“Nutrition is important, training is important- but so are rest and recovery… Your body is your temple, and you’ve got to take care of it.” – Antonio Brown, Wide Receiver, Pittsburgh Steelers
It’s that time of year when many sports are either winding down or are in preparation. This period between competition and a new training season is called transition. Just like the rest day in your weekly training cycle, transition offers your body a chance to recover and reset. The off-season is the perfect time to get your nutrition regime in order and lay the foundation for the next season. Follow these smart steps so that you can enter your future training and competition season in your best shape yet!
Recover and Recharge
You have completed another hard training and competition season. Give yourself a big pat on your back, refuel, and recover.
Take the stress off eating and move towards being more flexible with your diet. While the transition period shouldn’t be an excuse to overeat or eat excessive amounts of unhealthy food, it is an excellent time to be more liberal with your diet.
Sometimes, during training, we get bogged down with the components of food- like protein and carbs- and we stop enjoying and savouring food. It is entirely possible to include all foods in moderation and to stay within your daily energy needs. Now is the time to practice mindful eating- to eat when you are hungry and stop when you are full.
Re-evaluate and Revamp
Have a good look at your eating behaviours and outcomes last season. Just keep in mind, a good diet isn’t about perfection; it’s about moderation. Be kind to yourself during this reflection. Celebrate the positive aspects of your past way of eating and see the nutrition gaps as opportunities to help meet your future performance goals. Questions to ask yourself can include:
Do you eat at least three meals a day?
As an athlete, the best way to meet your energy needs is to eat regularly throughout the day. Your portion sizes will depend on your body size and your body composition goals, but frequent fueling benefits all athletes.
If you are frequently missing meals now is the time to figure out why. Do you skip breakfast because you don’t feel like eating when you get up? While there may be some occasions where this might be helpful, most of the time this practice puts you at an immediate disadvantage. Eating breakfast, mainly when it contains carbohydrates, is associated with improved cognitive and physical abilities during daily tasks. Take a page out of Shalane Flanagan’s book and make breakfast the most important meal of the day.
Do you miss dinner because of evening practices? Now that practices are on hold, get into the habit of eating dinner nightly. Try out new recipes to find ones that are tasty and quick and can fit into your routine during training season. Great recipes to choose are those that can be made ahead, say on the weekend, and frozen in batches to warm up quickly after you get home at night. Or for mealtime training, do as Josée Chouinard suggested during my interview with her last year and plan to split meals and eat half before and after a workout.
Do you eat a well-balanced diet?
Log your diet for a few days to give you a sense of what and how you are eating. It’s often surprising what you find out when you record how you are eating. Ensure you are ticking all the boxes. Are you eating enough vegetables, milk or milk alternatives, meat or meat alternatives, grains and grain products? Check out Eating Well with the Canada’s Food Guide to see how your diet adds up.
Do you hydrate well?
Drink up! Hydration can markedly affect your athletic performance. Now is the time to ensure you are drinking fluids regularly. Keep a water bottle with you and sip on water and calorie-free liquids throughout the day. If you need a flavour boost to your liquid, consider adding decaffeinated black or green tea or herbal or fruit tea to the mix. I also love to add cut up citrus fruit or sliced cucumber to my water to give it a spa-like taste. Check out my past blog about hydration for more tips.
What are your sport-related weight goals?
Do you want to make changes to your body composition? The off-season is the perfect time to add or reduce weight.
If you want to move to different weight class in your sport, healthfully reduce your body fat, the best time to make this change is in the off-season so it won’t affect your performance. Try these tips to manage your weight loss in a healthy way:
- Limit calorie-containing beverages. It is too easy to overdo it when you drink your calories.
- Include adequate amounts of veggies in your diet. Vegetables are nutrient dense and loaded with fibre which can help fill you up.
- Include lean protein at each meal and snack to improve satiety and limit muscle loss.
- Continue to eat regular meals and snacks. Modify portion sizes. Prioritize healthy food choices and reduce less healthy choices.
If you want to gain weight and muscle, the transition period is also the best time for you to do so. Try these tips for weight gain:
- Eat often, include regular meals and snacks in your plan.
- Include healthy calorie-containing beverages like milk with all of your meals.
- Include healthy fat in your diet e.g. nuts, seeds, oils.
For more tips about changing your weight in the off-season refer to this info from the Sports, Cardiovascular and Wellness Nutrition experts at the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.
Were you sick a lot last season?
Are you sleeping enough, including adequate fruit and vegetables in your diet, including healthy fats, and eating enough carbohydrates? Are there nutrients you consistently miss in your diet like vitamin D and iron?
Evaluate how you are meeting your nutrition needs to maintain a healthy immune system. During the winter months consider taking a vitamin D supplement. Make sleep a priority. Eat a balanced diet and practice restorative rather than restrained eating.
What is one nutrition change you can make that will improve your diet?
Is it eating more vegetables? Is it eating breakfast daily? Learning to cook? This change will be your number one priority during the off-season.
If it’s eating more vegetables set a daily goal, divide the servings up into your meals and snacks, shop for vegetables you will eat, and prepare your veggies ahead of time.
If it’s eating breakfast, decide what you will eat, choose a small portion at first and gradually increase the amount you eat and switch to the healthiest version of your preferred breakfast once it becomes a habit.
And finally, if your goal is to learn to cook, enlist some help from family or friends or even take a cooking course and then try out some recipes on your own. Don’t be afraid to fail. Like everything else, cooking takes practice.
What are the nutrition challenges during peak training?
If you eat out too much because you don’t have time to go grocery shopping now is the time to become familiar with online grocery services. If you have trouble with gastrointestinal discomfort due to food during your training, practices or events, practice eating before and during your slow and short exercise bouts. Your gut will adjust and be ready when training kicks into high gear. If you usually have trouble finding time to cook the off-season offers more time for food preparation. As such, the transition period is the perfect time to limit pre-prepared food and try some new recipes. Take the time to cut some veggies for snacks, make a power shake or muffins and nix the store bought bars and snack foods. Identify what your challenges are and test how you are going to meet those challenges.
What is your competition nutrition plan?
Figure it out, write it down. You are going to practice that plan on a smaller scale right from week one. On race or game day you will be ready and will rest easy knowing that your nutrition regime is sound and ready to go. Your gut will be adapted, and you will be mentally prepared.
In a nutshell, eliminate what doesn’t work, keep what does work, and consider making three nutrition changes.
Ready Set Go
Support the healthy habits formed during training in the transition between seasons. You’ve got this! You are putting proper nutrition to work and are positioning yourself for a healthy and successful training and competition season. Get your nutrition game on now when your regular game is enjoying some well deserved time off.
Nutritional planning is integral to achieve your optimal athletic performance. Gazelle Nutrition Lab delivers one on one or group nutritional counselling and consulting to both recreational and high-performance athletes. Also, the Food For Thought Blog is a free resource for healthy recipes and health tips. Have questions? We’d love to hear from you! Get in touch!