Life Member of Food Writers New Zealand Award: Lea is honoured to receive a Life Member of Food Writers New Zealand Award in recognition of her work as an author and nutritionist in the realm of food communications. Read more »



Diet therapy

Facing the down times without weight gain

All athletes face ‘down times’, moments when life appears to be on hold when training and competition is suspended.

Depending on the circumstances this can be a valuable opportunity to re-evaluate your goals, get specialist help to iron out problems, catch up on studies and old friends. On the other hand it could also become an excuse to party all hours, avoid exercise and gain weight. Always hopeful that when training resumes everything will be ‘sweet’ you’ll just work hard and get back into form in no time. For some this may hold true, but for the majority, regaining form can waste valuable time each year.

Not everyone chooses to take time off. There are often situations when such decisions are made for you. Here are a few examples.

Injury Time

Nothing can be more infuriating for an athlete than after months of intense training an injury sees you ‘sidelined’. As your exercise regime switches away from an emphasis on (say) cardio-vascular training towards more rehabilitative exercises weight gain can occur particularly if depression and boredom set in and you snack or eat more.


Sometimes, when touring for competition or in camps your usual training routine may be suspended while you wait around for your turn to compete. Obviously if you continue to eat as much as when you are at home weight will be gained. This can be particularly so if you are surrounded by new foods that you are keen to try; or vending machines; hotel buffets or room service. When someone else is paying for your accommodation the temptation to overeat can increase.


If after weeks of effort you miss selection into a team or you are placed on reserve it can be very tempting to ease up on your dietary regime. However more than ever this is your opportunity to show how serious you are about being part of the team. So keep focused, stay committed and in peak shape in case you do get your ‘moment in the sun’ with selection.

Holidays and Between Seasons

After months of early morning starts, perhaps even in cold and wet conditions, suddenly its holidays. For those living away from home attending universities; or other tertiary education or vocational training courses, moving back home for the holidays can be really hard. While you may have been watching your sports nutrition, eating high carbo, low-fat foods, there’s your mum baking you your favourite chocolate cake or cookies.

While holidays are really necessary to relax and enjoy the freedom from the usual fixed training routines, they can also be an opportunity to introduce lower fat foods to your family and help them to be healthier too.

Ideas to help you cope

If all this does sound familiar but you really are sincere about using your holidays to really make a difference to your performance when you get back into training then here are some tips to help:

Manage Your Time

Before the holidays start write down your goals for the rest of the year and set some deadlines for achieving them. If managing your weight is important to you then:

  • Set a goal weight for next season and discuss this with your coach.
  • Measure your body shape: chest, waist, hips, thighs and check these regularly
  • Seek support from someone you trust who can check on your progress and offer encouragement
  • Keep an eye on your friends, encourage them to join you for a run or trip to the gym. Lead by example.
  • Monitor your weight weekly and if you need help see a sports dietitian. This is particularly important when making weight for sports such as light weight rower or coxswain, jockey, wrestler, gymnast etc. Over the holidays, it is very easy, to lose an excessive amount of weight when there are fewer people around to supervise you. Once you have reached your goal weight learn how to stabilize it in a healthy way. In all sports we want to build healthy athletes with strength to perform.

Have Regular Meals

Have breakfast even if you sleep in late and it’s noon, just go on and have lunch at 3pm and dinner around 7pm. Skipping meals only leads to picking at high fat snacks later in the day.

Have a Good Breakfast

Try to include ½ cup bran cereal each day as this acts as a bulking agent, helping to keep you full while also modulating fat absorption.

Include Protein at Every Meal

Protein found in meat, fish, eggs, beans etc helps to not only slow digestion rates keeping you full for longer but it will also aid body repair, strengthen your immune system and improve your mood. So for example have yoghurt for breakfast with cereal and fruit, tuna with bread and salad for lunch, meat for dinner.

Keep Fat Low

Choose healthy snacks that are filling such as muffins, scones, pikelets, smoothies and fruit rather than crackers, biscuits or crisps.

Choose low-fat dairy products and minimize the fat in cooking. Keep takeaways based on bread rather than fries. E.g. Subway®, souvlakis, hamburgers or pizza (not meat lovers).

For Specific Advice

Do contact us if you would like a personal nutritional assessment of help to work out your energy needs for your baseline/daily intake, training and competition; information on sports drinks, supplements; low-fat recipes and snack ideas.

About the author View all

Lea Stening

Lea is one of New Zealand’s leading paediatric dietitians and also specialises in Sports Nutrition. She has specialised in Paediatric Nutrition for 31 years and in 1985 was the first paediatric dietitian to enter private practice in New Zealand. Lea helps families through her private consultations, public lectures, newspaper and magazine articles as well as television and radio interviews. Read more »

View all posts by Lea Stening »


Leave a Reply

Also in Diet Therapy View all »

Would you like to subscribe to our fantastic FREE monthly newsletter?

Each month we'll keep you up-to-date with the latest nutritional articles and healthy recipes from You are free to opt out at any time, but we think you'll enjoy what we've got in-store for you.

Plus as a bonus offer — subscribe today and receive FREE weight loss tips for two weeks! Learn how a number of foods, many one would consider 'healthy', may in fact be slowing your progress.


Yes please, it sounds great! (and it's FREE after all).



No thanks, I'm not interested (or I'm already a subscriber and really enjoying these fantastic newsletters!).