Off season diets are a dietary plan that is followed by anyone who is not within the 8-20 week window pre-competition. Pre-competition diets become more stringent as calories, carbs, meal timing, and different supplements are taken into account to a science and become very crucial to track and plan out each part of the diet to achieve the desired effect and look for competition. Off season diets should prepare an individual for an overall healthy feel, energy, and fuel the body to go through all tasks during the day. The foods that make up the off season diet should consist of good protein sources like lean meat and seafood and lots of vegetables and fruit. It may seem as no surprise that the processed packaged foods and excess sugar and unrefined carbs are limited. I’ve learned the difference between those “bad” carbs like the ones coming from breads, baked goods, etc. and the “good” sources from brown rice, sweet potato and oats. Off-season diets truly should be followed by everyone in the general population to achieve overall good health! My approach to this off-season diet and concept of nutrition truly has been transformed as much as my body has been in the last several months. How so? I will expand…
A good off season diet keeps any individual running with the most natural substances that give our bodies those important nutrients it needs from the lean protein and fruit/vegetable sources. All the other ways we take in calories can just be empty and poison to our systems when we fill it with chemicals from processed junk, fast food, and high salt packaged items. One of the things I’ve truly become fascinated with in the journey of nutrition and competition training is how much of chemistry is involved with the human body and link to nutrition. We change our body chemistry by the way we eat. And we change how our bodies both look and feel from those foods we put in it. I think that is amazing! And each individual body chemistry is affected by so many things that no diet plan is universal for all because we all move, function, and are physiologically built slightly different. Our activity level, our genetics, and structure will all be players in the game of scientifically engineering the right diet for competitions. Our off season diets though should really prep us for streamlining our nutrition program. The better the off-season plan, the less time it will take for a competitor to kick his/her body into gear for the stage.
I would compare this off season nutrition base for the body builder to the off season running base a marathoner needs. If an endurance athlete is getting ready for a marathon in 12 weeks, he or she should already have 20 miles a week running base to prepare the runner for the 30-40 miles a week peaks that are part of the program. One can’t go from running less than 10 miles a week and then shock the body quickly into upper 20s,30s, and then 40 miles a week…it would take the body more weeks to advance/progress/ and safely achieve the changes needed to adapt and gain cardiovascular as well as muscular endurance to succeed. Likewise, for an athlete in body building who needs to lose a significant amount of weight to achieve the desired body fat % for stage, the competition diet would need to begin 20 weeks out to allow the body more time to shed and melt the fat off safely than trying to crash course it through a shorter time span. If an athlete however stays in a healthier base weight closer to the stage weight desired, than the number of weeks to prepare will be less and this is overall better for the body too because it is not shocking the system so severely.
Now it is easier for me to compare certain facets of training and diets for competition to marathon training because I now have a passion and experience in both. While new to the body building scene, I’ve felt firsthand how dramatic it can be to experience almost 25 pound weight loss and overall transformation. And I intend to keep a good off season base diet that will allow me to never worry about dropping that much weight again to compete for a show. To this end, I eat now with different methods/changes from before I started to compete. One change I’ve made in my own personal nutrition that is different from before my first competition is that I try to keep a structure of small meals through out the day that are planned. It was also helpful to keep eating relatively the same foods throughout the week for this consistency and it actually made meal planning easier. So, my meal plan now still consists of small meals with lean meet or eggs with a vegetable and good snacks like grapefruit and cottage cheese or natural peanut butter and banana. And I’m still hooked on oatmeal and eggwhites! So in off season, I’m eating some of same foods, but with a few more good carbs added in…. - I avoid packaged goods now more as much as possible and aim for the oats and good fruit options to pack carbs into my system. And this is crucial now as I swing into marathon training where the carbs ar needed for energy and sustenance to run!
I’ve already mentioned how fascinated I am behind the science of nutrition releasing so much in each of us, and feel that there is so much educating for our entire population to take in with me too about how eating better makes you FEEL better as much as you will look better too! This is a great part of driving me to stay focused on a natural, clean eating plan as much as possible.
But notice, I say as much as possible instead of all the time every meal… =) I’ve received lots of questions during my training and now in the off season about “cheats”. I am referring to meals that would not be allocated to a clean off season plan. So for example, as a school teacher, home from school on a snow day…eating pizza and red wine with friends followed by a hot chocolate ….this would constitute as huge cheat. I think enjoying a cheat day and a free meal during your plan should be integrated as part of your diet because the body should still be able to recognize a little bit of what is not good for it or the body will not know how to react should you ever want to introduce these foods to your system again. I mean- I did not eat a lot of cheese or yogurt during competition, but this does not mean that I want to wipe out dairy products completely from my diet!
Deviating from your plan can be good for several reasons other than just keeping the body in check. Those cheats really can vary based on each individual’s activity level and for those who are highly active, it may help keep or maintain a weight by having those vice foods once a week. Plus, it is a huge emotional perk to be able to enjoy that one glass of wine or pizza in a moderate way. If you never allow your body to take in foods that are off your plan, then your system will sort of be in shock whenever a bad food is introduced to it. I discovered this right after finishing my shows during the in season because as much as I wanted to pig out on the pizza post competition party--- I just couldn’t!
I think back again on my marathon days and how I was used to logging x number of miles each week and how that could be stressful to meet the demands of finding the time and energy to log the miles. As much as I love, love, love running…it could feel like a burden at times. After the marathon, I just wanted to not run for as long as possible. Let’s be real- this means I would last like two weeks max before I am itching to grab the shoes and find another race. But back to topic… Similarly, there is an emotional/cognitive side to constantly training through your meal plan and there is a temptation to just not want to have to plan or think about sticking to the timing of or specific meal in your plan…it’s natural to just want a break. But unlike post marathon, even though you can stop and let your body rest from the run, you can’t just stop eating…that is not good for it. I think the weeks/days immediately following competition lend the athlete to want to start off-season diet with a break but it should be monitored very closely even though there is a natural inclination to want to abandon the idea of meal timing and planning completely- don’t give into this! Keeping good nutrition for your health, vitality, wellness, and competition prep in the off season is so important! Stay the course, stay smart about it, and know that the most rewarding things in life rarely come easy! Our individual body chemistries, activity level, genetics, and design are key players engaged in our nutritional meal plan game. The greater understanding we have for this, the more we are resourced to be as healthy, confident, and competition ready from “off” season to in-season.