Sunday, January 08, 2012

Off Season Nutrition for Athletes

It’s getting colder and seasonal changes put a damper on our running and cycling. This means less or no outdoor exercise during the week, and fewer miles on the weekend. So how does this all impact what we eat? Well, if you were running and/or cycling approximately 15 hours a week, and now you run and/or ride half that amount you may have reduced your weekly caloric needs by almost 8,000 calories (assuming you weigh 195 pounds and ride 16-19 mph average speed). That is a reduction of 1143 calories per day. If you don't change your eating behaviors, that would lead to gaining 2 pounds a week.  Now you know why you might gain weight in the winter.

We are not bears who hibernate and need the extra fat to keep warm. Do not use winter as an excuse to yo-yo your weight. When spring time comes around and we want to run and ride longer and faster, you will have extra pounds impeding your performance. And we need extra calories to run and ride strong while training and racing. It is not a good idea to diet when you are trying to increase endurance and speed. That is why it is important to maintain or lose weight in the winter when we are running and riding less. So how do you keep from adding those extra pounds? Here are some helpful hints:

1. Eat less – This seems obvious, but it is not as easy as it seems. Over the summer when you are exercising more, you may have found that you can get away with larger portion sizes and desserts. Now that you are exercising less, you should start thinking about portion size. What is a portion? A portion of meat (steak, chicken, fish, etc.) is the size of a deck of cards. That is equivalent to 3 ounces. A portion of pasta is ½ cup and a portion of rice is 1/3 cup. Doesn’t sound like much? To make your meals appear and feel bigger, add more vegetables to your plate. Make a pasta primavera or stir-fried rice that is generous on the veggies. It will be colorful and filling.

2. Watch what you drink #1 – If you are used to drinking Gatorade, Cytomax, Accelerade or some other fluid replacement drink while you run/ride, only use it if you are exercising more than 1 ½ hours. Otherwise, you are adding unnecessary calories to your daily intake. The exception to this rule is if you are exercising in the morning without eating breakfast first.

3. Watch what you drink #2 – Alcohol adds calories. You add about 150 calories to your intake if you drink a glass of beer, a full glass of wine or a mixed drink. Not only does it add excess calories, but alcohol increases appetite so you eat more.
4. Strengthen your bones – Start a weight lifting routine. It will shape your body while improving your bone health. Weight bearing exercise strengthens bones by stimulating bone formation. However, the benefits of weight-bearing exercise are site-specific. This means that you strengthen only the bones used directly in the exercise. Therefore, it's a good idea to participate in a variety of weight-bearing exercises. To maintain the bone-building benefits, exercise should be continued on a regular basis. Weight-bearing exercises/activities include baseball, basketball, soccer, tennis, weight-lifting, aerobics, dancing, running and walking. Although swimming is good exercise, it is not a weight-bearing activity.

5. Get indoors – Less outdoor running or cycling is not a bad thing. In fact, this is a great time for cross-training. Start working out at the gym, go to spinning classes, do some weight lifting, try pilates, go swimming, get boxing or dance the night away. Do a combination of activities: some that get your heart rate up and others that incorporate balance, flexibility, stretching and strength. When spring comes around, you will be ready to get rolling on the road.

6. Get outdoors – Try a new winter sport such as cross-country skiing, snow shoeing or winter hiking. They are high calorie burners and loads of fun.

If you have any questions about how to improve your nutrition or exercise over the winter, send me an email:

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