Tapering is a crucial phase in the training cycle for endurance athletes preparing for events like running races, triathlons or cycling events. This strategic reduction in training volume (but maintenance of intensity) allows the body to recover and recharge from your training phase and, done right, will maximize performance on race day.
In this article, we will explore taper principles and provide specific examples of how to taper for running races, triathlons and cycling events and then dive into nutrition during taper.
Hang on, what is tapering?
Tapering involves gradually reducing training load, allowing the body to adapt, repair and super-compensate for the previous training stress. The goal is to strike the perfect balance between maintaining fitness and reducing fatigue, ensuring peak performance on race day.
General Tapering Guidelines:
- Rest and Recovery: Ensure you prioritize sleep, as it is crucial for repair and adaptation. Aim for 7-9 hours of quality sleep per night during the taper period.
- Active Recovery: Engage in low-impact activities such as swimming, easy cycling or yoga to promote blood flow, flexibility and recovery between key training sessions.
- Mental Preparation: Use visualization techniques to rehearse your race strategy and build confidence. Focus on positive self-talk and relaxation methods to manage pre-race nerves.
Tapering for Running Races:
- Training Volume: Aim to reduce your weekly mileage by 20-40% during the taper period. However, keep the intensity of workouts relatively high to maintain speed and race-specific fitness.
- Example Taper Session: Perform short, fast intervals with longer recovery periods. A session might include 5-8 intervals of 800 meters at race pace with 2-3 minutes of rest in between.
Tapering for Triathlons:
- Training Volume: Gradually reduce the total training time by 20-30% during the taper. Maintain a balanced distribution of swim, bike, and run workouts.
- Example Taper Session: Incorporate brick workouts, combining two disciplines back-to-back, such as a bike-run session. Aim for shorter, higher-intensity intervals to maintain speed and transition readiness.
Tapering for Cycling Events:
- Training Volume: Decrease weekly mileage by 20-30% while maintaining intensity. Focus on quality over quantity during the taper.
- Example Taper Session: Incorporate interval training sessions at or slightly above race pace. For instance, perform 3-4 sets of 5-minute intervals with 2-3 minutes of recovery in between.
Taper nutrition – what to eat during a taper
During the taper week, it's generally recommended to focus on maintaining a healthy and balanced diet to support your body's recovery and energy levels. While individual dietary preferences and sensitivities may vary, here are some general guidelines on foods to be cautious about or limit during the taper week:
- High-Fat and Heavy Foods: Avoid excessive consumption of greasy, fried, or heavy foods, as they can lead to digestive discomfort and sluggishness. These foods may hinder your body's ability to recover effectively.
- Excessive Fibre: While fibre is an essential part of a healthy diet, consuming excessive amounts of high-fibre foods, such as legumes, whole grains, and raw vegetables, can cause gastrointestinal distress or bloating. Opt for cooked and easily digestible versions of these foods.
- Spicy or Acidic Foods: Spicy foods or those high in acidity, such as citrus fruits or tomato-based dishes, can potentially cause heartburn or digestive issues in some individuals. Monitor your tolerance and adjust accordingly.
- Alcohol: Limit or avoid alcohol during the taper week as it can interfere with hydration, disrupt sleep quality, and impede recovery (save it for after the race!). Alcohol consumption can also negatively impact your performance on race day.
- New or Unfamiliar Foods: Avoid experimenting with new or unfamiliar foods during the taper week. Stick to familiar and well-tolerated options to minimize the risk of digestive discomfort or food sensitivities.
You can't go wrong with a good bowl of pasta the night before a race
Remember, these guidelines are not strict rules, and it's important to listen to your body and understand what works best for you individually. Prioritize whole, nutrient-dense foods that provide a good balance of carbohydrates, proteins, and healthy fats to support your recovery and energy levels leading up to the event. Hydration is also crucial, so make sure to drink plenty of water throughout the taper week.
Tapering is a critical component of an athlete's training plan, enabling them to perform at their best during a race. By reducing training volume while maintaining intensity, prioritizing nutrition and incorporating specific taper sessions, athletes can optimize their performance and increase their chances of success.
Remember to personalize your tapering plan based on your individual needs, and always listen to your body to make any necessary adjustments. Embrace the taper period as an opportunity to recharge, recover and excel in your upcoming event.