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  • The Marathon Taper

    THE MARATHON TAPER...HOW TO ACHIEVE OPTIMAL PERFORMANCE

    Why Taper?

    • Training provides the long term improvements necessary to successfully complete a marathon.
    • Training leaves athletes a bit tired most of the time.
    • The 3-week cycles provide some reduction in fatigue, but it is not enough to completely eliminate it and allow your body full physiological recovery.
    • The goal of tapering is to balance continued training and resting to allow for the best possible marathon experience.
    • The International Journal of Sports Medicine examined over 50 scientific studies on tapering and concluded that there is no doubt tapering works.
    • Studies have found improvements in performance of up to 16% with most studies showing 3 – 5% improvement. At a 5% improvement, that means a 3:30 marathon can become a 3:19 marathon through proper tapering.
    • A single workout, on the other hand will give you less than a 1% improvement in performance!

    How Long Should You Taper?

    • Studies show for the marathon one should taper for a minimum of 2-weeks with 3 weeks being optimal. Too short a taper will leave one tired on race day while too long will lead to a loss in fitness.
    • It is wise to err on the side of tapering too little rather than too much.
    • NEVER try to make up for lost time due to injury, etc during the taper weeks. By this time any gains in fitness that will impact marathon performance have already been realized and attempting to make up for lost miles or workouts will just leave you fatigued at the starting line.

    How Should You Reduce Training to Improve Marathon Performance?

    • Evidence indicates that the key to effective tapering is to substantially reduce mileage while maintaining intensity.
    • Reducing mileage reduces the accumulated fatigue
    • High intensity effort maintains fitness level
    • Exactly how much to reduce training mileage depends on your current training mileage, age and health. Older runners tend to need a longer taper than younger runners.
    • Studies have shown as a general rule of thumb:
    • 3rd Week Premarathon: Taper 20 – 25%
    • 2nd Week Premarathon: Taper 40%
    • Marathon Week (6 days before): Taper 60%.
    • Three weeks before is the most important time for a successful taper.
    • Marathoners often do too much this week because the marathon still seems a long way off.
    • It is much better physiologically and psychologically to allow your body to start to rebound this week, or you will find yourself feeling flat the last two weeks.
    • Often marathoners also decrease training efforts. This can result in a small loss in fitness as well as a lack of psychological reinforcement.
    • It is more effective to intersperse harder efforts within the recovery trend.
    • For example, the Gazelle schedule has 3 x 1-mile intervals the 2nd week pre-marathon.
    • Marathon week itself is all easy recovery, with the exception of Tuesday or Wednesday where it is recommended you do a 6 – 7 mile run with 2 miles at marathon pace.
    • This is a dress rehearsal, even wear the same shoes and clothes you will wear for the marathon!
    • By this time, if you have tapered properly starting with the 3rd week, you should feel light on your feet, like you can fly...this will provide a great psychological boost!

    Carbo-loading and Hydration During the Taper

    • It is vitally important that your muscles and liver be stocked with glycogen at the starting line.
    • Marathoners used to deplete glycogen stores for 3 days (sometimes even completing a long run up to 20-miles the week before), then carbo-load the 3 days prior to the marathon. This is no longer recommended since carbohydrate depletion can suppress the immune system (this is why many marathoners get a cold the week after a marathon – glycogen stores have been depleted) and the long run will leave you sore and tired.
    • What works just as well is to eat a normal diet until the last 3 days and taper your training program.
    • Then the last 3 days, eat a high carbohydrate diet and do a short, slow run these days.
    • Your body will store glycogen to almost the same level as if you did the whole depletion and loading program.
    • Also, make sure you are well-hydrated in the days leading up to the marathon so that you don’t arrive at the starting line suffering from accumulated effects of dehydration.

     

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  • Eating for the Long Run

    It comes as no surprise that providing your body with the proper nutrition while training for a marathon will help optimize your running performance. We know that good nutrition will help your body to “run” more efficient, enhance your overall health and immune system, aid in preventing/healing injuries, improve your body’s adaptation to training as well as promote speedy recovery. The food you eat and the way you eat it will indeed dictate how well you run! But with so much information out there it can be hard to know what to do and when to do it! Below are some basic recommendations to help you fuel your body for peak running performance. Use this information to guide you, but don’t be ultra concerned about all the details so much that you don’t enjoy eating!!!!! After all we run to eat! Or do we eat to run? Remember what might work for one person, may not work for you. Try to remember that just like running should be fun, eating should be fun too! Practice, practice, practice during your long runs to see what does and doesn't work for you and than follow that on race day!

    BASIC GUIDELINES: Endurance runners should aim for a diet high in carbohydrates (60-70%), moderate in protein (12-20%) and low in fat (20-25%). Food choices should include foods from all the 5 food groups: Grains, Vegetables, Fruits, Milk/dairy and Meat/Beans. Calories should be spread evenly throughout the day (no skipping meals, especially breakfast which is the MOST important meal of the day), eating 3-6 times per day. Women should aim for 2,000 to 3,500 calories/day, men should aim for 2,500-4,000 calories per day. On rest days and shorter run days, aim for the lower end of the calories; on long run days shoot for the upper range.

    CARBOHYDRATE: is truly a runner’s best friend because it serves as the primary energy source for working muscles and helps the body to use fat more efficiently. Carbs also help to maintain optimal blood sugars levels. Carbs are stored in the muscles as glycogen, which is the primary fuel you need to keep MOVING. When glycogen stores start to diminish, so do you. This is when exercise intensity reduces and you start to feel pain, cramping and sluggishness known as “The WALL” take place. This will usually happen after about 90 minutes to 2 hours of running. Going out too fast too soon will also contribute to the deletion of glycogen stores. Therefore, training you body with running as well as carb intake will help avoid hitting the wall. Carbohydrate is also the source of many photochemicals and antioxidants which help us repair, recover, maintain a healthy immune system and prevent/heal an injury. Therefore a diet high in carbs is essential for long distance running performance. Examples of good sources to fuel your body are: pasta, rice, potatoes, cereal, fruit, vegetables, some low fat/fat free dairy products and whole grain product. Remember that 60-70% of your diet should be coming from these carbohydrate sources. One of the rewards of running is being able to sneak in a few sweets/treats now and then. But make sure you avoid “living” off from junk food as your main carb source because these carbs are virtually nutrient free and could end up harming your training efforts. To help figure out the amount that’s right for you, multiply your weight in pounds by 3.2 to give you the number of grams of carbohydrates you should consume per day.

    Examples include:

    • 15 grams of carb=1/2 cup cooked rice or pasta & 1 serving of fruit, 1⁄2 cup of starchy vegetables or 1⁄2 cup dried beans.
    • 12 grams of carb= 1 cup of low fat milk or yogurt or 1.5 oz of cheese
    • 5 grams of carb= 1 cup leafy raw vegetables or 1⁄2 cup chopped vegetables

    PROTEIN: is used to build and repair body tissues including muscles, tendons and ligaments. Protein is NOT a primary source of energy for long distance runners. Your body can only use so much at one time, any excess may be converted to fat. 12-20% of your diet should come from protein. To figure out the amount for you, multiply your weight in pounds by .6 to calculate the number of grams of protein you should consume per day.   

    Examples include:

    • 21 grams of protein: 3 oz lean meat, poultry or fish provides
    • 8 grams of protein: One cup of low fat milk or yogurt provides
    • 7 grams of protein: 1⁄2 cup cooked beans, 1 ounce of cheese, 1 egg, 4 oz of tofu or 2 T peanut butter
    • 3 grams of protein: A serving of whole grain product (i.e. 1⁄2 cup cereal, 1 slice of bread)

    FAT: helps a runner sustain prolonged exercise. It is also an energy source that insulates the body against cold as well as helps protect and cushion vital organs. Limit fat for pre run/pre race meals as it exits the stomach slowly and my cause cramping. Fat burns better when combined with carbohydrates. There are three kinds of fat. Saturated fats include: butter, hydrogenated oils, coconut oil and palm oil. Polyunsaturated fats include: corn oil, soybean oil and margarine. Monounsaturated fats include: olive oil, canola oil and peanut oil and are the preferred fat. Peanuts butter (natural) is a good source of monounsaturated fat. Approximately 20-25% of your diet should come from fat, 10% coming from saturated fat.

    FLUIDS: Marathon runners are at risk for dehydration, and hyponatrimia (low blood sodium levels, a dangerous but easily preventable condition). Dehydration can bring on fatigue, cramps and impair performance. If you drink too much and aren't properly replacing your electrolytes you lose in sweat you are at risk for hyponatremia (low sodium levels) which can produce symptoms such a nausea, vomiting, muscle weakness, headache, disorientation and bloating in face and hands. In general water is sufficient for any runs under one hour.    Any runs 60-90 minutes or longer generally require more than water (i.e. Gatorade, Ultima, Endurox R4). To figure out your basic fluid needs take 1⁄2 your body weight (lbs) in fluid ounces. (140 # person would require 70 oz/day)

    BASIC GUIDELINES BEFORE, DURING AND AFTER RUNNING:

    Before: A meal or snack should provide sufficient fluid to maintain hydration, be fairly low in fat and fiber to aid in bowel elimination and minimize any GI distress, be relatively high in carbohydrate to help maintain blood glucose, be moderate in protein. Choose foods that are familiar and well tolerated, avoid unfamiliar foods. Drink 14-22 oz of fluid 2-3 hours before a long run and another 7-10 oz 10-20 minutes before the run.

     

    Pre Race Snacks:

    • 1 small bagel +2 tbsp peanut butter + 1 small banana.
    • 4 oz juice, 8 oz yogurt, 2 slices toast.
    • 1 1⁄2 cup ready to eat cereal or 1 cup oatmeal + 1⁄2 cup skim milk + 1 fruit.
    • 1 fruit cereal bar + 4 oz juice

    During: The primary goals for nutrient consumption are to replace fluid losses and provide carbohydrate (approximately 30-60 grams per hour) for the maintenance of blood glucose levels and to keep muscles primed. 6-12 oz of fluid should be consumed every 15-20 minutes depending on tolerance. Race snacks: gels, cliff shots, bananas, oranges, Fig Newton’s, graham crackers, pretzels, Jelly beans or fruit chews, granola bars, rice crispy squares, raisins.

    After: The dietary goal is to provide adequate energy and carbohydrates to replace muscle glycogen and to ensure rapid recovery. Carbohydrate intake of 1.5 grams/kg body weight during the first 30 minutes (approximately) 60-100 grams carb) will be adequate to replace glycogen stores. Protein consumed after exercise will provide amino acids for the building and repair of muscle tissue. Runners should consume a mixed meal providing carbs, protein and fat soon after a long run/marathon. Drink enough fluids to replace sweat losses during exercise. Drink at least 16-24 ounces of fluid for every pound of body weight lost during exercise.

     

    Recovery Snacks:

    • Fruit smoothie: 1 cup skim milk, 1 small banana, 1 cup frozen berries.
    • 1 cup cottage cheese w/fruit and 1 cup grapes and 1 cup orange juice.
    • 1 cup low fat chocolate milk, gram crackers and peanut butter.
    • Baked potato with low fat cheese.
    • Pasta with low fat meat/cheese.

    Good eating habits are a lot like good training habits. Remember the big picture: don’t get caught up in the day to day things. A treat in your diet from time to time won’t harm your performance just like taking a break from your training schedule once in a while. In the long “run”, relax, have fun, be consistent, learn what works for you and above all, have fun running and ENJOY YOUR FOOD!

    Sources: Position of the American Dietetic Association, Dietitians of Canada, and the American College of Sports Medicine: Nutrition and athletic performance, Gatorade Sports Science Institute, National Athletic Trainers Association, USDA My pyramid, Cool Running, Runners world, and American College of Sports Medicine.

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