As my two teenage boys head into one of the two big annual tennis tournaments this weekend, I’m faced with the challenge of teaching them that a well-rested, the nourished body will pay dividends for them in competition. Both boys work out daily playing tennis followed by a training session that may include some speed and agility work, weights, yoga, etc. I’m sure if they had their way they’d work out right up to the day of competition.
Several weeks ago, I started hammering home the importance of tapering so that their bodies were well rested for the upcoming tournament. I’m not sure exactly how much was heard, but thought I might share my knowledge in the hope that someone else’s kid might benefit.
What exactly is Tapering?
As most athletes who participate in competition know, tapering refers to the practice of reducing exercise in the days just before a significant game. Whether it’s a long distance run, a competitive swim, weightlifting competition, wrestling or tennis, tapering is customary in most sports and an essential part of the competition. Truthfully, tapering is necessary for optimal performance.
Why Taper Before a Big Event?
Tapering before a big event gives the body a chance to rest and recover so athletes can be at their absolute best at the competition. Tapering is meant to help athletes realize their hard work and fitness gains by making sure the body is well rested. For many athletes it’s hard to grasp the concept that preceding the big event it’s important to cut the duration and increase the intensity of practice. A short hard quality workout is the way to go so the athlete feels competitively prepared and well rested.
As my sons head towards this weekend’s competition, a feeling of anxiety has taken over. They don’t know what to do with all their freed up time. This is perfectly normal for athletes accustomed to training hours each day. It’s important to remind them that a well-rested body will help them in getting the results they want.
Taper length is a very individual consideration that depends on the athlete’s preferences, the sport, and the length of the event. A taper for a half-marathon will probably differ from a taper for an Ironman, which will vary from a swimmer’s taper to a tennis player. It’s essential to monitor the taper to see what is working and what not so that it’s used as a learning experience for future events.
Tips for a successful taper
The keys to a successful taper are rest/sleep, training slowdown, proper nutrition with supplementation as needed.
A good taper will bring you to race day rested, but not feel sluggish. It’s vital that the number of hours spends practicing the sport are gradually reduced, and the focus is more on intensity and technique over the duration. The additional fitness part of a regimen – weights, lifting, fitness, speed workouts - should also be reduced but even more dramatically. It’s crucial that muscles have time to rest and recover and be at their competitive best.
To fully recover from your training, proper sleep is vital. Eight to ten hours should be more than sufficient. Anything more may cause the competitor to not be as “sharp” as they should be. The key is to listen to your body. If your body wants to sleep, give it more rest. However, be cautious about getting too many 10-hour nights of sleep and then becoming a daytime couch potato. This could lull the body into a lethargic state. So get adequate sleep and rest but keep the body energized.
As always, eat a well-balanced meal during the taper. However, don’t get caught in the trap of maintaining your calorie intake if you’ve reduced the number and intensity of training hours. Your calorie intake may need to be adjusted during a taper. Eating more frequently, every 3-4 hours, may help in not overeating. Eat clean. Eat healthily. Eat balanced.
Try to get your nutrients from whole foods wherever possible. However, there may be a role for supplementation during a taper period. Here are some supplements to consider during a taper.
Electrolytes - stay hydrated and keep electrolytes going. Remember the rule: if you’re thirsty your dehydrated. Keep the electrolytes going especially as race day gets closer.
Probiotics have been shown to support digestive and immune health. Recent studies have also demonstrated that some probiotics support protein utilization, which may improve recovery after exercise.
SerinAid® has also been shown to help lower both physical and psychological stress while improving concentration.
FORTIGEL®, is an innovative ingredient for the regeneration of joint cartilage. The protein collagen makes up some 70% of cartilage mass. The optimized specific collagen peptides of FORTIGEL® have been proven to stimulate the growth of new cartilage, thereby increasing mobility.
OptiMSM - avoid the risk of injury by increasing the health of bones and joints by taking supplements which promote connective tissue repair and regeneration and improve range of motion.
Protein-protein supplements may be used as post-exercise recovery. Protein supplements function greatly aid protein synthesis and therefore the repair and growth of your muscles.
Athletes rigorous workout schedules can weaken the immune system. Supplementation with immune building supplements such as Wellmune and Resistaid may be beneficial to maintaining a robust immune system before the competition.
Try these tips and hopefully you’ll be well on your way to a successful competition!