What are the major changes I should be making to my diet as I transition to the off-season and reduce training volume?
A: During in-season training, triathletes may need to take in 2,600–4,000 (or more!) calories, with at least 400–500 grams of carbohydrate daily. In the off-season your needs may come down by 500–1,000 calories per day, to a more “normal” range, depending on how much exercise you will be doing. Additionally, your protein and fat needs diminish slightly to accommodate less muscle recovery needs and total calorie needs; however, your decreased need for carbs is the most pronounced.
One simple way to start thinking about and changing your intake now is to cut your in-season portions of carbohydrate by 25–50 percent (again, depending on your decrease in training activity). An example of this over the course of a day would be to eat half to three-quarters of your usual bowl of oatmeal with the same amount of fruit or nuts, switch up your mid-morning bagel or muffin snack for a large piece of fruit, decrease both your lunch and dinner portions of pasta, potato, quinoa or rice by 25–50 percent, and your mid-afternoon snack should decrease from a whole to half sandwich or from three handfuls of crackers or pretzels to two. You should also reduce your protein and fat intake at lunch and/or dinner by about one-fourth. Bonus points if you add more salad or vegetables. Final note: Although the triathlon off-season generally corresponds with the holiday splurge season, try to choose your treats wisely and resist the urge to blow off your healthy eating until January. You will feel better over the holidays, keep your immunity up and start the 2015 triathlon season off on the right foot.
Lauren Antonucci, R.D., is a board-certified specialist in sports dietetics, three-time Ironman finisher and the founding director of Nutrition Energy in New York City.