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What is Nutrition Periodization?

Rewind about 15 years ago when working as a sport dietitian for a sports medicine clinic, I was visiting with quite a few endurance athletes to help them with their nutrition plans. One common thread with most of these athletes was the weight gain issue. Specifically, athletes were complaining that they were gaining 10-20 unnecessary pounds in their off-season and were having a tough time losing that weight during their base training cycle. Imagine starting off the new year with another 10-20 pounds on your back. Certain health markers could be compromised with a much greater risk of musculoskeletal injury due to the added weight on the body.

The more and more athletes were describing this phenomenon, the more I began scratching my head. As a sport dietitian, I understand the emotional connection to food and the craving response of comfort foods during the winter time. However, the coach in me did not understand why these athletes were having such an issue with periodizing their nutrition to support their training status. As a coach, I provide athletes training plans that have varying degrees of volume and intensity which are strategically placed at the right time of the year to induce positive physiological adaptations. When training load is greater, there is a greater need for certain nutrients to support the body’s training status.

As I replayed this over and over in my head, I was wondering why this simple fact was not resonating with the athletes with whom I was working. Was it that difficult to align nutrition to support physical training?  Well, no but what I came to realize is that the athletes had no idea that they needed to align nutrition to support training. That was when the proverbial light bulb struck and I decided to create my first ground breaking nutrition concept and bring it to the world of sports nutrition and athletics.

I decided to call it Nutrition Periodization because I wanted athletes, coaches, and sport dietitians to speak the same language so everyone could assist each other.  I published the first and only book on the topic in 2005 and came out with a second edition in 2011.

The basic premise of Nutrition Periodization is as I mentioned previously: to align daily and training nutrition practices to support the varying energy needs of athletes as they progress through different training cycles throughout the year.

The great thing about Nutrition Periodization is that any athlete can use it because all athletes follow some type of physical periodization plan. No matter if it is a strength training plan or a sport specific training plan. Periodization is the common factor among training athletes.

Teaching athletes how to eat to accommodate their energy fluctuations is the primary goal of nutrition periodization. It can be as simple or complex as you would like it. There are different names for training cycles depending on the sport but in general, the typical model of Nutrition Periodization follows this progression:

  1. Preparatory cycle (also called base or pre-season)
  2. Competition cycle (also called build or in-season)
  3. Transition cycle (also called off-season)

If an athlete can successfully align their nutrition to support their physical training volume and intensity changes, they will be able to manipulate body weight and body composition better, have a stronger immune system, recover faster, and develop a higher level of metabolic efficiency (I will discuss this concept in future articles).

As you now understand the background of Nutrition Periodization, look to my second article in this series as I teach you how to use it.

Author Bob Seebohar

Bob Seebohar, Coach, Athlete, & Sports Dietitian

If you ever meet Bob, you will have a hard time distinguishing between the coach, the athlete, and the sports dietitian because he is so passionate about all three. Growing up as a competitive soccer player and doing his first triathlon his sophomore year in college helped to spark his interest in training and nutrition. He is now a registered dietitian, exercise physiologist, NSCA Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist, USA Triathlon Level III Elite Coach and a USA Triathlon Youth/Junior coach. Being an out of the box thinker, Bob also created the concepts of Nutrition Periodization and Metabolic Efficiency Training.

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