for everything health, lifestyle and fitness!


 

You’ve been running steadily for several months, you’ve taken part in numerous running events and now, you want to take it to the next level. We’re talking about performance and speed because we all want to be the next Usain Bolt, right?

  1. Speed Work

The obvious thing to do if you want to run faster would be to throw in speed work into your training sessions.

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How?

They improve your VO2 max – the maximum volume of oxygen that your blood can deliver to your muscles when running at high speed.

Higher VO2 max > More oxygen delivered to working muscles > Increase in the production of ATP > Greater muscle contraction > Run Faster

Running puts a certain amount of stress on the body. Thankfully, humans are highly adaptable and we are able to learn and change to better handle that stress in the future. Remember how hard it was when you first started running – your breathing was all over the place, your heart felt like it was going to explode and your limbs had a mind of its own – but you continued anyway? And then a few weeks later you realised that running is the easiest thing in the world. That is because your body adapted to the “stress”.

It applies to speed work as well! Runners improve most when they occasionally overload their system and train at a particular speed. Your neuromuscular system, heart and lungs adapt to allow you to run efficiently at higher speeds.

Take Note: Start by Adding One Session A Week

Adding too much too soon is always a recipe for disaster. Instead of adaptation, your body enters the exhaustion stage and you will burnout, develop injuries and fail to recover. Start by adding one speed session a week to your normal training. For the regular runner, 3 speed sessions per week is enough to get you that much faster!

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Example:

  • Try 5 x 400m/5 x 800m/5 x 1KM at interval pace.
  • Rest for about 1-2 minutes in between each bout (Rest time depends on individual fitness).
  • Interval pace is hard running and talking is almost impossible.
  • It is about 90-100% effort.
  1. Plyometric Training

When you think of running, the last thing that comes to mind is probably strength training and plyometrics. However, these two have been known to enhance running performance. Plyometrics include high intensity, high impact drills like jumping and hopping.

How?

Plyometric training improves what is known as the Stretch-shortening Cycle (SSC). The SSC is the transition between the eccentric and concentric muscle contraction and how elastic energy is harnessed to help with force production.

Running is a series of eccentric and concentric contraction. What you want is the concentric contraction to follow closely after the eccentric contraction. If there is a long pause between the two contractions, the captured energy is loss.

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Hill sprints and jump combo? Hahaha! Kidding, DO NOT TRY THIS AT HOME!

What You Need To Know

Plyometric training > Quick SSC > Less energy and oxygen is needed to produce the same level of force > Run Faster

Take Note: Do Once A Week 

Plyometric training comes with a relatively high risk of injury. Novice runners are not advised to attempt these drills. Unless you are very experienced, plyometrics should only be done once a week. Never do them on days of high volume training.

Example:

1-2 sets of:

  • 15-20 box jumps
  • 15-20 jump squats
  • 15-20 jump lunges
  • 15-20 single leg hops
  • 5 sets of 50m hill sprints
  • Proper form is KEY to avoiding injury.
  • Consult a fitness/running professional before attempting any of these drills.
  1. Get Rid of That FAT

No doubt runners come in all shapes and sizes. Take a look at the elite pack and you will see a variety in physical proportions. However, they all have one thing in common – nearly all of them have a low body fat percentage. In other words – lean.

A study done in 2006 demonstrated that body fat is a good predictor of athletic performance [1].  The best runners have the leanest legs!

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Close enough.

Not all fat is bad fat, but storage fat is “dead weight”

Our bodies have storage fat and essential fat. Essential fat is the kind that is needed to sustain life. These are stored in the vital organs, the bone marrow as well as muscles and tissues of the central nervous system. Storage fat is stored in adipose tissue, found around the abdominal area, buttocks, hips and under the skin. The more we eat, the more fat we store and it becomes our energy reserve. However, storage fat is not essential for health and too much of it increases the risk of certain diseases.

When we talk about running, storage fat is considered “dead weight” which would only add to the energy cost of running.

Finding The Right Amount of Fat

Determining your optimal body composition is a tough one. Having too much or too little of fat can be detrimental to health. Thanks to our modern lifestyle – increased accessibility of food coupled with our sedentary lifestyle – it is unlikely that we have too little fat for optimal performance. You can gauge your optimal fat percentage by tracking performance. Your body composition at your peak performance is likely to be your optimal body fat composition.

What You Can Do

Move more and eat sensibly > Lower Body Fat Percentage > Run Faster

  1. Be Feather Light

If you are having trouble with lowering your body fat, your best bet would be to lower the weight of everything else that you have on you when you run!

Go light on the run. This includes your top, shorts and shoes. A study performed in 2010 found that it was more economical to run barefoot as compared to shod running [2].

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This basically means that the weight of the shoe could add to the energy cost of running. This does not mean that you have to become a barefoot runner overnight in order to improve running performance. Just opt for light weight shoes.

As for running apparel, go for technical wear that wicks sweat away from your body. Normal cotton tops absorb sweat and can add to the weight when you run.

In short, go light >run faster

  1. Get A Caffeine Fix

This is probably what all coffee addicts want to hear – YES, coffee is a legal performance enhancer! Many elite athletes rely on their morning cuppa, so there is good reason why you should too!

Processed with VSCOcam with f2 presetAlmond latte! SO GOOD!

Coffee has been known to give you that mental boost, improves mental alertness and reduces a runner’s perception of effort. When you’re able to focus coupled with the fact that running faster would feel easier, you can be sure to finish with a new Personal Best!

Physiologically, caffeine enhances neuromuscular coordination – the speed at which nerve signals are sent to the muscles from the brain – and reaction time. With more signals firing at your muscles, you will be more efficient, running faster with more force and less effort.

The benefits of caffeine have been proven out on the field. One study found that runners who took caffeine before a 5KM run performed better than running without caffeine [3].

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Source: media-cdn.tripadvisor.com

How Much: 400mg or 4 Cups

Before you start chugging down on a giant cup of coffee, there is such a thing as caffeine overdose. Although coffee can be part of your healthy diet (as they are rich in antioxidants), moderation is always key.

According to the FDA, a safe and healthy amount of caffeine a day is about 400mg or 4 cups.

People react differently to caffeine (tremors, palpitations, stomach upset, irritability etc), so experiment with it during your training before you attempt to take caffeine on race day! Caffeine is absorbed quickly and it can last pretty long. You can take it 30-45 minutes prior to toeing the start line.

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Affogato anyone?

Whether coffee is used to get you out the door, out of bed or make you run that much faster – it works!

Drink a cuppa > Run faster

  1. Strengthen The Core

The core is the center of the body which holds everything in place and it includes all the muscles which help you to maintain posture. These muscles are found on the abdomen, back and around your hips.

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The Problem: Postural and Muscle Imbalances

The thing about runners is that we tend to neglect strength training. Most of our time is spent logging in the miles. Over time, we develop postural and muscle imbalances. These occur between the muscles that we use all the time (lower body) and the muscles that remain idle (upper body).

Weaker muscles/muscle imbalances may force other muscles to compensate for their lack of function, leading to injury (lower back, knees) and pain.

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Why It Matters: Helps Hold Proper Running Form

A strong core would mean that you are more likely to hold proper running form for a longer period of time. This is especially useful when it comes to distance running. Also, by strengthening these muscles, weight stress from the upper body on the legs can be evenly distributed and reduced. This will then reduce the risk of injury, allowing you to run longer and harder.

A strong core keeps you in place, preventing unnecessary swinging/swaying which goes to improve your running economy = faster times.

What You Need to Do: Strengthen Your Core

With this in mind, what you need to do next is to strengthen your CORE. Stretching and strengthening the muscles overall can restore muscle balance.

The Basic: Plank

If you have absolutely no time and are extremely lazy, the plank would be your best bet. It works nearly every muscle in your body from your arms to your core right down to your legs.

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  • Keep your back straight
  • Keep your elbows below your shoulders
  • Suck your belly in, keep it tight
  • Do not let your hips sink
  • Plank every day for 1 minute and then move on to 2, 3, 4… and see how long you can hold it without compromising on form and technique!

Strengthen core > Run faster

  1. Believe That You Can Do It

And if all else fails, just believe that you can do it! The brain is the ultimate conductor, regulating running performance in response to the signals that it receives from the body. The brain always acts in your favour – to protect your body. It does so by slowing you down before you hurt yourself due to loss of homeostasis or from becoming prematurely fatigued.

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However, you can change the decision made by the brain in response to these inputs. This is where motivation, expectation and the simple belief that you can do it come into play. For example, you will most likely tolerate a greater degree of discomfort if there is an incentive (money, fame, PB, medal etc).

At the end of the day, physiology still wins. You have to be capable physiologically before you can psychologically believe yourself into better running performance. You are able to psychologically push yourself to the max, accessing all available reserves till the point that is just before death. If you haven’t pushed yourself or ran till you felt like dying, it is likely that you have not unleased your ultimate running potential.

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In short, Motivation and Belief >Usain Bolt

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Source: Instagram

Before your next big running event, try these “faster running” tips and see how it goes!

 

Run Society Interview

I did an interview with Run Society recently.

I talked a little bit about myself (running, training, races, experience etc) and the PUMA RUNNING CLUB. You can CHECK IT OUT here.

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The Team.

Thank You Run Society for the feature.

Keep Running!

 

 

Post-Race Report: Malaysia Women Marathon (MWM) 2015

Many thanks to the race organiser, Karen Loh, for offering a slot and a chance to participate in this rather special annual event!

Pre-Race

It was actually a last minute decision on my end, signing up just a week before the big day (Yes, I take forever to make decisions). Usually, I would opt for the shortest possible distance but this time, I settled for the half. I would say that it was on an impulse! Given enough thought, I probably wouldn’t have!

It would have been my 3rd Half Marathon event and I didn’t know how I would fair without training for it. The previous 2 Half Marathons were done during my Full Marathon training. Karen did ask me to go for the Full Marathon but I was NOWHERE near prepared (both physically and mentally). Hats off to those who completed the Full Marathon that day!

Sadly, I was unable to attend the pre-race expo (I wasn’t aware that they changed the dates)! Looking at the pictures, I wished I could have been there to support the girls!


How did I spend my day before race day?

 

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A PARTY with FRESH FRUITS and CUPCAKES!

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My beautiful girls planned a very successful be-early surprise party!

It was a party with a theme in my favourite colour, fresh flowers, handmade decorations, my very special and very specific order of popiah and Chatime, an antioxidant blast of frozen strawberries, blueberries, grapes, cherry tomatoes and kiwi, sushi and CUPCAKES! They know me inside out!

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Processed with VSCOcam with f2 presetSo BLESSED to have them in my life. 🙂

I had planned to eat very healthy meals the day before MWM but I guess that went down the drain. I had 4 cupcakes and loads of CNY treats! But hey, it was my party and I would like to think that the extra shot of sugar went to fuelling my legs.

As you can see, I had a lot of fruits before race day. Given the amount of fruits and vegetables that I take on a daily basis, my body is able to handle the fiber load. I can eat a whole papaya without it affecting my bowels.

My advice would be: don’t try/eat anything that your body is not accustomed to (especially a day before a big event!). Don’t go on a fruit binge if you don’t normally eat fiber rich foods. You WILL regret it!


 

Race Day

Set my alarm at 3.15am, 3.30am, 3.45am and 3.50am because I’ve had my fair share of oversleeping and arriving fashionably late!

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Story of my life!

I didn’t manage to sleep very well and woke up at the sound of the first alarm. I had 2 slices of plain whole wheat toast and a glass of water. I think I need to stock up on nut butter and bananas!

The race venue was at Shah Alam, a good 20-25 minutes’ drive from where I stay. In the wee hours of the morning, traffic was smooth and we were there by 4.25am – just in time to catch the flag off for the Full Marathon! So happy to see so many independent women runners as well as women with their dedicated pacers!

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Snacked on Japanese Meiji biscuits while waiting for Michelle. The good thing about arriving early at race sites is that you don’t have to queue for the portaloos!

IMG_2306She collected my race kit for me! THANKS BABE!

Did a bit of “warm up”(I wouldn’t consider it a warm up. HAHA!) before heading to the starting pen. Stood together with Michelle and her pacer (Alp). We didn’t squeeze all the way to the front but I guess it was good enough. There were many categories, so I didn’t know who my competitors were.

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The flag off (at 5.30am) was a bit weird – there was the countdown but not the sound of the alarm/horn. 5, 4, 3, 2, 1…… and then we had a few seconds of “Errrr, should we run?” moment.

As usual, I darted out and made my way to the front. Michelle did the same thing too (I guess I’m not the only one!)! I heard Alp saying that we were at a sub 4 minute pace. This is the typical starting pace – you’re feeling fresh and bursting with energy, you just want to go as hard as possible (because you want to make full use of it) and hope for the best later on. I know many people who can relate to that!

I made my way to 4th place and held that position until the 7-8th KM. Around the same time, I saw Daniel crossing over from the opposite side of the road towards me. I was so glad to see a familiar face! The first thing he said was: “You’re in 5th place!” (3rd place in my category)

He did mention that he wanted to do his LSD that morning but I didn’t think he’d show up. We exchanged a few words and he agreed to run with me.

It was early and still very dark, I don’t really remember what I saw or what I ran pass that morning. When you’re running, your focus is on your pace and the run itself. I was completely blank when it came to my surroundings. Runners are vulnerable in that sense.

Thankfully, Daniel was there to direct the way (when there was no road marshal) and alerted me whenever there was an oncoming vehicle. He didn’t exactly pace me because I was setting the pace. But he was good company and he played the pacer role! He notified me of my pace at regular intervals, how many KMs I had left, made sure I had enough gel and water…… He also kept telling me how close/far my competitors were (200m, 100m, 15m!!!!) Ummmmmm, thanks but I didn’t really want to know (haha!). Ignorance IS BLISS!

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After about 50 minutes, I decided to take my gel at the next water station. I was already feeling a bit “light”. At the sight of the water station, I ripped the high5 gel that I had brought along and started sucking on it.

Compared with Powergel, it is actually easier to consume high5 gel. The taste is not as strong (I actually like it!) and the gel is not as thick, making it easier to swallow. However, the calorie content of the high5 gel is lower (a difference of about 20 calories per pack). I took a sip at every station and I didn’t care what drink it was. Drank salt water for the first time! Just curious, which brand of gel do you guys like to take and why?

It was a jolly time when we merged with the Full Marathon runners. I managed to spot a few familiar faces (Pei Feng was one of them. I didn’t know she attempted the Full Marathon!). By the 15-16th KM, I was overtaken by 4 other women. Thankfully, none of them were in my category! They were SO STRONG!

Towards the end of the race, it was just Daniel, another fellow Half Marathon lady runner and yours truly. I saw the blue Sultan Salahuddin Aziz Mosque and I knew that it was almost over!

I was getting impatient and my toe was killing me! Halfway through the race, I felt a sharp pulsating sensation on my left second toe and I knew that it was bad. I remember telling Daniel that my toe was bleeding. You can imagine the horror when I took off my shoes. My left sock was soaked in blood.

IMG_2250The GORE!

Finally, the finishing line was in sight!

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I ran closely behind her all the way till the end! Another strong runner! I didn’t catch her name but we managed to shake hands and exchange a few words.

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Just when I thought that the race drama was over, the marshal hung the NO.1 tag around my neck. I was like WHAT?! Almost the same reaction I had at the end of the RHB race. I couldn’t decide if I was happy or sad, I was just confused. We were very sure that we didn’t go the wrong way because Daniel double checked with the marshals at every turn.

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My Pacer! Appreciate all the help! THANKS!

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Thanks to Victor and Elaine for the support!

Apparently, the marshals directed the other runners somewhere else and they made a few extra loops before returning. Anyhow, Karen took charge of the situation and I think the results were based on the first checkpoint (See, this is why you should dart out in the beginning! Ok, I’m kidding). I ended up in 2nd place! It was definitely better than I had expected and I hit a new PB!

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I had a good time catching up with a few runners! It was so good to see all of them and hearing their inspiring stories! Dewi accompanied her mom to complete her first 10KM race and she (her mom) finished in 11th place! Also, Susan Henderson finished among the top in the Full Marathon despite her lower back injury last year. Amazing.

The atmosphere was just perfect. I love that they had MANDARIN ORANGES! My brother tagged along and he had my share of maggi noodles, cereal and milo.

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Half Marathoners!IMG_2213

Half Marathon – Emerald – 1, 2, 3!

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Photo-bombed!

Despite a few hiccups along the way, I had loads of FUN! It was my first time taking part in an all-women event! It was also International Women’s Day – a day to celebrate all the women around the world!

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Very inspired by all the women that got up to run that day (new runners, mothers, regular runners, the elites etc). Stop at nothing and keep it coming!

Kudos to the MWM team! See ya’ll next year!

Give thanks to the Lord,

for he is good;

his love endures forever.

Psalms 107:1

Fuel and Running – Part 3 – Reducing Dependence on Carbohydrate Stores

I guess I should have posted this earlier in the week because this weekend was packed with races (MWM, Titi Ultra Marathon, Brooks Half Marathon etc)!

Anyhow, you can always apply this to future races!

Reducing Dependence on Carbohydrate Stores

Now that we know how to maximise our carbohydrate stores before a run, we need to know how to reduce the rate at which liver and muscle glycogen is being used to delay fatigue.

We are all pretty familiar with this one – the gels, the bananas and the sports drinks consumed during a run.Chiquita-DM2-minion-dave-bananas

 

Source: minionslovebananas.com

Consuming carbohydrates DURING a long distance event reduces the dependence on the liver for maintaining blood glucose concentration and provides the brain and muscles with an external source of glucose.

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Source: findwallpaperhd.com

The impact is bigger on liver glycogen stores and will prevent you from turning into a hypoglycaemic zombie.

zombies-cautionSource: https://unseenlibrarian.wordpress.com

When and How Much?

How much carbohydrates you need to consume during your run depends on the intensity of it.

Higher intensity = More Carbohydrates Needed

If you are running long distances, it is highly unlikely that you will be running at top speed long enough to deplete glycogen stores. With this in mind, the recommended range is between 50-60g per hour.

You can space out the amount of carbs you consume during that 1 hour, depending on what sports drink/gels you have at hand. If you are carrying along your own supply then it is easier to calculate the amount you need and when to take it. If you are depending on supplies provided during race day, make sure you know what they are providing (the brand, amount of carbs it contains etc).

For example, if your gel contains 20-25g of carbs, then you need to consume 2 packets within 60 minutes (at 30 minute intervals).

Processed with VSCOcam with f2 presetI don’t have the habit of drinking sweet drinks (including sports drinks) even after/during a long run. I always drink WATER! I remember the first time I took an isotonic drink in the middle of my LSD and I realised how much difference it actually makes! Oh, the simple things you discover along the way.

In my opinion, you don’t need gels and sports drinks for any distance below 21KM. I don’t normally drink at all on my 10KM runs. But of course, every individual is different and I’ll leave that for you to discover what works best for you.

What to Take?

The best drinks/gels to take during a run are those that contain simple sugars (maltose, glucose and maltodextrin). These sugars are absorbed rapidly into your blood stream for immediate use.

Processed with VSCOcam with f2 presetDo you guys take candies on your runs?

Avoid taking fructose. Fructose has been known to cause tummy upsets. However, studies have shown that when glucose is mixed with fructose, the carbohydrate supply to muscles is faster.

Remember to take gels with water. I remember choking when I took my first pack of gel during my first Half Marathon (2XU Compression Run 2014). It threw me into a coughing fit! Looking back, it is something to laugh about but don’t let that happen to you! It was not funny when it actually happened.

Take note on the dilution ratio. The dilution needs to be right for optimal emptying from the stomach and intestinal absorption. If the carbohydrate concentration is too high, you will have problems emptying it from the stomach and water will be pulled into the intestines by the concentrated mix which can lead to diarrhoea (every runner’s nightmare!).

We are finally done…

…with carbohydrates! Phew! I hope that you now know how to maximise your carbohydrate stores before your run and how to reduce dependence on it during your run!

Thankfully, our bodies have alternative sources of energy – FAT! Stay tuned because we’re going to talk about FAT FAT FAT!

 

jdhfale

Oh, and HAPPY INTERNATIONAL WOMEN’S DAY!

Till then,

Keep Running!

I hope everyone had an awesome racing weekend! Time for some rest and recovery. Sleep tight!

Fuel and Running – Part 2 – Maximising Glycogen Stores

As mentioned in the previous post, runners use both carbohydrates and fats during a run.

We won’t be talking about protein because protein is only broken down during extreme cases.58d054bbb9c5b14b3eceef810e7bef0c

The percentage of which fuel a runner uses depends on the INTENSITY of the run (which will be discussed in another post!). For now, we will focus on the FUEL.

Carbohydrates

We are all familiar with carbs – the rice, the breads, the noodles. The very food group people try to avoid when they want to lose weight (Not all carbs are “bad”. You just have to find what is right for you!).

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They are stored in the body as glycogen and broken down to glucose when the body needs it.

There is a STORAGE LIMIT

There are limits as to how much glycogen you can store in your liver (about 100-200g) and muscle tissues (about 400-500g). It takes about 120 minutes of running to deplete your glycogen stores.

As discussed, low glycogen stores and blood glucose levels have ill effects on running performance which would either require you to slow to a walk or STOP completely.

Maximising Glycogen Stores

How?

In runner’s vocabulary, it’s called CARBO-LOADING. Carbo-loading involves significantly increasing carbohydrate intake a few days prior to a race. There is evidence that higher pre-exercise glycogen levels delay fatigue.

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Although there are a few limitations on the studies performed on carbo-loading, it is safe to say that runners will benefit from it prior (final 3 days) to racing or running longer distances (especially when it comes to speed and performance).

When and How Much?

Carbo-loading takes place during taper week, 3 days before the big day (NOT one week).

Some people begin carbo-loading a week before the big event and takes this opportunity to “EAT ALL YOU CAN” (not a good idea unless you plan to ruin your race day performance).

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The recommended amount is 8-12g per KG per day.

For me (45KG), that is about 450g of CARBS PER DAY, equivalent to about 40 slices of bread. BREAD MONSTAHHHH! Even if you’re a big eater, it is not easy to consume the recommended amount of carbs.

When I was preparing for SCKLM 2014, I wrote down every food and drink consumed. I had to have a sense of what I was putting into my mouth. I calculated exactly how many grams of carbs (in everything) to make sure that I ate the right amount. Even then, I was always on a mini binge at night because I hadn’t eaten enough. Runners can opt to drink (sports drinks, milk etc) their carbs if eating is too much to handle.

I did not practice carbo-loading before race day but I recommend that you try at least once to get the feel of it.

Does it Work?

In my experience, carbo-loading WORKS (for a marathon)! I did not hit the wall when I ran my first marathon. Training and carbo-loading done right? Probably. If anybody is interested, I can share what I had during the carbo-loading phase.

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You often hear people “carbo-loading” for every race regardless of the distance. Is it necessary? Carbo-loading is unlikely to be effective for events below 120 minutes. You would have sufficient energy to fuel your run and the excess weight gained during the carbo-loading phase will in fact SLOW you down.

Although carbo-loading during the final 3 days leading up to race day is needed to top off glycogen stores, how you replenish your stores on a day to day basis is probably more important. What you eat DURING training will allow you to recover and ensures that you reap the benefits of your training.

If you’re a serious hard core runner (training up to 2 hours a day), you are effectively depleting your stores during training. The amount of carbs needed on a day to day basis is near the amount required during carbo-loading.FullSizeRender

Runners NEED to EAT!

Now you know that it is important to start off with a full tank!

You wouldn’t drive your car on empty, hey? 😉

Next up, how to reduce dependence on your carbohydrate stores.

Till then,

Keep Running!