Marathon Nutrition Taper Time - What to Eat During Taper

Marathon Nutrition Taper Time - What to Eat During Taper

Taper TimeAs we approach the last few weeks of training for the spring marathons, many of you will be starting to think about the ‘taper’ phase of your training - those final three weeks before the race itself when you run less, and rest more, to arrive at the start feeling strong and raring to go!

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Many runners find this period challenging. They worry about losing fitness and are tempted to carry on training right up to marathon day. But research clearly shows that during this period, aerobic capacity, one of the best measures of fitness, does not actually change, and that it is rest, rather than more training, that allows you to feel great on marathon day.

Also, during the taper, levels of muscle glycogen, enzymes, antioxidants, and hormones, reduced by high mileage, return to their optimal range, muscle damage is repaired, muscle strength improves and the immune system gets stronger again.

Furthermore, a large review of studies showed that runners who taper improve their average performance in the marathon by 3%!

Be sure to taper properly so that you don’t waste all those hard weeks of work you’ve completed since Christmas. You can find plenty of advice on how to adapt your running during the taper period on The Running Bug. In this article we’re concentrating on what to do for your three-week nutritional taper.

Nutritional Taper – 3 Weeks to Go

Runners often feel good in the first week of the taper as their training load starts to fall. For the nutritional taper:

  • Focus on continuing to eat a well-balanced diet with carbohydrate, good quality protein from animal sources, beans and pulses, low-fat dairy or dairy-alternative products and essential fats as you have hopefully been doing throughout your training period.
  • Keep to small, regular meals and snacks so as not to feel drained of energy or bloated. Decrease your serving sizes a little as your mileage falls to try and avoid gaining extra pounds before the race. You may still find that your weight rises a little as glucose from the carbohydrates you eat is stored as glycogen initially along with water. If you are dehydrated, extra water may also create some weight gain during the taper as you run and sweat less. However, this water will be released as the glycogen is burned on race day. It’s often a good idea to avoid weighing yourself in these few weeks so that you don’t panic if you do gain any weight.
  • Include plenty of foods containing vitamin C such as kiwis, citrus fruits, berries, peppers, green leafy vegetables, to support your immune system and try to avoid a last-minute cold or flu. The amino acid lysine found in meat, fish and wheatgerm also helps with immune support.

Here’s a suggested approach for daily food planning in this week.
Look back at:

for more detail of portion sizes.

Daily Food Plan

  • 5 portions of fruits and vegetables: 2 fresh fruit portions; one portion of salad or raw vegetables, two portions of cooked vegetables.
  • 4 portions of grains/cereals: 2 portions of bread, 2 portions of complex carbohydrate such as grains e.g. pasta, rice, quinoa, buckwheat, millet, corn, wheat, spelt, kamut.
  • 3 portions of dairy/soy or alternative products: cheese, yoghurt, cow’s, goat’s, sheep’s milk, oat, rice, nut milk, soy milk.
  • 2 portions of poultry, meat, fish. eggs or vegetarian equivalent: chicken, turkey, beef, pork, lamb, tofu, beans.
  • 1 portion of EFAs: from oily fish, nuts and seeds and their oils.
  • Water – 1.5-2 litres water per day plus 0.5-0.75 litre per hour of training (maximum) should be sufficient for your training period. Do not drink too much water.


Nutritional Taper – 2 Weeks to Go

The second week of the taper is probably the toughest as the effects of a change of training regime really start to kick in. You may feel more tired and a little sluggish which can make you even more worried about losing fitness. But, keep to your taper plan and do not start to train harder. If you’ve been including weight training or conditioning in your plan, make sure you’ve stopped by now to conserve energy and avoid injury.

From a nutritional perspective:

  • Make sure to keep sufficient energy coming in.
  • Continue to follow the Daily Food Plan.
  • Include fats in your diet such as essential fatty acids from oily fish, nuts, seeds and their oils and a little saturated fat from lean meat and low-fat dairy produce. Remember, fats can be used as another energy source once you have used your carbohydrate stores in the race.


Nutritional Taper – 1 Week to Go

We’ll be focusing in detail on this week in a couple of week’s time but, for now, start to prepare yourself mentally by reminding yourself that you have done the right training and are now doing the right taper to achieve your marathon goal.

For your nutritional taper:

  • Try to stay hydrated in this week and off your feet as much as possible.
  • Do not change anything about the type of food you are eating in this last week.
  • If you are finding it hard to relax and are still drinking coffee, cut back on your caffeine intake to try to help with rest and sleep.
  • Avoid alcohol.
  • Keep your salt intake up as usual to maintain sodium levels in the days before the race.
  • In the last few days, include slightly more carbohydrates in your diet than normal from pasta, potatoes, rice, cereals and fruits. But remember that you don’t need to ‘carbo-load’ – we’ll come back to this in two week’s time.
  • Continue to avoid the scales – you may well gain a couple of pounds in this week if your glycogen stores are full and you are well-hydrated, but you’ll lose those pounds again by the marathon finish!

Action plan for this week

Think ahead and plan:

  • Look through articles on adjusting your training plan for the marathon taper.
  • Read the above information and plan for your nutritional taper as well.
  • make a note to check back on The Running Bug week of 9 April for some final nutritional tips for the week before your race.
  • above all, relax and enjoy your taper! 

About Jane Nodder and Nutriworks

Jane Nodder works as a nutrition lecturer and clinic tutor on the MSc and BSc (Hons) Nutritional Therapy programmes at the University of Westminster, London. A qualified UK Athletics Leader in Running Fitness, Jane started running in 1986. As a club runner she runs track, cross-country, road, trail and endurance events and has completed eleven marathons, taking her PB from 4h21 to 3h37. Through her business, Nutriworks, Jane coaches groups and individuals in running and in translating general sports nutrition guidelines into practical, individualised nutrition programmes. 

In 2010, Jane was awarded the Complementary & Alternative Medicine (CAM) Award for Individual Excellence in Nutritional Knowledge, and in December 2011 she gained the Yakult Prize for Outstanding Student of the Year for the MSc Nutritional Medicine at the University of Surrey.

For more information about running and nutrition coaching services from Nutriworks, visit www.nutriworks.co.uk or contact Jane directly on 07850 705848 or email info@nutriworks.co.uk.

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