Nutrition Tips for Marathon Runners in the Off Season

  Jul 23, 2020  |  #Marathon Training

Whether you’re dealing with a “forced” off-season due to race cancellations, or you planned some time off before your next marathon training cycle, this post will answer all of your nutrition questions about what you should be doing.

girl eating granola bar kneeling after workout with text overlay

A lot of athletes come to me during training but completely forget about the off-season. Nutrition is important year-round, and while it may not be as top of mind as when you’re in an intense training cycle, the habits you can implement in the off-season can be monumental.

I don’t necessarily recommend that my athletes make any drastic nutrition changes, but instead, keep a general focus on nutrition as they would year round.

The off season can also be a great time to learn more flexibility towards food, since you may be able to choose more foods that, for example, may have given you gut issues during training.

Oatmeal with peanut butter, greek yogurt and chia seeds as pre-race breakfast

Eat Enough

If you’re a regular blog reader or follower on Instagram, you knew this one was coming.

Eating enough is not just important for training cycles, but in overall, daily health too. As I talked about extensively in my post about Relative Energy Deficiency in Sport, eating enough is vital for just about every system in the body.

Rosemary Sea Salt bagel from Detroit Institute of Bagels

Energy availability, or the energy left over for our body to carry out its natural functions (like breathing, heart beating, etc) after we subtract the energy we use in sport from the energy we take in. The International Olympic Committee statement is also very helpful in breaking down every body system that is affected by a lack of energy availability. 

a visual representation of how RED-S can affects physical performance in athletes from the IOC

Avoiding low calorie or restrictive diets is one way to make sure you’re eating enough.

Another is to tune into hunger (although know that a lack of hunger isn’t always a signal to not eat something), and trust your body.

Eating enough can help ensure:

  • Better functioning immune system
  • Better sleep and recovery from any exercise you’re doing
  • Improved mood and concentration
  • Ability to gain muscle or meet off season goals
  • Better sleep
  • Improved bone health
  • and more!

Another value I see in teaching your body to eat enough consistently is less runners gut issues when you do start your training cycle. It can sometimes take time for our bodies to adjust to eating more food, and you will save yourself the discomfort by just continuing to eat enough food and a variety of different foods. 

Eating within the recovery window around your workouts, even if they aren’t training workouts, is still important for balancing blood sugar, improving the recovery process and keeping the body in energy homeostasis. 

Oatmeal topped with berries, yogurt, peanut butter in white bowl

Incorporate Variety

While during a training cycle, you may stick to your tried and true favorites, the off-season is a great time to incorporate new foods and focus on variety. 

Do you typically only eat bananas and berries as your fruit out of routine and because they sit well in your stomach? Try some seasonal produce options. Citrus fruits, tomatoes, grapes and sweet potatoes are all high in recovery nutrients and antioxidants, and can be flavorful additions to your diet. 

Sheetpan tacos with black beans and sweet potatoes

Ensuring a varied diet, including whole grains and adequate fiber, sufficient fat and protein, and of course, ample carbohydrates, is important for building immunity and reducing inflammation, and promoting overall health and well-being. 

If you’re someone who has trouble adding fruits and vegetables into your diet, try incorporating them into smoothies, snacks, or adding them as a supplement to meals (for example, into pasta or mac ‘n cheese).

Here are some of my favorite recipes for ideas mentioned above:

Challenge Food Rules

Are you someone who feels dictated by the food rules in your life?

If so, first check out my EBook about learning to break free from food rules and honor your intuition. It will help you understand why food rules aren’t serving you, and why they can be dangerous and lead to a vicious cycle of bingeing and undereating. 

Challenging your food rules means challenging the food police (internal voices of food rules) and making peace with all foods

stack of oatmeal cookies

Put all foods on a neutral playing field. By that I mean, an apple is morally equivalent to a piece of cake. Not nutritionally equivalent, but morally. Meaning neither choice makes you a “good” or “bad” person for choosing, and neither food is a “good” or “bad” food.

Each has different qualities and you may want either depending on the situation you find yourself in. And that’s completely normal and encouraged. 

Challenging food rules will eventually help decrease the guilt and shame you have associated with certain foods. 

Stay Hydrated

A good place to start for hydration is half of your body weight in ounces. This will need to be adjusted for each person. For example, summer weather, running at altitude and other conditions may warrant higher intakes. 

Learn more about summer hydration and avoiding dehydration in winter here. 

glass of water with kiwi for hydration before exercise

Hydration is important and for some people, it can be a habit to make sure you’re drinking enough. So, I put that here to ensure you’re thinking about it!

Tips to increase hydration:

  • Aim for a certain amount of glasses/day, or even each hour or so.
  • Set a timer to remind yourself to drink.
  • Have an app or water bottle that keeps track of water intake. 
  • Carry your water bottle with you everywhere (work, in the car, on a walk, etc)
  • Have water with your meals/snacks

Try New Fueling Methods

Last, but not least, the offseason is a wonderful time to trial new fueling methods and prep for future races and training cycles. 

My self-paced Nail Your Nutrition Course will help you do just that. 

GU gel and Skratch chews

Maybe gels don’t sit well in your stomach. Perhaps you want to try something, like Skratch chews or UCAN Superstarch, or whole foods, like dates or boiled potatoes. Or, maybe you’re not used to fueling during and don’t know how to teach your stomach to handle something.

UCAN superstarch tub

All of this takes time, and the off season is a perfect time to figure this out!

What pre workout breakfast works best for you?

What do you really enjoy as a pre-race dinner? Maybe it is the typical bowl of pasta, but maybe it’s not. Maybe it’s something that’s much more individualized to your needs and wants. 

Practice fueling within an hour of a workout (post workout fueling may still matter), even if it wasn’t a hard workout. You want to accustom your body to taking food in for recovery, even if you are not especially hungry. 

 

How Do You Handle Nutrition in the Off Season?

3 responses to “Nutrition Tips for Marathon Runners in the Off Season

  1. This probably makes me a “bad” runner but I tend to just eat whatever the night before a race or long run workout. I haven’t had issues so far (that I know of, once it was a glass too many of wine oops). I might try a few different mid run fuel methods right now though! Just need to figure out my “plan” but even if you plan now you have to just roll with the punches.

    1. Not at all! Your lucky in that you have a strong stomach and can handle a variety of things. Very true that it will take time to figure out if you notice a difference, but at least we all have time now.

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