As offseason training and the holidays are approaching, most athletes slowly slip into old habits and traditions involving calorie-dense foods and sporadic eating and training. Athletes look forward to the break, but they also experience a tinge of anxiety as they break away from the structure of their training schedules and nutrition that brought them so much success. As you approach the next race season, you may feel you’ve taken two steps forward during race season just to then take back one step as a result of offseason choices. From my experience working with multisport athletes at the start of race season, on average we spend about one to two months working together to reduce unnecessary body fat and get them back on an eating schedule. However, with the right tools, offseason doesn’t have to result in playing catch up; it can actually work to your advantage in many ways.
Decreased Energy Expenditure = Decreased Caloric Needs
I explain to my clients that just like we experimented and discovered their specific needs during race season, we also need to experiment again to dial in offseason nutrition. Expending less energy, as a result of a reduction in work load, decreases calorie needs and changes macronutrient distribution utilization. Although this sounds simple, finding your “new normal” can be difficult to pinpoint. Take it slow! Logically you understand the change in needs during offseason, but your body takes time to adapt. From my experience it takes about three weeks to really pinpoint your new needs without hunger.
Take Advantage of Aerobic Activity
Your body prefers to use fat as a fuel source at lower heart rates. During offseason you spend more time in the fat burning zone due to decreased activity. So, as you spend more time in this zone, increase plant-based fat consumption. This exercises the systems responsible for metabolizing fat, thus making the systems more efficient at ridding the body of unnecessary fat stores. Consuming plant-based fats on a daily basis will also set your body up for improved endurance. As your body gets comfortable utilizing fat as an energy source, your body will burn it more efficiently at higher exercise intensities before it switches to carbohydrates as the primary fuel source. This has a glycogen sparing effect by decreasing carbohydrate dependency. For more information on fat consumption, see my article on the importance of fat intake for endurance athletes.
Tricks to Take Control of Cravings and Hunger
- It takes about 20 minutes for your brain to say “hey, you are full” or “hey, I am still hungry.” So to all those fast eaters, including myself, slow it down and listen to what your body tells you. If you are comfortably full after 20 minutes of consumption, stop eating.
- We all have done it. We decrease what we eat during the day if we know there is a delicious dinner to indulge in coming later in the day. This can backfire. Your body likes to stay on a schedule. If you are very hungry going into a meal you are more likely to make poor choices in what you choose to eat and the amount you eat. Eat a snack before you head to dinner to keep a clear head.
- Stay hydrated. Our thirst mechanisms are weak. Sometimes we confuse thirst with hunger leading to unnecessary food intake. Make it a habit to consume 16-24 ounces before each meal to ensure thirst isn’t contributing to your appetite.
- If you are eating out, plan to look up the menu and decide what you will order before you arrive. You are more likely to make a healthier decision compared to deciding what to get while at dinner.
Look at offseason as just as important as race season. Your body will thank you!
Katie Rhodes, owner of OWN-Nutrition, is a registered and licensed dietitian in Little Rock, Arkansas, with a Master of Science in clinical nutrition. Through her experiences training elite athletes and working in the clinical setting at Arkansas Children's Hospital and the Central Arkansas Veterans Association, Rhodes understands that what we are putting in our bodies directly affects our performance, quality of life and longevity. She's worked with triathletes for six years on their nutrition year round as well as focusing on race day nutrition. Rhodes primarily works with clients remotely, through phone calls and Skype for communication, to supplement unique, personalized nutrition plans.
The views expressed in this article are the opinion of the author and not necessarily the practices of USA Triathlon. Before starting any new diet or exercise program, you should check with your physician and/or coach.