Harmony between training goals and nutrition is the cornerstone of any effective training regimen. As the season winds down, it is not just the time to reevaluate your training schedule, but also to adapt your nutrition plan to meet the changing needs of your body. Food isn’t just fuel – food has a major impact on the way you feel about yourself, and also on your social life. In the offseason, it is common for runners to feel an emotional ‘void’ and a lack of motivation. This emotional upheaval can derail your nutritional plan, as there can be temptation to overindulge or not pay attention to the nutritional quality of food.
In this issue, we look at some guidelines to help you make the nutritional transition from the full-fledged training season to the offseason. Much like your nutrition during training, the goal here is to maintain fitness levels, and to use food to nourish your body, mind and soul. Though the offseason can be emotionally hard on runners, this is a great time to rekindle a bond with food and your loved ones. Take this opportunity to rediscover and enjoy nutrition, and explore ways to use your diet to take your performance to new heights in the next season.
Take a break – but in moderation
Offseason nutrition should be a happy medium between ‘All bets are off!’ and ‘Let the hunger games begin!’
It’s a common complaint among runners that they emerge from the offseason with a few unwanted kilos. Unwinding from a strict diet is necessary, but it’s essential to do so in moderation. Fancy a piece of chocolate every now and then after dinner? Go ahead! A beer and pizza night with friends? You’ve earned it. However, do not make junk food a daily occurrence. While your training volume might have gone down, your body still needs resources to power your workouts and recover effectively. So, make sure that your body is still getting quality fuel, not just empty calories.
Don’t skip breakfast
In the training season, runners are extremely particular about getting their pre-run fuel, or their beloved post-run morning spread. In the offseason, as the early morning runs taper off, there can be a tendency to slack off with breakfast. Regardless of whether you run or not – your body has still been starving for 8 hours straight! So, make breakfast count! Pick nutrition-dense foods that will power you till lunch and keep your blood sugar levels steady. Go for low glycemic carb options like whole wheat toast and muesli, as they will release energy in a slow and sustained manner. Also, go for natural sugar over refined sugar. For e.g. pick oatmeal with raisin over white bread and jam. Toasted brown bread sandwiches with peanut butter are another healthy option. Add a smattering of fresh fruit and nuts to your oatmeal to earn yourself even more energy for a great day ahead!
Don’t forget the trifecta – whole foods, vegetables and fruits
Keep the nutrient density high in your meals. The easiest way to achieve this is by incorporating whole foods, fresh vegetables and seasonal fruits, as they are packed with the macronutrients, fiber and vitamins that you need to maintain fitness and immunity. As much as possible, include low-glycemic index grains like brown rice and oats. If you are getting bored of the routine, opt for a savory millet porridge for breakfast, or a toasted Ragi bread sandwich for lunch. Try to incorporate servings of fresh vegetables with every meal. If the daily grind of sabzi and chapattis gets too mundane for you, experiment with soups and juices of vegetables like carrots and beetroot. Also, nothing says summer like a fresh salad. A side of greens will give you a healthy dose of folate, iron, and fiber. This is also the best time to load up on the goodness of summer fruits like watermelon, muskmelon and oranges. These fruits are not just great thirst quenchers; they are also loaded with fiber and essential vitamins.
Bottomline – keep it green and fresh.
Keep the snacks healthy
Control the urge to eat processed snacks like chips and biscuits. If it comes in a shiny packet, you are probably about to consume nutritionally empty calories. Instead, grab a handful of raw almonds, peanuts, pistachios, or chana. When it comes to junk food, the rule ‘out of sight, out of mind’ applies – keep the cheat treats stashed away someplace. Instead, keep little bowls of dried fruits and nuts accessible at home and at the workplace. If you find that you are craving for snacks between meals, ask yourself ‘Is this biological hunger, or emotional hunger? Am I actually hungry, or am I just bored?’ At the same time, remember to cut yourself a little slack. Go back to rule number 1 – everything in moderation, including moderation. A pack of chips with tea time every now and then will not cause the apocalypse!
Even if you have cut down your weekly mileage, the principles of sports nutrition still apply. Include a high-quality sports drink in your training regimen. Remember that even if you are dealing with an easier training volume, you are still running in extremely hot and humid conditions. You need to be replenishing your electrolyte levels and glycogen stores with a hydration drink, as well as supplying your body with a good carbs + protein brew post-training to ensure proper muscle recovery.
‘Never stay thirsty’ is a good rule of thumb. Ensure that you are constantly sipping water throughout the day. Don’t forget to get in the spirit of the summer by drinking at least one nariyal paanievery day. Steer clear of carbonated drinks and packaged fruit juices, as they contain astronomical amounts of sugar in every serving. Remember, we are all 80% water – so, drink up!
Indulge within the workout window
As much as possible, plan any indulgences and treats within a 3-4 hour window of finishing your workout of the day. That pizza and beer night we mentioned earlier? Have that night out after you have had a solid gym session. In this 3-4 hour window after a workout, your body is still hypersensitive to using resources towards recovery. Chances are that the additional calories that you pick up in this period will be allocated towards repairing and rebuilding your body, rather than getting stored as fat. Following this pattern will also motivate you to not skip workouts, especially if you have feast planned for later on in the day.
Keep an eye on your sugar intake
You probably watch your sugar intake like a hawk during training, but processed sugar can have a way of sneaking back into your diet in the cooling-off period. An extra spoonful of sugar in the coffee, the tub of caramel popcorn at the movies, and that dessert at the restaurant that you had denied yourself all running season – all these can add up on the weighing scale! Fluctuations of sugar levels in the blood stream also have an impact on your mood. Sticking to low glycemic index foods and avoiding sugary treats will keep your blood sugar stabilized. Every time you have a sugar craving, make yourself a cup of calming green tea instead.
Maintain a protein focus
Don’t ease up on your protein intake in this transition period. Protein makes it easier to maintain your weight, it prevents the loss of precious muscle mass, and supports your strength training efforts in the gym. Meals with protein induce satiety faster, thus curbing the urges to overeat. Including protein in every meal ensures efficient recovery from your gym workouts, and also supports the building of new muscle mass. Legumes, pulses, millet, beans are common place items found in the pantry that are naturally high in protein, and super easy to incorporate in your daily meals. In fact, the values below offer a rough guideline of how much protein, carbohydrates and fat you should be consuming throughout the day in the offseason.
Courtesy: Bob Seeobohar, ‘Preventing Weight Gain During the Offseason’
Enjoy food – cook more!
Your diet should be a fulfilling part of your life – not your prison! Keeping things nutritious and healthy is a great thing, but your diet should not make you miserable. Now that you have some time to step back from training, use this time to experiment with the foods you love. Reexamine old cooking habits and try out healthier ways to experience food. See an exotic fruit in the supermarket aisle? Go ahead and try it out. Think of all the times that you went out with friends and you refused to indulge. This is the time to invite them over and share with them the food that you love. Introduce them to the recipes that you have so carefully developed. Take the chance to open them up to the world of healthy eating. Discipline is a wonderful thing, but so is letting go once in a while. You can still eat healthy without obsessing over the calorie count of everything that you throughout the day.
So, here’s a recap of these offseason nutrition mantras for you print out and tape it to fridge. We hope you find these guidelines useful to tide you through the offseason. You can more than make up for the emptiness that you might be feeling on the training front by having an excellent nutrition plan in place. You are doing a great job by maintaining your efforts in the gym – these will pay off in the new season. Happy training, be patient, and we will see you back on the streets very soon!
Offseason Nutrition Mantras
- Everything in moderation – including moderation.
- Don’t skip breakfast!
- Throughout the day, include at least 2 servings each of whole foods, fresh vegetables and fruits.
- Pick healthy snacks over junk foods. Repeat after us – Chana over chips. Chana over chips.
- Drink up. Don’t stay thirsty. In fact, you should probably be sipping some water right now.
- Lay off the ‘La dolce vita’. Mind your sugar intake.
- Indulge within the workout window.
- You need protein to build and maintain fitness. Try to include a serving of protein with every meal.
- Enjoy food. Experiment. Share the food you love with the people you care about.
By Dr Vishakha Shivdasani(Doctor, Medical Nutritionist, Columnist)Specializes in nutrition & lifestyle medicine Columnist with the Wall Street Journal, Mint Newspaper