The idea of beefing up for the winter and cutting down for the summer is relatively common among not only GAA athletes, but also among gym-goers. I suppose the idea for GAA Athletes is that they want to be in their best physical shape for championship time, and the average gym-goer wants to look their best on the beach in summer time.
You can't blame them. On the face of it, this makes sense. But it can be taken too far. How often have we turned up for pre-season out of shape, and spent right up to championship trying to play catch-up?
Along with that, we have different goals at different times in the season. Around championship, it's all about performance, as winning the games tends to be our biggest goal, whereas in pre-season, maybe we're thinking more about making sure we're ready for the league campaign.
Here's how to approach each part of the season.
The off-season tends to be one of the most wasted times of the year. Due to there being no team training, it's often a time where we can let everything else go by the way-side, with nutrition going out the window, and alcohol consumption often increasing.
However, if we change our mindset to seeing it as a time to get ahead of the pack, or simply set ourselves up well for the best season possible, this time can be extremely effective and change the trajectory of your season.
This time of the season should be (in my opinion) a time for focussing almost exclusively on getting some muscle and strength on, or getting some fat off, or a combination of both, especially if you feel one of these is holding you back.
You can afford to be a bit more aggressive with your goals at this time. For example, if you are trying to lose fat, you can allow for more of a calorie deficit than your should in season, due to not having to worry about performance on the pitch suffering.
Often, pre-season is seen as a time for getting back into shape, but as a previous manager put it to me, "You should show for pre-season fit and ready to go."
By this, I think he meant that you shouldn't be using pre-season as a means of getting up to base-line fitness or getting into shape ("running off the winter weight"). Instead, you should show up for it in good shape, and with a baseline of fitness, so that it can be used effectively to get you up to pace for matches, working on not only accelerating fitness, but also on getting skills up to scratch, working on team-work, and still making some small body composition progress, whether that be slowly losing some fat, or building some more muscle and strength.
During this period, you can still have a focus on improving body composition, but with the tough pre-season sessions, fuelling starts to become a focus. This can also be a time to start developing good nutritional habits, structuring meals around the training schedule for example, so that when it comes to league time, this isn't an issue.
Early Season (League)
As we move through the season, body composition should become less of a focus. Firstly, because we should have made a good bit of progress throughout the off-season and pre-season, but also because fuelling performance becomes more and more important.
During the league, time should be spent on continuing to develop good habits, but also on starting to perhaps experiment with some more advanced fuelling strategies around games, so that when it comes to championship time we're able to give it our best shot, knowing what meals and meal timings work best for us around training and matches.
Although performance becomes more important around this time, it's still important to continue making small improvements in, or at least maintaing, body composition, since this will likely have an effect on performance.
Middle/End of Season (Championship)
The championship is all about performance. Now that doesn't mean we let body composition fall by the wayside, since body composition can have an effect on performance. However, we do want to have performance as the priority. Trying to lose weight or gain weight around these times is likely not going to be optimal for performance and recovery.
As well as that, you've been working on getting yourself into shape all season, so you should be where you need to be in that regard. I've dealt with people who were told by manager 4 weeks before championship that they needed to lose half a stone. It didn't work out well!
As you transition from the end of one season into the off-season of another, it's important not to undo all the hard work you've done throughout the season. Of course, you might want to go out a bit and enjoy yourself and let nutrition become less of a priority for a while but do you really want to lose the progress you've made during the season?
Imagine you could build on that progress during the off-season, meaning going into pre-season as fit and in better shape than you were in the previous championship and building on that throughout the season.
Keep that going for 3-4 seasons and you're a completely different player!
You don't have to gain a load of fat in the off-season and spend all season playing catch-up.
Whatever part of the season you're at, nutrition is important, albeit for different reasons.
Conor O'Neill, Know Yourself Nutrition
If you want to get your nutrition and gym-work on point for GAA, check out the Gaelic Athlete Programs here: knowyourselfnutrition.com/programs (or click on one of the programs below) or our online coaching program here: knowyourselfnutrition.com/gaaleanathlete.