Marathon taper week – what to eat and how to train before the race

Marathon taper week

Marathon taper week is just around the corner and I am starting to feel like a different person already. I almost start to ask myself who is that happy and energetic guy looking at me in the mirror.

This is the time when workouts are getting shorter, energy and mood improves and recovery starts to work wonders. Athletes feel stronger day after day. In fact, if done right they become the strongest they have ever been.

Marathon taper week – caution is key

Taper is actually nothing more than the long-awaited final period of complete recovery before the big race.

It’s like Christmas for athletes, just without the presents.

It can be a bit like looking through rose colored glasses, though. Fitness can seem so good that we get carried away.

Marathon taper week is when athletes have to carefully balance training, recovery and nutrition to have the best race possible.

Right after the peak training period body is very prone to illnesses. The natural defense system is still weak, so it’s important to take extra care to avoid infections.

As the body recovers from intense training we start to feel fast and strong again (yay!). It’s natural to be curious and try to test how strong did we really become.

Don’t do it – it’s a trap.

Stick to the training plan and have faith in it. Don’t go bananas and test yourself – save it for the race.

Keeping muscle fatigue low is very important for best results.

As we gradually reduce the amount of training, we also have to limit the amount of calories we eat. It is very easy to put on extra weight during taper weeks, which will slow us down and decrease performance.

But overall, it’s really magical time.

How to train a week before a marathon

For most of the people marathon taper is more than a week long. It allows to gradually reduce body fatigue and limit accumulated stress before the race.

The best way to approach it is to ensure progressive decrease in duration and keep the same intensity. Cut the total mileage by 30% every week by simply reducing duration of every workout and interval.

Usually in endurance sports workouts 3-4 days before a race shouldn’t exceed 40 minutes and workouts 1-2 days before – 20 minutes.

Contrary to common sense, it is very important to keep the intensity of workouts the same.

Spending marathon taper week on a couch or only doing easy runs will not work.

It helps to sustain muscle economy by triggering hormone release and mitochondrial growth. Obviously, the duration of intervals should also be cut to allow muscles to recover.

The best strategy is to cut the interval time by 30% two weeks out and during the marathon taper week it’s best to focus on short strides or 5 second sprints with 80-90% intensity.

It’s said that you can’t train anything new in the last week, but you can really sacrifice what you gained by overdoing it.

What to eat a week before a marathon

Marathon taper week is the time for proper fueling. It doesn’t mean overeating the day before and feeling full on the race day, though.

That’s not the way to do it.

It’s not all about carbs, actually. Protein intake over the last week is equally important. It helps muscles recover faster and not accumulate fatigue in the last days.

1 to 1.5 grams per kilogram (100g minimum) of own body weight is optimal protein intake during taper.

Carb loading should take place during the final 2-3 days and not one pasta party before the marathon.

To have as much reserves as possible during the race we need glycogen supercompensation.

It’s a process that takes 6-7 days. First we create carb deficiency throughout the first 3 days of the marathon taper week by limiting them to only 50% of all calories. During the next 3 days we progressively carb load by increasing the intake to at least 70% the day before the race.

On the last day you should aim to consume up to 8-10g of carbs per kilogram of your body weight.

It’s important to spread out carb loading throughout the day and have the last meal by around 6-7 in the evening. Body needs time to digest all the tasty and, hopefully, diverse food we ate.

The worst thing you want to have is bad sleep the night before the race. Digesting too much food can easily cause that.

In the morning of the race I keep it simple. I usually have a solid breakfast of around 500-600 kcal (usually oatmeal) and avoid too much fiber. Then, like during my 6K race, 20 minutes before the start I eat around 20 grams of simple carbs to top up glycogen reserves used for warm up and off I go.

My marathon taper week

A week left before the big day – quite exciting. First week of taper has passed and I start to feel that light stride. It is enjoyable again, compared to peak weeks where I had a bit too much of running.

I’m gradually cutting the mileage to give my legs recovery they need and even added a couple of extra rest days. I still keep the same intensity during steady runs and do short sprints on my easy runs.

This weekend I’m in Moldova for my friends’ wedding and even though I took my running gear with me, there are quite a lot of hills here. It’s good for leg strength, but can be too much a week before the marathon.

I knew I wouldn’t have much time for running this weekend, so did my long run already on a Wednesday and don’t have any pressure now. The schedule this weekend is quite busy, so my early morning training habit will come in handy here.

Once I return, I’ll start a proper carb loading period and will only do a couple of 20-40min runs to keep myself focused.

The challenge now is to avoid wine and alcohol in general during the weekend. Not that I’m afraid of putting on extra weight. It’s rather to keep the focus on the goal.

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