Why Runners Eat Pasta Before A Marathon (Carb Loading Guide)


One day before the marathon, my training partner called me up and invited me to a pasta dinner with some fellow runners joining the same event. Like you, I was curious to find out why it had to be pasta so I asked them about it, and here’s what I found out…

Runners eat pasta before a marathon because pasta is a great source of carbohydrates which is needed to fill your body with glycogen, its primary source of energy. In addition, pasta parties or pasta dinners the day before the race is a tradition in the marathon community. 

Ahead, we will find out the basics of carbo-loading, what to eat, what to avoid, and how to do it. Then, we will look at why pasta is the most common meal before the race.

The Basics Of Carb Loading

What Is Carb-Loading?

Imagine yourself as a vehicle. Like all vehicles, you need an energy source or fuel to run.

Your body runs primarily on glycogen, an energy source that is derived from carbohydrates and stored within your muscles and liver.

The problem is, your glycogen gets depleted around 60 to 90 mins of exercise. So your body switches to fat, which isn’t as efficient as glycogen.

Have you seen athletes struggling to keep running or worst collapse in the last few miles? That’s when they’ve depleted all their glycogen stores and couldn’t run efficiently on fat—popularly referred to as “hitting the wall”.

Carb loading is simply to increase your carb intake above the normal amount leading up to an endurance event. The idea is to fill up your muscles and liver with glycogen so that you will have enough energy on race day. 

This is usually done for endurance events that last for 90 minutes and above, just like a marathon.

But does carb-loading actually work? Absolutely! According to a study conducted in Italy, carb loading is is proven to be effective in boosting performance on endurance events.

They may have different choices of food, duration, or amount of carbs per body weight, but most elite athletes, coaches, and regular marathoners have some kind of carb-loading protocol before a race.

Although, may I just point out that no amount of carb loading can prepare you for a marathon if you haven’t trained for it. Carb loading is just a support to your already-trained body.

And if this is your first marathon, check out these 10 helpful tips that might help you run your best.

How To Carb-Load?

To put it simply, you can carb-load by increasing your carbohydrates to 3.6 to 5.5 grams per pound (8 to 12g per kg) of your body weight daily. Starting 3 to 4 days before the marathon event (although some athletes start a week before race day).

You should also reduce your fat and fiber intake during your carb-loading phase. This is to prevent gaining weight and feeling sluggish, or having stomach discomforts.

For example:

Your event is on Sunday and you want to carb-load 3 days before your event. If you weigh 160 lbs, you should eat 576 to 880 grams of carbohydrates from Thursday to Saturday.

But keep in mind that eating carbs should be done not only during the carb-loading period but also throughout your training.

According to Mayoclinic.org, most athletes need 5 to 7 grams of carbohydrate per kilogram of body weight daily for general training.

Eating Pasta Before The Marathon: Is It Good?

A photo of a pasta

So what’s up with pasta? Why is pasta the food of choice for most runners before a marathon race?

Well, aside from being a good source of carbohydrates with low fats, they’re also delicious, easy-to-make, and widely available in most restaurants and fast food chains. 

Not to mention pasta parties the day before the event has been a tradition in the marathon running community. 

But it doesn’t mean that the pre-race supper must be pasta. In fact, there are a lot of good sources of carbohydrates to choose from.

Foods To Eat When Carb loading

Here’s a table of carbohydrate-rich food and their corresponding amounts of carbohydrates in grams per 100 grams of serving.

Source of carbsCarbs per 100g
White rice28 grams
Pasta 25 grams
Quinola18.6 grams
Potatoes15.4 grams
Pancakes39.29 grams
White bread49 grams
Pretzels80 grams
Bananas23 grams
Average carbohydrates per 100 grams of different carb sources

(Please note that the number of carbs may differ depending on the ingredients).

As you can see, pasta only has approximately 25 grams of carbs per 100 grams of serving, while white bread has 49 grams.

Both are widely available and are good sources of carbs. So why pasta? Would you really enjoy a white bread party with your fellow marathon runners?

The bottom line is, if you’re planning to skip the pasta party or you just don’t like pasta, choose a source of carbohydrates that is:

  • High in carbohydrates
  • Low in fat
  • Low in fiber
  • Something that you’ll enjoy eating

Obviously, you need some protein to support your muscles. Focus food sources that are high in protein such as chicken breast (no skin), lean meat, or egg whites.

Foods To Avoid When Carb Loading

As mentioned, you should avoid food that’s high in fatbecause it can make you gain weight and feel sluggish. And fiberbecause they might create stomach discomfort during the marathon.

Here’s a list of food that may seem like a good source of carbs but are also high in fat:

  • Pizza
  • Cake
  • Muffins
  • Cookies
  • Chips
  • Donuts
  • Certain sauces
  • French fries
  • Potato chips
  • Ice cream

Also, you might think that wheat bread or brown rice is a better option (and they are, in some instances), but as we’ve discussed earlier, you should avoid foods high in fiber during the carb-loading period.

That means white bread and white rice are better options in this situation.

Conclusion

Pasta is a great source of carbohydrates, but they aren’t the only good sources of carbs.

They became the food of choice for most marathon runners mostly because they’re delicious, easy to make, and it has been a tradition among running communities.

If you like to skip the pasta party, by all means feel free to skip it. Just be sure to pick a carb source that’s low in fat and fiber.

Nicho Mauricio

Running wasn't always my favorite sport. I was a CrossFit athlete and I loved every bit of it. But since the pandemic began, I was forced to stay away from the gym and train at home instead. Things got boring. That's when I decided to trail run with my friends. I instantly got hooked. So I started training and researching all things running. As a beginner, I want to buy only the best running gear and do only the best practices. This blog is where I share what I've learned in my journey and my experiences as a runner.

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