There’s no such thing as strict in these guidelines.
by Pip Taylor
The triathlon season seems to get longer and longer each year with athletes now able to race almost year-round. But that doesn’t necessarily mean that you should race year-round. And it most definitely doesn’t mean that you should race with the same intensity, purpose and focus all year. While it’s great to have some key goals for the new year, it’s also important to set aside some time to take a more relaxed approach to, not only your training, but your diet. This means that when the time comes, your goals will be given the full attention and discipline they deserve.
So what exactly is an off season? It’s an opportunity to recharge and refresh, both physically and mentally. It doesn’t matter how long your off season might last. For some it might be a couple weeks off all exercise entirely, followed by some unstructured workouts, done as and when desired. And it doesn’t mean you have to get unfit. The off season can also involve cross training, or activities that keep you moving, keep you having fun but at the same time give your body and mind a break from the rigors of swim-bike-run.
An off season can really last as long as you need. It’s a time of year where you are not completely immersed in the rigid structure of a training plan or with imminent race goals. It’s the time of year where skipping a workout to go out to dinner with friends or family is the right thing to do, rather than a decision that can help derail race goals. It’s the time of year where staying out past your bedtime or having a glass of celebratory bubbles can be enjoyed without the guilt or worry about your key morning session. It’s the time of year to relax just a little. To sit and plan rather than focus and do.
With that in mind, here are five “rules” to apply to off season nutrition. And don’t worry, there’s nothing strict about these “rules.”
1. Indulge: Athletes make many sacrifices during race season so its important to indulge a little in your time off. This can help refresh you both mentally and physically for the season ahead. When it comes to nutrition, there is a difference between relaxing usual strict dietary adherences and completely letting yourself go. You definitely don’t want to spend the first half of the season trying to work off the pounds gained in an off season eating frenzy, but do take advantage of being able to enjoy a few happy hours, late nights and catching up with friends and family—all of which are too often sacrificed in the heat of the season. The key when it comes to off season dietary indulgences? Go for quality, not quantity.
2. Explore: The off season is the time where it is best to investigate food intolerance or dietary changes. Not only are changes easier to make when you are not under intense physical stress of hard training, but any changes in how you feel will be less clouded by the ups and downs associated with hard in season workouts. You might need professional guidance to do this or, if there are certain foods you suspect you are not tolerating well, then you can remove them for a period of time and chart any changes. Just be sure to replace them with other alternatives so you aren’t missing out on any essentials.3. Experiment: Off season presents the perfect opportunity to experiment with new foods and recipes in the kitchen. Take advantage of the extra time to learn some new cooking skills that might help you to eat better and try new recipes that can be valuable to have on standby when time is short as your training demands get kicked up a notch.
4. Test: Now is the time to address any potential shortfalls and taking a blood test can help pinpoint any areas of concern. Nutritional imbalances and deficiencies such as low iron can derail a whole season, but dietary changes can be made to help address any of these issues. Regular blood tests help you make necessary changes before an issue becomes chronic and can help you stay focused on better overall nutritional intake.
5. Set goals: Sit down and reflect critically on your past season performance and what you need to do to perform better. This might mean addressing race day nutrition if you find you are constantly having GI problems or fueling issues; perhaps you feel you need added strength and power; or need to lean out a little. These are all goals in which nutrition plays a significant role. Learning how much, when and what to eat can help you achieve your race day goals as well as health related goals. And the off season is where you can start to make some of these changes. Seek out the help of an experienced nutritionist early to reap the benefits when it counts.
Pip Taylor is a professional triathlete and nutritionist. Visit her website at piptaylor.com