Adjust your diet daily for weight maintenance

Small modifications to your daily diet add up and are helpful in maintaining your proper race weight and energy balance.
We are all creatures of routine, and our diets are no exception. Time-strapped athletes tend to gravitate towards the same foods and supplements that allow them to fuel their bodies quickly and effectively.

But a proper training plan requires changes in training intensities and durations throughout the day, week and season. This means variance correspondingly in energy expenditure daily, weekly and seasonally.

Nutrition periodization is a hot topic right now. The essence of this plan is to match your diet to the specific requirements of the training phase you are in on the macro level. It is important to make small modifications to your diet on a daily basis to compensate for variances in activity and caloric expenditure. The difference in energy expenditure between a rest or recovery day and a heavy training day can be enormous, and it may be necessary to cut calories on days of reduced training.

These small modifications to your daily diet add up and are helpful in maintaining your proper race weight and energy balance.

Less energy density

On rest days, your caloric expenditure is reduced, perhaps extensively, when compared to a training day. As little as 100 unused calories per day can add up big over time -- a weight increase of 10 pounds per year. Body fat is ballast for an athlete and excess body fat reduces performance and optimal power-to-weight ratio.

To prevent storing unused energy as body fat, replace dense carbohydrate foods such as pasta, bagels, bread and potatoes with lower calorie carbohydrate snacks such as yogurt, cottage cheese, fruits and vegetables.

Watch the supplements

Energy bars, gels, supplement shakes and other sports nutrition products are not necessary for recovery days; they are for training and recovery from training. On a light training day consider using reduced serving sizes during your workouts.

Typically a workout of less than 60-90 minutes at lower intensities will require only water for hydration. You can also modify your recovery or meal replacement shake by substituting ice and water for milk or yogurt on recovery days.

Portion control

Portion sizes are one of the biggest factors in maintaining our weight. It is also something we can easily control.

  • Reduce portions on rest days, but keep your macro nutrient balance of proteins, carbohydrates and fats in tact.
  • Meals and snacks that are mainly natural and unprocessed make it easier to maintain your weight throughout the season.
  • Fresh or frozen fruits and vegetables, whole grains and lean sources of protein such fish, egg whites and white meat poultry should make up most of your daily consumption.
  • Remove egg yolks on recovery days -- they are mainly saturated fat.
  • Tofu and soy products are also a good source of lower calorie, lower fat proteins, especially for vegetarian athletes.
  • Reducing calories includes eliminating those desserts that you may be able to get away with on heavy training days.
  • Plan your daily menu. Planning helps resist temptation and ensures the availability of the best food choices for weight management. Planning can be as simple as making a grocery list or choosing a restaurant with healthy or lo cal menu items.

Replenish glycogen stores?

Glycogen is the stored form of carbohydrate in the muscles and liver. Your stores of glycogen can become depleted or reduced over time. It is not unusual to put on several pounds in glycogen after a few rest days, as it contains a lot of water and is therefore heavy.

You may find your workout quality is significantly higher after a few rest days. This may not only be due to sufficient recovery, but is likely a product of increased energy stores. Maintaining a race weight while having enough energy to train can be a slippery slope. Glycogen weight can be added very quickly and should not be confused with body fat which comes off and on more slowly.

It is important to know your fully replenished weight. If you are eating enough calories on heavy training days, glycogen depletion should not be an issue. If you find yourself down a few pounds going into a rest or recovery day, cutting calories is not applicable if your goal is weight maintenance.

We have the ability to test an athlete's individual metabolic rates and determine the correct caloric zones for weight maintenance. If you track your caloric expenditure during your workouts, you can then adjust your caloric intake accordingly. Many heart rate monitors give caloric expenditure, and it is relatively accurate as it accounts for exercise intensity in the algorithm.

Knowing the calories per portion of the foods you commonly eat will allow you to "eye-ball" the amount of energy you need to eat in order to maintain your optimal weight. There is a fair amount of wiggle room, but it is important not to tip the caloric scale too far in either direction.

Weight maintenance is, therefore, a balancing act of energy utilization and replenishment, and it's important to know your individual parameters.

Matt Russ has coached and trained elite athletes from around the country and internationally for over ten years. He currently holds expert licenses from USA Triathlon, USA Cycling and is a licensed USA Track and Field Coach. Matt is Head Coach and owner of The Sport Factory and works with athletes of all levels full time. He is a freelance writer, and his articles are regularly featured in a variety of magazines such as Inside Triathlon and Triathlete. Visit for more information or email him at

Ilana Katz has a masters degree in dietetics with an emphasis in sports nutrition. She enjoys working with athletes from the elite to recreational. She specializes in body composition and weight management specific to individual goals and needs. Ilana participates in many endurance and team events in order to relate personally to her clientele. She is The Sport Factory's head nutritionist, has worked with many local celebrities and is the founder of the nutrition program IndiFITualize. You may hear Ilana on the "Bert" radio show (Q100) as well as "Dave FM" in Atlanta.

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