Nutrition in the Off-Season
As the race year comes to a close, we are all starting to take our season break. Some of you may even be thinking about the program to get ready for next season. One thing you’ll hear come out of a lot of athletes’ mouths as the off-season rolls on is, “Oh boy, I’ve packed on a few pounds.”
During this period, it’s okay to take a mental and physical break and allow ourselves a few treats. This is the time that it’s okay to allow yourself a little more flexibility on how much and what you eat.
Whether it is for performance or vanity, endurance athletes are usually on some level hyper-sensitive about their body composition. Letting go of the control we have with our body when training uber hard for our key race and dialing in the nutrition can be very hard. For some people it can be downright depressing and get them pretty grumpy.
Just like those interval sessions that make us feel so good, we need to view our off season breaks and weight gains as a very necessary part of our overall athletic performance picture for improvement.
The Challenge of the Typical Endurance Athlete Personality
Most endurance athletes also have some qualities of addictive personalities. We love doing things in extreme. So when we switch off and decide we are taking a break we really hit it — and I mean hit it with the junk food, alcohol and overeating; taking it to the same extreme as when we hit our key season sessions.
Balance and reason can be the ultimate struggle for us endurance junkies. I think I’ve met a fair few who even got into the sport of triathlon because they like to eat a lot.
So here is what I find myself telling people: “Yes, relax and enjoy your off season; but everything in moderation.”
You know it’s going be harder to get back going if you stack on 15 pounds. So enjoy your break, but still have routine and a bit of discipline.
For those that get depressed about their body composition in their off-season breaks I recommend making nutritional goals a focus during the down time. Keeping a nice healthy diet can become their new focus and challenge while the training stress is a low priority.
A Good Routine
I’m often asked about the best way to eat as an athlete. I don’t think there is any set way that works for everybody because different athletes have different needs. I think a routine that you can maintain and stay healthy year round is the best balance for you.
Little changes applied over a long period of time make the biggest difference. An example I like to give is if you usually put two sugars in your coffee and you drink three coffees a day: eliminate the sugars. That might be six sugars a day you take out of your routine. That adds up over months.
If you drink soda, drink water. If you snack on processed food, switch to fruits and veggies. If you have ice cream every night after dinner, switch to a hot herbal tea. Replace one habit for another; that’s the only way to really make a permanent change for the better. Chris tells me when he made the decision to go from 250 pounds to start losing weight it was a simple decision to eat a sandwich at lunch instead of a pastry sausage roll.
I’ll give an example of a day’s diet I like. It requires a lot of discipline and routine but achieves great results in performance and health.
- Always eat breakfast: This is the time to eat a little bigger and eat high carbs: Bagel or nice thick bread with all natural PB or cheese, oatmeal, muesli, yogurt and eggs are some examples of what I like in the morning.
- Snack: Fruits and veggies and a protein shake of some kind.
- Lunch: Big salad with pasta, quinoa, and protein. Or a nice big sandwich with lean meats and nice whole grain bread.
- Snack: Again, fruit or veggies with some nuts.
- Dinner: This is your lightest meal of the day, filled with veggies, good fats (such as avocado or olive oil) and protein.
I have a sweet tooth so a steamed skim milk or tea at night before bed helps cut the craving for sweats.
The caveat to the above routine is that you should always eat something within 30 minutes of training sessions — that’s in addition to the schedule.
If you can learn to enjoy small portions of everything in moderation spread throughout the day, you’ll be setting yourself up to be your very best.