Tapering – Mistakes to Avoid and Nutrition

Tapering during a marathon can make or break race results. Tapering is when you cut back on your mileage a couple of weeks before your race to rest the body so that it can perform on race day. “Reducing your total weekly volume by 20 to 25 percent during this week gives your body a chance to recover from all that hard work by restocking depleted glycogen supplies and repairing tissue damage.” {source}

Tapering can be a challenge. Your body is craving carbs and you notice that you’re starting to pick up a pound or two. All of the sudden you notice every little twinge, ache, and pull in your muscles and it makes you panic. You feel the need to run more, when you shouldn’t. Then you feel the pressure of performing on race day and start having mini-panic attacks. Don’t worry, you are not alone. I can feel every fiber of my body doing something wonky and for some reason out of no where, I get this rush of panic and my heart palpitates and I’m thinking to myself what the heck is going on?!

I honestly can’t remember how I made it through taper last year when I was preparing for the Baltimore Marathon. I had to research all over again to remind me what I needed to do. Amazingly, I didn’t find as much information as I thought I would. But what I did find was this:

Here is an excerpt from Runners Connect about Nutrition.


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. Your body will use the extra glycogen during your race for energy, and the extra water will help prevent or delay dehydration. {source}

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.

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.

While the information above was not new to me, I did like the hints for swapping out foods. I have been slacking in this department. I typically have a high protein diet, but for some reason, this week it’s carbs, carbs, carbs!

Mistakes to Avoid

I also found “4 Marathon Taping Mistakes” in Runner’s World Magazine by Jenny Hadfield.

  • Playing long-run catch-up. Whether an injury or life detour got in your way of getting in all your planned long runs, squeezing a long run in the weekend or two before your target race can leave you fatigued on race day with your best efforts already exerted. It appeases your mind but can negatively affect your performance. It’s better to go into the race with a shorter long run or fewer long runs than to cram them in last-minute to reach the magic number of long runs on paper.
  • Jumping up in long-run mileage. It can be tempting to jump up in miles too dramatically (ex: from 16 to 20 miles) in the final phases of training to reach the magic number (20) but when you do, you risk injury, fatigue and a suffer-fest. There’s nothing worse than to go into the marathon just after a humbling long run. It can really mess with your mind and your body. It’s not about reaching 20 miles; it’s about toeing the line as strong and recovered as possible in that given season. One of my best marathons was done on one 16-miler. The foundation of training is more valuable than one or two long runs.
  • Trying anything new. By far this is the number one way most marathoners get themselves into trouble race week. Nerves kick in and everyday easy decisions like which shoe to put on your foot first become impossible to answer. I once sat for 30 minutes trying to decide which pants to wear to an expo! It’s a form of brain freeze that can cause you to veer off your tried and true path of logistics and wear new shoes, eat spicy new cuisines, or think that painting the house race week is a good idea (true story). When you start to question yourself, know that it is the nervous gremlin and breathe through it. Stick to what you know and what you’ve trained with, and let the urge to try anything new pass right by you.
  • Going taperless. That is, going into the marathon without any reduction in mileage or intensity. It can be done, but more often than not you end up with a less-than optimal marathon performance and burnout or injuries to boot. There are some runners that can train like this, but for the vast majority, it leaves you performing at less than your best

All good stuff. I wonder if taper will ever come natural to me or if I will always have to remind myself what I need to do.

What have you found to be the most important part of taper in your training?


1 thought on “Tapering – Mistakes to Avoid and Nutrition

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s