Why is this off-season different than all other off-seasons? Most of us are coming off a non-race season and we are dealing with the inherent challenges of a COVID environment – changes in mental health, less access to group exercise and gyms, and different grocery shopping experiences (just to name a few). All of these challenges can affect our nutrition and therefore our readiness for next year’s bike season.
There are three important concepts to take into consideration this winter.
1) Eat the right amount of protein at the right time to make the most of your strength training.
2) Dropping a few pounds off your body’s frame is far easier than dropping it off your bike’s frame.
3) Increase your intake of immune-boosting and gut healthy foods.
Hopefully all of you are thinking about how to stay strong or get stronger this winter to pin it next season. In order to get the most out of your program you need to have the right nutrition to support your efforts.
Don’t: Perform your strength training fasted, drink a hefty protein shake afterwards, and eat a big piece of chicken or meat for dinner.
Do: Spread your protein throughout the day and choose proteins rich in leucine, the most important amino acid for muscle building. Foods rich in leucine are whey protein, yogurt, cottage cheese, milk, beef, chicken, fish and eggs. If you really want to nerd out on numbers, you can calculate how much protein you need in a day. Most cyclists engaging in a strength training program to build muscle during the off-season need 1.6-2.2 grams of protein per kg of body weight per day. To get kilograms (kg) divide your weight in pounds by 2.2.
Consider these meal and snack ideas rich in leucine:
- 1 scoop of whey protein powder (~20 grams of protein) blended with water or a plant-based milk with frozen fruit
- Chicken stir-fry with brown rice
- Scrambled eggs or smoked salmon with avocado toast
- Yogurt with chopped apples and cinnamon
- Bison burger with grilled veggies
Most cyclists only need to eat 3-4 oz of meat, poultry or fish at a meal to meet their protein needs. 3-4 oz looks like a deck of cards. The rest of your plate should be filled with veggies, whole grains, and healthy fats.
When athletes don’t spread out their protein throughout the day, they find themselves starving at the end of the day and eating way too much protein at dinner. This problem is also seen in people trying to lose weight.
If you’re looking to lose more than a few pounds, now is the time to start focusing on that goal.
It’s incredibly difficult to train when you’re in a huge calorie deficit (eating less than what your body needs). Plus, it puts you at higher risk for injury and illness. By starting the weight loss process now, you can give yourself adequate time to get to your goal and lose weight without compromising precious training periods.
Don’t: Go on a super restrictive diet that you can’t maintain to in hopes of losing weight quickly.
Don’t: Wait until you’re a month or two away from your key event to lose a bunch of weight.
Do: Find realistic ways to reduce your calorie intake on a regular basis. Fill your diet with whole, unprocessed foods and LOTS of vegetables. Pay attention to your food and savor it. If you’re a numbers-oriented person, the best formula for weight loss is reducing calorie intake while aiming for the higher protein range mentioned earlier.
The easiest ways to reduce calorie intake are:
- Eliminate late night eating
- Reduce alcohol consumption
- Increase your vegetable intake – half of your plate should be filled with veggies
- Cook with less butter and oil
- Don’t keep snacks within arm’s reach
- Consider keeping a food journal to increase awareness of your food intake
One of the main foods we focus on increasing when trying to lose weight is vegetables. They are high in fiber and water, so they make us feel fuller. When you put yourself into a calorie deficit to try and lose weight, your ghrelin level rises. Ghrelin is a hormone produced in the gastrointestinal tract that makes us feel hungry. To combat hunger, we need adequate protein and lots of fiber. In addition to fiber, vegetables also have prebiotics, which help feed the healthy bacteria in your gut. Some studies show a healthy gut may be beneficial for maintaining a healthy weight.
Veggies also contain a ton of immune-boosting nutrients, like vitamin C, potassium, nitrates, antioxidants, antimicrobials, and anti-inflammatory compounds. Herbs and spices also have powerful antioxidant and antimicrobial properties.
Don’t: Load up on vitamin C and zinc supplements and hope for the best. Too much zinc taken for an extended period of time can be harmful and excessive vitamin C supplementation may hinder training gains.
Do: Ramp up your intake of colorful fruits and veggies along with herbs and spices to give your body a fighting chance at staying healthy this winter.
These specific fruits, veggies, herbs and spices are on the top of the podium when it comes to
staying healthy this winter:
- Add spinach, broccoli, onions, and garlic to your scrambled eggs
- Choose an orange and a Greek yogurt for a pre-workout snack
- Add frozen strawberries to your post-workout whey protein shake
- Add fresh lemon slices to your water
- Add ground ginger and cinnamon to your pancakes
- Add garlic and rosemary to roasted potatoes
- Mix oregano into Italian dishes
- Add extra garlic and ginger to stir-fry dishes
- Add kale or spinach to recovery smoothies
These tactics should help you get the most out of the off-season and come out strong in 2021.
Nicole Rubenstein, MS, RD, CSSD, CDE is an avid downhill shredder and board-certified sports dietitian nutritionist. Nicole completed her B.S. in Nutrition from Cornell University and a dietetic internship at New York Presbyterian before eventually completing her Masters in Sport Nutrition from the University of Colorado. Based in Denver, Nicole owns and runs Racer’s Edge Nutrition, a sport nutrition practice where she enjoys working with recreational and competitive athletes looking to improve performance, body composition, or overall health. All of her nutrition sessions are done with video calls so she is able to work with
athletes all over the world. When Nicole is not shredding on her bikes she is cooking flavorful meals, playing with her dogs, and helping other athletes get stronger and faster.