Wednesday, October 16, 2013

How to adjust your food intake when you taper

Whether it is to prepare for an upcoming competition or re-adjusting intake after the season is over, tapering intake goes hand-in-hand with tapering training. So, here are a few tips to make the process slightly less confusing:

1. Calculate carbohydrate needs
Because carbohydrate needs increase as training increases, needs also decrease when training decreases. Therefore, it helps to calculate where your intake should actually be when tapering.  To do this, first calculate your weight in kilograms by dividing your weight (in pounds) by 2.2. So, for example, 130lb/2.2 = 59.1kg. Next, multiply by the correct factor based on how training hours you are currently doing:

>4-5hrs/day = 8-12
1-3hrs/day = 6-10
~1hr/day = 5-7
Low intensity or skill-based activities = 3-5

For example, during high-intensity training, our 130 lb athlete might be putting in 2-3 hours daily. So we take 59.1kg and multiply it by 8, which equals 473gm carbohydrate daily. However, during tapering, that number drops to 45 minutes daily. So, we take 59.1kg and multiple it by 6, which equals 355gm carbohydrate, for a difference of 118gm carbohydrate or 472 Kcal from carbohydrate (take the number of grams and multiply by 4). So that can help the athlete understand that he/she will be burning 472 fewer calories daily, so intake needs to reflect that. This calorie amount is equal to a large snack (say, a peanut butter and jelly) or a small meal.

2. Track your intake
Once you have a number to work with, tracking intake for 2-3 days can be helpful to show you where you are compared to where you should be. There are many apps out there that serve this purpose, but a couple of nice ones are MyFitnessPal and Livestrong's MyPlate.

3. Trust your body
Once you have tracked a few days and know where you should be, back off from the numbers and just try trusting your body. Eat when you are hungry; stop when you are full. This is more difficult than it sounds if you truly do it right! Bottom line, you are not training as much as you used to so you need to be more aware of how much you are taking in. By eating with awareness and attention, you will often naturally land on where your intake should be.

4. Remember the entire plate
While carbohydrate intake is an important piece, don't forget the rest of the plate: lean protein, vegetables and fruit. Strive to make your tapering plate look this:

One-half of the plate should be fruits and vegetables, one-quarter lean protein and one-quarter whole grains. If losing weight is your goal, slightly increase protein and slightly decrease whole grain intake.

Be extraordinary,



  1. Kate,

    How do you estimate protein needs for runners? What range to you go with? Also are total kcal an issue?

    1. Hi David - good question.

      Protein intake doesn't tend to change much during tapering in order help maintain muscle mass. The range I put runners on varies based on their total training program and overall goals. It might be anywhere from 1-1.4gm/kg of body weight. In general, if carbohydrate is brought down appropriately, then total Kcals decrease well along with it. The only exception is if I have an athlete who typically eats very high amounts of fat. In that situation, we discuss cutting the intake of fat as well so that total Kcal are not too high. Hope that helps! Thanks for reading.