Tips for the Off Season
For athletes in the northern hemisphere, the “off season” typically occurs around the months of November and December and into the early part of the following new year. Most athletes have finished up their racing season and are enjoying some less structured training time. Because the holiday season coincides with this period of time, numerous nutritional challenges can arise. There are usually two modes of thought during this time:
- “I don’t care what I eat. I’ve been eating too rigidly all year and I want to be free!”
2) “I don’t want to fall into the trap of overeating junk food and gaining a bunch of weight! ”
If you associate with camp #1, I encourage you to keep reading as this article may change your mind about how you ponder your nutrition. For camp #2 folks, kudos for wanting to stay a notch ahead of the game.
So what do we do to get through this off season (and holiday season) to feel free from harsh nutrition rules and yet still keep nutrition on the brain? Sure, we have the classic nutrition strategies of “drink more water” and “eat before you go to the party”, but I’d like to present a few other considerations related to food and nutrition for this off season:
- It may be the season for some rest time, but take advantage of your time to explore different foods and try other food preparation methods. Get a collection of recipes that interest you, either from websites, youtube videos, or library books and then allocate time to tinker with the recipes. Try grilling or oven roasting that vegetable you think you don’t like (you might surprise yourself!). Get yourself an indoor herb garden so you have fresh seasonings more conveniently available. Sign up for a cooking class with a friend or invest in a new kitchen gadget to make your food preparation more efficient.
- If you are not able to put much thought into recipes or spend much time on food preparation, consider unique food delivery services such as Hello Fresh, Fuel Food, Sun Basket, or Green Chef. Some of these companies allow you to choose the types of meals you want (such as paleo or vegetarian). These services are not only convenient, but can steer you in the right direction of more healthful nutrition.
- Let go of focusing on body weight. You are not defined by the number on the scale or the number of calories you eat. Focus your thinking on putting together quality foods that are nourishing and satisfying. If you do have weight loss as a goal, accept that this time of year may be more challenging. Focus on process goals rather than outcome goals. For example, instead of “I need to lose 2 pounds this week”, try “I’m going to eat a large serving of vegetables with lunch and dinner every day this week”.
- Reframe your thinking. Start to take notice of environments and situations that you perceive as “food stressors”, where you have a tendency to overeat, overdrink, or make choices you had hoped to avoid. If you can truly process this situation, you may realize it is not the food that is the problem per se. Rather, it is how you are perceiving and thinking about the environment that is more of the issue at hand. While not always the case, food misuse is often a result of an emotional state that needs attention. Once you can address these issues, you can better free yourself from using food for emotional support.
- As you begin to finalize goals for next year, take a moment to reflect on this year from a nutrition perspective. Have you had recent blood work? Does your health support your athletic goals? What gets in the way of making progress? Do you have a good support system in place? Do you need professional guidance? These questions are not necessarily easy to answer, but some self-reflection time can help with fine-tuning next year’s goals.
While these “tips” may seem more general in nature and are not the typical “eat this, not that”, hopefully they give you some different ideas for how to navigate this off season. Whatever you decide to do, let’s gear up for another year of good health, active living, and fun!
-Dina Griffin, MS, RD, CSSD, METS II
Board Certified Sport Dietitian