8 nutrition tips to get you through the off season of running
Updated: Oct 20, 2020
2020 has been a bit of a crazy year, don't you think? Some of us have been in the "off season" all year, some of us have fully embraced all the virtual races there are out there, and some of us have been lucky enough to participate in real running events.
Regardless of where you are on the spectrum, everyone needs to go through a few down weeks a year before ramping back up on their training again. It can be harmful to train at top level all year long without giving your body a bit of a break.
During that time it can be tempting to neglect your nutrition, but it is still really important! So many runners what to know what to eat during the off season to help maintain (or change) their body composition and keep their strength up.
Here are 8 nutrition tips to help keep your nutrition on point during your off season.
👟 Rely on real food, not supplements.
"Let they food be thy medicine and thy medicine be thy food." - Hippocrates
If you want to eat healthy and be healthier, then eat real food. There are so many benefits of eating real foods in combination with each other. Foods have vitamins, minerals, phytonutrients, and antioxidants that interact with each other and with our bodies in ways that we don't fully understand yet.
Plus, it is really hard to overdose on a nutrient when you're eating real food instead of taking a supplement - your stomach will likely prevent you from eating too much! That's less likely to be the case if you just pop a bunch of pills or drink a bunch of powdered supplements.
👟 Don't skip meals.
It is important to take time to eat a meal or at least a snack every 4-5 hours, even if you're really busy. Have you ever gotten home from work/school/life and started eating cookies and chips from the cupboard, or snacking on whatever you can get your hands on from the fridge? Later you realize that you were too busy to eat lunch... no wonder you are starved!
If you skip meals, you're likely to become over-hungry... which means you're more likely to overeat later. Or you'll be more likely to reach for whatever food is fastest and most comforting... which may taste good, but likely isn't the most nourishing or healthiest food.
If you know you'll be busy, plan ahead and pack a snack that you can eat on the go.
👟 Stay hydrated.
This is always important and should be prioritized. Your body just doesn't function well when it is dehydrated. Water works to help regulate your body temperature, remove wastes, transport nutrients to your cells, keep your joints lubricated, and even help improve our mood.
Sip on water throughout the day, aiming for about half your body weight (in pounds) in ounces of water. Coffee, tea, juice, and milk all help to keep you hydrated too -- but water should be your #1 beverage.
You know you're hydrated when your urine is a light yellow - it should look like lemonade, not apple juice.
👟 Cook at home.
This is something we should all aim to do regardless of whether we are training for any big event or not! When you cook at home, you have control over what goes into your food. You can add salt if you need it, or omit it. You can add extra veggies to your soup, you can use olive oil instead of butter, or you can omit the spices -- all depending on what you like and what you want!
Cooking at home also means that you'll probably be eating healthier than you would if you brought home take-out. You can make extra so that you know you'll have leftovers to bring with you to work or school. And you learn and appreciate the satisfaction that comes from preparing something that tastes good and does your body good - feed your body and your soul!
👟 Portions matter.
The portion sizes that you eat when you're regularly running all the miles (long runs! tempo runs! two-a-days!) are going to be different than what you eat in the off season, as your intensity and time on feet will likely be a lot less. You can still eat the same foods as you did before, but likely you won't need to eat quite as much.
The biggest difference in portion sizes is likely to come from your carbohydrate intake. You still need to eat carbohydrates, but you won't need as many. On a low intensity day, only about 1/4 of your plate needs to come from foods high in carbs and half of it should be non-starchy vegetables and fruits. What does this look like? I wrote a post here showing how to fuel your day depending on the intensity of your run (or rest!).
If you find yourself hungry, then make sure you're getting adequate protein (aim for 20-30g or more per meal) and don't forget to eat your vegetables!
👟 Get enough sleep.
I know this isn't necessarily EXACTLY related to food, but it kind of is. When you are sleep deprived, you will likely have a bigger appetite thanks to the hormone leptin. Over time this can lead to weight gain.
Your hormones (especially stress hormones) are more likely to be off balance when you're not getting enough sleep, which can also impact your weight. Inadequate sleep is also associated with increased risk of heart disease, impaired glucose metabolism, and higher degrees of inflammation.
So use the time you would be clocking an extra mile for a little extra sleep!
👟Don't forget to eat breakfast.
Just because you aren't running as many miles or training as hard, doesn't mean you shouldn't fuel your body in the morning. In fact, if you skip breakfast, you're putting yourself at a disadvantage - setting yourself up for cravings later, or getting over-hungry, or depriving your body of the nutrients it needs to function optimally. You'll get through the day a lot clearer if you give your brain some fuel.
This does not mean your breakfast should be a sugary "latte" and a doughnut. Aim for complex carbohydrates (like oatmeal, whole grain English Muffins, or corn tortillas) with at least 20-30 grams of protein (like eggs, Greek yogurt, or tofu) to give your body the fuel it needs and to keep you feeling satisfied until lunchtime.
👟 Be clear about your body composition goals.
Whether you want to gain weight, lose weight, or maintain weight in the off season, what you eat will play a big role in that.
If you want to lose weight, you're better off doing so slowly and steadily so that you can establish habits that help you keep it off. Aim for 1-2 pounds per week. It might not seem as sexy or desirable as losing "10 pounds in 10 days" as some crash diets claim, but it will be much more sustainable that way. Drastic cuts in your calorie intake can backfire, big time - both short term (cravings and binges!) and long term (slowed metabolism).
If you want to gain weight, you're also better off doing it slowly. Your goal here should be half to one pound per week. Gain weight too quickly and you'll likely just gain fat, not muscle too. Include foods that provide lots of healthy calories - olive oil, avocado, peanut butter, nuts - to add energy without a lot of bulk.
And if you just want to maintain weight, then make sure you're being mindful of your portion sizes and eating mindfully. If you're not working out as hard or as often, then you can replace some of your carbohydrates with veggies.
What does your off season look like - do you run less, not run at all, or only do easy runs? Do you struggle with off-season nutrition? How so? Let me know! If you do, please know that you're not alone. If you need some guidance on how to fuel your body during the off season and beyond, then schedule your runner's nutrition strategy session with me today to find out how I can help!