Tapering and Peaking for Ultra-Endurance Races: Diet and Sleep


In the title you can read “Ultra-endurance” ! As a coach and as an athlete, in the last decade I pretty much figured out, how to make me, my wife or any athlete prepare, taper and peak for short 1-2-3 maybe 5 hour long races. Pretty much, I say !

Laid back but still very serious coaches understand the science behind peaking, but also that it often comes down to individual chances, luck and plain coincidence. Loads of athletes including me, ran already personal bests on trashed legs ! Very often if not most of the time, having a lifetime performance, depends only on the actually present mental fortitude ! So I would say that a bodily chemical balance formed by lifestyle habits is more likely aiming brain function in case of tapering, than the musculoskeletal and cardiovascular system.

As the race distance shortens the easier it becomes to apply for example Bompa’s basic periodisation model. Cut volume, cut frequency, maintain intensity ! For a 10km or half marathon project it becomes very easy after a while, that 90% of all times, the predicted times can be attained (Terms and conditions apply !) . However in case of ultra-running there are so many other factors to consider in case of tapering, that it becomes a very scientific questionnaire, what can be mind boggling at first !

The more responses you can tick on the health side, the most possible it becomes to achieve your goal ! Why ? 99% of all DNFs are not from the lack of training ! Stomach upset, cramps, vomiting, so called “athletes food poisoning”, twisted ankles, banged knees, tendonitis, fever, zombie-walking and so.

When we abandon a race because of an injury, it is also actually related to totally other aspects of “training/resting”. Lack of attention for instance is a big one. We are not properly hydrated, fuelled and slept, so despite our general great feeling, we slip on a rock and pull a hamstring. What a great excuse to say “ I had to stop as I am injured !” instead of saying : “It is totally my fault, I should have slept more in the weeks leading up to the race ! I WAS NOT PREPARED !”  The exact same is true to posture, that you cannot hold, proper breathing you cannot maintain and forefoot strike you cannot keep !

A professional athlete’s 90% fitness is still enough to win or finish in top 10, but for the average dude, 90% Fitness might mean not finishing at all ! This is why tapering is!
I am giving you here a couple of examples what will make you understand what I am talking about:

In case of nutrition, for a 10km race, if your glycogen stores are only half topped up, you can still wing it, with zero negative consequences. If you started an ultra with a fast downhill, then an hour of climbing and there is a fight going on for placing already 60minutes into a 10hour race, you could be down to 10% body sugar ! This will mean that you must eat more than your stomach can handle, causing distress, you’ll be bonking and faltering or drastically slowing down or localised cramping might also appear ! Yes, you can control yourself at the beginning of course, but it can be risky sometimes to let the leaders go that much away from you.

How long before race day, should we apply a superbly stable carb diet and why on earth should we do so ?
How can we enhance the effects of caffein on our body ?
What supplements should we take before the big day ?

The first is the why part. If you were following a stable carb regime with a quality backloading strategy in the evenings, taking in any sort of sugar during a race will behave like super rocket fuel ! Then your blood sugar will stabilise very fast to “endurance levels” instead of dropping below the homeostatic state.
Also on a lifestyle like this, you will be ingesting food less often and your digestive system will have time to recover and get stronger.
It is important, as if you arrived to an aid station 15hours into a race and you can consume anything you want with no negative consequences, that is a winner. Like instead of allowing exclusively some diluted energy drinks and dried abricots to spare your gut, you can squeeze in 4 orange slices, eat 2 bananas, wash it down with a soup and a couple of sausage cubes and have trailmix in your hand while moving out !
For these digestive strength gains, we also can take natural supplements, starting 4-5weeks out of a race. One would be digestive enzymes, the other is probiotics in the presence of prebiotics. I prefer to use a lower dose and do it twice a day, than one big dose in the evening ! (Giant topic !)
(You want to know which brand to use and how, just drop me an email and we find out what can work for your individual needs !)
It is being said, that the real benefits of any significantly different diet starts in 2 weeks. I recommend therefor to start your strategy at least 3, but better 4 to 5 weeks out ! In the last 4 days of your taper, you might add an extra sweet potato, plantain or a sweet butternut squash to your midday and evening plate. No pasta dinners are necessary, neither the bottle of maltodextrin drink in your hand all day long ! That will just ruin your life, your stomach and your race !

Caffein is also performance enhancing. Except when abused daily and will have no effect at all during the race. Cut back and decrease it to the minimum 20days out. I love coffee ! But I love the mental and health aspects of it together with the taste ! I don’t care about the caffein, stimulating, jittery part at all ! This is why I do not consume yerba mate, cause it is way too potent for me and makes me shaky and uneasy. I prefer organic green tea, coffee, matcha, and black Ceylon tea diluted with fatty almond milk. I drink my coffee with fats and an egg. I sprinkle cinnamon, ginger and cacao on top and consume it as breakfast.
One proper, quality, well prepared coffee a day 1 to 2 hours after you woke up, should be enough. No more for the day ! No coffee capsules, no steaming or paper filtering. Strain  or french press your freshly ground coffee.
This reduction or total cutback to decaf will make caffein more potent when running. A small green tea, guarana capsule or a half cup of coke will wake you up and shoot you out from the aid-station like 5cups of coffee would do! If we talked about a long race, a little coffee can be excellent. It is diuretic and enhances gut peristalsis. After that much of ingested food while running, finally you can go to toilet and then absorbing food will become easier and faster !

Hydrate well 10days out. I mean, you always should do, but start at least 10 days out, even if you were a lazy and disconnected office-worm. Add just a pinch of full spectrum salt and magnesium to your water. Maybe a couple of lemon juice drops. 3L minimum for men a day ! Get your infusions, soups, watermelons and add 2L of rich water on top of that.
Be aware, that if you cut back bad carbs and increase protein and fats in your diet, your body will shed slightly more salt. Swim in the sea daily or salt a bit more. Olives, dried tomatoes, celery sticks, capers, gherkins are also salty as !

  • Stable carb diet with a backloading strategy 4-5 weeks out
  • Probiotic rich diet, with supplementation if needed 4-5 weeks out
  • Cut back caffein 2-3 weeks out
  • Avoid all vegetables 3-4 days out, except tender greens. Baby leaf spinach and young rainbow chards, rockets, lambs lettuce, young romain, butter lettuce, iceberg, purselaine, radish greens, water crest, bok choi.
  • Maybe one cherry tomato a day, but no more. No bell peppers, no sulfur rich: cabbage and no cruciferus veggies: broccoli, cawliflower. Avoid allergy causing veggies, like celery, peanuts, cereals, strawberries. Avoid all beans and lentils. Avoid nuts and seeds. Only 3-4 days out !
  • Avoid high fibre meats, or prepare them properly. Soaking your game meat in a lemon, organic whole-milk garlic sauce for half day will do the job. Avoid nonsense meats like chicken breast, wings and so. Get a small steak, liver, heart, kidney, brain. All organic, grass fed from a butcher or hunted. No pre packed plastic crap !
  • For you vegans: avocados, olives are great source of fats. Sweat potatoes, squash and pumpkin, even potatoes, manioca, beets and carrots are good carbs. Living, sprouted seeds are epic protein and very absorbable !
  • Avoid rice, oats, cous cous, bulgur, millet, barley, corn and all cereals. Nuts and seeds are 90% rancid, even if you cannot feel it ! Get rid of them 2 weeks out !
  • Regardless that you were vegan or paleo, I recommend a very much separated, simple and whole food diet. 1-2-3 ingredients max. There is no sandwich in nature ! Your digestion will thank you ! Meat served with fermented carrots. Apple slices in persimmon pudding. 3 sweat potatoes on a beetroot leaf bed. Yeah beetroots to with organic white potatoes. 2 avocados, handful of macadamian nuts and a deep green lettuce. A giant fish and lightly steamed baby kale with olives.
    • Can you see these meals ? Fats or carbs. Never the two together ! Not in meals, not during races. The worst thing you can do to your health and performance. Eating peanut butter jelly sandwich. Ingesting sausage with cheese, followed by dried abricots and coke. Chips, Tuc, peanut and seed energy bars and so. Decide what you eat, eat it, then wait. Don’t mix fats and carbs ! Altitude, heat and many factors can dictate the type of food you need. For the GR20 I go on nearly 100% fats. Slow moving, heavy backpack, low altitude, moderate temperatures. Nuts, beef jerky, coconut oil !
      If I did UTMB, or TOR what is coming up, I would use more likely banana chips, dates, honey and some juices. More carby !

Sleep is also very important and if we go well slept into a race, our chances of having constant energy levels will be significantly better ! Improving sleep quality at least 1 week out, better 2-3 weeks out is crucial !

How to improve sleep? Why and when ?

No TV, no noise, no phones, no tablets 2 hours before bedtime ! Eat 2-3 hours out of sleeping. Low carb during the day, but eat your slow carbs at the evening. This will help secreting sleep hormones ! Go to sleep early in the same time every day and wake up in the same time every day.
If you always had hard time in the mornings, but your race starts early, well, wake up every day that time or with a spared couple of hours. 21:30 to 5am is 7,5hours of sleep, what you can practice during your workdays, then add 1 or 2hours in weekends if needed. If I could be in bad at 8pm, read for an hour then sleep, that would be the best. I do it whenever I can !
If your race were at the afternoon or midnight, try including catnaps in the same time of the day. 20minutes and back to action.

  • Sleep early and make your bedtime and wake up time constant
  • No flashing lights 2 hours before (Tv, phone….)
  • Cold or contrast shower before sleep
  • Lavender diffusing near your bad
  • Noise free, chilled, aired out room, with no lights and no electrical devices plugged in
    Get and give massage. This will increase time with your wife in a romantic manner !
  • Start all of this at least 7 days out, but better 3 weeks

The Voodoo

  • Learn how to breathe through your nose and calm your nervous system, while at work, while sleeping and always.
  • Walk everyday barefoot at least 20 minutes on the bear earth.
  • Use magnesium spray or swim in the sea daily.
  • Take a cold shower or contrast shower every day.
  • Try reading a books instead of listening to loud music, watching telly or video games.
  • Be with your family and have deep discussions with them

These are superbly basic recommendations, what can give you a couple of ideas. I mean very very simple. All of these subjects can be so complicated, that books could be written about one single part of any equations. The nutrition part is the most complex, followed by sleep and hydration. But the thing is that they are completely and totally fused and overlapping. Depending on what you ate, your sleep quality, depth and the number of wake up times are determined. This last nigh’s sleep will also however determine the type of hunger you’ll experience and your body’s reaction to food and need for water. You cannot separate these. I am not able to write a book of 1000 pages here. This is why I say it is only scratching the surface. Most people did not even eat liver or raw red cabbage in their whole life, so why start with exogenous ketones, citruline malate, difficult carb-loading strategies, binaural beats for sleep and so. Begin simple and learn. Step by step add or take away ! Be relaxed about your increasing knowledge. This will make your taper less complicated. Eat well, sleep well and drink well for your optimal health !

The question is, do you know what your optimal health is ? 

Categories: Uncategorized

3 comments

  1. Awesome post! I’m tapering for a 50 miler now, wish I would have had this a couple weeks earlier! Will definitely use these tips for my next race. Thanks!

    Like

    • There are a lot of people not willing to change dietary, sleeping and hydration habits. However for the sake of a bigger objective, like a an ultra race, they will want to improve it!

      Good luck for your 50miler, which one are you doing ?

      Like

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