Oops, I Did It Again: How to Combat Offseason Weight Gain

By Becca Rick | May 16, 2017, 3:34 p.m. (ET)

toast with radishes 

Many of the athletes I’ve worked with are prompted to initiate nutrition coaching as a result of offseason weight gain or general weight cycling through training cycles. Have you found yourself in a similar weight cycling situation? This article will provide context for explaining common weight gain and how to manage it.

Before digging in on how to combat unwanted weight gain, let’s first address how we get to this point. As many athletes battle this cycle year after year, it’s worth taking a moment to reflect on the offseason and determine what could go differently next time to better ease out of the offseason.

Our total energy needs are based on factors such as resting metabolic rate, the thermic effect of food (did you know you actually burn calories to digest, transport and metabolize food?) and physical activity (both intentional, such as training, and non-intentional, such as typing at a desk or fidgeting in the car). For athletes, the most variable component of this equation is intentional physical activity. Energy needs during peak training are off the charts for triathletes — to provide your body with the fuel it needs to perform at its highest level takes a concentrated effort. When you lower the amount of training during the offseason, your energy needs also decrease. So, if you eat at the same or similar rate during lower training periods as you did during peak training volume — yes, you can expect to gain some unwanted pounds.

The habits we may develop in peak training — maybe generous serving sizes or extra meals in the day — that are necessary to support a high training volume can likewise get us into trouble if continued during the offseason. Next time you enter into a lower training volume cycle, keep this in mind. Your body simply does not require intake in the same amounts as it did when you were in peak training.

So you’ve packed on some winter weight — maybe 5, 10 or more pounds. What now?

1. Reflect. As mentioned above, offseason weight gain can be a reoccurring issue. Take a moment to reflect on your personal experience and plan any needed structure for your offseason game plan in advance. Set yourself up for an enjoyable offseason, and one that isn’t met with the stress of unwanted pounds.

2. Be kind to yourself and don’t sweat it. Purposefully restricting food intake as you increase training volume and intensity also increases risk of suboptimal recovery, injury and sickness (reduced immune function). Fuel to support your training demands and trust the process — excess weight that your body wants to rid of will come off with time, even if it means dialing this in during your next offseason.

3. Practice mindfulness. Mindfulness is the practice of full consciousness in daily decisions and actions, including eating. Since we eat multiple times per day, it’s worth a consideration. An easy way to understand this practice is to think about what it means to eat mindlessly — snacking while watching a TV show, eating lunch while working at your desk or wolfing down fast food in between evening activities. These situations don’t necessarily lead to weight gain but oftentimes do, because we tend to eat when we aren’t hungry or we overeat past the point of the nourishment our bodies require when we aren’t actively paying attention. Ultimately, this attention to our internal cues for hunger and fullness, and respecting those cues by eating when we are hungry and stopping when we are no longer, puts us in a good place for balancing our energy needs with our intake. This practice is useful during all training cycles as a general rule, and aligns more closely with supporting each individual’s needs as they vary as opposed to sticking within a caloric parameter or macronutrient limit.

For a customized approach to your nutrition game plan, connect with a nutrition coach to support your efforts.

Becca Rick, MS, RD, is a sport dietitian and Certified Level I Metabolic Efficiency Training Specialist. She has worked with multiple U.S. Olympic sports, is a consulting sport dietitian with eNRG Performance and is a wellness consultant/RD with GBS Benefits based out of Salt Lake City, Utah. To get in touch with Becca, email becca@enrgperformance.com.

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.