Sure, you could roll into your race completely stripped of nutrients and electrolytes, with dead and heavy legs, low motivation, and poor neuromuscular activation...but with race registration fees these days, who wants that?
So here are the top seven things you must do during taper week to ensure optimum performance:
1. Skip caffeine. I know it' s hard. But try it just once and you' ll be hooked on the race high this will give you. When it comes to breaking a caffeine addiction, just the mere taste of coffee can be your friend, so try decaf for those final 6-7 days.
Then load up like a Starbucks junkie on race morning. Or, if you prefer, pop a few generic-brand caffeine tablets 30 minutes before race start.
2. Ice baths. Take one...every day if you can. I have the advantage of being fairly close to an icy cold river which I can wade into on my way home from work. The anti-inflammatory effect will rapidly enhance healing and recovery during taper week. So find a body of water in which to take a dip, or, in a pinch, just take a cold shower, especially after all your race-week workouts.
3. Salt. The only week during which I actually salt my food is in the week leading up to a hot or long race. Don' t bother with this tip for a quick Sprint, or even an Olympic, but take into consideration electrolyte loading for that last week leading up to the race. In addition to good old sodium chloride table salt, I recommend 1-2 magnesium or epsom salt baths during the last week of the taper.
4. Avoid running. Plyometric and eccentric movements are two of the most muscle "tearing" motions that exist in the sport of triathlon, and both occur during running. Prioritize swimming and cycling as your primary activities. Don' t worry - you won' t lose your run fitness. Instead, you' ll feel an extra pop in your legs from the avoided muscle damage and enhanced recovery.
5. Bike and swim. But don' t just bike and swim. Focus on quality of movement and neuromuscular training. In other words, practice a high cadence, a full stroke, and relaxation for both these skills. On race day, you' ll move much more efficiently with high RPM swim and bike practice nearly every day leading up to the competition.
6. Take recovery supplements. Branched chain amino acids, proteolytic enzymes, and high-antioxidant fruits and vegetables (like beets, pomegranates and blueberries) will vastly enhance the healing process. A good article on this topic is "18 Ways to Make Your Body Heal Like Wolverine", over HERE.
7. Beginning 48 hours out from the race, avoid fiber. Begin to cut back the giant salads and multiple apple days, in favor of lower fiber carbohydrates like sweet potatoes, quinoa, fat-free yogurt and nuts. This will ensure that you don' t have nervous butterflies flying out your backside on race morning.
It is now my job as an Ironman triathlon coach to sit down and create a
roadmap for these athletes that ensures the same mistakes are not made
twice! Please learn from their errors, take some notes, and have a smart and
enjoyable race. Just shoot me an e-mail if I can help, or check out the new
book, "Holistic Nutrition for Ironman Triathletes", over at http://www.mindsettriathlon.com.
Ben Greenfield is the Renaissance man of the sport of triathlon.
He' s a fast triathlete, a coach, a personal trainer, and much more more.