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How to Avoid "Hitting The Wall" with Carbo-Loading

Are you a long-distance runner who has experienced the dreaded 'hitting the wall' phenomenon during a race? 

You are not alone. This crippling feeling of fatigue and diminished energy can derail even the most experienced athletes. But fear not! There is a powerful strategy that can help you break through this physical and mental barrier - carbo-loading. 

Carbohydrate loading, also known as carbo-loading, is a technique used by endurance athletes to maximise their glycogen stores before a race or intense workout. By consuming a high-carbohydrate diet in the days leading up to the event, athletes can significantly increase their energy reserves. This can delay the onset of fatigue and provide the necessary fuel for sustained performance. In this article, we will delve into the science behind carbo-loading and provide you with practical tips on how to implement this strategy effectively. We will also debunk common myths surrounding carbo-loading and provide evidence-based recommendations for optimal performance. Don't let 'hitting the wall' stand in the way of achieving your running goals. With proper carbo-loading, you can equip your body with the energy it needs to push through those challenging moments. So lace up your shoes, and let's dive in to discover how to beat the 'hitting the wall' phenomenon with carbo-loading.

Understanding What 'Hitting the Wall' Means

Long-distance running is a physically demanding sport that pushes athletes to their limits. During a race, many runners experience a phenomenon known as 'hitting the wall.' This sudden and overwhelming feeling of fatigue can be incredibly challenging to overcome. It often occurs when the body's glycogen stores become depleted, leaving the runner feeling drained and unable to maintain their pace.

Hitting the wall is not exclusive to novice runners; even experienced athletes can fall victim to this phenomenon. The good news is that carbo-loading, a technique used by endurance athletes, can help delay the onset of fatigue and provide the necessary energy to break through the wall.

What is Carbo-Loading?

Carbohydrate loading, also known as carbo-loading, is a strategy that involves consuming a high-carbohydrate diet in the days leading up to a race or intense workout. The goal is to increase the body's glycogen stores, which serve as a primary fuel source during endurance activities.

Carbohydrates are broken down into glucose, which is stored as glycogen in the muscles and liver. By maximizing glycogen stores through carbo-loading, athletes can delay the depletion of this energy source, allowing them to perform at a higher intensity for a longer period.

The Science Behind Carbo-Loading

To understand the science behind carbo-loading, it's essential to comprehend how the body uses energy during exercise. During low-intensity activities, such as walking or light jogging, the body primarily relies on fat as a fuel source. However, as exercise intensity increases, the body shifts to using carbohydrates as its primary source of energy.

Carbohydrates are more readily available and can be broken down into energy more quickly than fat. The body stores carbohydrates in the form of glycogen, which can be rapidly converted into glucose and used for fuel. By increasing glycogen stores through carbo-loading, athletes can tap into a larger energy reserve during intense exercise, delaying the point at which they 'hit the wall.'

Benefits of Carbo-Loading for Endurance Athletes

Carbo-loading offers several benefits to endurance athletes, especially those participating in long-distance running. Here are some key advantages of incorporating carbo-loading into your training regimen:

Delayed Fatigue

One of the primary benefits of carbo-loading is the ability to delay the onset of fatigue. By maximising glycogen stores, the body has a larger reservoir of energy to draw from during intense exercise. This can significantly prolong the time it takes for an athlete to become fatigued, allowing them to maintain a higher level of performance for longer.

Enhanced Performance

With increased glycogen stores, athletes can perform at a higher intensity for an extended period. This can result in improved race times, increased endurance, and the ability to push through challenging moments without succumbing to fatigue. Carbo-loading gives runners the edge they need to achieve their performance goals.

Improved Recovery

Carbohydrates play a crucial role in the recovery process. During prolonged exercise, muscle glycogen stores are depleted. Consuming carbohydrates after a workout helps replenish these stores and aids in muscle repair and growth. By carbo-loading before a race or intense training session, athletes can kick-start the recovery process and bounce back faster.

How to Properly Carbo-Load Before a Race or Event

Carbo-loading is not a one-size-fits-all approach. It requires careful planning and execution to ensure optimal results. Here are some practical tips to help you properly carbo-load before a race or event:

Gradually Increase Your Carbohydrate Intake

Carbo-loading should begin several days before the race or event. Start by gradually increasing your carbohydrate intake over the course of three to four days. This allows your body to adjust to the higher carbohydrate load without feeling overly bloated or uncomfortable.

Focus on consuming complex carbohydrates, such as whole grains, fruits, vegetables, and legumes. These foods provide a steady release of glucose, ensuring a sustained energy supply during your race.

Moderate Protein and Fat Intake

While carbohydrates should be the primary focus during carbo-loading, it's essential to maintain a balanced diet. Include moderate amounts of lean protein and healthy fats in your meals to support muscle repair and overall health.

Hydrate Properly

Proper hydration is crucial for optimal performance. Drink plenty of water in the days leading up to the race or event to ensure you are well-hydrated. Additionally, consider incorporating sports drinks or electrolyte-rich beverages to replenish electrolytes lost through sweat.

Practice Your Nutrition Plan

Carbo-loading is not just about what you eat before the race; it's also about practising your nutrition plan during training. Use your long training runs as an opportunity to experiment with different foods and hydration strategies. This will help you fine-tune your approach and identify what works best for your body.

Rest and Taper

In the days leading up to the race, make sure to get adequate rest and taper your training. This allows your body to recover fully and ensures that your glycogen stores are maximized for race day.

Common Mistakes to Avoid When Carbo-Loading

While carbo-loading can be highly beneficial, there are common mistakes that athletes should avoid to ensure optimal results. Here are a few pitfalls to watch out for:


Carbo-loading does not mean unlimited indulgence in high-carbohydrate foods. Overeating can lead to discomfort, bloating, and a decrease in performance. Stick to a well-balanced diet and focus on quality carbohydrates rather than quantity.

Neglecting Fibre Intake

While it's important to consume carbohydrates, don't neglect your fibre intake. Fibre plays a crucial role in digestion and can help prevent gastrointestinal issues during the race. Include fiber-rich foods such as whole grains, fruits, and vegetables in your carbo-loading plan.

Trying New Foods or Supplements on Race Day

Race day is not the time to experiment with new foods or supplements. Stick to the foods and products that you have tested during your training runs to avoid any potential stomach upset or adverse reactions.

Carbo-Loading Meal Plan and Recipes

Having a well-structured carbo-loading meal plan can help streamline your nutrition strategy. Here's an example of a carbo-loading meal plan for the day before a race:


- Whole-grain toast with almond butter and sliced banana- Greek yogurt with berries- Glass of orange juice


- Energy bar or a piece of fruit


- Grilled chicken or tofu with quinoa and roasted vegetables- Mixed green salad with balsamic vinaigrette


- Trail mix or a handful of nuts


- Pasta with marinara sauce and lean protein (chicken, shrimp, or tofu)- Garlic bread- Steamed broccoli or a side salad


- Fresh fruit or yogurt parfait

Supplements and Sports Drinks for Carbo-Loading

In addition to a well-balanced diet, some athletes may benefit from incorporating supplements and sports drinks into their carbo-loading routine. Here are a few options to consider:

Energy Gels

Energy gels are concentrated sources of carbohydrates that are easy to consume during a race or intense workout. They provide a quick and convenient way to replenish glycogen stores and maintain energy levels.

Electrolyte Drinks

Electrolyte drinks, such as sports drinks or electrolyte tablets, can help replenish electrolytes lost through sweat. These beverages are especially useful for endurance activities lasting longer than one hour.


Branched-chain amino acids (BCAAs) can help reduce muscle soreness and aid in muscle recovery. They are available in supplement form and can be consumed before, during, or after exercise.

Carbo-Loading for Different Types of Endurance Activities

While carbo-loading is commonly associated with long-distance running, it can be beneficial for various endurance activities. Here's how carbo-loading can be adapted for different sports:


Cyclists can benefit from carbo-loading strategies similar to those of runners. The key is to ensure a gradual increase in carbohydrate intake leading up to the event and to focus on consuming easily digestible carbohydrates during the ride.


For triathletes, carbo-loading is crucial not just for the running portion but also for the swimming and cycling segments. Pay attention to your nutrition plan throughout the entire race, ensuring you have enough energy to perform well in each discipline.

Ultra-Endurance Events

Ultra-endurance events, such as ultramarathons or long-distance cycling races, require extensive fueling strategies. Carbo-loading becomes even more critical in these cases, as athletes need to sustain a high level of performance for an extended period. Consult with a sports nutritionist to develop a comprehensive nutrition plan tailored to your specific event.

Woman running in the park

Conclusion: Breaking Through the Wall with Carbo-Loading

The 'hitting the wall' phenomenon can be incredibly frustrating for long-distance runners and endurance athletes. However, with proper carbo-loading, you can equip your body with the energy it needs to break through this physical and mental barrier.

Carbohydrate loading, when done correctly, can delay the onset of fatigue, improve performance, and aid in recovery. Remember to gradually increase your carbohydrate intake, maintain a balanced diet, and practice your nutrition plan during training. Avoid common mistakes such as overeating or neglecting fiber intake, and consider incorporating supplements and sports drinks to enhance your carbo-loading strategy.

With the right approach, carbo-loading can be a game-changer for athletes looking to achieve their running goals and conquer the 'hitting the wall' phenomenon. So lace up your shoes, fuel up with carbs, and get ready to break through that wall like never before.

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