It’s taper time! With many miles of training behind you, there is no doubt you are mentally and physically prepared for your upcoming marathon. However, this “tapering period” often conjures up questions on how to adapt your diet in the days leading up to race day. How you eat can sabotage or support your months of preparation. The following nutrition strategies will support all your hard work.
General Diet Strategies for the Taper
After many weeks of long-distance running, you have likely grown accustomed to eating more! In addition, you may have enjoyed more “splurges” and sports nutrition supplements. Sports nutrition supplements tend to be sweet (sports beans, chocolate gels, etc.) and can dial up your desire for sweet foods! While there is little concern with weight gain during a short-term taper, here are a few nutrition considerations:
Build a Runner’s Plate: The runner’s plate should include produce on every plate, lean proteins, whole grains, and healthy fats
Carb- Loading: Two Days Before Race Day
Studies show that eating a high carbohydrate diet in the two days leading up to race day can improve performance time, decrease time to fatigue, and boost mental and physical energy. The prescribed carb needs depend on your body weight. Research shows a benefit at 7-12 g of carb/kg.
The best way to know how many carbs you are eating is to keep an online food journal like “My Fitness Pal” and “Lose It.” Assess your average carb intake, and then aim to increase that amount two days prior to race day.
Here is an example for Runner Dan:
180 pounds, currently eats 400 grams of carb on average
180 pounds divided by 2.2 = 82 kg
82 kg x 7 = 575 grams of carb
82 kg x 12 = 984 grams of carb
Runner Dan decides to aim for 600 grams of carb on Friday and Saturday leading up to his Sunday race.
If you already eat a proper “athlete’s diet” with plenty of carb, an extra of 1-2 servings of carb at each meal is typically all you will need. Here are some simple ways to accomplish this:
Other Carb Considerations
Carbo-load, don’t fat-load! To avoid taking in too many calories, decrease your daily fat intake to make room for carbs
Weight gain is normal. If you have carb-loaded correctly, expect to see a drift upwards in your weight of about 1-3 pounds. This is normal and desired – Your body stores ~3 oz. of water w/ every 1 oz. of carb. Don’t worry, you will run this off!
Choose SOME fiber, but not too much In the days leading up to the race, a boost in too many refined carbs may leave you constipated (especially without the foot strike!). You can still eat whole grains and fruits, but beware of high fiber foods like bran, beans, and broccoli!
Pre-Race Day Considerations:
Race Day Morning Meal
The purpose of the race day morning meal is to top off glycogen stores, start with a settled, yet comfortably full stomach, and steady blood glucose levels. One study showed that runners who ate 500-1000 calories a few hours before a marathon performed better than those that skimped. Breakfast should be eaten 3-4 hours before your race (this might mean you set an alarm, and go back to bed), and then a small carbohydrate containing snack 30 min to one hour before the race. The foundation of these meals should be easily digestible carbs with minimal protein and fat. Here is an example race-day breakfast:
3-4 hours before: Large bagel with thin spread of nut butter & jelly, banana, sports drink
1 hour before: Banana
3-4 hours before: 2 cups of rice w/ little salt and butter, 1 hard boiled egg, one banana, and sports drink
30 min to 1 hour before: 1 gu pack with water
Give homage to your race day plan, and reap the nutritional race day benefits!
Jennifer McDaniel, MS, RDN, CSSD, LD, is founder and owner of McDaniel Nutrition Therapy, a nutrition consulting company that specializes in weight management, sports nutrition and corporate wellness. Jennifer earned her B.S. degrees in Nutrition & Dietetics from the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, and her M.S. in Nutrition and Physical Performance from Saint Louis University graduating summa cum laude from both Universities. She has developed and designed wellness programs for numerous companies in the Saint Louis area and is a professional and engaging speaker who desires to create a sense of motivation for all audiences.