USA Triathlon News Blogs Fuel Station Before the Big Event...

Before the Big Event Carbohydrate Loading

By Ryan Hutmacher and Sara Haas | Sept. 14, 2010, 12 a.m. (ET)

The infamous pre-race pasta dinner ... is it a necessity or a waste of time and calories? Is that big plate of pasta before the big event really that helpful? Athletes have practiced the ritual of consuming high carbohydrate foods before an event since the late 1960s. Scientists have conducted multiple studies since then that prove that carbohydrate loading increases an athlete’s endurance.

The goal of carbohydrate loading is to increase glycogen, or energy, stores in the body. By optimizing the consumption of carbohydrates, athletes can improve their ability to delay fatigue. Carbohydrate loading is especially important for triathletes, who typically participate in events that last longer than 90 minutes. Maximizing carbohydrate intake can begin as early as seven days or as little as 24 hours before the event. Triathletes should aim to consume between 3.5-5.5 grams of carbohydrates per pound of body weight. This amount provides sufficient energy to prevent glycogen depletion.

The type of carbohydrate is also important to consider. Choose foods with a moderate amount of fiber, tapering the amount you consume the day before the event. Avoid consuming too many processed, refined white starches, which can lead to constipation.  Pick easily-digestible carbohydrates and pass on foods that contain excessive sugars. Also, do not wait until the day before the event to experiment with carbohydrate loading. It is important to try out different techniques during training to determine appropriate amounts and which types of carbohydrates work best.

Aim for whole grain pastas, brown rice, lean proteins, vegetables and fruits. Avoid high fat and processed foods. Feeling inspired? Try out the recipe below to enjoy the night before a big training run, bike or swim. 

Spinach Basil Pesto Pasta Salad with Sautéed Shrimp
Makes 6 servings


  • 12 ounces whole wheat pasta
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 pound shrimp (21-25 per pound), raw, peeled and deveined
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • 1/4 teaspoon cayenne
  • 1 lemon, cut into wedges
  • 1/2 cup kalamata olives
  • 1/2 cup sun-dried tomatoes
  • 1/4 cup Parmesan cheese, plus shavings for garnish


  • 10 ounces baby spinach
  • 1 cup basil
  • 2 tablespoons walnuts, toasted
  • 3 roasted garlic cloves (recipe follows)
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 1/2 cup Parmesan cheese, grated

Prepare the Pesto

  1. Prepare an ice bath by filling a bowl with cold water and ice, leaving enough room for the spinach.
  2. Heat a large pot of water to boiling. Season the water with salt. Add the spinach and blanch for about 30 seconds.
  3. Using a slotted spoon, remove the spinach from the boiling water and plunge into the ice bath. Remove the spinach and squeeze out the excess moisture. Repeat with the basil. Keep the water on the stove and bring back to a boil.
  4. In a blender or food processor, add the nuts and garlic and pulse a few times. Add the 1/4 cup oil and continue to pulse. Add the spinach, basil, cheese and salt and pulse until just combined. Season to taste and reserve.

Prepare the Pasta

Once the water has come back to a boil, add the pasta and cook according to package directions. When al dente, drain (do not rinse) and place in a large bowl. Add the pesto while the pasta is still warm and toss to coat, thinning the pesto with cooking water if necessary. Set aside until room temperature, cover and chill until ready to serve.

Prepare the Shrimp

Heat 1 tablespoon olive oil in a large non-stick or cast-iron skillet over medium-high heat.
Sprinkle shrimp with salt, pepper and cayenne. Add to skillet and sauté until shrimp are opaque in center, about 3 minutes. Sprinkle with fresh lemon juice. Chill until cold.

Prepare the Pasta Salad

Garnish the dressed pasta salad with the olives, sun-dried tomatoes, Parmesan cheese and shrimp.

Roasted Garlic
3 heads of garlic
3 tablespoons olive oil


  1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees F.
  2. Line a small cookie sheet with foil and coat with pan spray.
  3. Cut off the tops of the garlic heads and place them on the cookie sheet and drizzle with olive oil.
  4. Fold up sides of foil and seal to make a little pocket.
  5. Place the pan in the oven and bake for 30 minutes or until garlic is very tender.
  6. Once cool, squeeze the garlic from the skins and use or refrigerate.

Chef Ryan Hutmacher is owner of Centered Chef Food Studios in Chicago, Ill. Centered Chef is a wellness-focused culinary consulting and educational firm that fuses nutrition with culinary arts. With a focus on natural ingredients, Ryan celebrates the idea reinventing health food, proving that nutritious and delicious are equally attainable. His expertise is notable within the marathon and triathlon community in Chicago, as well as within the corporate sector. Partnerships in culinary wellness programming include athlete runner programs like Team determiNation/ACS, Team CF, TEAM to End Aids, Fleet Feet Sports, Chicago Area Runners Association, Chicago Endurance Sports, Chicago TriMonster, and Fitness Formula Clubs. Other notable partners include American Nutrition Association, American Heart Association, American Diabetes Association, Northwestern Hospital, Rush Hospital, Energy BBDO, Leo Burnett, IBM and Sara Lee Corp.

Along with his staff dietitian and co-writer, Chef Sara Haas (RD/LDN), Ryan appears both locally and nationally on television stations like WGN Superstation, where they give practical solutions to preparing food both easily and healthfully. 

Chef Ryan's Culinary Wellness Initiative: