The footy season is over. You’ve done the hard work and built your body up to its lethal prime. It took a lot of discipline to eat well, train hard and build lean muscle! Physiologically and mentally, you certainly need to take a break. However, is it possible to take time out and not lose the gains you worked so hard to achieve over the past season?
Proper nutrition can certainly help you maintain lean muscle mass during a decreased training load. The off-season is a great opportunity to give yourself a head start and be competitive when team selections roll around next.
1/ Match energy intake to energy output
During the season, an athlete’s energy requirements especially carbohydrate needs increase to meet training demands. It is important when managing body composition to match energy intake to the energy needs of the day. During the off-season you will need to consume less energy to avoid gaining unwanted body fat. The best way to manage this is to eat less carbohydrate dense foods such as rice, bread or pasta on days you are not exercising. A general rule to go by – replace ½ a fist of complex carbohydrate with ½ a fist of veggies or salad. Lean and conditioned athletes will lose muscle mass quickly if tipped TOO far into an energy deficit so monitor your muscle mass if you are at risk of this.
2/ Keep protein intake high
Buzz word of the year, but yes protein is important when trying to maintain lean muscle. When restricting overall calorie intake, it is easy to also decrease the amount of protein eaten. Evidence shows that consuming 1.6g/kg of body weight is required to maintain muscle mass when you are in an energy deficit. Protein is best obtained though lean meat, eggs and dairy foods since they have a high biological value (better absorbed and utilised). Include a protein source at every meal and snack is a great rule.
3/ Fill up on nutrient dense foods
When eating to a tighter energy budget, it is important to choose foods that will give you the best bang for your buck. These are foods with plenty of vitamins and minerals, assisting general wellness. Focus on adding a colourful array of vegetables to your main meals – frozen or fresh. Snack on calcium rich dairy foods such as yogurt or cheese. Add foods high in fibre such as nuts and seeds, lentils and grains to your meals for gut health and to help you feel full and satisfied.
4/ Use it or lose it
It is well known that you need to stimulate muscle through resistance training to maintain muscle strength and size. Research shows that strength can be maintained with as little as one big lift every 15 days. Most studies investigating the time it takes for muscle size to decrease is done in older populations. However, it has been found that trained athletes (lifting for more than one year) are able to maintain muscle size by simply training to a third of their regular resistance training program – whether this be number of sets or number of training times.
5/ Watch the Alcohol
After the end of season celebrations are over, it is best to drink alcohol in moderation and ideally on non-training days. There are several physiological detrimental effects from drinking alcohol including hormonal and metabolic changes. In relation to muscle metabolism, a review of studies found that drinking 1.5g/kg of alcohol will result in reduced blood testosterone. This may lead to decreased muscle synthesis and muscle atrophy (wasting). If this is not enough to steer you clear, we also know that alcohol is energy dense and nutritionally ‘empty’, hence several drinks will quickly add centimeters to your waistline.
Take Home Messages
- Balance energy intake to energy expenditure. Eat less on sedentary days.
- Keep protein high to maintain hard earned lean muscle
- On that note – keep 1-2 resistance training sessions per week to maintain muscle strength and size
- Drinking excessive amounts of alcohol will negatively affect the body in several ways. Have the end of season party, then put it away.
- If you want more help book in with Melanie Olsen