Should You Carb-Load Before a 5K?

I’ve done my level best to get back into running, despite time and chance seeming to work against me at every turn. Because of my renewed interest in the sport, a few pieces have appeared on the blog over the summer about effective strategies for running. I’ve talked about remedies for shin splints, training schedules, and carbohydrate loading.

My expert carbi-vores enjoying homemade pizza!

Why does the Trail Family talk about running so much? Running is a fantastic activity for almost every family member. Earlier this year, I also discovered that a moderate amount of weekly running doesn’t hurt kids bone and muscle development. It was something that I had worried about in the past. 

On top of that, the Rail-Trail is the safest place for me to run with my kids. We are not sharing that space with motor vehicles, but we are still close to town, and I get cell service where we run. It is the best of both worlds. It feels like we are far out in nature, but home is just around the bend.

This week we’re back to the topic of carbohydrates. In a previous article about the subject, I mentioned that you should carb load for any race or activity lasting more than two hours. According to Healthline, a beginner should aim to run one mile in 9 to 13 minutes. Five kilometers equals 3.1 miles. So that gives you a range of 28 to 41 minutes for finishing. Experienced runners can finish around 25 minutes.

So, should you carbohydrate load before a 5K? You don’t have to from a metabolic standpoint. However, here are two reasons why I would carb load even for a short race.

An old running picture because I always forget to take pictures!

It’s Good Practice

You shouldn’t try something new in your routine before a major race like a half-marathon, marathon, or other endurance challenge. Taking the opportunity of small races to practice techniques like this give you the necessary experience to implement them when they really count.

You can teach your kids tons about nutrition and how our bodies process the fuel we put into them. We can all do with more education in that area. I’ve learned more and more useful information in my own study than I ever got from a supposed health textbook. It helps me to be mindful about my diet without obsessing over it or letting it damage my view of my own body. Food is fuel and it’s fun. That’s a mindset I’d love to pass on to my kids.

Zappa Toscana made by yours truly. A balanced meal in a bowl 🙂

Low-Carb Lifestyle

This point is just for the adults who are into running. Kids need a diet commensurate with growing, developing bodies. Intermittent fasting was a game changer for me in maintaining a healthy weight. While eating a typical three squares a day with some snacking, I found that I still gained. And it didn’t matter how many big salads I consumed. Once I found that eating only twice a day and occasionally doing a long fast was stopping the scale from rising, I was pretty happy.

A dear friend combined intermittent fasting with a low-carb diet and started dropping weight like she was a melting candle. Go, girl! When I get up the gumption to alter my shopping list that much, I’m going to try it.

I say all that to point out that if you are regularly a low-carb eater, you should carb load for short races too because your body is already burning fat for fuel. That’s great for daily functioning, but it can make you hit the wall in a race.

Final Thoughts

In these two scenarios, I’d say “yes” to carb loading for a 5K. You can practice planning menus leading up to a short race and gauge how you feel post-race. Definitely give your body some carb fuel if you usually abstain from it.

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