Human Petrol: The distance runner

Today we are delighted to share a post written by Lisa Middleton. Lisa is one of Australia’s leading dieticians and has written specifically for The Stride. Today Lisa explains the theory behind carbohydrate loading, when it is necessary, and some guidelines on quantity.

Carbohydrate loading

Carbohydrate loading has historically been considered essential for distance running, but it really depends on your distance.  Carbohydrate loading is when an individual increases their carbohydrate intake prior to an event, in order to ensure they have ample energy stores for a particular event or training session. When considering whether or not you should carbohydrate load, the general rule is that if you are running for greater than 1.5hours there may be benefit from increasing carbohydrate in the day or so prior.  If your run or training session is more like 1 hour, having a little bit extra carbohydrate the day before is ok however, loading wouldn’t be necessary.  Furthermore, if your session is to last less than an hour, carbohydrate loading would also be deemed unnecessary.  However, it is important to note that these recommendations shouldn’t be taken as black and white, as everyone is different, and different things work for different people.

For those considering a marathon, planning to increasing carbohydrate intake 1-3 days prior (you can load in 24 hours if well planned) is recommended. The amount required will vary – some runners do well on less than the recommended carbohydrate loading regime of 8-10g/kg/day, but it depends on your event and individual factors.

On the day

Try to eat something light for breakfast.  Vegemite on toast tends to work a treat and is a favourite of many serious runners, but practice eating before some of your longer weekend runs to see what works best.


A combination of too much food, fibre and nerves on the day can lead to an upset stomach so stick to small, light and trialled! Less than 10km (equal to or less than one hour) and you probably won’t need too much during, other than water and perhaps a few swigs of an electrolyte drink depending on conditions, but above this and you should start thinking about additional fluids, electrolytes and fuel.


Whatever your training or event distance, plan your nutrition to match.  This often means eating different foods and amounts on different days and for different training phases.  Enjoy delicious food that makes you feel good and most importantly run fast.

Lisa Middleton

Stride on!

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