Carbohydrate depletion diet for endurance athletes

A carbohydrate depletion diet for endurance athletes was once popular among distance runners.

British distance runner Ron Hill was one of the first to attempt the carbohydrate depletion/loading diet. He used it in preparation for the marathon in the 1969 European Championship Marathon in Athens.

Although he was well behind as he began the final 6 miles of the 26.2-mile marathon, he eventually won the race easily. The diet did exactly what it was supposed to do.

In essence, the diet is done to ready the body for the stage of the race when glycogen is depleted. It’s at this point when most runners are hitting the proverbial wall. When everyone else began to hit the wall, Hill wasn’t. He easily passed the glycogen-depleted runners who were in front of him for most of the race.


These days, most endurance athletes load up on carbohydrates in the days leading up to a race, but leave out the depletion part. By loading up on carbohydrates they are ramping up their glycogen stores. This is as it should be. Just the same, there is a point where you can’t store more glycogen. Once your stores are maxed out, eating more pasta in the days before the race won’t increase the amount you have stored.

Ultimately, most endurance athletes have enough glycogen to get them through about the first 18-22 miles of a marathon. This of course varies depending on how many miles are spent running in the anaerobic zone. Unfortunately this is where most runners spend their time as opposed to the more sensible and glycogen-conserving aerobic, fat-burning zone.

The main reason the carbohydrate depletion diet for endurance athletes lost favor over the years is because it was just too difficult. It can also be dangerous. If done properly, the depletion segment of the diet will leave a person in a very weakened state for a couple of days. This can result in injury or illness. At the very least you will feel crappy and a million miles away from running a marathon if you’re doing the diet properly.


If you don’t follow the diet exactly, there’s no point in wasting your time doing it.

When Ron Hill implemented the diet for the marathon in the Munich Olympic Games of 1972, his timing was disrupted by the terrorist attack. The race date was changed and it threw the depletion and loading out of sequence. As a result he did not have the race he was expecting.

I did go on this diet several times back in my marathon days in the late 70’s and early 80’s. So I know exactly how it feels to go through it.


The process begins exactly seven days before your race. For this example we will assume your marathon is on a Sunday.

On the Sunday a week before your race your goal is to deplete your glycogen stores. A two hour or ninety minute run would accomplish this nicely.

carbohydrate depletion diet for endurance athletes

None of this during the depletion stage.

Once you deplete your glycogen stores, you do not replenish them. That means no more carbohydrates for you once you have done your depletion run. For the rest of Sunday, plus Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday all you eat is fat and protein. No simple carbs or complex carbs. No bread, cereal, pasta, rice, donuts……..well you get the picture.

Your diet will be eggs, chicken, beef, fish and any other foods that provide little in the way of carbohydrates that can be converted to glycogen for fuel.

On Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday go for a 30-45 minute run. This ensures complete carbohydrate depletion and will become more and more challenging with each passing day. By Wednesday, you will feel like death. If you have done everything right, you will have zero energy and the thought of running for 30 minutes much less a marathon will seem eminently impossible.


Begin the loading stage when you wake up on Thursday morning. Not Wednesday afternoon or at dinner on Wednesday. Thursday morning. If you begin loading to soon you screw up the depletion process and in that case, don’t bother going on the diet.

It’s almost remarkable how you can feel your energy level increase the moment you eat your oatmeal, toast, or/and hash brown potatoes on Thursday morning. It only gets better as you begin eating high quality carbohydrates Thursday, Friday, and Saturday.

Carbohydrate depletion diet for endurance athletes

Whole wheat bread is an excellent source of complex carbohydrates

If nothing else, trying this carbohydrate depletion diet for endurance athletes will once and for all educate you on just how important carbohydrates are as a source of energy.

For all those who write their books about how carbohydrates are bad for and unessential, I defy them to do the depletion stage of this diet and then run a marathon. Or for that matter, run around the block.

Going into a race devoid of glycogen stores is like getting in your car for a 100 mile road trip with a tablespoon of gas in the tank. It would be like trying to run a marathon on Thursday morning after denying yourself carbohydrates for four days.

I physically cringe when someone writes that carbohydrates are the root to all diet evil. They proclaim that it’s carbohydrates that are the major cause of obesity and poor health in general. I believe the major cause of obesity and poor health is laziness that equates to lack of fitness, and a failure to understand how everything we do, everything we consume is assimilated by our body….and this is who we become. We shouldn’t ask what are bodies are doing to us when we look in the mirror. We should ask “what are we doing to our bodies?” We are the ones in control.

If you consume more calories than you burn, your body will store it as fat for future use. That’s the message you’re sending it. It doesn’t matter if those calories come from fat, protein, or carbohydrates.

As far as this carbohydrate depletion diet for endurance athletes goes, I believe it’s worth trying at least once if you’re are hard core runner.

Just be sure to spend a lot of time in your aerobic, fat-burning zone in the first half of the marathon. If you can do that along with this diet, you should be passing a lot of people who are walking, or running very slow, in the last five or six miles of the race.

You might also enjoy this article on complex carbohydrates for endurance athletes.

The Reluctant Triathlete

It’s once again time for the reluctant triathlete to consider making a leap of faith

With another new year about to begin, the flood of resolutions to become slimmer and fitter will once again resonate across North America.

It’s a mystery why people feel they have to wait until January 1 before considering improving their quality of life, but it is what it is. At least the magical date has succeeded in changing the lives of those who have stuck to their resolutions for more than a month. That in itself is cause for celebration.

Maybe all through the Spring and Summer of the past year you heard about, or perhaps witnessed, the achievements of family members, friends, or co-workers who have taken up the sport of triathlon.

Often you were in awe of their achievements and more than once you wished it was something that you could do. You convinced yourself that it was for the fitter, more athletic types and it was beyond your level of ability.


When you look in the mirror, perhaps what you see is enough to convince you that triathlon is simply not for your. You’re out of shape, over-weight, and your body language proclaims you believe this is all you’ll ever be.

“What has my body done to me?” you ask yourself.

Not so fast. Your body has done nothing but do your bidding. The one in charge is you. You should be asking, “what have I done to myself?”

Whatever you did in your lifetime has been assimilated and delegated by your body according to your every whim. Every bit of booze, cigarettes, drugs, vitamins, health foods, junk foods, fat, protein, simple or complex carbohydrate has been dealt with as efficiently as possible. Your sedentary or active lifestyle has also been taken into account by your ever willing to please body.

It’s actually a miracle of creation how our body can adapt to the way of life we choose to follow.

Eat more calories than you burn? Whether these calories come from fat, protein, or simple or complex carbohydrates, your body will store them for future use. It assumes you’re eating the way you do for a reason and will do the logical thing. Extra calories will be converted to fat for future use and stored around the waist for easy access, and will eventually spread out from there.

reluctant triathlete diet

Save these for a treat after your first triathlon.

Do you sit around and spend much of your spare time watching T.V. or playing video games? Is the sedentary lifestyle more your cup of tea? That’s fine. Your body will assume you don’t need a strong heart to pump blood to working muscles because well, they’re not working. As a matter of fact, it will go a step further. Why keep idle muscles toned, vibrant, and strong anyway? If they’re not being used, it makes more sense to let them soften or fall victim to atrophy.

After all, this is the message you’re sending your body, and you’re the boss. Well, aren’t you?

So maybe you don’t like what you see when you look in the mirror. Maybe you think there’s no hope for you.

Nothing could be further from the truth. You weren’t always the way you are. It took years to reach this point in your life. What you see is what you are today. It has no bearing on what you can become tomorrow.


Are you ready for positive change and ready to find the real you? Are you ready to believe in yourself?

Just watch the changes take place as soon as you take your life in a fitter, healthier direction. Make better food choices. Learn how to swim. Buy a used road bike for a few hundred bucks, buy a wind-trainer, and start spinning in your living room or basement. Take it outside when you’re ready.

walk then run

Just start somewhere. The sky’s the limit.

Not used to running or simply too out of shape? No problem. Start by walking with purpose around the block or on the bike path by the river. In a few weeks add some running into the mix. Run-walk, run-walk, run-walk. Maybe walk five minutes and run for two and repeat. As you get fitter, walk less and run more. It won’t be that long before you’ll just be running.

Your body will pick up on the new demands and immediately begin to compensate to comply with your wishes. Because after all. You’re the boss. Well, aren’t you?

Your heart will get stronger in order to pump blood to working muscles. Muscles will shed old tissue and be replaced with new. They will get strong and toned. Your lungs will get stronger too. They have to in order to compensate for the extra oxygen you need in order to increase your level of physical activity.

You’ll start burning calories for fuel and soon all your stored fat will begin to disappear. Complex carbohydrates will burn in the fire of the quality fats you eat and be converted to high-octane fuel.

You’re no longer a clunker of a car.

You are a Ferrari who is leaving the reluctant triathlete that was once you in your dust.


It’s always a good idea to have a goal in mind when you make the brave and life-changing decision to shed the chains of mediocrity and discontent and begin the search for the new you.

People are often amazed when they realize the potential that has been locked up inside them for years. They didn’t know it was there, because they spent their lives as spectators.

It was when they resolved to step onto the highway of self-discovery and accomplishment that their true selves began to emerge.

So, pick a race down the road as your goal. It can be a try-a-tri, Sprint Triathlon, Olympic Distance Triathlon, Ironman 70.3, or even an Ironman.

Pick whatever goal suits you, but be sure to give yourself all the time you need to prepare.

The important thing to remember is that the biggest accomplishment is getting to the start line, and not necessarily how the race itself unfolds.

Getting to the start line means that you have taken a risk. You are going into undiscovered territory, not knowing what the outcome will be.

That takes courage.

We learned to walk by falling down. If we never took that risk, we’d still be crawling.

Read about endurance athletes and food that fuels them.