Ok, first of all… “What the hell is periodization?” – Glad you asked:
Periodization – ‘An act or instance of dividing a subject into historical eras for purposes of analysis and study.’
Probably not, you didn’t come here for history class. But that does tell us it has something to do with dividing and organizing specific chunks of time for further use or education. Let’s get more specific and most likely, more relatable to you – the reader.
Training Periodization – ‘A form or resistance training that may be defined as strategic implementation of specific training phases. These training phases are based upon increasing and decreasing both volume (which is reps times sets) and intensity (which is the load or percentage of 1RM) when designing a training program.’
Still dipping our toes into full fledge geekiness but for my gym rats out there, I’m sure you’re appreciating it! Now, let’s simplify that and make sure everyone’s on board here.
Periodization (my simple definition) – ‘Setting a specific long term goal, then splitting your training throughout the year up into smaller blocks of “mini focuses”, to get to the overall goal.’
This usually helps my client’s understand a bit more, because they’ve noticed it in the training programs they’re running with me. For anywhere between 3-6 weeks, they’ll notice a “theme” with their reps, sets, and intensity.
We may be in a hypertrophy block, which means that we’re going to be hitting the mid to higher rep ranges for 75% or more of our training. But we don’t stay there forever, because the body is an adaptation machine. This isn’t a bad thing, at all, but it is something to be aware of so you can constantly shift training to accommodate for this and continue to improve.
So the next block might be strength or power or endurance or even metabolic conditioning focused. As the year moves on, we adjust and shift our training so that we can continue working to the overall goal.
Because even though maximal strength may be the overall goal, we still need to work on all these other moving parts because they contribute to that main target. (i.e. – If you want to get really strong, you can’t ONLY do strength work 365 days a year.)
Ok… So this makes sense, right? Most people can grasp this and most people even practice this even if they don’t realize it, because they’re either paying a trainer to do the thinking so they don’t have too (smart choice that’s highly suggested) or they naturally just change what they’re doing over time.
Ever see the dude that does the smith machine bench press and ez-bar curls, every single day… week after week… month after month… and probably year after year, if you waiting long enough to watch. But he never really looks any different? Well, that dude does not practice periodization.
But there are also the dudes out there who just switch it up each time they go. Maybe they lift heavy on Monday and then back off on Wednesday, doing lighter weights and higher reps, because Monday was rough… well technically that’s a form of periodization on a smaller scale because they’re planning it out and changing adaptations throughout the week.
So what does this mean, for you?
First of all, it means you need to have some form of this in your own training. It doesn’t have to be overly complicated, but without it you may be stuck and not progressing to the next level any time soon.
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Second of all, and the main reason for this article, is that you’re forgetting about one of the most important aspects to periodize… Nutrition.
As a coach who has not only coached hundreds if not thousands, but who has also reached thousands online and worked with some of the greatest coaches in the game…
I can tell you confidentially that I believe 90% (possibly more) of people who are pushing to see results, do not periodize their nutrition.
And I can also say that if they did – they would not only see better results, but those results would last much longer and they would feel healthier while accomplishing them.
I know… that’s a bold statement. But it’s reality.
Do you periodize your nutrition? Thought so.
Going to try and keep this simple, because that’s how I prefer to keep it AND because nutrition is such an individualized subject – I can’t dive into more than the broad overall concepts, which you can then take and piece together for yourself personally.
Why Periodizing Your Nutrition Matters
I’m going to break this down into 4 specific elements. Although there are many reasons why you should be periodizing your nutrition, not only physically but also mentally, there are 4 main reasons that cannot go unnoticed.
1.) DEMANDS CHANGE.
As we explained at the beginning of this article, your overall training volume and intensity will shift over the course of the year (assuming you’re properly programming).
This leads us to one very important ideology – your energy demands will change over the course of the year as well.
Why is this so important? It’s important because it means different types of performance will call for different levels of nutrients, calories, differing macronutrient ratios, etc…
It also means that your recovery demands will change, the level of nervous system fatigue will change, and your hormones will actually shift slightly as well. All this will change how your body sees results, sleeps, metabolizes fats, rebuilds tissue (muscle), repairs damage, produces hormones (testosterone, cortisol, growth hormone, metabolism, etc.)…
As you can see, the list is pretty big. Science and experience tells us that our nutrition will directly dictate how our body handles many, if not all, of those shifts. This simply means that if we want to get the most out of our results and continue to keep those results, we need to adjust our nutrition with our training throughout the year.
2.) LONGEVITY MATTERS.
Whenever I talk to a client about getting results, I discuss longevity and patience vs. immediate gratification.
The reason why is simple… If we focus on taking 3 months to get to a goal instead of 30 days, that client is more likely to still have those results 3 years from now. If we rushed to get there in 30 days, they would lose those results and most likely digress further down shortly after.
Periodizing nutrition allows us to have a short period of time (6-12 weeks) of pushing the intensity of the diet (pairing it with the right training phase).
Then backing off for an even shorter period of time (1-8 weeks) to allow the body to recover, chill out and reduce stress being placed on the body.
This does a gang of things to help us in the longevity side of things, which I’ll get to in a second. But what it also does that so many of us need to consciously consider before we have to actually deal with it… it the sanity side of things.
You cannot diet for 12-16 weeks non-stop without any type of break and plan to keep your sanity, not ever be a hangry person, or just honestly actually feel really good.
You need breaks. You need to relax. You need to reduce stress.
And we cannot forget that this concept of nutritional periodization can factor in vacations and trips as well. You know you have a trip you want to look good for or you have a trip you just want to stop tracking macros on so you can enjoy the local food. Nutritional Periodization applies to it all in some way shape or form.
Because again, Periodization is really just having a strategic plan to get you to the end result.
But there’s more on the longevity side of things…
3.) RESYNTHESIZING PHASE.
When we diet, we are continually putting stress on our body physically, emotionally, mentally and most importantly, hormonally.
And this goes for all types of dieting, whether you’re pushing for extreme fat loss or extreme performance. The goals we set for our body are not normal to our body, because we’re trying to get further away from homeostasis and that places stress on the body.
I don’t say all of this to scare you or talk you out of staring a diet plan, but to suggest you become more aware of this.
This is exactly why I discussed dieting with focus for 6-12 weeks and then backing off a bit to relax (resynthesize) for 1-8 weeks. These next two concepts may be the most important parts of nutritional periodization, the two main reasons why we really need to consider doing all of this.
Hormonal Response is going to be the first one. The hormonal response to dieting isn’t a great one. If you’re doing things right, at first it’s not a big deal but over time it can get more and more dampening. If you’re aggressive with your diet, then the hormonal hits will come to you a bit sooner.
But either way, it will wear on you and you will need to pull back for this resynthesizing phase.
When we pull back, choose recovery over intensity, bump calories up a bit if in a deficit, and most importantly adjust our macronutrients for a higher fat to carb ratio – we’re helping our body fight this hormonal response.
This is the time to give our body the nutrients needed to help boost our hormones and allow our central nervous system to fully recover.
When doing this we can improve stress related hormones like cortisol, boost our metabolic rate, heal the thyroid and therefore help our adrenal glands, and essentially heal our body internally.
I cannot stress how crucial this is for long-term success with nutrition, because without taking time to do these things, results will not continue to happen.
This applies to nutrition for muscle gain, fat loss and even high levels of performance (going to touch on performance soon).
Body Fat Set Point is the next thing we need to touch on.
Ever see someone who lost 50lbs, QUICK… then you see them 3 months later and it’s all back on, possibly even some extra?
That’s because they did not take time for nutritional periodization. They did not allow the resynthesizing phase to occur. Your body is changing to quickly and it will not catch up to adapt, adjust and recreate it’s own body fat set point.
When we push hard for 1-3 months and then pull back just a little bit, even if we’re not at our goal weight yet, and allow our body to catch up to what’s going on – we’re allowing our body to essentially reset it’s body fat levels, adjust our metabolic rate, and really just get comfortable in our new body.
This is SO huge.
Do you want to be lean for this summer only? Or for the next 5 summers to come?
If you answered “The next 5 summers to come”, then this is the strategy you need to apply right away.
Best rule of thumb here, from my experience and what I’ve seen in the field, is to push on a diet for 6-9 weeks and then plan a maintenance phase for 1-6 weeks to resynthesize. The harder the diet, the longer the maintenance phase should be. This also applies to athletes under high amounts of stress…
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4.) PERFORMANCE MATTERS.
The next reason to consider nutritional periodization is if you’re a competitive athlete or even if you have the goal of performing at a higher level than where you’re currently at, which is many of you reading this.
When we train hard or compete in a sport for a prolonged amount of time, we stress the body – a lot. This means that reason #3, the resynthesizing phase, is extremely valuable to recovery, replenish and avoid over working, stressing and fatiguing the body and nervous system. Because as many high level athletes know first hand, when we get to a place of being over trained – everything stops and shuts down.
Your body WILL NOT cooperate with you at this point and everything is done. So sometimes, as hard as it may be for an athlete, slowing down to speed up is the smartest thing.
But on the other side of performance, we need to consider fuel as well.
Offseason may be a time for high fats and more focus on food quality. During an offseason you’re likely not in competition at all, just training and practicing. Which tells us that you’re not using as much glycogen and again, we need to replenish the body. Fats are great for this and so are extremely nutrient dense foods.
Pre season we’re starting to ramp things up a bit, which is a transitional phase. Your body is fresh and you’re going to start introducing more demanding training, which calls for more carbs and likely will allow a little more “unclean foods” because your body will need more calories in a hurry.
During competition season, we just double up on that pre season strategy. More carbs, more calories, and less need to worry about nutrient density. You just need fuel and you need it right away. This is also where we can start considering intra-workout drinks and more specific meal timing.
Now let’s consider this same exact approach, for a bodybuilding.
Roles reverse completely.
Offseason may be a time for more calories, but it’s also a time to ramp up training and build more muscle mass. Pre season you start to actually cut more calories and focus on more nutrient dense foods, because with lower amounts of calories quality becomes that much more critical for both health but also satiety when dieting.
And finally, competition season… You’re at your lowest calorie point and getting nutrient dense foods is absolutely essential.
The big take away for the athletes reading this? Nutritional periodization is a major key for you if you plan to truly perform at your absolute highest level.
So whether you want fat loss, to build as much muscle as possible, or to perform at your highest level… you need to consider nutritional periodization.
I know this can seem like a massively complicated topic, but it can be pretty simple if you take the time to stop, learn, plan, and apply. Add to that, it’s worth it since it means you’re that much more likely to keep seeing results because of it.
If you want an opportunity to be coached on nutrition, getting the exact result you want while actually learning the process needed to sustain it – Click Here Now