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How To Win Your Off-Season

By Stevie Lyn Smith, MS, RDN, CDN, January 10, 2019

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It’s that time of the year again; the days are shorter, colder, and while many athletes may welcome the time of rest, others struggle without their regular training routine. Most athletes ‘off-season’ time settles in and while you may miss working toward that athletic goal during this time, let us help you make the most of the off season to set yourself up for an even better year of racing in the new year!

The off-season is typically a time of year when any given sport is not engaged in their active training towards a race or event. At first look, it seems simple enough, but, it is something that should have an individualized approach. Whether your off season is a few weeks or a few months, how this time looks will depend on what your next season entails, current level of fitness, and your health at the end of the previous race season.

How can you assess how much time you might need to take off? Here are some signs that you might be overreaching, overtraining, or close to burnout:1,2

  • Chronic fatigue
  • Muscle soreness
  • Increased risk of injury
  • Delayed muscle recovery
  • Increased anxiety, depression, negative mood
  • Impaired muscle strength
  • Increased training loads with no result
  • Frequent colds (due to the compromised immune system)

Did you check ‘yes’ to some or all of these symptoms? If so, getting your blood tested can help identify what’s happening on the inside. Certain biomarkers show whether there are signs of overtraining, determine how much rest your body might need, and what other interventions would be beneficial. 

Creatine Kinase: this is an enzyme present in our tissues, mainly muscle. After a hard workout resulting in muscle damage, CK is released into the bloodstream (a normal and healthy reaction to resistance training). CK levels are commonly elevated after skeletal muscle injury and strenuous exercise.3 Proper rest has been shown to decrease levels of CK, and prolonged elevated levels can indicate muscle weakness.4

Cortisol: This catabolic hormone is secreted during times of physical and psychological stress. Unhealthily elevated levels can be indicative of overtraining and lead to a weakened immune system, constant fatigue, and chronic stress. Cortisol is also found to be elevated when sleep-deprived. Acute sleep deprivation has been shown to decrease cognitive function, have a negative effect on mood, and rate of perceived exertion. 2

HsCRP: a protein found in the blood that is most indicative of inflammation levels in the body.5 It has been shown that excessive physical activity can lead to increased levels in ultra-runners, marathoners, and triathlon racers.6 Inflammation in athletes can be combated with appropriate training and recovery strategies by avoiding significant increases in exercise, specifically run training.

What are some strategies to make the most of your downtime?

Nail your nutrition
Think of this as a time to let your body rest and reset from all the hard work it’s done during the season. Identify and start incorporating focus foods to help optimize your biomarkers that need work. If not, try to pay attention to getting a variety of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean meats, and lean dairy. It is easy to take this time off and also let your healthy eating habits slip. While indulgences are strongly encouraged (hello, holiday parties) be sure to get those nutrient dense foods in between social events to help build back up or keep your immune system strong through cold and flu season.

Hydrate
Proper hydration helps to regulate body temperature, transport nutrients, and lubricates joints, making it a necessity. When we aren’t hitting the pavement or gym, we aren’t experiencing sweat loss that we’re used to, and it’s easy to let those water drinking habits slip. Aim for 0.5-1 oz of fluid per body weight and be mindful if you indulge in a few alcoholic drinks at that holiday party you will need to drink some extra water due to alcohol being a diuretic.

Enjoy social events
If you feel you have to limit your social calendar during racing season, take this time to enjoy the company of family and friends. Join in on activities with them that you might not typically have time to do. Plan outings, see a movie, or spend quality time together without feeling the stress of having to fit in workouts. Seems simple, but it can go a long way towards your goals. 

Unstructured Activity
If you feel you have to stay active, mix up your workouts and do so without structure. Try activities outside of your usual sport such as yoga, classes with friends, outdoor activities such as hiking or snowshoeing and keep the intensity low. If you’re feeling tired, skip these! Holiday time is stressful so listening to your body is extra important. Don’t be afraid of that snooze button during this time.

Sleep
During the off-season athletes often get up in the early hours of the morning or are up late to get workouts in around other responsibilities. Whether an early riser or night owl, use this time to take advantage of that extra sleep for both your mental and physical health.

Address any ‘nagging’ pains or physical limiters
If you ended your season because of injury, taking the proper amount of rest to fully heal is critical! Follow-up with any medical providers to seek their opinion. This may also mean going to physical therapy to work on tight hip flexors, adding in a foam rolling/stretching routine, or giving additional rest to allow your body to get healthy before the next season. This is a great time to start to build some healthy preventative habits if you have identified muscle weaknesses or flexibility issues that may limit you.

Crush your rest to have the best season yet
We recognize that taking the time to step back, rest, and recharge isn’t an easy thing for goal-oriented, motivated and determined athletes. Taking the time to allow your mind and body to recover will help you come back stronger than ever. And if you’re looking to take your off-season to the next level, we’re here to help you during the downtime and into your next season!

 

See where you stand!

 

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References: 

1. Koutedakis, Yiannis, and NC Craig Sharp. "Seasonal variations of injury and overtraining in elite athletes." Clinical Journal of Sport Medicine 8.1 (1998): 18-21

2. DONALD, CIARAN MC et al. “Acute Effects of 24-H Sleep Deprivation on Salivary Cortisol and Testosterone Concentrations and Testosterone to Cortisol Ratio Following Supplementation with Caffeine or Placebo.” International Journal of Exercise Science 10.1 (2017): 108–120. Print.

3. “Creatine Kinase (Blood).”Creatine Kinase (Blood) - Health Encyclopedia - University of Rochester Medical Center, www.urmc.rochester.edu/encyclopedia/content.aspx?ContentTypeID=167&ContentID=creatine_kinase_blood

4. Paola Brancaccio, Nicola Maffulli, Francesco Mario Limongelli; Creatine kinase monitoring in sport medicine, British Medical Bulletin, Volume 81-82, Issue 1, 1 January 2007, Pages 209–230, https://doi.org/10.1093/bmb/ldm014

5. Kamath, Deepak Y. et al. “High Sensitivity C-Reactive Protein (hsCRP) & Cardiovascular Disease: An Indian Perspective.” The Indian Journal of Medical Research 142.3 (2015): 261–268. PMC. Web. 26 Apr. 2018

6. Ertek, Sibel, and Arrigo Cicero. “Impact of Physical Activity on Inflammation: Effects on Cardiovascular Disease Risk and Other Inflammatory Conditions.” Archives of Medical Science : AMS 8.5 (2012): 794–804. PMC. Web. 26 Apr. 2018