Periodization is defined as breaking something up into discrete blocks. In order to effectively train, we modulate the intensity, volume, and frequency of our workouts so we show up on race day as fit and rested as possible. These training changes put different demands on our bodies to elicit specific physiological responses. If the demands on our bodies vary, it follows that our nutrition to fuel our bodies should vary as well. Therefore, understanding nutrition periodization is vital to achieving optimal performance.
Your Nutrition Needs Change Throughout Your Season
Let’s take a basic example looking at some of the standard phases of periodized training (preparation/pre-season, base, build, competition, transition/off-season). The amount needed of each of the three macronutrients: carbohydrate, protein and fat for each phase will vary, not only depending on what training cycle you are in, but also on your sport, individual physiology and performance goals.
Here are some ranges suggested by Bob Seebohar (Ref. 1) for pre-season and competition phases expressed in grams per kilogram of body weight for endurance athletes.
We see that in competition season the carbohydrate intake increases due to the higher energy demands placed on the body. Protein remains moderate and there is slightly higher fat intake, also to help support the increased energy demands.
Your Nutrition Needs Change Depending on Your Daily Workouts
We can also think about periodization on a daily basis. Regardless of which cycle you are in, the energy demands on your recovery day will be lower than on a high volume or high intensity day. This means you likely shouldn’t eat the same pancake breakfast on your day off that you do after a hard bike session that includes high intensity hill repeats. Periodize your daily eating for optimal fueling habits.
Another idea that can be brought into the periodization fold is the concept of nutrient timing, which means specific consumption of fluids and foods before, during, and/or after to promote the best workout and recovery possible. (Ref. 2,3). This takes the periodization down to the level of hours and minutes.
Nutrition Periodization Should be Tested in Training
In a recent review publication by Asker Jeukendrup (Ref. 4), the concept of nutrition periodization is broadened even further beyond just basic macronutrient modulation during specific training cycles. This review includes nutrition training concepts, such as training on low glycogen stores, training on high muscle and liver glycogen, or training the gut to tolerate higher carbohydrate intake.
Getting your nutrition right is an important component of optimal performance. If you haven’t thought about the concept before, start experimenting with macronutrient ratios and general timing (before, during, and after). This experimentation will help you dial in what works best for you both in training and on race day.