It’s that time of year where endurance athletes are starting to enter the “off-season”. And with a reduction in training comes a reduction in the needed nutrition to keep you healthy and performing. One of the biggest shocks to an Ironman or marathon trainer (or any athlete for that matter) is the difference in eating post-racing season. During heavy training times the mentality must often be to eat whether you are hungry or not, since intense or endurance activities can dull the hunger response; however, reality will now start setting in that you’re body no longer needs all those calories. It’s time to get back in tune with those hunger cues to prevent unnecessary weight gain.
Since the athlete that takes a complete break from a sport is a rare bird, most recommendations just need to account for a reduced volume or intensity of training (not complete inactivity). Plus, keeping healthy is always the goal. So here are some tips to keep you on-track during this dietary transition period:
1) Shift your plate. I typically encourage endurance athletes to make half of their plate quality carbohydrates, such as oatmeal, fruits, starchy vegetables, whole grain breads and pastas, and other whole grains. During reduced training periods, try making roughly ¼ of your plate carbohydrates. The remainder of the plate should keep protein at ¼ (palm-sized portion) and increase vegetables to ½ the plate. Your carbohydrate needs won’t be as high during this period but you will still need protein to maintain muscle mass.
2) Nix the sports drinks. If your workouts are mostly below 60-90 minutes now and the weather has cooled, it’s time to go for water during and surrounding your workouts. Unless you have workouts above 90 minutes you no longer need carbohdyrate during the activity, and the cooler temps mean less sweating and electrolyte loss. Consuming electrolytes through foods should be adequate enough for replacement (soups in the fall and winter are great for sodium and fluid). Low calorie beverages, such as water, coffee, and tea, can keep you hydrated throughout the day.
3) Check your hunger before you snack. Snacks are often necessary to meet calorie needs or provide pre/post-workout fueling. Before you grab your traditional morning, afternoon, or post-dinner snack, check-in with your hunger and see how you’re doing. You may or may not need it during this time.
4) But don’t forget to enjoy. This time of year is filled with holiday events – most of which center around food. There’s nothing wrong with enjoying the not-always-available foods of the holiday season, so be certain to have some flexibility in your eating approach. Love the pie at Aunt Milly’s Christmas dinner? Have a slice and perhaps skip the not-so-special dessert at the office holiday party. Pick your faves of the season and build them into the plan, but avoid eating things just because they are there. Listen to your gut!
Finally, take advantage of this training downtime – now may be the perfect chance to look back over last season’s nutrition plan and consider if any changes need to be made for next year.