I am sure you know many athletes that hate taper week. You probably hate it too! And I totally get it. But why do we hate it?…because we can’t run of course! Its simple.
Taper week is probably the most important week of your training, right after recovery week. It’s like what came first, the chicken or the egg….not sure which is so much more important than the other. No matter how long your taper is – perhaps its 2 weeks or 3 days – its VITAL to your training.
From a running perspective…the taper week allows your muscles, bones, tendons, ligaments, EVERYTHING to rest and repair. Your red blood cells are able to be replenished properly, glycogen can fill in the muscles and liver once again, and those little tears that happen every run in your muscles can heal. You may feel like a million bucks on day 3 of your taper, but it’s so important to NOT move faster…keep it easy…enjoy it. If you are training properly, your taper should feel well worth it. You know you did everything right at that point. And lets face it, the ‘hay is in the barn’ at this point.
From a nutritional standpoint…the taper week is even more important. During this time, you don’t want to eat less because your activity is lower; you want to eat SMARTER! Well, in all seriousness, you probably should be eating ‘smart’ from the get-go of training, but athletes seem to think they can wait until the taper period – and that’s okay 🙂 I do it too sometimes! So nutritionally, your body is used to certain foods at certain times. Don’t change that! Don’t think that, “I’m not running as much, so I should eat less carbohydrate.” NOOOOOO. You want to eat exactly the same and actually load up a little more on all the macronutrients. Carb loading is dated…I mean if it works for you, great, but really the latest and greatest is getting a balance of fats, carb, and protein. Timing is everything too. Keep your metabolism moving – no need for long periods of time without nourishment. One of the worst things you can do is be malnourished before even starting your race!
Don’t forget about hydration! So many people ask me about how much water to consume before race day….well, it’s exactly the same as any other day of the week. Don’t hydro-load because ‘that will be better for you.’ It will actually put your body in a tailspin and you can experience the same type of symptoms (i.e. cramping) as if you were dehydrated. Just drink normal. Guys on average need about 3 liters of water per day, and ladies you need about 2 liters per day. Toss in some extra for minimal activity and you are good to go!
This is my taper week leading up to Chippewa Falls 50k – a training run I’m hoping to win. My coach develops my training….and because I do have a hard time holding back my activity, we meet in the middle on activity. I trust him…that’s key by the way. And I follow his direction spot on…how else will I improve?! As a dietitian, I can come up with the nutritional elements on my own…but trust me, even there, there is room for error. I log what I eat on weeks like this so I can ensure proper distribution of nutrients and also use it as a guide for upcoming races – what went well, and what flopped completely. I know its time-consuming, but if you are serious about your goals, it’s a great way to keep nutrition in check.
At the end of the day, taper week is your best friend and does some great things for your body. Can you imagine running any distance on overused, damaged legs!? The race can get pretty long. Enjoy and embrace the taper!