Paleo

Nutrition Navigation: Taper Week

Welcome to my new series: Nutrition Navigation. The idea behind the series is part of the vision behind the cookbook I am working on, that is, bridging nutritional knowledge/needs and great food. In this series, I will focus on specific training periods or training needs (like peak training or post-long run), on a specific nutrient (like Vitamin D) or a specific food (like Kale) and show you how that translates into real, healthy, gourmet meals. Often times that means I will provide a snapshot of a days worth of meals or a collection of ideas, recipes or methods. Have questions or want to see something specific covered. Email me with your special requests! Please note, I am NOT a registered dietitian and these views reflect only what have worked for me as a runner and personal chef.


I am nearly all the way through my second big taper of the year (already!) and thought to myself, this would be a great time to launch that series I've been meaning to do on my blog. After all, taper is the time when most people are thinking, what the heck should I eat? For me, leading up to the race, I have a few simple "rules" to guide me as I make my daily food choices:

  1. Don't introduce or reintroduce anything new. Through much of my training, I have been following a very specific diet to help support my peak training as well as navigate around all of my various stomach issues and intolerances. 
  2. Keep it simple. Keep it consistent. What has worked for me through my peak training should continue to work for me through taper, although my daily needs are lower, I am eating the same foods I was during training. For me, this means that my diet for most of my taper is still 40/30/30. That is 40% carbs, 30% protein and 30% fat. I often feel like taper week is a "best of" from the various training meals I have enjoyed. I eat a normal healthy diet.
  3. Don't be restrictive but remember you are running a lot less. In peak training, I can be doing upwards of 120-140 miles per week which means I am taking in a huge amount of fuel during those times. During taper, my appetite may still be revved up but I am burning less calories. Find a happy balance between being satisfied and tapering your calories in accordance with your miles. You want to make sure you are fueling for your race and that means eating good fuel and eating often. Remember this shouldn't be a restrictive thing because if you keep in mind #1 and #2 you should have nothing to worry about.
  4. Carb up, without a depletion phase, in the last 3 days. Science has shown that you don't need to precede a carb loading phase with depletion. That means I eat my normal healthy diet Monday to Thursday and then start up'ing my carbs and lowering my fat and protein on Thursday to start powering up.
  5. Don't overthink it. There is no universal right answer of what to eat. Some people have iron clad stomachs and some people are hyper-sensitive. Look at what has worked for you and model after your own best practice.
What works for me:

I personally learn from examples. Even though I can understand a list (like above) or a set of instructions, often times I am able to synthesize it best by viewing an example. I thought for this series, I would include an example of what a typical taper week day of meals looked like.

Breakfast:
Throughout my training, I have developed the habit of having gluten free oats virtually every single morning. In fact, it is a rare day that I do not. Thus, during taper, I keep the habit alive. I believe in eating a hearty breakfast and setting myself up right. 


My favorite method of making oats is prepping them the night before, so when I return from my morning run, a warm creamy bowl of oats is only minutes away. I call this "modified overnight oats". Overnight oats are by far not an original creation, but since I like my oats hot, I don't just eat them out of the fridge.

Before I go to bed, I combine in a large jar:
  • 1/2 cup gluten free oats
  • 1 cup unsweetened almond milk (vanilla)
  • 1/2 cup water
  • pinch of salt
  • dash of cinnamon
  • teaspoon chia seeds
I put all the ingredients into the jar, seal tightly, give a little shake to combine and throw into the fridge.

In the morning when I return from my run, I take the jar of oats add 1/2 cup more water and pop into a small pan. I heat over medium heat, until it starts to bubble. When this happens, I take a whole banana, peel in and using my fingers, pinch of pieces and mix them into the oats. Once the banana is added, I stir frequently for 2-3 minutes, breaking up the banana further with a spoon. After 2-3 minutes, the mixture will have started to become thick and creamy. I turn off the heat and add 1/2 cup of liquid egg whites to get some good protein in there. 1/2 cup of egg whites has 12 grams of protein and only 60 calories. You get great bang for your buck on that and plus, they really make the oats smooth. I pour the oats into a bowl and top with two tbsp of nut butter. This morning I was enjoying some homemade roasted cashew and almond butter. The nut butter is key as it gives you some good fat and will keep you satisfied for a few hours. 



Lunch #1 and Lunch #2:


I eat two lunches during my training and therefore I eat two lunches during my taper. I use to only eat one giant lunch in the middle of the day but that left me feeling way too full for a while and then starving by dinner time. Now, I eat two moderately large lunches broke up by 3 hours. I like it way better than normal snacking. Typically my lunch #1 and lunch #2 are going to be a permutation of the same ingredients. Today, we went to the farmer's market before lunch so I was able to pick up some beautiful greens, kale and broccoli to highlight in my lunch.

I love salad and feel very incomplete without them on a daily basis. Ditto on the vegetables. Some might say it is too much fiber, but my body likes it, but I wouldn't recommend you take on salads in your taper week if you haven't been eating them in abundance in training. 

Each salad included:
  • Mixed Greens
  • Kale massaged with 1 tbsp of Udo's DHA Blend oil.
  • 1/2 cooked sweet potato
  • 1 1/2 hard boiled eggs
  • 1 1/2 cups roasted broccoli (lightly sprayed with oil, roasted for 10-15 mins in a 450 oven).
  • Mustard and Apple cider vinegar
Kale getting a massage

Salad #1 awaiting broccoli

Homemade grape kombucha on the side

Salad #2, three hours later with a glass of Nuun.

Clearly, I am like an elephant and like to eat my own weight in broccoli and leafy greens. In training and in taper, I actually have to think about ensuring that I have a good carb source (sweet potato), protein (hard boiled eggs) and fat (Udo's oil) to make sure I am getting enough in these salads. 

Dinner:

The Baker and I, over the past few months, have been pre-planning all of our dinners. We sit down together and figure out what we are going to have for dinner each night of the week and build a grocery list accordingly (I am going to be launching a series of blog posts called BYOPC- Be your own personal chef to highlight our menus and plans). Thus, it is easy for me as dinner time nears to execute our plan and not have to ask the question "whats for dinner". 

During taper week in our house, the taperer gets to lead the menu planning because of some of the aforementioned bullet points. For me, that means eating lots of veggies, sweet potatoes and potatoes and some lean meat.  Tonights dinner was a buffalo and veggie stir fry with sweet potato (for me) and rice (for the Baker) included:
  • ground buffalo
  • bok choy
  • red cabbage
  • carrot
  • ginger
  • garlic
  • gluten free tamari
  • roasted red chili paste
  • coconut oil
  • scallions
  • peanuts for garnish
  • sweet potato for me, coconut rice for the Baker

It was a pretty simple stir-fry. I heated a tbsp of coconut oil in a large pan and then put 1/2 of the garlic and ginger in the pan, cooking it for less than 30 seconds before adding the buffalo. I let that brown for a minute, added a couple teaspoons of roasted red chili paste, and cooked for another few minutes. I added a splash of tamari and then removed the pan from heat and put the buffalo in a bowl. I added a tbsp of coconut oil to the pan (since buffalo is so lean there was no fat left) and cooked the vegetables with the remaining garlic and ginger, which I had shredded into the same size (carrot, cabbage, red bell pepper and white parts of the bok choy. I added another splash of tamari, added the bok choy green parts and let that cook until the vegetables started to get tender. I added the buffalo back, tossed it all together and served. I served mine onto my sweet potato and Nathan's onto the reheated rice, topped with scallions and a scant tbsp of peanuts. Delicious!


As I said, these eats worked for me. It was a pretty easy running day and I felt sustained throughout the day. I really, really enjoyed all my eats today and feel like I successful married my nutritional needs with my desire to eat incredibly delicious food. Taper week nutrition couldn't be easier. Stick with what you know, stick with what you like and don't do anything new!

Exceptions and Rules

Sunrise on Tam. An exceptional day.

This morning I headed out to do my tempo workout of the week. I was scared, I was intimidated and nervous. I knew how significant this workout would be. It is a big week in my training for Houston which is just over three weeks away. I also knew that I had struggled through my "track" workout on Tuesday and been reduced to a crying, shaking bag of bones and not necessarily in a good way. Needlesstosay, I knew that this workout would be telling. The workout was a very stout 10x 1 mile tempo run at race pace minus 10 seconds. Ideally, I wanted to hold 5:58s or better. As I ran my warmup down to the polo fields in Golden Gate park, I pondered whether the paces I have been holding in previous weeks tempo workouts were the exceptions or the rule. I knew THIS workout would make that clear. And it did.

The main reason I had been contemplating the concept of exceptions and rules is because a friend of mine inquired about my reference to being on an athletic diet leading up to Houston and urged me to write a blog post about what that means to me. The friend is a world class Ironman athlete and even she says that she gets confused. I can relate to that, I think a lot of athletes understand a bit about nutrition but not necessarily enough to implement a plan for themselves that coincides with training.

I was hesitant to write this blog because I don't believe in defining myself strictly and also because in the past giving myself rules created a great deal of anxiety around my food choices, including peanut butter. In the past year, I have had the healthiest relationship with food in a long time and while that meant I raced slightly heavier in 2010, the reduction in anxiety and obsession and time spent thinking about nutritional content and quality was worth it. I raced well and learned to trust myself. I realized I eat very mindfully, healthfully and don't need to stress about my food choices, since even my indulgences are most people's health foods.

A morning on the trails, currently the exception in my training :(

My training for Houston has been different in a lot of ways as I have discussed. It is also significant because it is the first time I have put myself on a strict race related diet. As I prepared for this race, I finally was able to synthesize the idea of periodization for my food/diet just like I do for my running/training schedule. I made modifications to my diet, changed the rules and exceptions and even implemented some things with no exceptions. The final two weeks of December I transitioned to the eating plan but let Christmas eve/day include exceptions (after all, I needed a glass of wine-believe me and HAD to have a slice of my mother's Stollen on Christmas morning, it's tradition) but after that, it's been on the plan! So what does that plan look like? With the help of my trainer Josh and my friend Ronda and my own experience, experimentation (as well as a few tests which determined food intolerances/allergies), I developed the following plan, rules and practices.

Typical day:
Addendum (1/7/2011): This is the baseline plan, I don't weigh my food and add in additional items as I see fit based on hunger or need. I developed it as guidelines to help me with timing, general portion and content.

Example of a dinner from two nights ago: Ka Pra Grow (fresh ground pork, garlic, gluten free tamari, red chili, coconut oil), Quick cooked Asian Greens (cabbage, mixed braising greens, coconut oil and gluten free tamari) and a side of roasted carrots (for my starchy veg, while Nathan had rice).

Last nights dinner: Bacon, shallots, garlic, red pepper flakes and brussels sprouts topped with homemade fire roasted bell pepper one pan "stir fry" and roasted winter squash.


Rules and Practices:

DO NOT EAT
  • Wheat/Gluten
  • Sugar (refined)
  • Sugar (non-refined)/ artificial sweetners
  • Alcohol
  • Dairy
  • Grains (except oats), Sweets, pastries, cereals, or baked goods
  • Avocados, Pineapple (allergic)
  • No processed foods
Practices (notes from my trainer):


  • Practice a modified paleo type diet- focused on the vegetables and lean meats. 
  • Add back in a select few natural, starchy carbohydrate sources to support training. Time these to support workouts and recovery.  Still keep less ideal sources – sugar, juices, pastries, bread, pasta, flour, cereals, etc. OUT of the diet.
  • Starchy tubers would be a good choice – yams, sweet potatoes, regular potatoes. Corn tortillas and oats are other options. 
  • If carbs goes up, dietary fat should come down.  
  • Reduce added sources of fat (condiments, oils, nuts, seeds, etc.), and just get your dietary fat as by-product of your animal protein sources (eggs, fish, meat, poultry).
  • Spread food intake out over 5-6 meals. Drink lots of water.
  • Eat 1g of protein per 1lb of lean body mass.
  • Eat 1-2g of carbohydrate per 1lb of lean body mass.
  • Combine a serving of protein with a serving of starchy carbohydrate – both about the size of a deck of cards – with each meal and snack.
  • Starchy carbs (rice and potatoes) are better than fruits for athletes because fruits are sugars, natural sugar, but sugar nonetheless.  They are preferentially stored as liver glycogen whereas starch is preferentialy stored as muscle glycogen (which is what we want as athletes).
  • Continue to eat unlimited amounts of vegetables with any meal or at any other time.


My training and body have really responded to this nutrition plan and I feel great. It is not that terrific of a departure from how I normally eat. I normally eat approximately the lunch listed above, but was eating it in one sitting instead of split into two. I actually like splitting it up. My nutritional timing is way better and more effective. In fact, I have been more creative in the kitchen than ever before and plan to continue to eat this way long term but with room for exceptions. Outside of peak training, if I want something from the "no" list than I can have it, its a welcome exception as long as it is an exception. I have learned that peak training nutrition just means NO Exceptions and that normal eating whether during building phase or time off can be more flexible. As much as I joke about it, I am not chomping at the bit to have the foods I am currently excluding.  I look forward to a post-Houston treat, enjoying a celebratory toast but I also value how I feel currently and plan to continue to be a mindful eater. This plan is currently working for me, it is personalized to my needs and based on my own personal experience and understanding of how my body works. I don't for a second think that it would work for everyone, I don't believe in one size fits all nutrition. I also believe that being neurotic or a perfectionist about your nutrition intake is infinitely more harmful than helpful, so even in times of peak training nutrition a light hearted approach is encouraged. I think the one thing that everyone can take away from this is that peak nutrition is a time to eat a very clean healthful diet, it really does support the hard work you are doing out on the roads and trails. There is a time for (gluten free) muffins and a time for perfectly timed carrot sticks. Right now, I am enjoying food as much as I always do and loving just as much the nutritional benefits I feel.