As a Sports Dietitian, my office is flooded with triathletes during the February and March wanting to lose the 5-15 pounds that they gained during their off season, also referred to as the transition cycle. 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 “off-season weight gain” phenomenon.
Using Nutritional Periodization
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).
Why is Nutritional Periodization Important
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.
Burning Calories During the Offseason
Most likely, you have probably 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.
Changing the Way you Eat During the Offseason
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 following 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.
Eating During the Transition Cycle
So, what are the secrets to eating during the Transition Cycle? Here are some guidelines for you to follow:
- Control calories
- Increase variety of foods
- Enjoy food
6 Ways to Avoid Off Season Weight Gain:
1. Put the Energy Supplements Away
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”.
2. Eat a Variety of Whole Foods
Re-introduce whole foods from all of the food groups to acquire vitamins and minerals from foods rather than bars, gels, and drinks.
3. Be Adventurous
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”.
4. Lose Weight Slowly
If you need to lose weight and are not simply trying to prevent weight gain, do so safely and realistically. Since there is not much structure or strict training guidelines during this cycle, a weight loss of 1-2 pounds per week is safe, realistic, and will not have a negative impact on training.
5. Watch Those Calories
Don’t overeat. Managing the amount of calories you put into your body is crucial during this cycle so pay special attention to portion sizes and quantities. A weight gain of 2 pounds per month can happen by simply overeating by 250 calories per day!
6. Don’t Let the Weather Impact Your Eating
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
For those wanting numbers to calculate specific carbohydrate, protein and fat needs during the day, refer to the chart below. Remember though, ranges of nutrients and calories exist because each athlete is different with a different metabolic rate, medical history and future goals and you may need more or less than your training partner even if you are the same height, weight, age and gender.
|Transition||5-6 grams per kilogram of body weight||1.2-1.4 grams per kilogram of body weight||0.8-1.0 grams per kilogram of body weight|
*Divide the amount you weigh in pounds by 2.2 to determine your weight in kilograms.
**There are 4 calories per gram of carbohydrate and protein and 9 calories per gram of 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.