When training and racing is in full swing, it can be easy to meet your nutrient (macro- and micronutrient) needs and your total daily energy needs simply by eating larger quantities of food and prioritizing carbohydrate-based foods in the diet. However, as training volume and intensity taper off between seasons and energy expenditure decreases, many athletes second guess how their approach to diet and nutrition should change.
At this time of the year, the tendency for many athletes is to over-restrict intake, to lean into popular diets such as low-carb or intermittent fasting, or to under-fuel workouts. The issue is that any of these approaches can lead to undesired effects in the short and long term.
Here are five tips to help you stay well fed and fueled through the off season without added stress or confusion.
Prioritize nutrient-dense foods over energy-dense foods
Compare these two breakfast examples: Sprouted grain toast topped with egg, avocado, and hemp seeds versus a pastry. Both of them might provide fairly similar calories, but the avocado toast will provide more nutrients (protein, vitamins, minerals, fiber, healthy fats) along with the calories. The carbohydrates in the avocado toast are also complex and less refined, making it the more desirable, nutrient-dense choice that will likely keep you more full and satisfied for longer.
Eat plant-based foods
Whether you eat animal-based foods or not, include plenty of plant-based foods and plant-based proteins in your diet. Eat a variety of vegetables, fruit, beans, lentils, and whole grains within your meals and snacks, as these foods offer a range of important vitamins, minerals, antioxidants and fiber. Plant-based proteins such as quinoa, edamame, beans, and lentils double as excellent sources of complex carbohydrates.
Eat lean protein with each meal
Eating about 0.3-0.4 grams of protein per kilogram of your body weight during each meal and snack throughout the day can help you feel satiated after mealtime and can help with recovery and maintenance of your lean body mass. Include foods such as nutritional yeast, hemp seeds, beans, lentils, Greek yogurt, and cottage cheese to help meet your daily protein goals.
Be intentional with hydration
Thirst can diminish when the weather is cold, so you might have to be more intentional about staying hydrated. Foods containing higher amounts of fluid count toward daily hydration, as do beverages like tea, coffee, sparkling water, apple cider, and hot cocoa! Add sodium or a drink mix into your bottles to encourage drinking during training rides in the cold.
Fuel your rides
If you spent your season taking in 60-100+ grams of carbohydrate per hour, now might be a good time to dial it back to about 30-60 grams per hour when your rides are shorter or less intense. However, completely foregoing calories on your rides is not recommended for anything longer than 90 minutes, as fasted training and low carbohydrate availability can have negative physiological and performance effects downstream.
Periodizing nutrition with your training is helpful when you're trying to maximize training benefits and long-term health. In our winter group coaching program, I help you learn how to do this with practical tips to integrate nutrition to support your training and performance. Join me, Tim, and the rest of the BaseCamp team this fall and winter for our 360-degree foundation program that includes training, nutrition, strength, and mental performance.