In the first edition of Racing Weight, author Matt Fitzgerald cited a diet study that found that most Americans gain 5 pounds of body fat during the holidays—and never lose it.
From the new edition of Racing Weight:
A majority of elite endurance athletes I’ve surveyed on the topic of off-season diet tell me they eat less carefully during the off-season than they do within the training cycle. The rationale for such dietary slacking off is not physiological but rather psychological. Athletes find it easier to eat with great discipline within the training cycle when they give themselves an opportunity to reward that discipline between training cycles.
Weight gain tends to be unavoidable for many athletes in the off-season because of a reduction in training. When reduced training is combined with a slacker diet, the likelihood of weight gain is further increased. A small amount of off-season weight gain is not a bad thing. In fact it’s a good thing inasmuch as it results from giving yourself a needed physical and mental break from the training and dietary rigors of the training cycle.
All too many endurance athletes gain too much fat in the off-season, however. Cyclist Jan Ullrich was infamous for letting himself go during the winter. His racing weight was 158 pounds, but he would routinely show up for his team’s first training camp of the year at 180 pounds. He would perform poorly throughout the early season as he scrambled to work his body back into shape in time for July’s Tour de France. Many cycling experts believe Ullrich would have won more than the one Tour he claimed at age 24 if he had taken better care of himself during the off-season.
Thanks to favorable genes, a few endurance athletes can slack off as much as they want in the off-season without putting on a whole bunch of fat (although not necessarily without losing a ton of fitness), but most endurance athletes, like most humans in general, have a built-in potential for rapid weight gain. The transition from peak-season training to off-season slacking presents the perfect circumstances for this potential to be unleashed.
The most effective way to prevent off-season weight gain from getting out of hand is to set a specific weight-gain limit. I suggest you try to limit your off-season weight gain to no more than 8 percent of your optimal performance weight. So if your optimal performance weight is 162 pounds, you should avoid gaining more than 13 pounds during the off-season. It so happens that my marathon racing weight is 154 pounds, and my off-season weight naturally peaks at 165 pounds (a difference of just over 7 percent) when I’m doing everything an endurance athlete should do in terms of training and nutrition at this time of year. But this 8 percent rule is not based only on my personal experience. It has been confirmed as a good rule of thumb by a number of other athletes, coaches, and sports nutritionists with whom I have discussed the topic of off-season weight gain.
This and dozens of new and improved weight-loss steps are available in the new edition of Racing Weight, just released in December, 2012. Racing Weight is a proven weight-management program for endurance athletes.