First off, for most recreational cyclists, you do not have to make any enormous dietary shifts in the off season. If an athlete is racing at a pretty high level however, and their training plan calls for quite a few hours and intensity (ex. riding 3-6 hours a day on a regular basis besides rest days), when their volume/intensity of training goes down for a few months these types of riders WILL need to cut back on their caloric intake.
One man who never quite got the concept of cutting back on his caloric intake during the off season was Jan Ullrich, pictured here earlier this year during a charity ride.
The Elite Diet
Typically I find the more elite you are as an athlete; the more the off season is risky from a weight gain perspective. A lot of athletes who train full time and train a lot of hours and then suddenly pull back on that for a month or so both for mental and physical rest, have troubles not eating as much as they have been eating for the entire season. It’s a habit. In the case of an athlete who trains at a high level, they typically can afford to eat a LOT when training with such volume and intensity. You get used to having that luxury. For some it’s almost hard to keep up with the calories they burn, as it is a lot of fuel to consume. No one ever said that professional athletes are all “healthy, as a lot of sugar gets consumed on 5,6,7 hour rides.
Eating for the Rest of Us
On the other hand the more casual athlete, who may be training only 60 to 90 minutes a day in season, is likely going to continue to exercise an hour a day in the off season as well, both for health reasons and sanity. Often in this case there is a lot less adjusting to do, if any. It’s actually a healthy place to be when you can simply eat the same healthy and balanced diet all year. So for this more casual athlete, things can almost remain consistent. Typically there is no “burn out” as you are not running yourself into the ground with stage races, travel and long rides, and again hopefully this athlete doesn’t throw in the towel on 60-90 minute rides in the fall.
So what are some changes you can make in the off season to help lower your caloric intake while getting the nourishment and fuel you need? Let’s take a look:
• Athletes are still going to continue to be active. Activity requires carbohydrates. It’s the nature of endurance sports.
• Remember, vegetables are carbohydrates too. Off season is a great time to eat a lot of the veggies and salads that you couldn’t eat during stage races and on big training weekends, where you just needed more calorically dense foods than asparagus and arugula! Veggie chili is also a great idea, especially with the temperature cooling off outside and the crock pot making chili cooking easy.
• I suggest continuing to still eat a good volume of food since you are accustomed to this. Making the off season bearable is key, as no one wants to feel like they are starving during the fun and relaxing time of the year. Simply change what the volume of food is composed of.
Here are some examples of taking an in season meal and swapping a few things around to make it 300-500 calories lower. Also I will leave you with my favorite veggie chili recipe below.
Typical Dinner (this would be larger if the athlete was larger etc. I am basing this on 130 lb female athlete eating 2300-2500 calories a day, excluding her on the bike nutrition of gels/sports drinks/bars).
For the purposes of keeping this simple I will not post the entire recipes, rather the foods in the meals and then the adjustments.
Sweet Potato Fries, Blackened Grilled Chicken & Asparagus: 600 calories
2 medium/large sweet potatoes cut into wedges
3oz blackened grilled chicken
Asparagus 4-6 spears
Replace this meal with the one below which is 100 calories less:
Sweet Potato Baked or Mashed, Blackened Chicken & Mixed Veggies: 500 calories
1 medium sweet potato
3oz blackened chicken
1 cup steamed broccoli
4 cups steamed Bok -Choy
4 spears asparagus
½ an avocado with fresh lime juice/salt
So you can see that you will actually be even more full on the “off season” dinner at 100 calories LESS. We are upping the fiber and vegetables and taking away the denser calories from the extra sweet potato and olive oil, but still leaving you with good fats from the salted avocado with lime juice.
Now you can make similar adjustments throughout the day for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Right there is a 300 calorie reduction. Next I would also halve the snack sizes. In season, I tend to make very dense caloric snacks such as dates and nut butter, date balls, fruit and nut butters. But in the off season it’s easy to halve a 300 calorie snack to 150. Ditch the dates and stick with fresh in season fruit like apples, paired with 10 raw almonds.
Here is an example of a snack “adjustment” to take 100 calories off the in season snack:
Medjool dates and almond butter: 300 calories
3 medjool dates
1 tbsp almond butter
Replace this you with one large fresh fruit and almonds: 200 calories
1 large apple
1 tbsp almond butter
The last example will be of breakfast. I’ll take a very typical in season training day breakfast and shave it down in calories but not in volume for you here:
Oatmeal/Fresh Berries/Banana/2 eggs/Almond Milk: 620 calories
3/4 cups dry oats
1 cup almond milk
1 cup berries
1 large banana
2 eggs scrambled or poached
Replace this with a reduced calorie breakfast: 500 calories
1/2 a large cantaloupe (Emptied as used as the bowl)
1/2 cup of Greek Yogurt
1 cup fresh berries
1/2 cup dried oats
1 tbsp raw almonds
You can see that if, over the course of a day, you take 100 calories off each main meal and 2 snacks that is 500 calories less per day. When you decrease your caloric density this seems pretty realistic. Of course when working with a client it is much more specific to just how much the calories are reduced and what they will be replacing it with? However this is a general example of how to remove extra calories to match a reduction in training. Remember that 500 calories a day is 3500 calories a week which equals 1 pound. If you reduce the training and keep those calories coming in, the likelihood is that you will gain weight.
So how else do you stay lean in the off season?
• Make small adjustments to your meals, keeping them nourishing and adding produce while removing some of the higher calorie carbohydrate choices such as dried fruits, regular potatoes and juices that are simple ways to up your carbs when doing a lot of training.
• Replace high density carbohydrates with lower density options which always include fresh fruits and vegetables.
• Stay hydrated to help you feel full, and keep busy so that you don’t eat out of boredom.
• Continue to fuel normally and well for the training that you do. Remember that you are not cutting out your carbohydrates, but simply making minor adjustments to maintain weight as you ease into off season training.
Make this off season one full of bountiful produce. Keep your body feeling strong and healthy. Rest and off time is not about eating all the junk you can get your hands on after being “good” all season. Rest and rejuvenation requires nourishment and nutrients. This is a great time to HEAL your body with big salads, lots of produce and hydration and plenty of REST.
• 2 Tbsp olive oil
• 2 carrots peeled and chopped
• 3 celery stalks chopped
• 1 medium onion chopped
• 2 zucchini chopped
• 1 red pepper chopped
• 1 green pepper chopped
• 2 garlic cloves minced
• 1 Tbsp cumin
• 2 1/2 Tbsp chili powder
• 3/4 cup of water
• 1 cup strained tomatoes (glass jar)
• 2 cans of diced tomatoes
• 1 can of chickpeas drained and rinsed
• 1 can of black beans drained and rinsed
• 1 can of white kidney beans drained and rinsed
• salt and pepper to taste
Serve over brown rice or brown or red quinoa!
In a large pot sauté carrots, celery, onion and garlic in olive oil for approximately 5 min, add cumin and chili powder and mix together. Add the remaining ingredients to the pot and simmer for as long as possible to enhance the flavors.
If you want to add meat just mix in cooked lean ground turkey or chicken and let it simmer with the veggies for optimal flavour.
Anne Guzman is a Registered Holistic Nutritionist and Sports Nutrition Consultant with a degree in Kinesiology. Her passion lies in Sports Nutrition for endurance athletes as well as general health and wellness. Anne raced full time on the women’s Professional circuit in North America with some bouts in Europe from 2008 until 2011 and previous to cycling was a Provincial and CIAU Champion and National Bronze medalist as a Varsity Freestyle Wrestler. Currently Anne works with athletes helping them reach their potential by combining their own training plans with her nutrition plans. Anne believes that many athletes undermine their intense detailed training regimes by not backing them with sound nutrition. Her personal experience as a cyclist and athlete is a great asset to her business as she understands the needs and nuances that come with the sport. Currently Anne works with Peaks Coaching Group as well as her own business Nutrition Solutions Anne Guzman.