Off Season Weight
For many, the change in weather and shorter days signifies the ‘off season’; a time of reduced or no training to let the body bounce back and take a break. The off season is an important time for athletes of any discipline and level. Reducing training allows the body to become both physically and mentally stronger. Cortisol levels lower, fatigue fades away, more time to sleep, and you can enjoy the sport away from competition or strict routine… mostly, you get to have fun again.
Of course, a big fret of the off season is diet and gaining weight.
First, taking a break from strict nutrition is important. This is part of leaving the structure and routine of strict training behind for a bit and being able to enjoy food for fun, not just eat for fueling principals. For example, during the season, you should end a hard session with a combination of carbohydrate & protein (typically a not so delicious shake), but during the off season, enjoy a bite of ice cream or a stop at your local bakery. This doesn’t mean you need to eat like crap, it just means to relax a little. Your appetite should decrease after a few weeks off, so aim to lower your portion sizes, eat more vegetables, and spend more time (the time you won’t be working out) cooking meals from scratch.
The decrease in activity level and slight loosening of the diet might mean putting on a few pounds. Let me be clear, athletes SHOULD gain weight in the off season. There is a reason we call it ‘race weight’ and not ‘normal weight’, race weight is to be maintained during the race season, or even only key races. Normal weight is what the body wants to bounce back to when not heavily restricted. If an athlete tries to stay at a very low race weight year round, the body is at more risk of malnutrition, injury, poor recovery, and illness. The trick is not gaining TOO much. Yo-yo ing drastically is bad for your health and makes it very difficult to get back to race shape when it’s time for that. Athletes who get down to a very low race weight during the season, should aim to gain 5-6% during the off season. Athletes on the more recreational side or beginners who are still working out what race weight is, or are still trying to improve overall body composition should keep things a little tighter during the off season and aim to only fluctuate 2-3%. Generally, this is an amount of weight that can be easily reduced when training and performance eating returns. The idea of off season weight gain is to be a strategic break for the mind and body, not a total free for all into gluttony so be sure to define the weight gain limit appropriate for your situation and the duration of your off season to make sure things do not get out of control. It can also be very helpful to give yourself some healthy eating intentions for this time. These intentions or ‘loose goals’ should just be a mindfulness about how you eat during this time. For example the off season can be a great opportunity to spend your extra time making something like dressing or bread from scratch. It is also a good time to work on eating more vegetables each day as veggies are more difficult to get in during hard training and racing when they can take away from energy needs and add too much uncomfortable bulk to the stomach.
During the off season, try to focus on doing what you enjoy in training, cross training and eating. it is good to take a break in training and performance fueling. It might seem hard at first to let go a little, but it will pay off when you return to training.
Personally, I tend to fluctuate within 5%. This is about a 6 pound difference! That might not sound like much, but we are talking about controlled fluctuations, not ‘gaining’ weight for long term. When my season is over, I almost instantly bounce to the highest weight of +6 pounds. This can be upsetting, but again, it is a beneficial part of the process. After a solid month or two, my appetite stabilizes to match my current activity level and my eating habits change from ‘freedom’ (hello wine and ice cream bc I’m not trying to perform!) to healthful (hello balanced meals that make me feel good) and my weight reduces to about a 3 pound gain from race weight. 3 pounds might seem like a silly thing to even mention, but when we consider performance, those 3 pounds are extremely difficult to dial in. It’s practically the equivalent of shaving 10 seconds / mile of your 5k pace; it takes EVERYTHING.
Here’s a peak at my current diet for an off-season day:
BKFT - Oat milk latte with turbinado sugar. 2 instant maple sugar oatmeal packets.
Ride - 90 min Z2, no hard efforts
Lunch - Homemade gluten free bread with salmon, mayo, sprouts
Snack - Another latte or chocolate
Dinner - Maple roast vegetable and potato hash with grilled flank steak.
Snack - wine or cocktail
This isn’t a ‘terrible’ diet, but it the portions are larger and there are more snacks/ treats for the activity level.
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