When you’re in the peak of training, your body needs those extra calories – most in the form of carbohydrates – to supply your muscles with energy. However, in the off-season, your training load is greatly reduced. You may be cutting back on the intensity or length of your workouts, you may take time off completely for a few weeks, or you may try other activities that you don’t normally have time for. Any way you look at it though, your overall calorie burn is likely much less than in-season, which means you need to eat fewer calories to avoid weight gain.
Here’s an example. Let’s say you’re a runner and you’re putting in about 40-50 miles per week in your training season. For a 150 pound person, that’s somewhere in the range of 4000-5000 calories burned each week through running. If that person cuts down to 20 miles per week in the off-season (about 2000 calories burned), they’ll need 2000-3000 fewer calories from food each week – or about 300-400 less each day.
2. Eat cleaner.
During the training season, you may rely on some engineered sports products (like bars or shakes) to help meet your nutritional needs – and that’s fine because that’s when your body may need that! But during the off-season, try cutting back on those and focusing on eating cleaner with whole foods. Avoid foods that have a laundry list of ingredients and additives. Instead, focus on fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grains, lean proteins, and healthy fats.
3. Work on weight loss if needed.
If you’re an overweight athlete and are concerned about the impact your weight is having on your health/performance, the off-season is a great time to try to work on weight loss. During training, the level and intensity of activity can increase your appetite significantly, and it can be quite difficult to meet your fueling needs for maximum performance while trying to lose weight at the same time. In the off-season, though, the lighter training volume means a smaller effect on appetite, and you don’t have to worry as much about the impact of under-fueling on your training sessions.
Try keeping a food journal (either pen and paper, or online) and see what your current habits are – and then aim to make a few small changes each week to cut back on calories to support weight loss. For example, maybe in the first week you cut your portions of grains at dinner. Maybe in the 2nd week, you only have one glass of wine instead of two each night. You get the idea. Think about what your personal challenges are and work on those.
4. Get some blood work done.
Several athlete groups may struggle meeting certain vitamin and mineral needs. For example, African American athletes – especially those who are vegan – may fall short in Vitamin D. Young female athletes may need additional iron. With a busy training schedule, setting aside time to see a doctor can feel overwhelming. But with more flexibility and free-time in the off-season, it can be easier to find a day to stop by your MD. Get quick round of blood work done to check for deficiencies. You may need to start adding certain foods to your diet or taking a supplement – and it’s much easier to focus on implementing these changes now rather than later.