How to Adjust Your Nutrition in the Triathlon Offseason
by Jesse Kropelnicki, Head Coach and Owner at QT2 Systems
Ed. Note—finish up your season at Kona or Louisville a couple weekends ago, or perhaps this one just past Arizona or North Carolina 70.3? Or maybe you're reading this a few months down the road, after Ironman Arizona or Florida or Cozumel or Indian Wells 70.3. Regardless of your race schedule, it's the time of year when athletes are headed into their offseasons, lighter training loads, and the holidays. Jesse Kropelnicki of QT2 Systems and The Core Diet gives us some ideas about to navigate the changes in our training habits, as far as fueling is concerned.
This writing examines that time of year when many athletes take a bit of downtime from their training and are tempted by nutritional pitfalls. Although a reduced training load may mean that it is a great time to kick back and relax, it doesn't necessarily mean that it is a great time to pack on excess body weight via body fat, or reduce nutrient density intake. Below, I hit upon the major topics that coaches should consider when making off-season nutritional recommendations to their athletes.
For many athletes, the off-season arrives in time for the holidays, meaning that it tends to be even more difficult to stay nutritionally sound and to control body composition. For most athletes, a reasonable upper-bound weight gain from the previous season’s leanest body weight should be no greater than about ten pounds, and no less than four pounds. From a body composition perspective, this range does a couple of things to help the athlete enter the following season in a beneficial position. It ensures that it will not be too difficult to obtain a lean body weight, because an excessive amount of body fat was not gained. This control also helps to reduce the risk of injury upon returning to training, because of a lower load on soft tissue, joints, and bones. Lower isn’t necessarily better either; many folks who were very lean the previous season require weight gain to fully recover from both systematic and peripheral system standpoints.
During the off-season, athletes should take care to include foods high in nutrient density, alongside the treats they typically deny themselves in-season. After all, they are trying to recover from the previous season that was, undoubtedly, stressful to the body and therefore require some foods that are nutrient dense.
These are my top five tips to help athletes navigate their time off and reach the objective of controlled body fat paired with adequate recovery from the previous season.
Although your editor loves macaroni and cheese, it is probably not Core Ratio approved
1) Core Ratio: when not at a holiday party, try to focus on what we, at TheCoreDiet.com, call the Core Ratio. The Core Ratio is a means of evaluating any packaged foods, that come with a nutritional label (i.e. not fruits, vegetables, lean meats, nuts, or seeds). It is calculated by finding the sum of the total carbohydrates and added sugars, and then subtracting any dietary fiber. This number is then divided by the sum of the product’s fat and protein. A ratio below two represents a product that is lower glycemic, and therefore a more suitable choice for maintaining stabile blood sugar, throughout the day. Unnecessary surges in blood sugar can potentially cause an increase in the storage of unwanted body fat. Eating within the “Core” during periods of the week when you are not in a situation where you feel you need to splurge, can really help mitigate the potential “damage” of the holiday season.
2) Workout Windows: There are times during each day where it does make more sense to splurge during the off season. I like to recommend that athletes keep their holiday parties and splurge meals within a window following a workout that is as long as the workout itself was. That is, if a 3 hour ride is completed on a Saturday that ends at 4:00 p.m., after having a solid recovery drink immediately post workout, the athlete is free to enjoy anything they’d like until 7:00 p.m. This helps allocate excess calories that may be consumed, to a period during the day when the athlete’s body is hypersensitive to using them for recovery. Another way to think about this is that during the workout itself, a good fueling program should replace about half of the caloric expenditure. The post workout window provided here helps replace the other half of the caloric expenditure. It also helps reinforce a powerful concept: “I must train to reward myself with a splurge item.”
An offseason favorite of HJ's, a Few Donuts from Spain
3) Protein Focus: During the offseason athletes who focus on protein tend to have an easier time maintaining weight and supporting or gaining muscle mass lost from the previous season of racing. Protein has minimal impact on blood sugar and also helps displace the potential to have refined sugars or other empty carbohydrates during tempting situations. A good approach for most athletes is including a good portion of protein with every meal. This protein will help support base work when many athletes are in the gym, and will also provide a fuller feeling, which ultimately reduces intake of those foods which really tend to influence blood sugar and cause unwanted gain of body fat.
4) Cheat Day: I like to include a cheat meal in every athlete’s nutrition program, one time each week, throughout the entire season. This cheat meal, during the offseason, can be used on any day without meeting the previous recommendations of this writing. It is a free pass! Examples of the weekly cheat meal may include pizza on a Friday night, outside of workout window. Oftentimes these cheat meals can be organized to fit into an athlete’s training, such as on a Friday night before a long weekend of workouts. These cheat meals can also be used for holiday parties, or dinners during the off-season. I find that the weekly cheat meal makes a long term nutrition program much more manageable, sustainable, and often more effective over the long-term.
5) Four Fruits and Veggies: A good rule of thumb for most athletes is to consume four servings of fruit and four servings of vegetables every day, in addition to any other foods or holiday party dinners they may be having. This ensures that although excess calories via junk foods are being consumed, the athlete is still receiving good nutrient density to help support recovery from the previous season. The added fruit and vegetable intake also helps displace the potential to consume excessive empty calories during the off-season.
Nutrition during the off season can be a challenge for athletes and coaches alike. Following the simple recommendations above can really help athletes manage their body composition, and recover from a previous season of racing without foregoing this fun, stress-relieving period that every athlete deserves.