The Key to Your Strongest Cycling Season

Short days and cool temps make this time of year natural for taking a break from regular riding. But before you hang up your bike and pack on enough pounds to fill out a Santa suit, follow this off-season advice from Stephen Cheung, PhD, coauthor of Cutting-Edge Cycling.

More: 4 Offseason Cycling Tips

First, ditch the term offseason, says Cheung. Think of it more as downtime. To build on what you accomplished this year and come back even better next year, don't forget you're a cyclist. "Eat healthy and stay active most days of the week," Cheung says. Hike with your family. Go for a run. Hit the slopes. It's also okay to chill out and enjoy the final season of 30 Rock—as long as you don't park on the couch every night with a bag of cheese curls.

More: How to Become a Year-Round Cyclist

If you ride, keep it mellow: Do a few short weekday outings and some long, slow weekend miles. Throw in a bit of intensity—sprinting to a town sign, charging up a hill—once or twice a week to stay sharp so you can get your groove back faster when you're ready to ramp up. And you don't need a bike to go hard. You can push the pace on foot, on cross-country skis, or in the pool. Or try some of these 15 Proven Ways to Get Faster.

Plan Your Downtime

A typical cycling season kicks into gear when the days grow longer and the sun gets warmer, before winding down in the fall. The amount of downtime you can afford to take in winter depends on your goals for the coming year. If you have a century ride, a bike trip, or a hard race scheduled for June or July, you can probably get away with a layoff of four or more weeks as long as you stay active, says Cheung. But if you have a big ride planned for March or April, or your calendar is peppered with high-priority events from spring to fall, don't let the time drag out longer than a few weeks. (Here are 9 Cross-Training Moves you can do anytime of the year.)

More: 6 Reasons to Join an Indoor Cycling Class

Stay Lean

Defuse traps: Research indicates that you're less likely to make healthy food choices when a meal is considered a special occasion. Indulge during one meal a week and otherwise eat normally. You should also avoid falling for these Surprising Weight Loss Myths that sabotage your workouts.

Nix happy hour: Drinking alcohol before a meal has been shown to increase appetite and cause you to eat about 30 percent more calories. Sip seltzer as you wait to be served and have your booze with dinner.

More: The Truth About Alcohol and Cycling

Spice things up: Studies have shown that cinnamon slows digestion, which prevents blood-sugar spikes, making you less likely to overeat. Add half a teaspoon a day to coffee, cereal and smoothies.

More: The Importance of an Athlete's Digestive System

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