Registered dietitian Brooke Douglas says her offices get busy each spring with endurance athletes looking to shed 5 to 15 pounds in preparation for competition.
She wishes they’d come see her in the fall instead.
It’s in the fall when many athletes are transitioning from months of intense regular exercise to a period of recovery when bad habits can start.
Daily training at a high level requires eating extra calories and for many athletes these eating habits are hard to change when they suddenly don’t need that extra food.
“You see it with gymnasts all the time,” said Douglas, co-owner of nutritionauthority.com and its three Puget Sound offices. “When they are competing, they can eat whatever they want and not gain weight because they are finely tuned machines.
“Then they grow up and become butterballs.”
I once asked a trainer for recommendations on transferring to the offseason and he replied, “There is no offseason.”
Sure, that works in theory and might look good on a shirt or bumper sticker, but that weak Nike-quoting bravado isn’t realistic.
“Your body needs the much-deserved downtime,” Douglas said, “... but it does not need the weight gain.”
A good offseason allows your body to recover and gets it primed to perform even better when your next competition season rolls around. But if you put on an extra 5 to 15 pounds during the offseason because you’re still eating like you’re in serious training, you are setting yourself back.
Here are some tips for making sure your offseason doesn’t sabotage your next season:
1. Visit a registered dietitian. Douglas said many that people are surprised to learn that their insurance covers visits to a dietitian even without a referral from a doctor. A good dietitian can help you establish an ideal offseason eating plan.
2. Don’t take the offseason so literally. You aren’t really completely off. You still should get regular exercise even if it’s not at the intensity level you’re at during the season.
3. Douglas recommends ditching the energy bars, gels and sports drinks you might rely on during the season. She recommends what she calls the “Pantry Shuffle.” Move them to the back of the cupboard “to give your body a break from them.” Replace them with more whole foods from all of the food groups.
4. “Balance your blood sugar by eating good sources of lean protein and fiber-rich foods (such as fruits and vegetables) at every meal,” Douglas said. This will help battle cravings and improve your chances of not overeating.
5. Avoid consuming calories via beverages, “unless it’s low-fat milk,” Douglas said.
6. Keep a food diary. Writing down what you eat is a tried-and-true way to make sure you know how much you’re eating. It also can be just enough motivation to help cut a smaller slice of pie or eat a veggie burger instead of a Whopper.
7. Nutrition Authority uses a device to measure resting metabolic rate. The MedGem test, which costs $125 (and is sometimes covered by insurance) and lasts about 10 minutes, is used by dietitians to plan the patient’s eating and activity plan.
8. Keep comfort foods out of the house. Douglas said with less sun in the fall and winter, people are more likely to reach for comfort food.
“Don’t shoot yourself in the foot by putting on extra pounds you’ll have to lose later,” Douglas said. “There is no reason you need to gain weight in the offseason.”Craig Hill’s fitness column runs Sundays. Submit questions and comments firstname.lastname@example.org and twitter.com/AdventureGuys. Also get more fitness coverage at blog.thenewstribune.com/adventure and thenewstribune.com/fitness.