We recently gave a talk to a group about what you should be doing during your off season. I am a big fan of losing weight in the off season. When I mentioned this, one of the people in the audience brought up an article they had seen in Triathlete magazine that recommended triathletes gain 8-12% of their body weight in the off season! Their reasoning was that it creates an additional training stimulus to exercise with extra weight and that the weight can then be dropped at the end of the off-season, leaving the training stimulus to be enjoyed by Mr. Race Weight Triathlete for the remainder of the season.
I don’t argue with the point of the article. I only argue with who should follow this advice. In my opinion, it’s only good for those that race and train at a low weight and don’t have any issues with weight gain EVER. The article’s ONLY source was someone who coaches professional athletes and she based her advice on her experience with those professionals. When people offer advice to age group triathletes based on what the pros do, they need to make sure that the advice transfers properly. To do otherwise is irresponsible and demonstrates a desire to name-drop more than a desire to teach.
A professional athlete knows what his or her “race weight” is, is probably genetically inclined to be leaner than the average person, and has a coach and a nutritionist to guide them as they gain and lose weight purposefully and with the right nutrition. The average age group athlete does NOT know what their best race weight is, but probably has a number in their head of what they WISH they weighed. The average athlete has trouble losing weight when training volume is high because they are tired, hungry, and busy all the time.
This source talked about how triathletes like to stay at one weight year round (really?) and assumed it was their RACING weight. Do you know many age group triathletes that are at their racing weight year round? I certainly don’t know any triathletes that would gain 8-12% of their body weight without any concern for losing it again. 8-12% of body weight for a 150 pound athlete would be 12-18 pounds. Better buy a set of fat clothes, because that translates into a least one clothing size up from where you are now! The source mentioned that she works with Meb Keflezighi, who is 5’7″ and weight 127 pounds. An extra 10 pounds on someone with low single digit body fat looks a lot better than someone with 25% body fat. Yet the article does not make this distinction at all!
In my experience, there are two types of age group triathletes: those that maintain a weight within 5 pounds no matter what they do and what they eat, and those that think they are the only ones that don’t lose tons of weight training for triathlons. One group doesn’t have weight issues, and one does. Most of us have weight issues, and most of us try to lose weight and struggle, even when training volume is very high! The very last thing we need to do in the off-season is gain more weight on purpose, yet many people will read that article and think it applies to them!
This article assumes that you are at your race weight when you enter the off season, that you lose weight when exercise volume goes up, that you are training consistently over the winter, and that you don’t have weight issues other than BEING TOO THIN. If you find that it’s hard to lose weight and keep it off, if you train less consistently over the winter, and if your weight stays the same even during peak training, then gaining weight on purpose over the winter isn’t going to do you any good.
What might do you some good is to have a nutrition focus over the winter that is realistic and allows you to enjoy the holidays but that otherwise alters your diet toward weight loss (less carbs, no sports nutrition, more protein and fat). This is easier to do in the off-season because your volume is down and you won’t be as hungry and tired. Then, you can start your training season at a good weight and not stress about losing weight when you have more important things to do. But what do I know, I only train age groupers.