It’s one of the biggest questions I get this time of year: What nutrition changes should we make as the road season ends? How much can we indulge in celebratory foods? Should we keep eating the same way, just maybe a little bit less overall? Are there specific changes in nutritional needs during the transition period and approaching off-season?
There are many different potential answers to these questions, depending on several factors. At what level are you training? Do you hang up the bike often in the off-season and replace it with other activities like weights and running? Are you more of a recreational, amateur, or professional cyclist? Are you resting briefly for two weeks and then starting back up with a pretty big training plan with continued volume? Are you trying to lose weight? Regardless of your answers, it is likely that you are reducing the intensity of your training for a period of time as your road racing has come to an end.
For our purposes here in this article, let’s assume you’re cutting back on hours and intensity for a few months, you’re not racing, and you’re transitioning into some more fun riding, trail riding, running, and maybe some resistance training.
I often hear the question, “Should I cut out my carbs?” Certainly not. You’re still an active training athlete, which requires good recovery and glycogen replenishment. Also, if you plan to put on a little muscle in the off-season, you’ll need carbohydrates to support that muscle growth. Plus carbohydrates are loaded with vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, fiber, and energy for your day-to-day life.
At this time of year, the key for racers cutting back volume and intensity is to reduce the g/kg of carbohydrates and (depending on the athlete) reduce some of the grams of fat. Note I did not say to go on a low-fat diet; rather, reduce some of the fat if you had to increase it in season to keep up with your caloric deficits from big training loads.
Without races and long, intense training sessions, carbohydrate loading will fall from your nutrition plan. For example, you might drop your daily carbohydrate intake from 7 g/kg down to 4-5 g/kg, especially on rest days and shorter aerobic rides. Long weekend rides will still require adequate carbohydrate intake and replenishment as you start to ramp back up later in the fall.
The more intensity and duration your workouts have, the more carbohydrates you require to sustain optimal performance and recovery. Reduce intensity and duration, and yes, you should reduce your carbohydrate intake accordingly.
How to Eat Less and Not StarveThe reduction of carbs (and potentially fat) can often be difficult after a season of what can seem like endless eating (even when not hungry) in order to go the distance on long training weekends or in stage races. Your body is used to this now, and though suddenly the training and racing aren’t there, the hunger doesn’t just turn off in a day. This leaves many cyclists gaining weight as the off-season goes on. This isn’t a great idea. Taking that weight off will be much more difficult than putting it on.
I have a few recommended food swaps that can help us during this time. We are mainly focused on nutrient-dense foods that are lower in calories to replace nutrient-dense foods higher in calories and strategically chosen to make carb loading easier (such as dates and rice or potatoes).
Below I have created a chart of more common in season carbohydrate choices used to keep glycogen stores up high vs my recommendations for carbohydrates that can help to keep you feeling full while lowering the caloric intake in the less intensive off season.
|Nutrient-Dense, Higher-Calorie Carbohydrates||Nutrient-Dense, Lower-Calorie, Filling Carbohydrates|
|Dates||Strawberries, cantaloupe, apples, honeydew|
|Potatoes||Squash and sweet potatoes, cooked or in soup|
|Rice||Broccoli, asparagus, cauliflower, zucchini|
|100% fruit juice||100% vegetable juice|
|Granola and dried fruit||Oatmeal or wheat berries with fresh berries|
|Maple syrup||Stewed berries or apples on top of pancakes|
|Rice pasta||Spaghetti squash or zucchini as pasta replacement|
Keep the QualityYou may have noticed that both lists above are super nourishing foods! This off-season time of year is a great time for lots of big green salads you may have had to skip during heavy-duty stage races, as well as lots of broccoli, melons, soups with sweet potatoes and leeks or squash, berries and oats, and spaghetti squash (one of my favorites; if you haven’t tried it, it’s amazing, basically like spaghetti strands). One cup of traditional pasta has approximately 220 calories, where one cup of spaghetti squash has 46 calories. So you can have twice the volume (2 cups of spaghetti squash) with more nutrients than pasta and still get less than half the caloric intake. That’s a win-win!
Another win is broccoli. What a nourishing and filling carbohydrate! A single cup of it is a high source of carbs, plus vitamins and minerals like vitamin C, vitamin K, beta carotene, folate, potassium, and B vitamins, all while containing only 25 calories. Dish up a couple cups of it or cook a broccoli soup with potato blended in for a hearty fall meal served with a side of local whole grain bread or flat bread. For the best palatability, steam your broccoli and don’t overcook it.
Make the Nutrients CountRemember, when it comes to athletes and performance, we need to look at grams per kg for carbohydrates and proteins. When the season tapers down, we can lower the grams of carbs per kg, but it’s still important to have the carbohydrate stores you need for the training you do. It’s quite likely your protein can stay the same with weights entering the picture. The focus is mainly how to lower the grams without feeling like we’re starving all of a sudden compared to how we felt in season. The solution is to choose filling, lower-calorie carbohydrates while making sure to get enough grams of carbohydrates to support optimal performance.
Hopefully of the substitutions presented here will give you some ideas this fall, but keep in mind that this is not about no more carbs, just about reducing them only to the extent that you can still sustain a quality training routine at a lower intensity and with less volume.
It’s normal to put on a few pounds in the off-season. However, if that few pounds creeps up to ten or fifteen, you have yourself a late-winter battle to get them back off, especially if you live in a cold climate that doesn’t allow for longer rides, and if you struggle with weight loss in the first place. Save yourself the trouble and make some simple changes as we head into fall season. Have fun, change things up, and enjoy the changing seasons!
Want expert help with your nutrition this winter? Click here to find out how we can help! You can also check out our pre-made meal plans and our eBook on post-workout recovery nutrition.
Article originally featured on Pez Cycling News
Anne Guzman is a PCG nutritionist, a registered holistic nutritionist, and a 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 before cycling was a provincial and CIAU champion and national bronze medalist as a Varsity Freestyle Wrestler. Currently Anne works with athletes to help 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. Anne can be contacted through PeaksCoachingGroup.com or at email@example.com. Read more nutrition advice on her blog.
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