As athletes, we tend to have training cycles or seasons where we may shift our schedule from training for our particular sport, to cross-training, or simply taking some time off to recover or heal from injuries. Weight and body changes can occur during these cycle changes, so it’s important to recalibrate your nutrition intake whenever you modify a training cycle.
Here are some nutrition tips to consider when training decreases.
1. Decrease intake of carbohydrates. Carbohydrates are our main source of energy to fuel hard workouts. When training decreases, portion sizes of starches and sugars should decrease as well. Instead of filling half of your plate up with pasta, rice, or potatoes, consider cutting back on the portion size to about a one-fourth (this may vary from person to person, depending on your goals). Don’t completely cut out carbs since your body still needs healthy whole grains including brown rice, potatoes, whole-wheat pasta/bread and fruit to maintain energy levels and gut health, just cut back a little at each meal.
2. Limit eating or drinking sports nutrition supplements. Sports nutrition supplements including, sports drinks, chews, gels, and bars can serve a purpose when training to fuel endurance events or to help replace electrolytes lost through sweat. The use of supplements are not a necessity even when training, but should be limited be or avoided altogether when training decreases.
3. Reduce snacking frequency. Frequent snacking 2-3 times a day is common when you are training hard in order to maintain energy levels and a healthy weight. Snacking less is one way to cut back on the amount of food you eat when you’re not as active. If you do eat a snack, choose more nutrient dense snacks such as yogurt, fruit, handful of nuts, or vegetables and hummus to prevent hunger rather than relying on energy bars and mini-meals.
4. Maintain your protein intake. Protein-rich foods provide the building blocks to repair and strengthen muscles. Eating a consistent amount throughout the day is important to maintain muscle mass, which is essential even when you’re not training hard; however, skip the protein powders and bars and stick with eating protein rich-foods instead including eggs, fish, poultry, lean meat, beans, tofu, milk/yogurt, nuts and nut butters.
5. Eat more vegetables and fiber-rich foods. Depending on your sport, you may have cut back eating vegetables, salads, beans, and other fiber-rich foods during intense training to be able to maintain a high-calorie intake and to reduce GI distress. When training decreases, portion sizes of starches and sugars often decrease, leaving more room to eat more vegetables at your meals and snacks. Try filling half your plate with either raw, roasted, steamed, or grilled vegetables.
Adjusting eating habits is important for maintaining a healthy weight and balancing your fueling when training decreases. Snacking less, limiting intake of sports supplements, and reducing your carbohydrate intake, while continuing to eat protein-rich foods and adding more vegetables, are ways you can reach your goals during the off-season and keep your body healthy so you are prepared for your next intensive training cycle and big event!