The off-season can be a time to change things up a bit. We, your Axes dietitians, often get questions regarding weight management or muscle mass building during this time.
Whether or not weight management is a primary goal of your endurance athletic endeavors, it’s an important consideration during the off-season. While the off-season can be a time to “loosen up” a bit, if you try to stay as close to your “race weight” as you can, you may have an advantage in those first few races of the season. It’s also healthier for our bodies in general to prevent large fluctuations in our weight. And, just to be clear, I’m not referring to some arbitrary number that we will search for on the scale. Most people, especially those who are physically active, can tell when their weight is fluctuating outside of a range that feels comfortable. The scale can be affected by a lot of different factors, so it’s best to tune into the messages you’re getting from your body.
During the off-season, it’s especially important to balance your intake with your training, which likely means a decrease in both. A focus on macronutrient breakdown isn’t quite as important as proper caloric intake. Also, “loosening up” should not translate into “eat whatever I want,” though a little more indiscretion should not cause any major issues. As always, we should eat as healthy as we can about 85-90% of the time for our overall health and to enhance our performance.
If you are interested in losing weight, it must be done carefully. It is important to make sure to eat enough calories to meet your body’s basic needs (basal metabolic rate, known as BMR) and to continue having enough energy for your workouts. If you create a calorie deficit that is too big, you will most likely reach a weight loss plateau and lose muscle mass, which in the long term will make it harder to reach and maintain a healthy weight. Staying in a calorie deficit for too long can delay recovery, decrease energy and impair performance, and can also have serious negative health effects including increased risk of injuries, micronutrient deficiencies, lower bone mass, decreased fertility and increased fatigue. When you are trying to lose weight, it is also important to eat enough protein to help maintain your muscle mass and increase satiety, as well as enough fiber to increase satiety and optimize your gut microbiome.
If you are interested in gaining muscle mass, you should know that eating enough protein is not the only thing that is important. Getting enough carbohydrates and calories in general are also essential to promote muscle mass gain. Also, how you distribute your protein intake throughout the day is an essential factor to consider. You should aim to eat protein at least 4 times per day to optimize absorption. Finally, getting enough and good quality sleep also has a huge impact on muscle recovery and gain.
In conclusion, trying to modify your body composition while still optimizing your performance can be tricky. Do not hesitate to seek help from a Sports Dietitian who will be able to guide you in reaching your performance goals while still being physically and mentally on top of your game.