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How to Stay Lean In the Off-Season

By Nell Stephenson, B.S.
November 3, 2017
How to Stay Lean In the Off-Season image

Are you an athlete heading into the off-season, and feeling concerned about how best to avoid putting on those holiday pounds?

Or perhaps you’re just wondering how to avoid putting on those holiday pounds… period?

The athlete, weekend warrior, and desk jocky all have this one thing in common.

If we create an eating plan on the foundation of it being real, whole foods, we’re far less likely to pack on pounds at any time of year, regardless of training volume, tempting treats left in the office, or shorter periods of daylight making it easier to hit snooze and stay under the covers.

Let’s carry this into the heading of sports nutrition.

Much of the advice for what an athlete needs to be eating provided by running publications, triathlon blogs, or even the USDA for that matter, sways quite heavily towards the idea that at least a moderate or sometimes a high percentage of calories needs to come from carbohydrates.

Recommendations that 45-65% of calories should come from carbohydrates, 15-30% calories from protein, and 15-30% of calories from fat (1), or that we should stick with low-fat eating (2), only serve to further perpetuate the myth that anything more than a little bit of fat is bad for us.

What does this have to do with staying lean for off-season?

It’s all about consistency

If your diet is comprised primarily of local, in-season produce, natural fat, wild fish, grass-fed meat and game, and you eat in this manner year round, there’s little tweaking that needs to be done going from on-season to off.

The one variable that needs a bit of a shift is the amount of carbohydrates we choose to eat in the form of the starchier root vegetables, such as yams or sweet potatoes, as well as the higher glycemic fruits such as bananas or mangoes. This pertains more to the active or athletic category versus those who haven’t yet included physical activity as part of their daily routine.

It’s quite simple: the more we move our bodies, the more it make sense for us to include these specific types of carbohydrates, strategically.

For example, if you’re getting ready for a summer time Ironman triathlon and you’re planning a five hour bike ride followed by a two hour run at race pace, you can bet you’ll need to include some yam with dinner the night before as well as some banana with the first meal you have after you’ve rehydrated and rested.

This applies even to those athletes who follow a keto-Paleo approach and are already quite fat adapted.

Remember, the goal is not to shut off our ability to use carbohydrates as a fuel but rather, to not rely on it solely.

On the other hand, regardless of whether we are considering the diet of an athlete during off-season, or a sedentary person, both aren’t going to need the high amount of starch recommended by the USDA (3).

The simple fact is that eating too much starch, sugar or carbohydrates in general (yes, this includes fruit) prevents us from becoming efficient at using fat as our primary fuel source and consequently, sets us up for increased chances of developing many health issues, including heart disease, breast cancer, and type 2 diabetes (4).

If we eat more fat, we’re more satiated. We do a better job at absorbing nutrients from our food. We bathe our brain in the very macronutrient it’s largely made of (fat).

And we’re not as hungry as often!

So what’s the takeaway?

If we stay consistent with our eating year round, with a focus on eating real food, moving and adjusting the amount we consume by listening to our body’s hunger cues, we stay lean.

There’s no secret, trick or tweak.

As I always say, “Eat food and move”.

It truly is that simple.


(1)"Carbohydrate Intake during Exercise." Human Kinetics. N.p., n.d. Web. 17 Sept. 2017.

(2)Fong, R.D. Bethany. "Benefits of Low-Fat Diet." LIVESTRONG.COM. Leaf Group, 18 July 2017. Web. 17 Sept. 2017.


(4)Howard, Jacqueline. "More Benefits to a High-fat Mediterranean Diet." CNN. Cable News Network, 18 July 2016. Web. 17 Sept. 2017.

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