Fueling for Shoulder Season

Shoulder Season is not a term thrown around to describe deltoids, collarbones, or anything in the vicinity of our biceps and trapezius. Instead of anatomical rhetoric, “shoulder season” is common in heavily trafficked tourist destinations to describe the off-season. For most of my life growing up in a small mountain town, shoulder season in the spring has been hallmarked by slushy snow, less resort traffic, and deliberating over the best time to take snow tires off.

Although I am excited to wear shorts and dust off my mountain bike, this time of year and the off-season presents its own peaks and valleys. In shoulder season, taking time off allows us to gather the motivation to shift our trajectory before we dive into summer endeavors, but doing so isn’t always easy. When we get out of the groove of hammering and training regularly, it is easy to feel the FOMO (fear of missing out) especially when we see others still pushing hard on platforms like Strava. It has taken me a long time to understand that this time of year is necessary for recharging. The best way I can describe this is in terms of a cell phone battery. If you continually use your cell phone when the battery is low and you never let it recharge, you will not be able to use it at its max capacity. However, if you give your phone some time to charge all the way to 100%, you can scroll endlessly, text steadily, and not have to worry about the battery draining quickly.

Photo: Josh Huckaby

The same is true for our bodies, and a little rest can help you weather the seasonal transition from winter to spring to summer. I could list countless reasons why it is important to take some time off, but let’s keep it simple. Recharging physically, mentally, and emotionally paves the way for longevity in sport and a refreshed desire to get back into training when the time comes.

One of the common predicaments athletes find themselves in when taking time off from training is figuring out how to fuel as they decrease their activity level. We spend heaps of time and mental energy dialing in our in-season nutrition and it all seems to come to a halt when we slow down. As an endurance athlete who has studied nutrition, I love eating food high in quantity and quality. For a long time, I held onto the belief that training less meant I had to drastically cut calories. Although it is recommended to fuel less as you train less, reframing off-season fueling can help you take some of the pressure off.

Here are some ways to fuel shoulder season without creating stress around it:

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  1. Set out some summer objectives and some stepping stones to get there: Taking some time off could very well be one of the steps to achieving your goals. Just because you are not exactly where you want to be in the present moment does not mean you are off track. Focus on the process and believe in tiny steps that will lead to your goals.
  2. Cook new recipes in the kitchen: Whether it is making your own energy bites or cooking a dinner you rarely have time for, spending time fueling well and embracing having more time to cook is a practical use of time.
  3. Restock your summer-sport necessities: Maybe it is time to switch out your winter essentials for your summer go-to’s for long runs, recovery, or staying hydrated throughout long, summer days.

4.    Embrace other ways to fill up your cup: This is going to look different for everyone, but it’s helpful to tap into other outlets while you navigate this transition. Maybe you can make a dent on that long reading list, or even try a new sport you haven’t made time for in the past. Variety is the spice of life! 

5.    Be gentle on yourself: There is a time and place for regimented training and focus, as well as a time and place for rejuvenation. Regardless of your training load, you need to eat to support your health as a human being. Listen to your body and take some time to ease into the transition of seasons. Taking it one day at a time will set you up better as you come out of shoulder season!

The main takeaway here is that it is wherever you are right now is enough as you navigate shoulder season. I really like the notion of following your intuition and chasing what gets you fired up this time of year. Don’t force it, but trust the process as you shift gears this shoulder season! 

Lizzie Larkins

Lizzie Larkins

Lizzie Larkins is a recent graduate from the University of Vermont where she earned a Bachelor’s of Science in Nutrition and Food Science. She raced all four years on the UVM Nordic Ski Team and is now transitioning into a full-time ski coaching position. Lizzie is a coffee connoisseur, runner, backcountry skier, and type 2 fun enthusiast who thrives on gratitude and positivity!

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