The End of The Skinny: 3 Reason Why Weight Gain Should be Celebrated in the Off Season
Off season. It’s a time of rest, recovery and refocus. It can be a time completely away from your sport. It could mean a time focusing on other aspects of your sport like strength or mobility. It could be a forced break due to injury. Whatever the reason, off season is one of those times of the year that can make or break an athlete.
What about the no off season movement?
Well, there’s a lot of research that shows that taking time of rest and recovery enhances your performance more than not taking time off. Think of it this way: When we train, we stress our bodies out. Similar to the tension you put on a rubber band. The longer you stretch that rubber band and don’t allow it to “rest”, the sooner it will snap. After large stressful events, like a marathon or an Ironman, times of rest are essential. Or better known as off season.
Fight the lies: Many endurance athletes are afraid of taking off season because they feel they will lose their fitness or they will gain weight. The gaining weight is the one I’ve dealt with personally. Yes, mentally, I have struggled with “will I lose my fitness?” thoughts in my head more often than I would like to admit. But from the moment I began running competitively, I’ve struggled with the idea of weight and how it relates to running.
Recently, I had a medical issue where I need to let my body rest and ultimately gain weight. I didn’t realize how much the idea of having a low body weight effected my idea of a perfect running body, as if there was one. The process of needing to gain weight started me reflecting on how others deal with weight gain and if off season weight gain actually was more common (potentially beneficial?) than I thought. So I dived into the research, and guess what I found:
Weight gain can be beneficial for endurance athletes in off season.*
Well, first off, I found that my search uncovered more “How to avoid weight gain” or “Diet to lose weight in the off season” articles rather than gain weight. And here is why: Because weight gain has come to mean increase fat cells. Weight gain is not just about fat. It means muscle. It means water weight. It means so much more than a singular fat cell. When I use “weight gain” from now on, I will be talking about ALL of weight gain.
So here are the 3 reasons why weight gain can be beneficial for athletes in the off-season:
1) Off-season is the time for weight changes, IF NEEDED
Off-season is the time to make changes to your body weight, as in training and heavy training cycles are not conducive to improving athletic performance [Monroe, 2015]. For endurance athletes, off-season is the time when we let our bodies rest and recover, meaning that weight changes are going to happen, especially weight gain. And this instance is about healthy weight gain.
2) Improve long-term health
For endurance athletes, it is recommended to increase weight during off-season due to the need for low body weight that is kept in training for athletic performance. Keeping a low body weight year around can be damaging to your overall health AND athletic performance [GSSI]. For myself, this was a reality shocker, as I needed to increase my weight in order to gain my period back [Read more about my journey].
3) Weight gain can mean muscle
As endurance athletes, we are trained to think that lighter and leaner is better, which has some merit, but usually that means slacking on strength gains. In the off-season, endurance athletes should focus on strength exercises and practices to improve performance, reduce injury and become stronger for their sport. This means putting on muscle, which weighs more than fat, therefore the number on the scale may not appear as you would like. BUT that higher number means increased endurance, lower risk of injury and more PRs in season. Another reason the number on the scale shouldn’t control you :)
Now, all this being said, this is all individual. My journey is what sparked this curiosity of weight gain in endurance athletic culture, and this may resonate with you. I want to generate a conversation about positive body image and acceptance for all athlete body type. And begin the conversation for your individual needs as an athlete. Let me guide you find your off-season needs.
I’d love to hear from you….What is your experience with weight gain?