Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Tapering and Carbo-Loading Correctly For Optimum Performance

I've written about this before and I believe it is time to update/refresh the information shared out almost two years ago. Some of the information I shared are considered not accurate and out-dated and this entry will lend a few additional tips and sharing. I will try to make this as structured as possible to provide some clarity and do drop me any questions in the comment section. Also, share this out if you find it useful.

When To Taper and Carbo-Load?
Depending on the race you will face, tapering can last up to a week or two. As I do not consider myself to be top-class or elite athlete, I usually work my taper around a two weeks' period for any run involving the distance of 42km (or a marathon distance) and above.

I deploy a three weeks taper for long distance triathlon races. For the purpose of this entry, I will concentrate on tapering for a major run. Triathlon taper (Long distance) will be discussed later as I gear myself up for the (hopefully) Ironman Malaysia in 2014. 

Carbo-loading is a misnomer that many took it too literally. We often see many using this as an excuse to binge before a race. Truth is, many that does this wrongly end up throwing their race away. Like tapering, Carbo-Loading can last from a week to two weeks, depending on the extent of the race that you will be undertaking. 

Combining the two above, it is no secret and logic that both Tapering and Carbo-Loading goes hand-in-hand. One is to allow the muscles to rest, and the other is to replenish the fuel storage. Both combined will set you in a tip-top condition for optimal performance. 

Here is how.

Training Taper : Long distance mileage should be completed three weeks before the major event. from then onwards, the mileage will start dropping and reducing by as much as 50% of the usual training mileage. An example of this would be a peak weekly mileage of 50km (which include a Long Slow Distance run three weeks before the event) being reduced to 25km two weeks before and subsequently an additional 50% to between 10km to 12km during the final week taper. While the mileage drops, the intensity increases. Short burst workout provide the heart a much needed workout and keep the legs fresh. A sample of this would be:

T-2Weeks (approx 25km):

Alternate the workout such as Tempo-Speed-Rest-Easy-Tempo-Speed-Rest

T-1Week (approx 10-12km)

  • 5km Tempo x 2
  • 3km Speed x 1
  • REST - not even cross train, though walking up to 3km is acceptable x 2
  • COMPLETE REST x 1 day before race

Alternate the workout such to be Tempo-Speed-Tempo-Rest-Rest-COMPLETE rest.

As some of you may had guessed it right, I am at the T-2Weeks plan with mileage capped at 25km during the Men's Health 12km run on September 7, 2013. This will carry over to this week (when this article is posted) with the same mileage but reduced intensity.
Less workout. Shorter Time. Higher intensity. Taper starts.
Carbo-Loading It Right
One must remember that the tapering contributes to better and well rested muscle. It also lessen the expenditure of fuel aka glycogen storage in the muscles. Carbo-Loading has been abused in recent years when the running newbies uses it to binge out before a race. The word "Carbo-Loading" actually meant storing of glycogen into the muscle as fuel. As Glycogen is carbohydrate, it would sound more acceptable to say Carbo-Loading than Glycogen-loading. In reality, many tend to eat more rice, pasta and potatoes in anticipation of the major race - and I can't fault them as some race organiser serve/encourage excessive consumption of carbs a day before the race - and with bad effect to many.

There is a limit of how much your body can convert and subsequently store as energy a day before the race (or even two days before). Eating more than your body can process will only give you stomach problem on race morning. Carbo-loading is best done ONE week before the event. Here is how to do it right:

  • Start your carbo-loading following the last most strenuous workout. For me, it will happen on the end of Week 2 where I do a speed or interval workout. The idea is to exhaust all glycogen storage and prepare the body to re-store. May sound like cutting down trees to plant more trees, but the body reacts better to a state of hunger (for glycogen). This encourage a more effective absorption. 
  • The first 3-days of the carbo-loading is to take more protein based food compared to carb. For example if your diet has been a 70-20-10 Carb-Protein-Fat approach, you may need to biased it to a 50-40-10 ratio. This can be achieved while maintaining a 1800kcal to 2000kcal diet. There is absolutely no need to eat more to achieve this. The additional ratio of protein helps the muscles to recover and repair itself. 
  • from the 4th day onwards, bring your Carb-Protein-Fat ratio back to normal. The perceived "carb-starvation" from the first 3-days of carbo-loading encourages the muscle to store as much carbs as possible on the last four days. This will effectively raise your serum glucose level (or blood glucose level) without raising your insulin (or getting the sugar high) or spiking your sugar level unnecessary. This is key as an elevated sugar and insulin level will cause you to "bonk" out during a race - characterised by the term "hitting the wall" in a marathon run.
Always supplement your diet with good fats. In this case, good oil will help to provide a healthier lipid profile in the long run (in race and life) by lowering bad cholesterol and providing usable fats as fuel. I have written about ways to train your body to use fat as fuel. Remember, a gram of fat carries more than twice the energy value of a gram of carb or protein. (9kcal vs 4kcal). It make more sense to utilise this stored fuel for distance running. 

The capability of the body to use fat as fuel is what separate the trained athletes vs the weekend warriors. I am still on my learning curve here. 

Good luck for the Tapering and Carbo-Loading. See you at the starting line.


  1. 40% of protein based on 1800kcal, which is 720kcal=180g of protein...i find its kinda difficult to get that much of protein, any recommendations?

    1. Glad you did the calculation as then one would know/see how difficult it is to eat correctly, properly and clean.

      Assuming that the re-fuelling is for a race, a scoop of Whey carries up to 28grams of protien. Supplement 2-scoops/meal will boost protien intake up by 50% of required amount. Then, take chicken breast (low fat and high protien, up to 20grams/serving)and eat more nuts, lentils and meat.