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April 08, 2014

Carbo-loading for the Old Mutual Two Oceans Marathon

With the Old Mutual Two Oceans Marathon just around the corner, we all know runners of all shapes and sizes will be carbo-loading. And for many, carbo-loading is basically an excuse to get some pasta down their throats the night before a race. But what is the science behind this long-standing tradition of getting a good helping of mama’s Bolognese in the day before a race? We find out more.

The Old Mutual Two Ocean Runners tackle Chapman's Peak

What is carbo-loading really about?

Carbohydrate loading, or carbo-loading as it has affectionately come to be known, is the practice of consuming carbohydrates in the days and weeks leading up to a race. Carbohydrates are an important part of doing prolonged or high intensity exercise. Muscle glycogen is the main source of energy in endurance events, and is obtained from carbohydrates, and this glycogen is depleted during a high-endurance workout. The more glycogen stored in the body, the greater the endurance potential of the body.

The body stores glycogen in the muscles and liver and storage capacity is limited. By increasing the amount of carbs in your diet in the days and weeks leading up to the race, you can effectively increase the amount of glycogen stored in your muscles. This glycogen and what you consume during the race, fuel you over the course of the race. Because the muscle can only hold limited amounts of glycogen, it’s important to load up before you arrive at the starting line. Whilst loading up on carbohydrates will not make you faster, it will allow the body to postpone fatigue.

A delicious helping of Basilicos pasta (Image from Basilico.co.za)

How to carbo-load

The ideal amount of carbohydrates is 7 grams of carbs for every kilogram you weigh. So a person weighing 70 kilograms should be consuming 490 grams of carbohydrates every day. Sounds ridiculous right? Not actually. Some tips for making this mammoth task easier are:

• Eat complex carbohydrates with every meal – vegetables, fruit, potatoes, brown rice, grains, oats, wholegrain breads etc
• Snack on fruit, especially dried fruit
• Drink energy drinks
• Stay away from high fat foods(cream, ice cream, butter, oil, cheese etc)

Alternatives to Carbo-loading:

In rcent years there have been a few alternatives to the traditional diet of the athlete and marathon runner. We take a look at veganism and the Tim Noakes diet. 


Scott Jurek is a marathon runner and a proponent of the vegan diet for runners and athletes. He runs on an entirely plat-based diet and believes that this is what gives him his endurance. Cutting out processed foods and refined carbohydrates was not difficult for Scott. Meat and dairy were other matters. He didn't want to consume either—because of stress to his kidneys, potential loss of calcium, possibly increased risk of prostate cancer, stroke, and heart disease, not to mention the chemicals and hormones injected into America’s food supply and the environmental degradation caused by cattle farms. To find out more about why Scott decided to go vegan to improve his performance, read here

The Tim Noakes diet

Tim Noakes, a South African Professor of Exercise and Sports Science at the University of Cape Town, has run more than 70 marathons and ultra-marathons and is the author of the books The Lore of Running, Challenging Beliefs and Waterlogged. Tim is a believer in the low carb high fat (lchf), or ‘banting’ diet, which is not actually just an excessive consumption of protein diet, but rather focuses on avoiding processed food, soya and carbohydrates, and eating things such as avocado, full-fat dairy, chicken, cheese and fatty fish.

Last meal before the race:

Not that we suggest bingeing horribly on marinara sauce and spaghetti, but we have compiled a list of restaurants in the Cape Town region that will get you suitably ready for your race:

Meloncino’s at the V&A Waterfront

Meloncino serves up wholesome Italian food with a flair, and caters to all tastes. It is a little pricey but definitely has something for the whole family, and with a view like that, you won’t regret it. There are also alternatives to the traditional Italian fare here

Bacini in Kloof Street

Bacini is truly simple, solid Italian food. Pizza, pasta and select meat dishes are on the menu here.

Basilico in Newlands

Basilico’s has a lovely homely feel to it. This old Italian institution has served the residents of Claremont and Newlands for over 15 years, and has all the familiar favourites that you’ve come to know and love from Italian food, with a few surprises. It also offers meat dishes for those following a less conventional diet.  Check out the restaurant here

Plant Café

A popular new vegan restaurant in the Bo-Kaap area of Cape Town, focused on serving ethical, fast and healthy food. Find out more 

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