Eating in the off-season: What should (and shouldn’t!) change

As the summer nears, this means off-season for some athletes. I have plenty of athletes who are concerned about what less training will do to their bodies – and therefore fitness level and overall performance – if they do not adjust food intake accordingly. But what should be adjusted? Here are 5 things that should change and 1 that shouldn’t:

1. Decrease carbohydrate intake
Since carbohydrate is your body’s main exercise fuel, less exercise means less of a need for carbohydrate. So, slightly decrease your portions of grains and fruit at each meal. Do not completely cut out these foods, but do decrease the amount. For example, instead of having 1/3 plate of grains, instead choose 1/8-1/4 plate of grains (depending on your overall goals).

2. Decrease fat intake
Because fat provides extra fuel and decreases inflammation during heavy training periods, less training means less of a need for this type of fuel. Focus on decreasing sources of healthy fat slightly at each meal, but don’t omit completely. For example, instead of 1 tablespoon of dressing on your salad, aim for 1 teaspoon (note: 3 teaspoons = 1 tablespoon).

3. Increase your intake of vitamins & minerals
In other words, increase the nutrient-density of your meals. This will help your body to recover during the off-season as well as keep calorie intake at an appropriate level. Where do you find large amounts of natural vitamins and minerals? Put down the supplement bottle and instead turn to fruits – and especially – vegetables. Aim for darkly-colored vegetables like peppers, spinach, berries and peaches. These will contain the highest nutrient content.

4. Decrease salt intake
Because you are not training as much, you may want to at least somewhat pay attention to where you are getting salt in your diet. During season, I don’t worry much about sodium intake in athletes due to the amount of sweating that occurs daily (unless, of course, the athlete has a medical history that causes me to think otherwise). What are the highest sources of salt for typical athletes? Sports drinks, sports products such as gels and chomps, deli meats, jerky and salted nuts or other foods…or using the salt shaker in general. Again – the idea isn’t necessarily to cut out these foods, but to decrease the amount you eat.

5. Ditch the convenience foods and sports products
During the off-season, use the extra time you are now not spending training to focus on meal planning, preparation and cooking. Explore new recipes, make your own granola bars and energy bites. You are training less, so there is a good chance you don’t need sports drinks, gels or chomps. Expand your horizons and you might just find some new recipes you want to keep once the next season rolls around.

6. Don’t change protein intake
Protein intake over the course of an entire training year rarely changes (except, perhaps, if muscle gain is a goal). So, continue good protein intake at all meals and snacks. That protein that once helped fuel and recover those muscles in-season will now help maintain muscle and contribute to satiety in-season. So, keep protein exactly at the amount it was in-season.



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