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Health and Nutrition / Technique and Training

The Dos and Don’ts of Your Taper Diet

How to set your ideal nutrition plan so you make the most of your big competition

Steph Saullo, RDN | June 26, 2017

No matter what kind of swimmer you are, you can benefit from tapering. A reduction in your training load provides your body a time to rest, recover, and refuel while also giving your muscles an opportunity to rebuild and repair.

Eating during a taper means making slight changes, so if you’re thinking of doing anything drastic, don’t. Leave any radical changes for the beginning of the training season, not at the end or before any big meets. As we approach the 2017 U.S. Masters Swimming Summer National Championship on Aug. 2-6, embrace the taper.

Make Sure You Do:

Eat

Naturally, you’ll need to eat less when you’re not practicing as much or as often, but you’ll still need to eat. How much less varies from person to person, and don’t feel like you must track every bite that passes your lips. Instead, listen to your body—it’s smart and will give you hunger cues to let you know when to eat and when to stop.

When it’s time to eat, focus on eating versus munching on your food while catching up on your favorites shows. Eating mindlessly can make it hard to recognize your hunger cues and lead to overeating. If you’re out of touch with your hunger cues, a registered dietitian can help.

Maintain a healthy nutrition foundation

Stick with a healthy base of fruits, vegetables, lean proteins, good fats, and whole grains. If fruits, vegetables, and other fiber-full foods haven’t been part of your training plan, now isn’t the time to incorporate more of them. Even eating healthy foods can backfire. If you’re lacking in fruits and vegetables or whole grains, try adding more to your diet after the big event is behind you.

Carb load

It’s important to fill your glycogen (energy) stores before any endurance activity, and to do this, you need to eat carbohydrates.

Some people will tell you to load up on carbohydrates the night before the event, bringing back memories of high school swim team pasta dinners. The truth is that you should be filling up on carbohydrates throughout your training, not just the evening before.

During your taper, incorporate adequate carbohydrates into your daily eating regimen, like how you might fuel on high-intensity training days. The only difference is you’ll likely consume less overall. Choose fruits, starchy vegetables such as potatoes and corn, and whole grains such as brown rice and whole wheat breads. Just remember to be conscious of your fiber intake in the 48 hours prior to your event. Too much fiber too close to an event can have ill effects, especially if it’s not something you’re used to.

Remember protein and fat

Carbohydrates are important but protein and fat shouldn’t take a back seat. Adequate protein will help to facilitate muscle growth and repair. Choose lean cuts of red meat, skinless chicken or turkey breast, fish, beans, or dairy products such as milk, Greek yogurt, and cottage cheese. Fats are important for providing energy and transporting certain vitamins. Choose olive and canola oils, avocados, and nuts and seeds.

Hydrate

Drink fluids even if you’re not thirsty. You’ll want to go into your event hydrated, maybe even a tad overhydrated.

If you’re not sure about how much fluid to drink daily, you can start by taking your weight in pounds and dividing it in half to get a target number of ounces.

Evaluate the color of your urine throughout the day (it should be light yellow to nearly clear), and you shouldn’t be running to the bathroom every 10 minutes. If you are, you might be drinking too much, too quickly. If you’re stumped on how much to drink, consult a registered dietitian to help guide you.

But Make Sure You Don’t:

Overthink the process

For the most part, your nutrition should be about the same as it is during your training, just dialed back a bit in terms of amounts. Simply make sure to eat enough.

Try anything new

It’s been said before and it will be stated again: Do not implement new nutrition strategies during your taper. This goes for food choices as well as supplements. You’ve worked hard all season long. Don’t sabotage your efforts by trying a new approach. If whatever you’re thinking about is not already integrated into your plan, it can wait.

Aside from nutrition, ensure adequate rest and mentally prepare for competition day. On the day of the big meet, remember to have fun and bring snacks and a hydrating beverage to drink between events.

USMS Wave Seperator

About the Author—Steph Saullo, RDN

Steph Saullo is the performance dietitian at RITTER Sports Performance. She is a registered dietitian nutritionist, has a master of science degree in food and nutrition, and specializes in nutrition for athletes of all ages and levels. She believes that although quality nutrition is a basis for health, there’s also room for cookies (or insert favorite food here). Follow her on Twitter or Instagram @StephSaullo or like RITTER Sports Performance’s Facebook page for updates and tips.

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