The best part about the endurance sports “off season” is that you finally have an opportunity to optimize your physiology without having to worry about the “cannibalizing” effects of endurance training. So instead of being glucose-addicted cardio fiends, you now have a chance to shift your diet and activity patterns to the much healthier “paleo” regimens.
In a prior post, I had summarized Mark Sisson’s “Primal Blueprint” approach, which I still highly recommend you read in full. In the meantime, here’s my “quick and dirty” take on what you can do immediately now that many of you are no longer training for any big events:
1. Eat lots of animals, insects and plants
This translates to consuming more lean source proteins – especially fish, poultry, and meat – as well as more “wet carbs” like fresh fruits and vegetables. Also included are nuts and tubers. Keep this especially in mind over the next few months because the “Sunday game” food spreads and holiday banquets are just chock full of the worst types of food you can eat. And remember – grain is your enemy, so stay away from the cakes, breads, and pastas from now on.
2. Move around a lot at a slow pace
Take more long walks and get some weekend hiking in if you can. Try to find environments or venues that require uphill or uneven terrain. In a pinch, use the stairs in your residence or workplace as a way to add in some “hill work.” Or better yet, use the cooler autumn mornings to commute to work via bicycle if you can.
3. Lift heavy things
Step up your strength training – especially if you have been forgoing that in favor of more cardio. And make sure you do the right kind, too!
4. Run really fast every once in a while
Throw some sprint work into your exercise routines or practice a sport that involves omni-directional short burst, higher intensity movements. Great examples are tennis, volleyball, and basketball – all of which can be played indoors during the winter.
5. Get lots of sleep
Pay special attention to your sleep patterns and make it a point to hit the hay before 10:30am every night (including weekends, if possible). Be sure to “wind down” by lowering the lighting level in your home during the hours leading up to bedtime. Watch your caffeine intake, and try to make the switch to green tea versus coffee in the mornings. Also, be sure to take a high quality fish oil supplement along with your multivitamins. Not only is fish oil good for your circulatory system, but it’s also an effective mood stabilizer that supports better overall sleep.
Join a fitness-related group such as a sports league, a swimming club, or a dance class. Human beings are social animals, and interacting with others in a “game” environment mimics the types of interactions that early humans would engage in on a continual basis. And there’s another point here as well. When you do mostly “solo” workouts, you tend to ruminate on things a lot more, and you can ironically put yourself in a worse state of mind than not exercising at all.
7. Get some sunlight every day
You’ve just come off of a summer season of long days and fairly constant exposure to sunshine. Right now you’ve got a double whammy coming at you in the form of much shorter days coupled with inclement weather that will substantially reduce the time you spend outside in the elements. This is going to hit you hard come late October, so you had best preempt it you can. I have two full spectrum lights – one at home and one in my office – that I use to compensate for the diminished levels of sunlight during the fall and winter months. They make a HUGE difference in enhancing my mood and overall energy levels during the “downside” of the year.
8. Avoid trauma
The basic rules here are to stay sharp and to keep your body fit and resilient. Wear seat belts and bike helmets, and pay special attention to the changes in the weather and in your immediate environment. While we no longer have to contend with vicious animal predators, we do have to maintain a high level of awareness of our surroundings and avoid traumatic environments or incidents that might compromise our health or shorten our lifespan.
9. Avoid poisonous things
Instantly lethal poisons (i.e. snake bites, toxic plants, etc.) are quite rare in our modern life. However, be aware of the slower poisons in your environment – especially those that you voluntarily expose yourself to. Don’t eat unhealthy foods with nasty artificial ingredients, and reduce or eliminate your consumption of simple sugars and alcohol. And always monitor the quality of the air and water in your immediate environment as well. Holiday celebrations are wonderful, but loud and smoky environments accompanied by booze, soda, and greasy appetizers are about as toxic as it gets.
10. Use your mind
As the fall and winter seasons set in, many of you will find yourself spending less time outdoors. This is an excellent opportunity to hone your mental skills through indoor hobbies or activities. Sign up for a class that interests you, and make it one that combines both physical and mental challenges. Some of my favorites are dance class (especially tango), foreign language instruction, and musical instrument training. In short, re-direct all of the energy you created from your training into healthy and productive activities that further enhance and lengthen the quality and quantity of your life.
And most important – start getting excited about next season!