It’s the carbs the day before that make the difference!


Most masters endurance athletes are aware that carbohydrate loading before an endurance event is crucial to last an event longer than 90 minutes. We know that the last three days before a triathlon, marathon or half-marathon, road race, regatta or carnival is the time to load up on the rice, the pasta, and the sports drinks. Here is some research that highlights that it’s the amount of carb taken the very day before the event may be equally critical. More importantly, this research was conducted on mongrels like us – older athletes. The researchers concluded that marathon pace was faster and better-maintained in runners who consumed greater than 7 grams of carbs per kilogram of body weight the day before the run.

The Research

An internet-based data collection tool allowed 257 competitors in the 2009 London Marathon (39±8 years, finish time: 273.8±59.5 min) to record a range of anthropometric (body measures such as weight, height), training and nutritional predictors of performance. The English sports scientists used complex multivariate statistical methods to quantify the change in running speed and estimate which of the predictors contributed to performance differences.

The Results

Gender, body mass index, training distance, and the amount of carbohydrate consumed the day before the race were significant predictors of the variability in running speed.  The analysis also revealed that those competitors who consumed carbohydrate the day before the race at a quantity of >7 g/kg body mass had significantly faster overall race speeds and maintained their running speed during the race to a greater extent than with those who consumed <7 g/kg body mass.

So What?

This reseach strongly supports the importance of high carbohydrate intakes for any masters athlete competing in any endurance event, especially marathoners and athletes involved with endurance events including team sports and masters athletes competing in many events in one day or day after day such as at masters games or championships. The table below gives examples of common foods and their carbohydrate content. It is taken from Chapter 16 (Nutrition for the Masters Athlete) of my book The Masters Athlete, the most definitive chapter related to sports nutrition for older athletes that you will ever read – biased as I am! The table below from my book will enable you to calculate how much carbohydrate you should eat the day(s) leading into an event to ensure you get the greater than 7 grams / kilogram of body weight you need to maximize your chances of PBs. Each of these serving sizes gives 50 grams of carbohydrate.

Table 1: Common foods that give 50 grams of carbohydrate per serving.


Serving Food Serving



Cornflakes/Wheaties 60 gm (2 cups) Canned fruit – light 360 gm (1.5 cups)
Muesli 65 gm (1-1.5 cups) Canned fruit – heavy 240 gm (1 cup)
Toasted Muesli 90 gm (1 cup) Fresh fruit salad 500 gm (2.5 cups)
Porridge – milk 350 gm (1.3 cups) Bananas 2 medium-large
Porridge – water 410 gm (2 cups) Mangoes, pears, grapefruit 2-3
Muesli bar 2.5 Oranges, apples 3-5
Rice cakes 6 thick/10 thin Nectarines, apricots 12
Rice boiled 180 gm (1 cup) Grapes 470 gm (2 cups)
Pasta/noodles boiled 200 gm (1.3 cups) Melons 900 gm (5 cups)
Canned spaghetti 440 gm (large tin) Strawberries 760 (5 cups)
Crispbreads/dry biscuits 6 large, 15 small Sultanas, raisins 70 gm (4 tbsp)
Plain sweet biscuits 8-10 Dried apricots 115 gm (22 halves)
Bread 110 gm (4 slices white, 3 thick grain)


Bread rolls 110 gm (1 large) Potatoes 350 gm (1 large, 3 medium
Pita bread 100 gm (2 pitas) Sweet potatoes 350 gm (2.5 cups)
Muffin 120 gm (2) Corn 300 gm (1.2 cups creamed or 2 cobs)
Crumpet 2.5 Green beans 750 gm (7 cups)
Pancake 150 gm (2 medium) Baked beans 440 gm (1 large can)
Scone 125 gm (3 medium) Soy/kidney beans 500 gm (3 cups)
Iced fruit bun 105 gm (1.5) Pumpkin or peas 800 gm (4 cups)
Dairy Products
Milk 1 litre Sugar 50 gm
Flavoured milk 560 ml Jam 3 tbsp
Custard 300 gm (1.3 cups) Syrups 4 tbsp
Natural or diet yoghurt 800 gm (4-5 tubs) Honey 3 tbsp
Fruit yoghurt – non-fat 350 gm (2 tubs) Chocolate 80 gm
Ice cream 250 gm (10 tbsp) Jelly beans 60 gm
Sports Foods
Unsweetened fruit juice 600 ml Sports drink 700 ml
Sweetened fruit juice 500 ml Meal supplement 250 ml
Cordial 800 ml Sports bar 1-1.5 bars
Soft drinks 500 ml Sports gels 2 sachets

Source: Atkinson, G. and others (2011). Pre-race dietary carbohydrate intake can independently influence sub-elite marathon running performance. International Journal of Sports Medicine, 32(7): 611-617.