How going low-carb in the off-season could boost your race-day performance

No sooner has the race season finished it seems like preparations for the next year begin, you’ve got a long slog of training ahead of you, but this period is arguably the best time to make significant gains that will benefit your performance when race season comes back around. Ultimately, the goal of off-season training is to maximise adaptions (gains) and get your weight / body fat in the right place, because when the race season comes around focus should shift to maximising performance and recovery whilst maintaining the strength / fitness gains you’ve made over winter.

What I find fascinating is that by simply manipulating your diet you can amplify these gains, effectively getting more bang for your buck from your training.

Carbohydrate

Arguably, the best way to boost your adaptions is by manipulating your carbohydrate intake. Research has shown that performing some sessions with less ‘carbohydrate availability’ (how full your body’s store of carbohydrate is, called glycogen) improves the response from that training session, causing bigger changes in the body. Training like this has been coined ‘train low,’ and it’s a great tool for athletes and it’s really easy to do.

Breakfast:

There are a couple of different options when it comes to applying ‘train low’ at breakfast, the most simple is to simply skip breakfast and perform your first training session completely fasted, water is ok though. This option is best saved for low intensity training sessions, like early morning rides of less than two hours or light runs of less an hour. As your body adapts you can increase the duration but it’s best to build up to it.

The other option at breakfast is to have a plain (no carb) whey shake in water, this will provide the body with some protein during the training session without effecting the train low effect.

For an additional boost in performance during these type of ‘train low’ sessions, consider taking on some caffeine either through a strong coffee or caffeine supplement.

Two sessions per day

This strategy is great for those who are busy and cannot train every day, or alternate training days with hard/easy days.

The principle behind this option is to perform a high-intensity session in the morning, limit your carbohydrate intake throughout the day, then perform a second session in the evening, ideally a lower intensity session or a skills-based session.

The day might look something like this:

  • 8am: Breakfast of porridge, or eggs on toast
  • 10am: High-intensity interval training session
  • 11.30am: low carb protein shake
  • 1pm: Low carb lunch – 1 chicken breast, 1 tortilla wrap with mixed salad
  • 3pm: High protein snack – 150g yogurt with 1 banana
  • 5pm: low-intensity or skills based session
  • 7pm: Dinner – 150g lean beef steak, large jacket potato and mixed vegetables
  • 9pm: High-protein snack – whey protein shake with milk.

Sleep low

Of all the different ‘train low’ strategies this is the one I find most difficult to follow myself, and find it best for late evening sessions when you’re not finishing until 8-9pm. The aim here is to perform a high-intensity and/or long duration training session in the evening, then restrict carbohydrate intake in your recovery meal. Your carbohydrate intake throughout the day is normal, but if you’re only training once on that day, I would say to eat most of your carbs in the 1 or 2 meals before the training session. For example:

  • 1pm: Lunch – Chicken breast with rice and mixed veg.
  • 3pm: High protein snack – 150g yogurt with 1 banana
  • 5pm: Pre-training meal of oats, banana and honey.
  • 7-9pm training: High-intensity interval session
  • 9pm: High-protein, zero carb meal: Smoked salmon with mixed veg and avocado. If you can’t tolerate food at this time a whey shake is fine.

Low carb recovery meal

For optimal recovery it’s best to take in some carbs immediately after your training session, along with some protein. A mixed meal like chicken, rice and salad is fine, or if you can’t stomach food post-training then a simple whey shake with some form of carbohydrate (food or supplement) is fine.

However, if you want to follow the principle of ‘train low’ then you should restrict carbohydrate in your recovery meal, sticking to protein, or protein and fat only.

What about protein and fat?

Essentially your protein  and fat intake can remain quite constant during the off-season, aiming for about 6 servings of protein spaced evenly throughout the day. If you have a high training block then you may want to increase your protein intake during this time by increasing your portion sizes, or add another serving in somewhere. I’ll be covering protein intake in another post.

Fat, again, can remain quite constant throughout, I would aim for a serving of fats at every main meal through a mix of oily fish, olive oil, quality butter and other dairy, and mixed nuts / nut butters / nut oils.

A closing point about ‘training low’ would be to start of gradually and build up. Some people tolerate it quite well and some others don’t. A good place to start would be an early morning fasted session of around 45 minutes to an hour, and gradually build up. Then try mixing up the different options through the week. At first I would limit the amount of train low sessions to one or two (if you’ve never done it before) per week, before building up. Your overall training intensity and performance may take a slight hit during this period, but remember we are focusing on maximising adaptions now, to build a solid base for when competition season comes back around.

If you have any questions regarding ‘train low’ or would like an example meal plan, email me – info@racefaster.co.uk

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