Nutrient Periodization: Part I

Nutrient Periodization: Part I

Athlete Periodization

            I want to devote the next 2 blogs to athlete periodization. There has been an increased interest in this topic and so I want to show what the science has to say about this concept.

Training periodization is nothing new to athletes – that is, the strategic implementation of specific training phases. For the athletes training for the regionals and ultimately the Games, Chris plans the training schedule so that athletes achieve peak performance at the time when they want to be most competitive. We have macro-training cycles (monthly), meso-training cycles (weekly), and even micro-training cycles (daily).

These concepts of training periodization extend to nutrition as well. Dietary, or nutrient periodization is not new, though only recently has this topic received greater interest. In the sports science community we have known for over a decade that nutrition recommendations are not static for athletes. Our nutrition needs change monthly, weekly, and even daily according to our training and other activity-related behaviors.

For example, if an athlete is recommended to consume 5-7 grams of carbohydrate per kg of body weight; should consume 1.5-1.7 grams of protein per kg, and consume 2700-2800 calories a day, this does not mean that every day their numbers should be exactly the same. Rather, these ranges should be used as guidelines and adjusted according to need. We all vary in our day to day training – some days we train longer than others, and some days we train harder (and some days we do both). These differences in training volumes and intensities should determine where, within our ranges, we want to be.

Let’s talk about what this looks like. We’ll take a 80 kg (176 lb) male athlete, age 24, 180 cm (5’11) who is on the Perfector track. Call him Tom. Tom trains 6 days a week: 1 day of heavy lifting, 4 days of high intensity interval training (x 60 min) and one day of a shorter interval workout plus one hour of cardio (a hike, etc.). So, while overall Tom is recommended to consume 2850 kcal, 400-560 grams of carbohydrates and 128-144 grams of protein a day, this does not mean that he should pick the middle value and stick to that each day.

Instead, the athlete should use these ranges to adjust his needs daily. For calories, I recommend a 100-150 calories range on either side of the value athletes are given. So, Tom’s calorie range is 2700-3000 calories a day. He likely will need around 2700 kcals on recovery days, days where it is 1 x 60 minute workout his intake might be around 2850, and on days where he either has 2 x/day workouts, or a 2 hour workout, his intake will be around 3000 calories.

The same adjustments should be made to carbohydrate and protein intake. Days with longer workouts, and/or high intensity workouts, he should be consuming at the higher end of the carbohydrate recommendations (~510-560 grams); recovery days can be at the lower end (~400 grams); moderate intensity workouts of an hour or less can be in the middle (~480 grams). On strength days, Tom’s protein intake should be at the high end of the range (144 grams); recovery days are at the low end (560 grams), and workouts in between should had mid-range protein intake (35-40 grams).

A note about recovery days: many athletes believe they can consume significantly less calories/carbohydrates/protein/fat on recovery days because they ‘aren’t doing anything.’ Unless someone is actually lying in bed all day doing nothing, this is not the case (and doesn’t that sound dreamy?).  I find this to be particularly true for athletes on the Lean Machine track who are looking to lose weight. Here is my word of caution: limiting your intake too much on these days can result in loss of lean body mass (muscle) and can compromise recovery of muscle glycogen stores. Athletes typically enter their workouts the following day feeling tired still, which results in poor training. I recommend not going lower than 100-200 calories below your lower limit of your range to avoid this occurrence.

So, play around with it! Try different amounts of calories, carbohydrates, and protein according to the volume and intensity of your training. And above all, listen to your body! This, unfortunately does not extend to when we don’t feel hungry but we know we should eat, such as after a workout – often times the hormonal environment of our bodies blunt out hunger sensation so that we don’t feel hungry, but our bodies still need those key nutrients. No, I am referring to continued hunger. Even athletes on the Lean Machine track should not be hungry all the time. If it’s the end of the day and you have ‘met’ all your calorie/carbohydrate/protein goals, but you are still hungry? Have a high protein + carbohydrate snack before going to bed (Greek yogurt + berries, or a turkey roll with an apple, etc.). This is your body telling you it needs more – so listen or it will stop giving you these cues.

This is part 1 of our Periodization series. Tune in next week for part II where we talk about the timing of carbohydrate and protein intake!

As always, let me know what questions you have!!


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