Diet Periodization

     Timing of Food Intake Based on Training Cycles

     Training periodization is designed to break your training down into small portions to better specify and customize your goals. This is a common term for many athletes. As training schedules are being built in their varying macro cycles throughout the year, the periodization of our nutrition is oftentimes being disregarded. This next several paragraphs will discuss diet periodization and the impact of training on our body’s substrate utilization and the change from one training block or event to the next. Read More...

     To establish a solid nutritional foundation, to adequately set the stage for reaching optimal training/performance outcomes, you need not look any further than a properly designed dietary plan. Although this may seem to be an easy goal to achieve, the commitment, time, and costs often associated with a quality dietary strategy can make it a difficult task to accomplish.

     Before getting in phases of training and diet let’s take a short excursion into carbs. Carbohydrate fueling has been pounded into our heads for years.  Although athletes have an increased utilization of carbohydrates during long workouts of 3+ hours an increased level of intensity does not in itself mean that we continually need to be on an IV drip of drink mix or the latest carbohydrate trends available and advertised. Carbohydrates convert into glucose, instantly. Many have the assumption that sugar is the catalyst for fat storage, it really derives in the form of carbohydrates, when consuming in excess. Whether you have 150 calories of brown rice or a handful of gummi bears after your workout, the net effect on the body composition goals and total insulin production for that day is the same. Even though whole grains take longer to digest, the increase in insulin production could disturb immune and digestive function. As a thumb of rule about 40-50% of consumed carbs, from coke to sweet potatoes, are converted into fat. We can process a moderate amount of glucose, burning it for energy immediately, while the rest converts into additional fat.

     You might ask yourself then what is the optimal amount of carbs to consume as an athlete? When you are simply trying to escape carb dependency and become fat adapted, your carb intake will vary based on body composition, sex, and the training period you are in. To determine your upcoming path the first question to answer is: Are you carrying extra body fat? If yes, then reduce carb intake so your body can burn more fat. Let’s circle back on training periodization and along with diet.

Transition/Base Phase

     This is an optimal time to cut weight, provided it is a goal for the following season, to either improve your performance or simply for vanity.  For many of you, this time tends to fall during the holiday season and some of you gain more than the couples of pounds which would be passable.

     Consider an increase in protein and fat during this time phase of your training.  With energy expenditure in workouts low and the intensity levels even lower, this diet can lead to weight reduction because of the calorie deficit that is often associated with the increased satiety micro and meso cycles. To put it simple: you’ll be feeling full longer and over-eating less.

Build/Intensity Phase

     During this phase of training an athlete’s intensity level increases.  Some of the workouts are at or above threshold and the body’s demand for carbohydrates increases. This is where the controversy comes in and part of the decision depends upon what your goals are, the type of event you are participating in, and where exactly your training intensity will be.  Our culture in sport, much like the general population, is very carbohydrate centered.  Picture yourself walking into a bike shop or running store and look at the number one ingredient on nearly all the nutritional products…it is some form of sugar.  Nonetheless, shifting your caloric intake to a more carbohydrate dominant focus during this time of the cycle to see results as you boost your training into a higher gear is okay. Listen to your appetite and consume appropriate levels of carbs to recover while avoiding processed items and obsessive refeeding that happens in carb dependency. Generally, your brain and your hormonal processes that control appetite do an excellent job ensuring that you obtain adequate calories.

     If you have the perception that you are losing a bit of the high-end power during races, HIIT workouts, notice your body fat dropping too low, or feels it takes longer to recover from workout sessions, consider increasing the intake of high nutrient value carbs and total calories.

Taper

     Taper is the period in which you scale back on your training to allow time for your body to recuperate just before your goal event. Whatever you do right now, do not cut your caloric consumption to go into a caloric deficit/weight loss phase.  It is a common fear of many athletes to gain weight before their big day.  Many start to panic during this time because the exercise volume in most cases decreases dramatically.  If athletes are subject to this state (while it is semi-logical,) caloric intake is cut and puts that athlete into a deficit. This insufficiency deprives the body of the fuel it needs for the most important event of the year. To overcome this, you can do several things:  

  • Have a resting metabolic rate test performed to track your resting metabolic rate.  For any weight-conscientious person, this can provide a very accurate baseline of what your body needs daily to sustain life.  
  • With this information, along with the increase in accuracy of heart rate monitors, as well as power meters, you can fine tune caloric intake for each day based on actual workloads.
  • Your main takeaway for taper nutrition should be this: maintain a similar percentage of carbohydrate, fat and protein consumption, but decrease caloric intake to account for decrease in training load expenditure. Don’t be concerned about the addition of 1-2 pounds during a longer taper. Some of this weight is your body being completely topped up with glycogen stores.

Race

     The big day has arrived and our advice is simple. “Do not change anything on race day!”  You should have practiced your pre-, during and post-race nutrition time and time again for the event.  After weeks and months of training, you should know what works for you, what your body is able to digest effectively, and the number of calories and fluid/electrolytes you need to intake for a successful day.  Deviation from this could, and should, only be altered if elements are so incredibly different from what was expected during training.

Summary

     Understanding the value of select, but quality, nutritional timing is critical for athletes to not only to increase strength and muscle mass but also to avoid the detrimental aspect of overtraining and central fatigue. One concern associated with post training dietary ingestion is that some athletes simply are not hungry after an intense workout/event. However, this is one of the most critical times to replenish dietary energy balance to offset the tremendous energy expenditure. A viable recommendation is to ingest a post workout snack of a light carb/protein (50-100g carbs and 30-40g protein) within 30-60 minutes the workout/event and consume a complete meal within the 2-hour supported nutritional recovery window, higher in carbs and protein; this is the period where the body is most receptive to energy replenishment to sustain the valuable energy balance and assists in avoiding the overtraining syndrome.

Take home messages:

  1. If the training volume is low (base phase), fuel yourself with lean protein, healthy fats, fruit and veggies and some whole grains. Don’t rush into this process and think it through first to ensure you will be successful. Recommendation: When choosing food, make a source of lean protein your main portion, followed by healthy omega 3 rich fat, followed by fruits and/or veggies. If your training demands it (build phase), add whole grains and healthy starches.
  2. Avoid as much as possible nutrition supplements such as sports drinks, gels especially during the base phase and save them for the intense training sessions. Your goal is to teach your body to use it fats stores more efficiently and improper use of too many supplements will hinder your progress.
  3. Most importantly, have fun with your nutrition and don’t make it an inconvenience. Shift your nutrition and align it with your training periods/phases thorough out the year. Be smart with your nutrition selection by adding whole grains and healthier starches when energy expenditure is high and too great to be satisfied from carbs supplied by fruits, veggies, beans, nuts, and dairy products.