Prevent Offseason Weight Gain
By Bob Seebohar
As a sports dietitian, my office is flooded with endurance athletes in February and March wanting to lose the 5-15 pounds that they gained during their transition cycle (better known as the offseason). While the body physically needs the much deserved down time and less structure associated with the transition cycle, it does not need the weight gain. There is absolutely no reason for endurance athletes to gain weight during this time of the year. Does it happen? Absolutely! And much too frequently. But weight gain can be prevented by simply following a few guidelines that I will detail later. First, let’s discuss the concept of nutrition periodization and the logistics of the “offseason weight gain” phenomenon.
Many endurance athletes structure their physical training based on periodization principles in order to achieve peak performance during their race season. While many endurance athletes watch what they eat and sometimes maintain very strict eating habits, many do not employ the periodization principle to the nutrition aspect of their training (otherwise known as nutrition periodization).
Nutrition periodization is very important for any endurance athlete. Nutrition periodization allows the endurance athlete to use food for energy needed to support training and maintain adequate glycogen stores but also to maintain a healthy immune system and ward off illness, prevent vitamin and mineral deficiencies, speed recovery from hard training sessions, lose or gain weight, and positively alter body composition.
We will obviously focus our discussion on the weight component or more specifically, the prevention of weight gain.
Most likely, you have finished your race season, characterized by a high level of fitness and training. You were burning a great deal of calories on a daily basis because of the amount and intensity of your training and racing. I would guess that you also remained fairly weight stable (plus or minus a few pounds depending upon your hydration status), which tells me that you did a good job at feeding your body the right amount of calories to support your training.
Since your race season has ended and you are taking a much needed break from the higher volume and intensity of training and have replaced that with more unstructured, non-training activities, you must understand that your body will be going through some major changes now. The most important change is that you are not burning as many calories each day therefore you must change the way, more specifically, the amount that you eat each day. The good news is that this should not be difficult for you to implement. However, the reason I chose the word “implement” is because it is far easier to develop a plan and implement it than it is to follow it.
This may sound overly simplified but the only thing you really need to do during this time of your training year is follow your set eating plan. If you can instill the following nutrition guidelines during this time of the year, you will not gain weight. Of course there is a strong psychological component to this also. You must not only develop, implement and follow your plan but you must also want to do it. That is the key with anything we do in life. If you don’t want to do it or are not ready to do it then you won’t.
So, what are the secrets to eating during the Transition Cycle? Here are some guidelines for you to follow:
- Manage calories
- Increase variety of foods
- Enjoy food without being a slave to it
- Put the energy bars, gels and sports drinks in the back of the cupboard for a while to give the body a break from them. I call this the “pantry shuffle.”
- Reintroduce whole foods from all of the food groups to acquire vitamins and minerals from foods rather than bars, gels and drinks.
- Try new restaurants and foods. Be adventurous and think outside of the box. Foods prepared a different way or from a different culture are good sources of nutrients and are a break from the norm.
- Don’t overeat. Balance your blood sugar well by eating sources of lean protein and fiber rich foods (fruits and veggies) at every meal or snack and it will help you control your hunger.
- Don’t forget about the environment. If this cycle falls during the year when there is not much sunshine, it is common to eat more comfort foods, which can be very high in calories and tend to increase body weight and body fat.
Develop your plan, implement it and most importantly, follow it and you will be able to prevent unnecessary weight gain during the next few months.
Bob Seebohar, MS, RD, CSSD, CSCS is a sport dietitian and elite triathlon coach. He traveled to the 2008 Summer Olympics as the U.S. Olympic Committee Sport Dietitian and the personal Sport Dietitian for the 2008 Olympic Triathlon Team. He has served as head coach for Sarah Haskins, 2008 Olympian, was a performance team member (sport dietitian and strength coach) for Susan Williams, 2004 Olympic Triathlon bronze medalist. He is the current coach of Jasmine Oeinck, 2009 Elite National Champion.
Bob's new book, Metabolic Efficiency Training: Teaching the Body to Burn More Fat, will teach athletes how to structure their nutrition and training program throughout the year to maximize their body's ability to use fat as energy and improve body composition. For more information and to order the book, visit www.fuel4mance.com or contact Bob at firstname.lastname@example.org