Ahhh, taper. The time when your grueling training sessions have finally come to an end, and now you must maintain that fitness with shortened workouts while resting your body up for the main event… RACE DAY! Some athletes love taper. Some athletes hate taper. Most of us fall somewhere in between.
But what about nutritional taper - is this a thing? Absolutely it is. As many athletes are putting the final touches on their Ironman Arizona training this time of year in Phoenix, I often get questions like “what should I be eating in the weeks before the race?” and “should I be carb loading?” and “what changes should I make from my usual diet?’
Here are some important fueling tips to keep in mind during taper time that will help you feel your best and be ultra-prepared come race day:
CARB LOADING IS BOGUS
For years, athletes have been loading up on high carbohydrate foods in the days leading up to races in the hopes that their glycogen (storage carbohydrate) stores will expand and lead to improved endurance come race day. What happens instead is that their bodies indeed store carbohydrate as glycogen, but glycogen brings with it a significant amount of water leading to -you guessed it- feeling bloated as heck come race day. I don’t know about you, but that’s not how I want to kick off a race.
While I don’t recommend carb loading pre-race, I also don’t want athletes to cut back on their carbohydrate intake. A significant drop off in carb intake really can negatively impact glycogen stores, which isn’t good either.
The solution – eat the same amount of this macronutrient that you have been doing in training! This is assuming you have been consuming an adequate amount for your body, not housing entire pizzas post long workout. Make sure to consume a quality carbohydrate source the night before the race, whether it is a sweet potato or some brown rice.
KEEP FOLLOWING YOUR HEALTHY METABOLICALLY EFFICIENT (ME) DIET
When I’ve worked with a client over the months leading up to their “A” race and helped them to establish a ME diet, all we do in taper is continue this solid fuel plan. It’s tempting to change everything up as the race approaches – triathletes are perfectionists in this way. Suddenly doubt sets in and you start questioning everything you’ve done to prepare. Or you search for a strategy that’s even better than what you’ve been doing. Don’t do this. Trust your plan and your preparation. Keep doing what you’re doing because this is; after all, what your body is used to. Surprising your body on race day is no good!
Hopefully you have been consuming different caloric amounts for different types of workout days. And I don’t mean tracking calories – I mean eating intuitively based on the training task at hand that day. If the day’s workout entailed a 6-hour bike/run brick, food intake shouldn’t be the same as an active recovery day.
When workouts begin to shorten and taper arrives, calories can scale back a little. Again, keep a moderate perspective here. You don’t want to cut back hugely and begin to impact energy levels. Same as you don’t want to continue the caloric intake from that 6-hour bike/run brick on a 1-hour bike/run brick day. Use your thinker here, and begin to tune into what your body truly needs.
LIMIT THE BOREDOM MUNCHING
With training scaled way back… more time to eat, right?! WRONG. Stay on track with intake. Spend the extra time gained from shortened workouts with family, or maybe even visualizing your success come race day. But don’t dedicate all that extra time to stuffing your face. Your “fluffy” body won’t thank you come race day.
Taper is the most wonderful time of the year for some folks. For others, it’s pure torture. Whatever your opinion, remain in control over your fuel plan when this time rolls around. Don’t make any major changes, don’t carb load, and don’t overeat. Just keep doing what you’ve been doing in all that training that has gotten you to THIS POINT. And kick that race’s butt J