Offseason Nutrition Plan for Athletes

Offseason Nutrition Plan for Athletes

Offseason Nutrition Plan for Athletes

*This article includes affiliate links. As an Amazon Associate, I earn from qualifying purchases.

When the competitive season comes to an end, athletes commonly wonder how to adjust their diets as they head into the offseason.

Providing athletes with an offseason nutrition plan can be a key tool that helps them stay on track throughout the upcoming months.

Balance Your Offseason Nutrition Plate

During the competitive season, athletes often need to consume a diet high in carbohydrates to fuel their intense training and competition schedules.

As athletes transition into the offseason, they should adjust the amount of carbohydrates they fill their plates with in accordance with their daily training needs.

On days when athletes will be participating in intense or prolonged activity, they can continue to fill a large portion of their plates with carbohydrate-rich foods to support their activity (1).

However, on off-days or days when they will be doing lower intensity and/or duration workouts, they can reduce the amount of carbohydrates on their plates. On these days, athletes should focus on balancing out their plates with a variety of nutrient-rich fruits and vegetables.

By adjusting how they fill their plates during the offseason, athletes can accommodate the fluctuation in calorie needs based upon their daily training schedule.

Providing athletes with an offseason nutrition plan can be a key tool that helps them stay on track throughout the upcoming months.

Offseason Nutrition: Stick to a Schedule

It can be easy during the offseason for athletes to slip out of their daily routine of eating regular meals and healthy snacks.

Unfortunately, this can lead to athletes skipping meals, mindlessly grabbing snacks mid-afternoon, or over-indulging in the evening.

Thus, to the extent possible, I encourage athletes to create and stick to an eating schedule during the offseason. In particular, athletes should focus on starting the day with a healthy breakfast and having a plan for balanced snacks they can enjoy throughout the day.

Start the Day with Breakfast

Starting the day with breakfast can help ensure that athletes are fueled for the day’s activities. Aiming to eat breakfast within 1 hour of getting up can be a helpful strategy for athletes to make eating breakfast a habit during the offseason.

If an athlete plans to workout in the morning, a high-carb snack can help to fuel their workout. Following the training session, the athlete can then eat a balanced breakfast that supports their recovery nutrition needs.

Grab-and-go breakfasts can also be a great option for athletes during the offseason. 

Ideas for breakfasts that athletes can eat on the go include:

Plan Balanced Snacks

Taking time to plan ahead and meal prep healthy snacks can help athletes stay on track with their nutrition goals during the offseason.

When planning a balanced snack, I encourage athletes to combine a food that provides a good source of protein with food from another food group.

Example snacks may include:

  • Greek yogurt with berries and granola
  • Peanut butter with apple slices
  • Hummus with pretzels
  • Cottage cheese with fruit
  • Sliced cheese with whole grain crackers
  • Turkey on a whole wheat wrap
  • Trail mix made with dried fruit, nuts, pretzels, dry breakfast cereal
Plan balanced snacks by combining 
a food that provides a good source 
of protein with food from another food group.

Offseason Nutrition: Body Composition Goals

The offseason is the ideal time for athletes to focus on making desired changes to their body composition.

During the offseason, athletes have time to focus on sustainable changes to their diets. Over time these changes can result in desired increases in lean mass and/or decreases in body fat.

It is important for athletes to remember that changes in body composition will not automatically result in improved performance. Thus, combining the offseason nutrition plan with a strength and conditioning program is essential.

In addition, I encourage athletes to visit with a sports dietitian nutritionist regarding their body composition goals. The sports dietitian nutritionist can work with the athlete on the development of an individualized nutrition plan.

Below are some general nutrition tips to support athletes with gaining or losing weight during the offseason.

The offseason is the ideal time for athletes to focus on making changes to their body composition.

Offseason Nutrition Plan to Support Weight Gain

It is important for athletes who desire to gain weight during the offseason to focus on fueling their bodies consistently throughout the day. I like to encourage athletes to aim to consume 3 meals and 3 snacks each day.

Athletes who find they forget to eat during the day may consider setting an alarm on their smartphone as a reminder to eat.

Focus on Calorie-Dense Foods

Adding calorie-dense foods to meals and snacks can help athletes with increasing their total daily caloric intake. 

A calorie-dense food contains a high number of calories relative to its weight. Thus, calorie dense foods are an easy way for athletes to bump up their caloric intake without having to greatly increase the amount of food they are consuming.

Examples of calorie dense foods that athletes can add to their meal plans include:

  • Avocado
  • Granola
  • Dried fruit
  • Nuts and nut butters
  • Seeds and seed butters
  • Olive oil, vegetable oils, salad dressings made with vegetable oils
Adding calorie-dense foods to meals and snacks can help athletes with increasing their total daily caloric intake.

Add a High-Protein Evening Snack

Eating a high-calorie, protein-rich evening snack before going to bed is one of my top tips for athletes that desire to gain weight. Consuming protein before going to sleep can help promote muscle protein synthesis during the night (2).

I find that a high-calorie smoothie before bed works well for many athletes. Consider blending in ingredients such as nut butter, Greek yogurt, and high-protein milk to increase the protein and calorie content of the drink.

Offseason Nutrition Plan to Support Weight Loss

Athletes that desire to lose weight during the offseason should look for ways to reduce their daily caloric intake without sacrificing their performance nutrition needs.

If an athlete wants to continue training at their best during the offseason, it is important to fuel appropriately for their workouts. Athletes should not sacrifice their pre-, during, and post-workout nutrition strategies in an effort to cut calories.

Limit Empty Calories

One suggestion I often share with athletes to reduce their caloric intake is to limit empty calories in their meals and snacks.

An easy way for athletes to do this is by decreasing their intake of sugar-sweetened beverages, such as soda, sweet tea, and energy drinks. These beverages provide calories with limited other nutritional benefits, such as vitamins and minerals.

Instead of sugary drinks, athletes should make water their go-to drink of choice during the offseason. Unsweetened sparkling water, infused water, and low-fat milk are also good options to help athletes stay hydrated throughout the day.

Eat Adequate Protein

When an athlete is reducing calories to lose weight it is important to ensure adequate protein is consumed in the diet.

It is commonly recommended for athletes to increase their protein intake during periods of caloric restriction to help prevent the loss of muscle mass. Combining the increased protein intake with a resistance training program is particularly advantageous for athletes looking to maintain their muscle mass (3).

In addition to the total amount of protein consumed, athletes should also focus on spreading their protein intake throughout the day with several meals and snacks (4).

Adding a source of lean protein to breakfast, as well as snacks, throughout the day can help athletes with achieving this goal.

Athletes should focus on spreading their protein intake throughout the day with several meals and snacks.

Make Healthy Choices When Eating Out

Athletes looking to lose weight should also be mindful about making healthy choices when eating out. When possible, athletes should try to select restaurants that have healthy options available.  

Additional tips for making nutritious choices at restaurants include:

  • Limit fried foods – Instead of fried entrées and side items, select menu items that are grilled, baked, steamed, or roasted.
  • Choose whole grains – When available, choose whole grain bread, wraps, and buns for sandwiches, as well as brown rice for burrito bowls.
  • Select a healthy side item – Choose items such as apple slices, fruit cups, side salads, steamed vegetables, and yogurt parfaits to eat with the meal.
  • Request the sauce on the side – Many sauces are high in calories and saturated fat. Ordering the sauce on the side allows you to control the amount added to your meal.
  • Avoid super-sizing – Enjoy the meal in moderation and have a healthy snack later in the day if hungry.

Avoid Underfueling

When attempting to lose weight, it is important for athletes to avoid drastic cuts in calories and severe, prolonged energy restriction. Underfueling can be harmful to an athlete’s health and negatively impact performance (5). 

Too often, attempts to lose weight quickly can lead to athletes following unhealthy dietary practices. Quick weight loss may result in the loss of lean muscle mass, which is not the desired outcome for athletes. 

In addition, I find that when individuals overly restrict their diet it can lead to frustration, lack of enjoyment with food, and sometimes concerns with disordered eating.

This highlights the importance of athletes working with a sports dietitian nutritionist for an individualized nutrition plan that supports their weight loss goals.

Create Positive Sleep Habits During the Offseason

The offseason is the ideal time for athletes to work on improving their sleep habits. Developing positive sleep habits during the offseason will set athletes up for success when the season resumes.

Ideas for positive sleep habits to focus on during the offseason include (6):

  • Develop a consistent sleep schedule by going to bed and getting up at the same time each day (including the weekends).
  • Use the bed for sleeping only, not for watching TV or playing video games.
  • Make the bedroom cool, dark, and quiet – like a cave.
  • Limit the use of electronics, including smartphones, tablets, and laptops, in the 30 minutes before bed.
  • Schedule the Night Shift to turn on automatically on smartphone and laptops to reduce exposure to blue light in the evening hours.
  • Wear blue light blocking glasses (available on Amazon) in the evening hours prior to bed.
  • Develop a relaxing bedtime routine such as journaling, deep breathing, or practicing mindfulness.
Developing positive sleep habits during the offseason will set athletes up for success when the season resumes.

Be Mindful About Alcohol Consumption During the Offseason

Finally, athletes should be mindful about their consumption of alcohol during the offseason.

The calories in alcohol can quickly add up when consumed in excess. In addition, when individuals drink, they tend to be less mindful about the food they eat (7).

For athletes focused on maintaining a lean body composition throughout the offseason, the excess calories from alcohol consumption can be counter to their goals.

Excess alcohol consumption can also increase the risk of injury, mental health concerns, and the development of chronic diseases (8).

Thus, if an athlete chooses to drink, they should do so only in moderation.  The Dietary Guidelines for Americans defines moderation as 2 alcoholic drinks or less in a day for men and 1 drink or less in a day for women.

Offseason Nutrition Plan for Athletes

You are now set with a variety of nutrition tips to support athletes throughout the offseason.

For additional nutrition information to share with athletes during the offseason, check out my blog on hydration tips for athletes.

Join the Nutrition By Mandy Email List & Get a Free Weekly Meal Planner Template

Click HERE to join the Nutrition By Mandy e-mail list. When you join you will receive a free weekly meal planner template to download and plan out your meals for the week.

About the Author

Mandy Tyler is a Sports Dietitian Nutritionist in the San Antonio, TX area. She is a Registered and Licensed Dietitian, a Board-Certified Specialist in Sports Dietetics, a Licensed Athletic Trainer, and is a Certified Exercise Physiologist through the American College of Sports Medicine.  Mandy has experience working with athletes at the high school, collegiate, and professional levels. She believes the key to reaching one’s full potential, both in everyday life and in sports performance, relies on a healthy nutritional foundation. 

Sports Nutrition Game Day Guide EBook for Athletes

If you are looking to take your performance to the next level, make sure to check out my new Sports Nutrition Game Day Guide. This downloadable guide is written to help athletes develop an individualized plan to achieve peak performance on game day.

Scroll to Top