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Off-Season Weight Gain: Good or Bad?

Many triathletes and endurance athletes fear taking an off-season due to two things: loss of fitness and weight gain. This hits home for me -- this off-season I was forced to take a longer off-season due to surgery that prevented me from any activity that caused an increase in pressure on my abdominal wall. So I wasn’t allowed to lift anything over 20 pounds for 6 weeks. As such, there were body changes that occurred that I was not happy about!

Aside from surgery, there are several reasons for off-season weight gain. The main reason for most athletes is a decrease in activity while maintaining the same calorie intake, or even increasing our calorie intake. Athletes should be cognizant of their calorie intake during the off-season but should not be as strict as they are during the season. Cutting calories too extremely may result in nutritional deficiencies that should be avoided. (Working with a registered dietician to determine your off-season caloric need vs your in-season caloric needs can help with this.)

While weight gain is never really welcomed, there are some benefits to putting on a few pounds. As athletes we are so focused on the sport that we sometimes forget to enjoy the successes and relax a little! First, our minds just need a break. Staying focused 24/7/365 causes stress on the body and does not allow for recovery. As a coach, I work with athletes on cycling training, and the annual training cycle involves an off-season to prevent burn-out. Allowing yourself to enjoy some decadent foods, in moderation, will result in a decrease in stress and increase in overall happiness.

Second, the off-season is also about recovery! It’s about repairing the body and returning healthy for the next season. The off-season is when many athletes focus on strength training, as there is more time without the planned swim, bike and run workouts. We also strength train in-season to focus on our limiters and build a strong base for the upcoming season. Off-season weight gain due to strength training resulting in the increase of lean muscle mass. This increase in lean muscle mass is a good thing so the athlete is stronger and more prepared to take on the pounding that our bodies endure during triathlon and running.

Finally, one other cause for weight gain in the off-season is the retention of water weight. Less cardio workouts, with the same carbohydrate intake may result in weight gain on the scale. If you weigh yourself every day, there may be a shift between two to four pounds. That's likely just water weight. Continue to hydrate well, as this weight will fluctuate and is healthy weight to carry, as proper hydration increases performance both in-season and during the off-season.

As for me, while I did gain weight during my recovery this offseason, now that I am back to training I have seen gains that hopefully lead to increased performance in the 2022 season. I have only been back training for 4 weeks, and my latest InBody test revealed that of the 12 pounds gained, 7 pounds was skeletal muscle mass, which is the highest it has been. I like to encourage my athletes to not be extreme in the off-season with exercising and calorie restriction, and to enjoy non-triathlon activities and a diet that is healthy, but not restrictive or extreme.


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