3 Keys to Your Offseason Diet

When it comes to offseason diet, we all face tough choices. Conventional wisdom says we can either cut consumption and calories or we can relax and accept the extra pounds as a luxury that winter affords us. Mark Bittman, noted author, speaker and columnist for the New York Times offers us a third option.

Bittman, author of Food Matters, A Guide to Conscious Eating, recently spoke about how to change diet to improve health, lose weight, reduce your carbon footprint, and even save money without cutting calories. Every triathlete should target these objectives during the offseason. His three rules are:

#1 Eat Fewer Animals

Reducing meat consumption will reduce cholesterol and the risk of heart attacks and strokes. Additionally, the factory farming required to produce meat places incredible strains on our environment and water resources. The U.N. estimates that global livestock generate one-fifth of all greenhouse gases. Finally, the cost of meat is rising faster than the costs of fruits and vegetables.

More: Nutrition Basics for Life and Training

#2 Eat Far Less Junk Food

The more processed a food item is, the less nutritional value it has. A chicken breast or peanuts are great on their own, but the processing required to turn them into a McDonald's chicken nugget or a candy bar kills their nutritional value, rendering them calorie rich and nutritionally void.

#3 Eat More Plants

In contrast, fruits and vegetables carry, gram for gram, far more nutrients and contain less calories than foods in either of the other two categories. You can basically eat as much as you want without worrying about weight gain.

What's the biggest challenge you will face if you follow Bittman's directions? Maintaining "discipline, discipline, discipline," he told us.  However, the author well understands the consumption needs of athletes in training. He completed the Mohawk-Hudson Marathon in November and the New York City Marathon in 2009. "I understand that you may wake up needing eggs and bacon for breakfast. [But there's] a difference between that and eating two cheeseburgers and fries," he said.

More: Why Do Athletes Gain Weight in Winter

For triathletes, avoiding weight gain over the winter through dietary change can create tremendous benefits for performance for the following year. Leading sports nutritionists believe that an athlete can safely lose a pound each week during active training. A typical participant may gain 6 to 10 pounds during the offseason period. Avoiding this weight increase could effectively give you a two-month head start on achieving the PR you want in 2011.

The long-term effects of a shift towards plants can have a tremendous impact on the environment. For a family that drives a car 12,000 miles a year, eliminating one meal a week with red meat and dairy is equivalent to driving 760 miles less a year. By totally eliminating red meat and dairy, the family would cut its emissions by 5,340 miles.

More: Nutrition Overhaul for a Triathlon Newbie

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