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Offseason Nutrition

By Susan Kitchen | Dec. 09, 2013, 12 a.m. (ET)

For most triathletes (in the northern hemisphere), triathlon offseason has arrived alas. Many athletes welcome this unstructured, gadget-free training cycle. It is a time to train just for fun, with no pressure of reaching heart rate and wattage zones, mile splits or swim set PRs. Offseason provides the opportunity to rejuvenate our bodies and minds; however, it is not the time to become relaxed with food choices if we want to be on our A game come race season.

Although your workouts become less strenuous with efforts no harder than Zone 2 90 percent of the time, offseason is a great time to focus on your nutrition training. Yes, you read that correctly, nutrition training.

Now that our workouts aren’t as demanding, it is important to adjust food intake to match physical training cycles. As our training load goes down, so should our food consumption. This is called nutrition periodization. Just as we change our training depending on where we are in our race season, the same should be applied to what and how you eat. This base training cycle provides the opportune time to work toward an optimal body weight and body composition so when race season rolls around you are metabolically efficient and will reap the performance rewards.

Although this can be incorporated at any time, it is easier to achieve metabolic efficiency during a lower training volume and intensity cycle.

Metabolic efficiency (ME) training is the process of improving your body’s ability to use its internal fat stores. The more efficiently we burn fat while preserving our limited and precious carbohydrate stores, the longer and faster we can go without “bonking” and the less we rely on supplemental sports nutrition; therefore, the less GI distress we encounter. The body has approximately 80,000 calories stored as fat and only between 1,400 and 2,000 calories as carbohydrates. It is worthy of noting, fat can only be burned with carbohydrates on board. Once your glycogen stores are empty, fat is metabolized into fuel very slowly and inefficiently, hence the bonk. Therefore, fat is a great energy source as long as you have glycogen or supplemental sports nutrition along with it.  

Performance benefits aside, ME training improves body composition and body weight, lowers triglyceride levels, stabilizes blood sugars and improves lipid profiles.

How do athletes achieve metabolic efficiency? Stabilizing blood sugar levels by modifying the composition of meals.

When we eat a plate full of carbohydrates (i.e. pasta, potatoes, bagels, cookies, etc.) the body releases insulin, suppressing the fat burning system. By eating a combination of carbohydrates and lean protein, fiber and healthy fat at each meal/snack, we release less insulin, stabilize blood sugars, burn fat for energy, while increasing satiety. It is best to get carbohydrates from nutrient-dense foods such as fruits and vegetables, keeping you healthy and your immune system strong, while reducing pre-packaged foods that provide carbohydrates but little nutrition.

Although athletes benefit from sports nutrition supplements in training and racing, during the offseason when the focus is aerobic base and not performance, additional nutrition support is not needed. By having a metabolically efficient meal or snack before/after your two to three hour Zone 2 ride, water and electrolyte beverages will be sufficient.

So, you’re wondering how to put this all together? Here are some examples of metabolically efficient meals.


Yogurt and Granola

  • 1/2 cup low-fat Greek yogurt
  • 3/4 cup blueberries
  • 1/4 cup granola

Oatmeal and a Side of Eggs

  • 1/2 cup oatmeal (cooks up to about 1 cup)
  • 1/2 cup skim or soy/almond milk 
  • 2 eggs


Chicken or Tempeh Salad

  • 3 ounces grilled chicken or tempeh 
  • 1-2 cups spinach lettuce
  • 1 ounce feta cheese
  • Tomatoes, green pepper, mushrooms, bell pepper, onions all cut up
  • Oil and vinegar or other vinaigrette as dressing
  • 1 1/4 cup strawberries

Black Bean Soup with Turkey Sandwich

  • Small cup black bean soup 
  • 1 slice whole wheat bread
  • 3 ounces sliced turkey
  • 1 ounce cheese
  • Lettuce and tomato, piled high
  • 1 small apple or orange


Salmon, Broccoli and Rice

  • 6 ounces salmon
  • 1 cup steamed broccoli with carrots
  • 1/2 cup brown rice or quinoa
  • 1 cup skim milk
  • 15-18 red grapes

Beef Tenderloin and Veggies

  • 3 ounces beef tenderloin 
  • 2 cups leafy greens with carrots, red bell pepper, tomatoes
  • Oil and vinegar or other vinaigrette as dressing
  • 1 small sweet potato
  • 1/2 cup blueberries with 1/2 cup low-fat Greek yogurt


  • 1/2 large banana or apple with 2 tablespoons peanut butter
  • Trail mix (almonds, sunflower seeds, walnuts, peanuts mixed with raisins)
  • Cottage cheese and small piece of fruit or 3/4 cup blueberries
  • Carrot and celery sticks with hummus

Susan Kitchen, MPH, RD, CSSD, a USA Triathlon Certified Coach, owner of Race Smart, LLC, a nutrition and coaching practice. Personally, she competes in endurance sports from the marathon to full Ironman. To contact Susan, email or visit and on Facebook at Race Smart.         

To get a customized metabolic efficient nutrition plan, contact Susan Kitchen, MPH, RD, CSSD at