For most of us the racing season is winding down over the holidays and either we are taking some time off from formal training or just starting back to base training for spring races. During the off-season or when you are training less, nutrition still needs to be important, and you don’t need to make any drastic changes to your diet. The off-season is a great time to be more flexible with your eating and incorporating foods back into your diet you might have avoided due to GI issues during heavy training or to test out some new sports nutrition products to use for future races.
Reflect and Review Nutrition Plan
The off-season is a great time to reflect and review on how well your nutrition plan worked during training and races. You need to ask yourself the following questions:
1. Did you eat enough to support your training? How was your energy during training? Did you lose or gain weight unintentionally?
2. Did you prioritize eating during recovery?
3. Did you practice your race day nutrition during long runs?
4. Did your hydration plan work?
5. What would you change for next season? Do you need to focus more on daily nutrition or more on race day nutrition?
Really take the time to answer these questions and take action to improve your eating so you don’t repeat the same patterns during in-season training and races.
Listen to Hunger Cues
During heavy training you may have found yourself eating extra carbs and calories then you usually ate to meet your energy demands. During the off-season you need to pay attention to your hunger cues to adjust your eating to prevent excessive weight gain. Weight fluctuations during the off-season are common and you want some flexibility with eating, but if you find yourself overindulging day in and day out, this can lead to unwanted weight gain and may be more difficult to lose during in-season training. Don’t skip meals or diet excessively during this time. Focus on eating regularly throughout the day to avoid excessive hunger and to balance your eating.
Adjust Carb Intake
Training for endurance races lasting longer than 90 minutes, you tend to focus your diet more heavily on carbs to fuel your training and recovery. During the off-season, your carb intake should be cut back to meet your current energy demands. This doesn’t mean for you to start a fad-diet and completely avoid carbs. Healthy carbs from whole grains, fruit, vegetables, milk, and yogurt are still part of a balanced diet to maintain a healthy immune system, a healthy gut, and heart health. You just don’t need to consume sports nutrition supplements such as carb Gu, gels, or chews, or sports drinks since they contain extra calories from carbs and added sugars that are not needed during the off-season.
Portion sizes of starches may cut back a tad as well during the off-season. Instead of eating 1/3 to ½ of your plate filled with whole grains like pasta, rice and potatoes, you can reduce portions to ¼ of your plate instead since you’re training less.
Get Blood Work
It’s suggested to get a blood test done towards the end of a training cycle or before you start a new one to find out if you have any nutrition deficiencies that could be possibly hinder your training and racing performance. You don’t need to get a fancy blood test from an expensive company, but it is important to discuss with your doctor the following tests to consider and what tests are covered by your insurance company.
Iron studies- including a CBC (complete blood count), ferritin and transferrin saturation %
Cortisol- a stress hormone that is released when the body is under stress related to food restriction, over-training and anxiety
Female hormone levels (FSH, LH)
Male hormone level (Testosterone)
Thyroid levels (TSH, T4 and T3)
Lipid levels (cholesterol, LDL, HDL, and triglyceride)
If you have had bone injuries or stress fractures in the past you may consider getting a bone DEXA scan to determine if you require additional calcium, vitamin D and/or medication to prevent bone loss.
Remember you don’t need to take drastic diet changes during the off-season. Just listen to your body and hunger cues and eat whole foods throughout the day to maintain a healthy weight and mind. Once your season of training begins again, have a nutrition plan in place to avoid any nutrition deficiencies and to be able to train at your best.