Taper Tips: Fueling for your Fall Marathon (or Half!) Part 2.5 of 3

Congratulations to all of the fall marathon & half marathon runners who’ve made it to the taper! For newbies and non-runners, the taper is a period somewhere from 1-3 weeks before the big race where runners begin running less to allow their bodies to heal and recover so they’re in great shape on race day.

I had to sneak in one more post before addressing the carbo load to answer another super important question:

What should you eat during the taper to get the best out of your race-day performance?

The answer is the same as in my last blog (part 2 of 3) with a caveat:

Eat quality foods, but eat less!

During the training, you’ve been torching calories, and you've probably become accustomed to eating more. Perhaps over the last 16 weeks or so you’ve gotten used to giant starchy dinners, day-long snacking, trips to the self-serve fro-yo place that result in bucket sized frozen confections topped with brownies, peanut butter cups and chocolate syrup, you know, to…ahem…top off your carbohydrate stores. Well, you’re running less during the taper, so your eating habits have to reflect that in these couple of weeks.

You may have heard horror stories from a running pal or the interwebs about someone packing on 8 or 10 pounds during the taper. It can happen. There are lots of studies out there about the pressure that extra pounds put on your joints and the negative impact on race performance. I’ve read that 10 pounds could add up to 20 seconds per mile—20 seconds! That would be nearly nine minutes either added or subtracted from your race time. That’s a lot of minutes.

Quality foods and careful portioning are your friends when you’re looking to avoid extra calories in these few days before your race. But when you’re feeling edgy and snacky, don’t deprive yourself. Just try to focus on quality, real food over junk about 80% of the time. Here's a real world example that I...I mean, a client of mine...can relate to:

Devouring four delicious Samoas (my all-time favorite Girl Scout Cookies aka Caramel de-Lites) would give me…uh, I mean…someone:

  • 300 delicious but empty calories
  • 10 grams of saturated fat (pretty cloggy stuff)
  • A nice does of partially hydrogenated vegetable oil (aka Trans Fats—the nastiest fat you can put into your body)
  • 5 ½ teaspoons of sugar (it’s the #1 ingredient!) for a nice rush, followed by a not-so-nice crash
  • Less than a gram of fiber
  • No discernible health benefit
  • …and you’ll still be hungry. It’s very likely you’ll actually be hungrier after eating these delicious sugar/fat bombs.

On the other hand, a massive handful of carrot sticks with two tablespoons of delicious creamy hummus has:

  • 100-250 calories at most depending on your hummus (and how close you really stick to two tablespoons. I understand, hummus is good.)
  • Monounsaturated fats from the hummus
  • Vitamin A, which is good for your brain (which may be tweaking pretty badly during the taper)
  • Potassium, a fantastic electrolyte
  • Some protein from the chickpeas in the hummus
  • Fiber to help digestion and help you feel fuller longer.

A health coach like me can help you plan meals and snacks during this time if you’re stymied (and I’m also here to empathize. I’ve been there before, and I’ll be there again when my race comes up in November!).

In my next post, I’ll cover the all-important carbo load, which begins two to three days before your race. Can’t wait till then? Like my Facebook page for more frequent updates, follow me on Twitter, or get in touch to set up a free consult.

Happy tapering!