Periodizing Nutrition: Part 4 - Taper and Race

In part 1, part 2, and part 3 of this series of posts, I spoke about how I structure my nutrition when my targets are rest, low volume, peak base, and the specified phase of training. This post will describe how I periodize my nutrition during the taper and race phase.

The carbo load. Not an uncommon approach by many endurance fanatics out there. The problem, however, is not in the philosophy of carbo loading, but in the simplification of it. The goal of a carbo load is to "top off" glycogen stores before the race, so you begin the race with maxed out glycogen stores. In theory, this should give you as much of the finite source of glycogen as possible. The simplistic way this often looks for many endurance athletes is eating all the carbohydrates in site the days leading into the event with no attention paid to setting up the body for the increased carbohydrate consumption.

When following the nutritional approach I take in the first three phases of training a different approach can be taken. When the taper begins, I am coming off the highest levels of carbohydrate I will consume during the year. I am still adequately fat adapted with fat being my primary macro nutrient, but the decrease in volume and intensity also provides a timeline to solidify fat adaption before bringing back some carbohydrate before the race itself.

When the taper begins, I revert to a carbohydrate load similar to phase 1 and 2. The first half of the taper I balance between phase 1 and phase 2 carbohydrate consumption. Phase 1 for the days that are light running or resting, and phase 2 for the days reserved to keep things sharp during the taper phase. This will usually last between 7-10 days.

During the second half of the taper the volume and intensity becomes even scarcer. Basically, this means I give myself additional time between any run that is above basic rest or light running. This timeframe, which also lasts between 7-10 days provides a great opportunity to rely heavily on fat as my fuel source for all but the last couple days. This means reverting back to the phase one protocol to nutrition for 5-7 days; insuring that I maximize fat adaptation leading into the carb load.

At this point, my body is in a great place to take on some concentrated carb sources the two days before the event. Similar to the phase 3 protocol, these last couple days involve taking in some of my favorite concentrated carbohydrate sources. Like in phase 3, I don't consume them in isolation, but in combination with a good fat and protein source.

Here are a few go to meals for me on these final two days of the taper:

  • 3 eggs, two strips of bacon, spinach, one sweet potato
  • Blend: 1/2 can of Coconut milk, 2 cups of mixed berries, black strap molasses
  • Salmon or steak with 1-2 medium sized potatoes
  • Yerba mate tea, coconut milk or oil, and raw honey
  • Salad: Dark leafy greens, walnuts, raisins, cranberries, diced bacon, avocado

These two days allow me to top off my glycogen, but not to the degree that it sabotages fat being my primary fuel source.

The morning before the race I revert back to very low carbohydrate intake. My goal is to start the race with fat being the focused fuel source, so I refrain from triggering it to want to burn carbohydrates by avoiding a heavy carbohydrate breakfast.

Once the race begins, I give myself 30-45 minutes before taking in any race day fuel. Once I've got things moving along I begin slowly trickling in carbohydrate throughout the event. My target range during the race itself is between 150-250 calories per hour depending on intensity. If it is a lower intensity race, like a 100 miler, I can rely more on fat metabolism, so generally speaking the longer the event the less the fuel I will consume per hour.

The fuel I do consume during a race tends to be low, or non-existent in fat. The logic here is that even the leanest athlete has enough body fat to cover a race, so in order to bypass the digestive track for fat fueling the preferred method is body fat. Glycogen, being the more finite source of fuel, is what I try to replace exogenously during an event. What I have discovered through my journey of fat adaption is that I can reduce the amount of exogenous fuel during a race by approximately 50 percent. Years ago when I was a high carbohydrate athlete I would routinely take in 400-500 calories an hour in order to feel the same energy levels that I now can obtain on 150-250 calories per hour.

Keep in mind that these numbers, training intensities, and volume are all specific to me. Lots of it has taken years of consistent training and experimentation with fueling.

As mentioned in the first post of this series, the day after a race I revert back to the phase one protocol, which is reserved for rest and recovery portions of training.