6 Nutrition Tips for the Perfect Marathon Taper
After miles upon miles and hours upon hours, you have finally reached the tapering phase of your marathon training program.
For some runners, this phase comes with relief; they find themselves with a little more time on their hands when they would normally be running. For others, due to the change in their schedules and eating habits, this phase is more stressful than running all the miles.
The marathon taper requires an incredible amount of discipline; even though the physical challenges of the training program are over, the mental and emotional challenges are only starting to take hold. Here are some tips to help you get through your next marathon tapering phase stress-free and to be nutritionally ready for your next big event.
Tip # 1: Listen to your body
During the tapering phase, you will not need to continue eating the extra calories that were required when your mileage was at its highest point. However, remember that while you’re not burning as many calories, you are still trying to build up glycogen stores in your muscles and allowing muscle fibers to heal; and both of these body processes require energy.
In order to eat enough to heal muscle fibers and store needed glycogen, but not put on more than the normal 2-4 pounds of weight gain during a taper, I suggest listening to your body. Eat when you are hungry; don’t eat just because you have a habit of eating at that time. During your training, you may have unconsciously grabbed a snack an hour before your upcoming run run. However, during tapering, that 9-mile run may only be 4 miles, and if your body is not telling you that you are hungry, that snack is not necessary.
On the other hand, if you find yourself hungrier than you expected during tapering, don’t ignore the hunger pains. Go ahead and eat a healthy meal or snack because your body is trying to recover and repair itself.
Tip # 2: Don’t be worried about light weight gain
Weigh yourself at the beginning of your tapering phase and every few days after that. You know you have tapered well if you gain between 2-4 pounds from the beginning of your tapering phase to event day. Don’t panic about these extra pounds.
With every ounce of glycogen the body stores, it also stores three ounces of water. (Click to Tweet)
Your body will use the extra glycogen during your race for energy, and the extra water will help prevent or delay dehydration.
Tip # 3: Add complex carbohydrates, not empty calories
The tapering phase is not your “get out of jail free card” to eat cookies, candy bars, and cakes because they are high in carbohydrates. Yes, you do want to increase your carbohydrate intake during tapering; I recommend 3-5 grams of carbohydrates per one pound of body weight. But, you can do this without the extra, empty calories. Here are some helpful examples of healthy switches you can make:
- If you usually have toast with peanut butter in the morning, replace your peanut butter with a natural, all-fruit jelly or cut up fresh fruit.
- If you typically enjoy a wrap, soup, or salad for lunch, go with a full sandwich on a whole grain bread.
- For dinner, use a tomato sauce over your whole wheat pasta instead of a creamy cheese sauce over white pasta, or try an extra large sweet potato and cinnamon over a smaller white potato with butter.
While tapering, choose higher complex carbohydrate foods when you typically eat a meal instead of adding extra calories during the day.
Tip # 4: Eat protein
Even though carbohydrates are the focus during tapering, protein can’t be forgotten. Protein is a dynamic part of the healing and preparation process of the muscles for race day.
As I talked about in the article I wrote on protein for runners, I suggest that you strive for 1.4-1.7 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight. This is equal to 2-4 small servings of protein a day.
Tip # 5: Hydrate, hydrate, hydrate
Drinking water seems to be a struggle for a number of runners I have talked with. Being fully hydrated on race day will help prevent you from bonking from deydration two-thirds of the way through the race.
You should be drinking enough fluids that you are urinating every 2-3 hours. The color of your urine should be light yellow, similar to lemonade. During the tapering phase, reducing your consumption of alcoholic beverages will make it easier for your body to rehydrate.
One word of warning—there is no need to over-hydrate. Your urine should not be completely clear, and you shouldn’t be “going” every hour. More is not necessarily better when it comes to hydrating because you can throw off your electrolyte balance.
Tip # 6: Plan ahead
Super carbohydrate loading the night before the race, to top off glycogen storage, has been a tradition for many runners. This tradition may not actually be the best idea. Unfortunately, that last boost of carbohydrates doesn’t actually get to the glycogen stores by the time the race starts and could leave you feeling bloated or “heavy” on the morning of race day.
As long as you have been diligent through your tapering phase, your glycogen stores will be fully loaded the day before the race. To help prevent the bloating or “heavy” feelings on race day, I recommend starting a new tradition. Let lunch the day before a race become your “big pre-race meal,” and allow dinner to be a normal-sized meal. This new tradition will help your body digest the larger meal before you get to the starting line, leaving you light on your feet and ready to run!
The marathon taper can be an incredibly challenging phase during a training plan. Nerves are starting to flutter, you feel like you are losing the fitness you have worked so hard to achieve, and you can’t decided if you should eat this or that!
Apply these six nutrition tips to your next tapering phase and rest assured, knowing you are going into race day with your muscles recovered, glycogen stores full, and food fully digested and ready to be used to support a healthy, successful race!