If you see winter and the off-season as a threat to your dietary discipline, it’s time to shift your thinking and use the downtime between races as an opportunity to refocus and move forward.
The off season is a chance to cultivate balance in your life. It’s a good time to indulge in some of the foods and activities that you deprive yourself of during racing season, without going overboard. You may be surprised to hear that a little weight gain during this period may actually be healthy. If you are one of those athletes who maintain an extremely lean physique during the racing season, an extra few kilos during winter may be just what you need to maintain your immune strength and build a solid foundation leading into next season. On the other hand, if you have been carrying a little extra weight during the season, winter can be the perfect time to focus on weight loss whilst setting performance goals aside.
Forced time off training due to nagging colds and nasty viruses can be one of the greatest frustrations during the winter months, and keeping healthy can be your greatest achievement during this time. Here are some tips for ensuring you keep immunity levels high and are able to maintain consistent training during the cooler months.
Focus on whole, real foods
Athletes often get lost in the world of supplements – bars, sports drinks, gels and pills. Forget these and get stuck into a diet full of whole, real foods. Supplements certainly have a role during periods of intense training and racing but winter is the perfect time to rediscover real food.
A wide variety of fresh, wholesome, natural foods will allow you to get all the nutrients your body requires.*
A few ideas to get you started:
Pack your diet full of seasonal fruit and vegetables. Find ways to add extra fruits and veggies to your daily meals – for example, instead of vegemite and butter on toast for brekkie, try avocado and fresh tomatoes.
Use fresh herbs such as basil, coriander, parsley and oregano to add flavour and additional nutrients at any meal. An otherwise boring salad can be instantly transformed with the addition of fresh herbs. Coriander is fantastic combined with a little olive oil, lime juice and sweet chilli sauce as a dressing.
Ensure you are eating good quality protein such as lean meat, poultry and fish. Bulk up a hearty bowl of veggie soup with the addition of protein – beans, chickpeas and lentils are great alternatives to add variety, fibre and a little substance.
Buy organic where possible – this may not be the budget friendly option but the nutrient benefits are becoming more and more apparent.
Prepare your own food – this may take a little more time and effort but at least you know exactly what you are eating. Winter is the perfect time for a big cook up on the weekend that you can freeze for the week ahead.
Think and plan ahead and always have tasty snacks readily available for those times when hunger pangs hit. A few nuts, fresh fruit or natural yoghurt are quick healthy options.
Get some probiotics into your gut!
Numerous studies have now been able to confirm that athletes taking probiotic supplements have fewer colds and other upper respiratory tract infections than those who don’t. Overall probiotic supplements have been shown to enhance gut and immune function. Probiotics may be especially useful during those winter months when colds and other nasty infections can play havoc with your training schedule.
A number of studies have been conducted specifically regarding lactic acid bacteria or Lactobacillus species. These bacteria are an important part of the gut ecosystem. Here are some ways to support healthy Lactobacillus colonies in your gut:
Eat foods that are cultured or fermented with lactobacilli. These include yogurt, beer, wine, cider and sourdough bread. Be sure to read labels carefully when selecting yoghurt. Tricky marketing and clever stocking of supermarket fridges has allowed sugar-laden, artificially flavoured dairy desserts to be stocked alongside healthy, fermented natural yoghurts. Dairy desserts bear no resemblance to natural yoghurts and do not contain healthy probiotics. Plain, unflavoured, unsweetened yoghurt containing live active bacteria cultures is what you should look out for. Adding fresh fruits, seeds and nuts is the way to go.
Ensure you have an adequate amount of fibre in your diet. Lactobacilli thrive on fibre, especially fibre found in fruit and vegetables. Yet another reason to pack your diet full of real, whole food! If you choose to take a probiotic supplement, be sure to look for quality. Dairy-based supplements or those that are stored in the fridge are generally your best bet.
Managing your nutrition during the off season will ensure you linr up for your next race fit and raring to go. Eat, drink, stay warm and healthy!