Managing your training and nutrition in the off-season

by  Andrea W. Doray

Can you pass this Quiz?
Managing your Training and Nutrition in the Off-Season
Working out in the gym is one way of maintaining your fitness level during the offseason. (¬©Rides, Rallies & Tours Magazine)Question 1.  The definition of “off-season” is:
                       A. cross training, weight training, and core-strength training.
                       B. the non-competitive or transitional season.
                       C. part of a periodized annual training plan.
                       D. when you open the refrigerator and something smells “off.”
Question 2.  Which of the following statements is true?
                       A. The off-season means that weight control is optional.
                       B. It’s okay to take a break from weight control during the holidays.
                       C. When it comes to off-season nutrition, I should stick with what works—gels, bars, peanut butter, etc.
                       D. Nutrition, schmutrition—I know how to control my weight.
Question 3.  Off-season training is:
                       A. the most important phase of a cycling conditioning plan.
                       B. essentially about maintaining the same levels of volume and intensity.
                       C. the time for a nutritional assessment to address nutrient deficiencies.
                       D. an opportunity to get extra vitamin D by cross training in the tropics.
Question 4.  What should your off-season weight control plan include?
                       A. Setting an eating deadline of about 2-1/2 hours before bedtime.
                       B. Avoiding sugar and overly processed foods.
                       C. Balancing energy requirements (caloric intake) with training volume and intensity.
                       D. Who wants to know?

Question 1.    The definition of off-season
Okay, so this was a trick question—if you answered anything but “D,” you are correct. (In fact, if you felt compelled to also include “D,” only you and your refrigerator will know for sure.)
Experts throughout the cycling world differ on what to call that part of the year when we’re not racing. “B,” the non-competitive season or the transitional season are gaining favor because of the implication that “off-season” means time away from serious training.
Coach Stacy Fowler has many ways to help athletes maintain their fitness during the offseason. Most of us, though, already do consider “A”—cross training, weight training, and core-strength training—as serious training. For those of you who dissed answer “A,” here are some tips from Coach Stacy Fowler, former president of the Colorado Governor’s Council for Physical Fitness, [i] to make cross training more palatable:

  1. Make a plan. Off-season programs should contain two to three weekly sessions of resistance (weight) training as well as time spent on cardiovascular, core workouts, and aerobic sports such as swimming or cross-country skiing. Cross training not only gives the body a break from routine, but it taxes the body in new ways.
  2. Mix up your activities. Other ways to keep your cardiovascular system in shape are Zumba, rowing, treadmill, jumping rope, tennis, swimming, and of course spinning classes. Changing up your workout is also quite beneficial to the brain.
  3. Work out with less intensity. Full-on training doesn’t give the body a chance to regenerate. Find a lower intensity that will allow your body to repair muscles, joints, and ligaments, and prepare you for in-season high-level training.
If you chose “C,” along with “A” and/or “B,” you’ve got your training plan going on! Whether you’re a road rider in Socal, a track racer on the East Coast, or a mountain biker in Colorado, if you’ve got a periodized plan you already know why it’s important to vary both your intensity and calorie intake.

Lorri Lee Lown, who’s been a USA Cycling Licensed Coach and is the founder and coach of Velo Girls™,[ii] has a simple definition for periodization: “the process of varying our training based on annual cycles as defined by our goals.” Lown’s basic periodized plan for cyclists she coaches includes two-month phases that focus on a training aspect during each phase:
§  1st two-month phase includes cross-training and low-weight resistance training
§  2nd two-month phase moves to strength training with higher weight resistance
§  3rd two-month phase explodes into power training with weights and interval riding
§  4th two-month phase focuses on muscular endurance mixed with strength and power, building up to the peak phase, or in-season riding.
“There is not one cookie-cutter plan, though,” cautions Lown, “especially for our amateur athletes. We all have to work within the situations our lives, and individualize our plans for specific types of training within a specific time frame and in a specific order.”
Question 2. Statements about the off-season
Balancing exercise with diet is crucial to successfully maintaining your fitness level during the offseason. (¬©Rides, Rallies & Tours Magazine) With the possible exception of “D,” none of the statements in Question 2 are true in terms of controlling weight during the off-season. Most of us consider weight control during the off-season as critical, not optional! Weight gain when we’re less intensely active can be one of our biggest fears, especially going into the holidays (answer “A”).
Coach Stacy says, “From time to time, it’s okay to enjoy some moments when you can just let loose and eat whatever you want—you’ve earned it!” However, “the inevitable one to five pounds brought on by 3000-calorie feasts will take their toll on your waistline.” Coach Stacy offers these tips specifically for maintenance or weight loss during the holidays (answer “B”):
§  Beware of office munchies! Each cookie, candy, or piece of fruitcake will add an extra 350 calories to your day. (Pick the fruitcake and you won’t be tempted to eat it.)
§  Liquid calories do count and they add up quickly. One cup of eggnog is 343 yummy calories and 19 grams fat—11 grams of saturated fat. Walk 4.6 miles just to burn off that holiday treat.
§  Don’t socialize with the food. For those of us on the edge of introversion, the mini egg rolls have always been great party companions, but mingling with the other guests instead will cost us zero calories.
Answer “C” is also incorrect. Coach Stacy says when we stop or lower our in-season intensity, we need to make some adjustments to our diets. “Bring out the whole foods, vegetables, fruits, and grains, and choose lean meats,” says Coach Stacy. And whether we live in temperate climates or are forced indoors for weeks at a time, Coach Stacy’s mantra is always: “If you’re moving, you’re improving.”

(Just a note: If you chose “D,” that’s between you and your body…)

Question 3. The importance of off-season training

Hah! This was a real question with no trick answers; answer “B”—maintaining the same levels of volume and intensity—is not not not the way to handle training in the off-season! Maintaining in-season intensity may only lead to burnout, injury, or worse—apathy. “Many of the hard-core athletes I’ve trained seem to have problems with the concept of down time,” says Coach Stacy. “I applaud the dedication but they must also understand that over-training does not give your body a chance to rest and repair.” What’s even better is that we actually want to get back on the bike.
Answers “A” and “C” work together. Consider this: not only does off-season training help to recover physically and psychologically, but off-season training gives us the opportunity to address the physical imbalances that inevitably show up during the season. And, what better occasion than the off-season to make time for a nutritional assessment?
Lorri Lee Lown points out that sound nutrition is the basis for any maintenance or weight loss plan. Lown suggests keeping a diet diary, or food journal, and to think in terms of our energy reserves as “the first national bank of C, P, & F”—carbohydrates, protein, and fat percentages. Writing down an ongoing record of what foods and quantities we consume can also surprise us into reducing our caloric intake with just this knowledge.
Finally, if our nutritional analysis uncovers nutrient deficiencies, the off-season is the time to address them. Consult qualified coaches, trainers, and nutritionists about how to get more of the particular nutrients you need. (For me, answer “D” is the always the most important phase of my personal cycling training plan.)
Question 4. What’s your diet plan?
Answers “A,” “B,” and “C” are all correct. There’s no question that in-season cycling burns major calories. But what about the off-season, the non-competitive season, that transitional part of our periodized annual training plans? What kind of diet plan do we need to put in place right now?
First, right now is a great opportunity plan our timing. Eating protein and even some carbohydrates within 30 to 45 minutes of ending a workout can replenish our systems and help us eat more of what we want while maintaining our weight goals.
Learning to eat earlier in the day is another weight-control tip. Bruce Hendler, a USA Cycling Coach and owner of AthletiCamps, says on the AthletiCamps website that timing is key:
“A major contributor to weight gain is eating in the evening—either late dinner or snacking after dinner. Unless we’re exercising right before bed (not recommended!), our metabolism naturally slows down during the evening. If we eat too much or too late in the evening, it is harder for our bodies to burn off those calories, and there is a greater likelihood that those calories will turn to fat. I generally recommend a hard and fast eating deadline (usually about 2.5 hours before bedtime), which seems to be comfortable for most people to maintain.”[iii]
Coach Stacy reminds us to reduce our sugar intake (answer “B”) and avoid overly processed food with ingredients that are hard to pronounce and even harder on our bodies. And Bruce Hendler recommends on his website that we talk with a nutritionist to define our individual energy requirements during the transitional part of the cycling season (Answer “C”). Most athletes reduce miles and intensity and our energy requirements also change. And, as Bruce notes in his website discussion, not only does this benefit you from a weight control perspective, it can also be a positive step to a healthy lifestyle.
And, now—the final question:
Are you ready to get started?(Fill in the blank.)     __________________________________

[i] Coach Stacy Fowler, M.S., C.P.T., is the former President of the Colorado Governor’s Council for Physical Fitness, and is currently President, Fitness Scouts, Inc.; Executive Director, We Play It Forward; and State Coordinator, President’s Challenge., [ii] Lorri Lee Lown has been a USA Cycling Licensed Coach and is an ACE-Certified Personal Fitness Trainer. Lorri is founder and coach of Velo Girls™, a San Francisco Bay Area cyclist club.
[iii] The AthletiCamps website describes Bruce Hendler as a USA Cycling Coach and owner of AthletiCamps, helping athletes achieve their goals in bike racing.
About the author: A one-time racer (she raced one time), Andrea Doray served with Coach Stacy on the Colorado Governor’s Council for Physical Fitness, and is an advocate of Coach Stacy’s “moving and improving” mantra. And when it comes to Andrea’s favorite sport—mountain biking—walking uphill is still moving, right? Andrea may be reached at