Offseason Q & A
A proper offseason will set you up for your best season of racing. Don't be afraid to shut down your quantitative multisport brain for a couple of weeks and focus on wellness and unstructured training. Relax. You will regain the fitness you achieved in the previous season and, with a proper plan, you will build off of that season's fitness.
1. Do I need to take an offseason and how long should it be?
Your offseason should last anywhere from 2-3 weeks before you begin your base phase of training. Your previous season’s length and the depth of your fatigue will dictate the length of your offseason. I recommend two weeks off from structured training. This doesn’t mean you need to sit on the couch for 2 weeks. You can and should still stay active, just leave the Garmin at home. Try something new and give your mind and body a break from your swim, bike, run routine. After your 2 weeks, begin to incorporate some structured routine and start a base phase of training that includes strength work.
2. Should I do anything? I walk 12-15 miles a day at my job—up and down hills as a mail carrier in Boulder, Colorado. Can you address if a person has a physical job what they should do?
That’s an impressive amount of walking and a tremendous way to build durability. Although you will be moving quite a bit as you work, I would commit to taking 10-14 complete days off from training to kick-start your offseason. This does not mean that you have to deliver mail aboard a Segway! Continue to carry on with your typical routine; just don’t follow a structured training schedule for two weeks. After that brief break away from swim, bike and run training, get back in your multiport routine with short and frequent training sessions. As you ease back into things, plan your training so that your more challenging sessions are performed before the physical stress of work. As you get stronger and more durable, you will be able to perform sessions in the morning and evening.
3. How often should I do strength training vs swim/bike/run in the winter?
Even if your offseason is 10-14 days of complete rest or very light training, you can begin a strength program immediately after that time off. But, be smart! The right approach depends on your limiters and weaknesses. Focus on large muscle group movements like squats, lunges, chest press, body weight dips, pull-ups and deadlifts. Start with lightweight movements and put an emphasis on form before you increase load.
Since your swim, bike and run sessions are going to be a bit shorter, you should have some extra time for the gym for the roughly 8 weeks of base training. If time is still tight, you can perform sport-specific strength work.
Keep in mind, strength training can and should be performed all season.
4. How can we increase stamina in the offseason and stick to a proper diet without supplements?
Supplements are just that- they supplement what you may be missing from real food. Consult with a Registered Dietitian to determine which supplements you may benefit from. However, if you eat a well-balanced diet, you probably don’t need any. In my opinion, the only supplements that truly work on are the WADA banned list.
Science is amazingly beneficial in many aspects of triathlon training. However, it shouldn't be used to peddle extreme diets that aren't unsustainable. Eat culturally typical, balanced, high quality food in moderation and you will perform better and increase stamina. Period. Nutrient timing is a huge part of the sports nutrition equation, so eat for nourishment and don’t be afraid of carbs. If you are an athlete, your diet should be based around high quality carbohydrates. All carbs are not created equal; so don’t base your diet around a carb like sugary cereal!
5. I’d like to make improvements to my running. Should I sign up for a marathon in the off-season?
Unless you are a very experienced runner, do not sign up for a marathon in hopes to develop your running ability. I would instead recommend shorter, higher intensity run sessions to improve your lactate threshold and improve durability. Trail running is also a great way to develop strength, enhance lateral movement, range of motion and get out of your comfort zone. Perhaps commit to a February/March half marathon so that your swimming and riding don’t get too neglected.
6. Should I incorporate weight training in the off-season?
Weight training is especially beneficial in the offseason when we have more time to dedicate to the weight room. If time is still tight or you’d rather not spend time in the gym, you can perform sport-specific strength work in the pool, on the bike and run. How? Create drag. Incorporate paddle and band work in the pool, low cadence/hill work on the bike and plenty of hills on the run. Keep in mind, strength training can and should be performed all season.
7. What should my diet consist of in the off-season?
Nutritionally navigating the off-season can become especially tricky as, more than likely, it corresponds with the holiday season, namely Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Years. It certainly is the time of year to celebrate quite a few things, but it can also result in sliding down a slippery slope of too much indulging, too much weight gain, and big hurdles to overcome once the New Year rolls around. Approach the holidays with a mindset of well-being. Celebrate health, time with family, and personal moments of holiday cheer. This doesn’t mean you can’t have that piece of pumpkin pie. It simply means taking the focus off of food and putting it on health. This is a simple mental strategy to help you navigate the holidays without worrying about eating too much or the wrong foods. Pick and choose those foods that are most desirable to you, have a portion and move on. It’s all about balance.
8. How should I fuel my workouts during the offseason?
As you get back into some unstructured training, remember that you don’t need to fuel every session like you’re in the middle of a 17-hour training week. For sessions lasting less than 60 minutes there’s really no need to fuel, just drink water. On longer sessions (2 hours or more) try to incorporate real food. Give your body a break from the gels, blocks and bars by eating real foods during your offseason sessions. Nuts, bananas, grapes, dried fruit or really anything unpackaged will give your teeth and stomach a nice break from the gels and bars you’re used to. Be mindful that as your training load decreases, so does your caloric demand. Your need for pre and post calories is still present, but you shouldn’t need that heaping glob of nutella or nut butter in your post workout smoothie.