By Bob Seebohar
Maybe your goal is to try to shed a few pounds. Or maybe weight loss is not a concern for you. The offseason is one of the worst times of the year to try to actively lose weight. Of course, it sounds funny because everyone you talk to plants the idea in your head that you should put off your weight loss goals until this time of the year when you get a break. That is the farthest thing from the truth!
That heading itself is quite the oxymoron. Logistics in the offseason? Isn’t the offseason a time to relax, enjoy your accomplishments from the race season and let your body heal both mentally and physically? Absolutely! That is why logistics is the wrong term to describe your nutrition goals for the offseason.
Any coach will tell you, as long as you are not competing in a different sport, that you should take a break during the offseason. In fact, the term training should be replaced by fitness. Following a training program during the off-season is like oil and water, they just don’t mix.
Rejuvenate, Recover and Relax
The main goal of the off-season is to allow your body to recover from the intense training and racing season. It is a time when your body wants and needs a physical and mental reprieve. Think about it. Do you really follow a training program during the off-season or do you simply exercise for fun to maintain some fitness?
If you do not follow a structured training program during this time, how can you expect your body to follow a structured nutrition program? Herein lies one of the main reasons why some athletes gain unnecessary weight during the offseason. They are simply not allowing their body to relax-nutritionally. Don’t get me wrong, I am not supporting the idea of letting your nutrition guard down. What I am conveying is the idea of energy control and learning more about your emotions and how they are related to your eating patterns during the offseason.
Most athletes with whom I have worked do not fair well by taking a planned rest cycle while attempting to lose weight. Does it sound all too familiar? Training volume and intensity decrease significantly and you tell yourself that you are really going to focus on decreasing the amount of calories you eat so you can lose weight. Nine times out of ten you start off with a bang. Everything is going according to the “plan.” Then in about two weeks, or about the same time that first holiday pops up, gone are your ambitions of losing weight and you fall into survival mode.
Dump the Plan
Forget about counting calories. By setting a calorie-counting weight-loss plan for your offseason, you will increase your chances of failing because you do not allow yourself to enjoy food for fear of deviating from your plan.
Forget the plan. There shouldn’t be one. There, I said it. I just gave you permission to not have a plan. However, I should note that this is not permission to roam freely among dessert trays at holiday gatherings. Here are some tips you can use during the off-season without become fixated on nutrition facts labels.
Learn what habitual vs. physical hunger is. You will significantly decrease the amount of food that you put in your body by realizing the incidences that contribute to habitual hunger. That is, those times when your emotions (stress, boredom, fatigue, etc.) take control and send that signal to your brain that it needs comforting and the only way to accomplish that is through food, usually higher fat and sugary options.
You will know when you do this by simply asking yourself “why am I eating this” before you introduce any calorie into your body. If your answer does not include “because my stomach is grumbling or my blood sugar is low because I cannot focus” then stop and get yourself out of the situation. Your brain needs a diversion so go take a walk or give a friend a call.
Allow yourself to enjoy food in your offseason. It’s okay to eat the foods that you may not normally eat. If you truly want something, do not justify if you are worthy of having it or what you will have to do later to burn off those calories. That behavior is sabotaging and will fuel the circle of failure. Eat the pumpkin pie, or whatever you wish. Let down your guard and enjoy it without guilt. Oh, and if you are that person who hasn’t done that before or has a hard time letting go of that particular emotion, you will overeat at first. But guess what? It’s okay because that is a positive step in learning about your body, the cues it sends to your brain and most importantly, why you choose certain foods when you do.
Most importantly, don’t try to lose weight. Counting calories, following a structured meal plan and being obsessive with every little morsel you put in your mouth will lead you down the wrong path. Even if you say that you are going to try harder this time, trust me, it won’t work. Food is not your enemy but when you set a goal of losing weight, food becomes your competitor. You want to beat it and you will do everything possible to do so. But as I said previously, if you do not take control of your emotional eating cues, you will always lose the top podium spot to food. This has nothing to do with will power. It’s about getting to know your body, supporting the role that emotions play in eating and allowing yourself permission to eat according to what your body is telling you.
As you may be able to gleam from this information, this is where the saying, “easy to say, hard to do” shows its true colors. Give it about 5-7 days in the beginning of your off-season then about another 14 days to work out the bugs. You may not be 100% successful at first but every little step counts. Every step builds upon another, just like fitness, so that you continually improve throughout your triathlon journey.