The pursuit of athletic performance is an all-year commitment.
The offseason is a time to reflect and relax but cannot go neglected. This time is an important part of the season to achieving athletic goals. Successful athletes look at the offseason as a time to recharge the body and mind. Additional goals of building good habits and strategies help to feel refreshed when going back into training.
In this article, we will discuss ways in which you can help your body and mind best prepare to go back into training and be hungry for progress. Furthermore, we will also discuss strategies to enhance performance during the time away from structured training.
Let’s start with defining offseason.
For endurance athletes, this often is a time period after the final important race of the year. Some describe the offseason as the entire time period while not competing, which might include training. Others describe the offseason as the few weeks where athletes do not engage in any structured training. Simply, they take time away from their sport to engage in other activities.
Offseason goals center around providing the body and mind opportunities to rest, reflect, relax, and reset. With regards to nutrition, there are 5 areas in which athletes can focus their attention during the offseason.
Target Weight Goals
Whether the athlete needs to lose, gain, or maintain weight, the offseason is an ideal time to make significant changes and adjust nutrient intake accordingly. Going from high training and competition volume to little or no volume requires a shift in both activity volume and food volume. If the athlete has more than 5 lbs to lose to reach ideal competition weight, the offseason is a great time to lose those extra lbs as the calorie deficit will not inhibit performance. Both male and female athletes can healthily fluctuate up to 5 lbs in season. Losing more than 5 lbs poses challenges in season when the athlete is training and competing.
Start with decreasing calories from carbohydrates and fat. Then focus on nutrient-dense low-calorie foods like non-starchy vegetables, fruit, lean protein, and carefully timed starches. Maintaining weight will also require a decrease in calories and food volume as the activity goes down at this time of year. In addition, the athlete can apply the same strategies to a lesser degree than if working to lose weight. An athlete may need to gain weight either in the form of body fat to build a strong immune and endocrine system or muscle to enhance power and performance. In those cases, maintaining the same volume of food while decreasing activity will be enough to accomplish these goals.
The offseason is a great time to try new foods and incorporate variety. Variety ensures athletes gain the benefits of all the valuable nutrients in foods and do not become deficient in any one nutrient. While athletes may be hesitant to try new foods in season to not upset their GI tract or inhibit performance, the offseason is a great time to experiment.
Try these less commonly eaten foods in this year’s offseason.
- Starches: amaranth, millet, buckwheat, spelt, bulgar, pumpkin, acorn squash, spaghetti squash, navy beans, lentils, French lentils, red lentils
- Veggies: bok choy, Chinese eggplants, aloe, okra, jicama, calabash, tricolored radish, kohlrabi
- Fruits: papaya, cherimoya, dragon fruit, prickly pear, plantains
- Protein-rich foods: tofu, tempeh, cottage cheese, weird cheeses, organ meats, sardines, herring, trout, seitan
Also, this might be the ideal time to try one of the products from Cocoa Elite if you haven’t.
Debrief from the Past Season
Each season an athlete competes in brings its own challenges and experiences. Without proper reflection and debriefing, the athlete likely makes the same mistakes year after year in their training and competition. So, spend time alone or with a coach, teammate, or friend to think about what aspects of training and competition went particularly well, what can be improved on, and what will be done differently going forward.
Learning requires this reflection.
Choose areas to focus on that have the most room for improvement. For example: fueling for rides/races, variety, balance of food groups, hydration, or nutrient-density. Then write down three SMART goals for each of these areas. SMART stands for: Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic, Timely.
Three examples of SMART goals:
- I will buy 1 new vegetable and 1 new starch at the grocery store every week.
- I will go out to eat no more than 3 times per week.
- My dinner and lunch plate will consist of 50% non-starchy veggies every day until March.
Engaging in unhealthy habits cannot be completely avoided. Every athlete has their personal indulgences. It is important to enjoy these indulgences within reason as much as it is to limit them. Indulgences such as alcohol, fast food, sweets and desserts with high amounts of added sugar and fat and fried foods have their place.
The offseason is a great time to kick back and celebrate the season with these indulgences within balance.
The key is to be mindful of making choices to indulge and savor them. Savoring and making intentions to enjoy the indulgence allows the athlete to feel satisfied and not create habits of eating or drinking them regularly.
Boost the Immune System
Training and competition stress the adrenal system. When athletes stop or decrease activity volume, the body transitions into a state of repair that requires proper rest and nutritional support. Athletes can prevent illness during this time of repair by eating foods that boost the immune system. Incorporate these foods to have a healthy and restorative offseason.
- Whole Grains – amaranth, millet, oatmeal, whole wheat, quinoa
- Antioxidants – berries, garlic, pumpkin, acorn squash, citrus, turmeric, ginger, carrots, green tea, cocoa
- Omega-3 fatty acids – salmon, tuna, mackerel, herring, sardines, seaweed, flax seeds, chia seeds
- Zinc – oysters, chuck steak, chicken leg, tofu, lean pork chop, hemp seeds, lentils
Kristen Arnold MS, RDN, CSSD has a Master’s in Human Nutrition from The Ohio State University. Kristen also owns a private practice nutrition counseling business focusing on performance nutrition for athletes.
In addition, she coaches for BUTCHERBOX CYCLING. Kristen coaches entry-level to national elite-level cyclists in mountain, road, and cyclocross bike racing. Kristen is also a professional cyclist for Velo Classic p/b Stan’s NoTubes domestic elite women’s cycling team. She competes in national-level races across the USA and Canada.
In 2016, Kristen placed 4th overall in the Intelligentsia Cup powered by SRAM. In addition, Kristen earned a 7th place finish in GC at the Green Mountain Stage Race.
Contact her here: Kristen Arnold.
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