Off Season Carbs
Words and photos by Lori Nedescu
Endurance athletes know carbs are king when it comes to fueling key performances. But what does that mean for the time of year when training loads are reduced and there isn’t a race on the calendar for months? Should you still be carbing up for rest, cross training and base miles? Or should you adopt a paleo-esq, low-carb plan asap?
Most athletes will benefit from reducing carbohydrate intake during periods of reduced training. If you were getting 75% of your daily calories from carb rich foods, you might want to reduce that closer to 50-55% and place more importance on healthy fats and proteins. Why the drastic decrease? Carbs fuel quick energy needs to power us through races and competitions without fatiguing, but when our bodies aren’t being as active there isn’t a need for that quick energy and it becomes stored energy rather quickly. Since many cyclists use the off season to strength train and achieve body composition goals for the next race season, cleaning up the carb intake is a useful practice.
So… the paleo diet then?... Not exactly…
Most cyclists will naturally consume less carbohydrates as they move away from needing to fuel workouts. An ‘on’ season 65 mile bike ride needs gels, bars, bananas, etc… but an ‘off’ season 90 minute trainer ride or 30 minute weight session doesn’t require the same fueling.
Here’s a closer look:
Here we see that just taking away the training foods gives you a significantly reduced amount of carbohydrate for the day. Changing the carbohydrates (and extra calories) before/during/after your training is the ideal way your diet should change between training and non-training periods.
In addition to consuming less carbohydrates overall, it is beneficial to eat a different type of carb. Instead of the bread and bananas that are easily digested for fast fuel, start including more slow carbs. These fiber rich, less processed carbohydrates are ideal for fueling the body during times of lowered activity and should make up the bulk of your off season carb intake due to their high nutrient content, satisfying nature, and slower energy release.
Top Picks for Off Season Carbs:
Perfect seasonal produce to fill you up with lasting nutrition. 1 cup of butternut squash has under 100 calories, 2g of fiber and 21g of carbohydrate as well as being rich in potassium and calcium. Roast until tender and toss into a kale salad or try this nourishing soup recipe.
1 medium beet has around 60 calories, 4g of fiber, and 13g of carbohydrate. These earthy root vegetables also provide plant based iron and vitamin C. While the red variety has been shown to increase blood flow (performance benefit!) the golden variety has a milder, less earthy taste for those who aren’t natural beet enthusiasts. Try steaming whole beets for ~1 hr, then shred the flesh and toss into salads or rice dishes like this one.
Oats never go out of style and should be a staple of year-round healthy fueling. During the off season, make sure to lighten the carb load by adding less to your bowl (nix the maple syrup, brown sugar, and dried fruit) instead toss in whole fruit, chopped nuts, protein powder, and flax seeds for a more balanced meal.
Quinoa is rich in carbohydrate, but those carbs are accompanied by plenty of fiber and protein, making this pseudo grain ideal for balanced nutrition. Quinoa is also very versatile and can be consumed as porridge, in salads, as a side dish, or as the starchy component in casseroles or chili dishes. It is also much easier to cook than rice! I suggest making a large batch and pulling from it all week long.
During the race season, we all know it isn’t a good idea to eat a bowl of beans before a hard ride or race! However, during the off season, these legumes can provide huge amounts of fiber, plant protein, calcium, B vitamins, and vegetarian iron. Try bean chili, black bean brownies, or creamy curried lentils.
Other off season carb swaps:
Stash the sport drinks, gels, chews, and granola bars until your training is in high gear. For now, grab a snack with more protein + fiber like an RxBar, hard boiled egg, avocado + sunflower seeds, Greek yogurt + berries, or raw veggies + tahini.