Many athletes, especially triathletes and endurance runners are of the belief that if one is good, more is better. This mentality crosses mileage, number of workouts, foods and supplements, although somehow this concept is lost on them when it comes to rest, recovery and sleep.
I see many athletes try to cram for a race they way they try to cram for their high-school finals. This concept doesn’t work when it comes to endurance activities and wanting to perform at your best at races. Tapering is not about pulling an all-nighter unless it’s in bed! In the final weeks and days leading up to an event athletes need to resist the urge to add in extra volume to make up for missed mileage during training, or to try to squeeze in just one last workout. The best thing you can do for your body and your mind is to start focusing on activities that will reduce stress in all areas of your life and that will promote recovery.
5 Tips for a great taper and a great race!
1. Get more sleep! Recreational endurance athletes tend to burn the candle at both ends. We get up early for morning practices, work all day, come home after evening workouts, and try to catch up on missed items late at night. These athletes are at risk for not getting enough sleep on a regular basis, which can lead to decreased recovery, increased risk of injury and poor performance. Prioritize your sleep throughout your training cycle to optimize recovery, but also make a point of getting 8-9 hours of sleep per night during your taper period to allow your body to fully repair and restore itself before race day.
2. Put your feet up! When we taper it clears up a number of hours that we would have spent training for other activities. Resist the urge to take on extra tasks at work, or socialize more with friends, or fill that time with different physical activities. Note that tapering doesn’t mean no training either, it just means less of everything. Remember a good taper involves less volume, while maintaining workout frequency and intensity. Keep your goal in mind and do your best to relax with your feet up more often during your taper period.
3. Eat real foods! With decreased training volume means decreased need for training products like gels, bars and sports drinks. By decreasing your reliance on these packaged processed products, you’ll decrease the sugar in your diet as well as all the artificial ingredients that these products may have. You can improve your recovery by boosting your nutrient density by focusing on real food. After all, you’ve got more time on your hands, why not cook more! Focus on the best possible food choices to help in the repair and regeneration of your body. Fresh vegetables, whole grains, healthy fats and lean proteins will help you meet your macronutrient and micronutrient needs and ultimately help your body recover from weeks of training hard!
4. Practice relaxation and visualization techniques. There are many relaxation and visualization techniques that the top athletes use to calm their mind and prepare for race day. Try taking 3-5 long deep breaths when you are tense to help relax the mind and the body. Try visualizing yourself achieving and exceeding your goals. And if things go wrong (during a race) use your mind during the race to relax the body when you reach a rough patch.
5. Be Confident! Trust your plan, your coach and listen to your body. Have the confidence to know that you did all you could in preparation for the event. Extra training volume during your taper period is not going to make you fitter; it will likely make you tired and that won’t allow you to perform at your best.
Performance on race day is about the difference between any decrease in fitness and the reduction of fatigue that was caused by months of hard work. Ultimately, if you decrease the fatigue created from training enough, on race day you will be able to push your performance limits because you will be fresh; physically, mentally and emotionally. So consider doing less during your taper period to achieve increased performance at your next big race!