Why I Don’t Carb Load Before Races | Barton Haynes

Bart Haynes here in Spokane, WA. I was talking with an acquaintance and fellow cyclists recently about century races and the topic of preparation came up. I mentioned that I no longer carb load before races like I used to. He couldn’t believe it. Here’s why I don’t do it anymore.

Carb loading, the undisputed king of pre-race nutrition

Carb loading is the undisputed king of pre-race nutrition preparation – it’s been that way for a long time. Why? Because for a vast majority of cyclists, it works. We need carbs to burn during long races. Even hardcore meat eater diet proponents who never touch carbs would need to eat carbs for a long distant event like a century race. 

Carb loading is not a queue to start shoveling Skittles into your mouth, or binge-eat donuts. It involves eating carb-centric diets in the 48ish hours before your race. And importantly, by carb-centric I am talking about more carbs than normal, and, healthier carbohydrates. Pasta. Whole grain bread. Quinoa. Beans. Lentils. Oatmeal. These kinds of carbohydrate sources are nourishing and good to build up your store of energy reserves.

Most cyclist-enthusiasts follow this pre-race regimen. Most professional cyclists follow this regimen too. Likely, you do too. 

Reason 1: not in line with my normal diet

One reason I don’t carb load before races anymore is because my normal diet consists of a minimal amount of carbohydrate sources. For non-weight and non-cycling reasons, I switched to a paleo-centric diet a couple of years ago and have never felt better. This is the diet that works for me. 

Carb loading before a race would put me at great risk for-

  • Being bloated
  • Needing to take frequent stops at the rest room
  • Lethargic

-because my body doesn’t know how to handle large amounts of carbohydrates. Believe me, I’ve learned this the hard way. 

Keto loading before races

Barton Haynes Carb 3

Instead, before a race I will eat mostly my normal diet, just a little more of it, and a little more consciously. 

I call this keto loading.

I just focus on heavy focus on omega-3 and omega-6 rich foods, other high fat foods, and high protein foods. Things like a large steak, avocados, and chicken fit the bill nicely. 

It’s important to note that I do supplement with carbs because, as said, carbs are important during a race. 

  • I put sugary hydration formula in my water bottles during races
  • I usually eat a sandwich or bowl of oatmeal the morning of the race 
  • I have some carby snacks to eat during the race, like my honey-date-oatmeal goo
  • I have a few beers after the race because, you know, I just rode 100+ miles!

The point here is that I don’t carb load, but I do supplement with carbs only the morning of and during the race.

2 – Energy management during the race

The other reason I don’t carb load before the race is due to energy management. At some point before I stopped doing this, I noticed that I was having a really hard time with managing my energy during races. I would get surges of energy followed by lethargic dips, at which point I might eat some more and then dip later. 

This rollercoaster, for me, is solved by consistently eating throughout the race but that’s hard for me:

  • I’m focused on riding, not eating every 30 minutes
  • I get cramped easily by overeating
  • I tend to feel sick if I eat too much while riding

Carb loading is problematic for me because it can easily cause problems and it’s hard for me to cognitively manage – I’m busy focusing on my pacing, when to jump, when to hold back, etc. While for most people carb loading results in performance gains than not carb loading, I know for sure that for me it results in worse performance. Instead, I receive those gains through keto-loading. 

These problems have gone away (for the most part) since stopping carb loading

In summary – keto loading not “better”, just my own way of doing it

In summary, getting away from carb loading is not for everyone, or even for most people. My point in writing is not to say: do this, it’s better. 

My point in writing is rather to say, there are other options if carb loading isn’t working for you. I strongly believe in experimenting and trying new things in order to improve. If you are having trouble carb loading, try something different. It might pay off. 

Thanks for following along!

Happy cycling,

Barton Haynes