I have many clients who are racing Ironman and long distance events throughout the year.
And they always ask “Should I change how I eat during my taper week?”.
It really depends on how you eat during every week. If you are balancing your blood sugar regularly, then your food consumption will reflect your output. Train less in your taper week, you should automatically be eating a bit less that week. If you eat more carbohydrates, then you will probably eat more than you need. Generally, eating during your training week should not be that different than your regular week.
Most of my athletes that come in to see are usually starving on days off and in the weeks of their taper before the big race. I know I always was that week before! I remember the week before Ironman Lake Placid in 1999, I basically ate whatever I wanted, whenever I wanted and stopped at Ben & Jerry’s every day while I was in town for race week. Even though I didn’t eat burgers back then with the bun, and added some greens, I sure DID eat all the fries! ALL of them! Hey, I am tapering!
It is pretty much not a surprise I gained weight that week! Even though I did some training, and plenty of walking, adding weight the week before the race is what happens to most of us since we keep eating as if we were still putting in 2-3 hours of training per day. But now we are resting up and doing less than an hour.
The key is to work on your nutrition the weeks or months leading up to your race to get you used to eating balanced meals every 3 hours or so. These balanced meals every 3 hours all day long will help your body get into its natural fat burning mode. This can be accomplished with balancing the blood sugar with these meals. The insane hunger on days off or taper weeks then subsides and you consume as many meals as you need on any given day without gaining weight or feeling like the bottomless pit. I wrote an article for USAT a few years back about balancing the blood sugar so you can burn fat. This is the key to training as well as your taper week. If you are starving the day after a long ride of run, you are probably not balancing the blood sugar well.
If you eat a lot of grains and carb load, you will be hungry more often as you spike and drop the blood sugar. If you have a bagel for breakfast, that spikes your blood sugar unless you add some fat, some protein, and vegetables (fiber) to slow down the absorption of the sugars in the bagel. Just adding peanut butter and a banana will do very little. You will be hungry 2 hours later….and usually pick either coffee, or something that goes well with coffee – a donut, cookies, biscotti or sometimes a nutrition bar. You set yourself up for craving grains and sweets then all day, and the resulting hunger all day.
You would be better eating half the bagel, add some scrambled or hard boiled egg slices on top, then add a handful of spinach. You could also use lox or turkey slices if the eggs are not filling enough. Then save the other half for 3 hours later when you will be hungry but not starving. The photo on the right is your best option to balance blood sugar!
Once you have perfected this way of eating to balance the blood sugar, you can then eat normally during taper week. Then the answer to ‘What should I be eating during taper week?” is ‘what you normally eat.”