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Nutrition Periodization For Endurance Performance

Nutrition Periodization for Endurance Performance

As your physiological training demands change with your training objectives, your nutritional demands change as well. The basic principle of Nutrition Periodization is simply that: changing your dietary consumption to match that of your training efforts. Periodizing your diet can be achieved on two levels. The first is the larger training block level of macro-cycles. The second is the smaller weekly level of day-to-day training in micro-cycles. The goal of periodizing your nutrition is to improve your cycling training program in two primary ways:

  1. Better Fueling for Improved Performance (increasing fitness)
  2. Maximizing the Quality of your Nutrition (improving health & body composition)

Proper fueling will allow an athlete to maximize their training efforts and adaptations making their training more effective. Similarly, maximizing the quality of your nutrition will enhance an athlete’s recovery from training. In other words, more effective training and enhanced recovery lead to improved body composition and increased fitness. Achieving a lean body composition is critical for maximizing performance in an endurance sport such as cycling. In fact, for many riders carrying an extra 10 pounds or more, it can be the single biggest performance booster there is! For this reason, periodizing your diet around your training program can be a big help in working towards your fitness goals.

What Is Nutrition Periodization?

To periodize something means to break apart a larger concept into smaller chunks or blocks of time. Each block holds a specific focus before moving on to the next block; with all segments building towards the end goal. For example, a cyclist might plan a three month aerobic training block (base); followed by a six week high-intensity training block (build); followed by a two week taper block (peak) to periodize their training build towards an important event. In doing so, they took 5 months of training and periodized it into 3 specifics blocks of training. Each block, in this example, working towards the same end goal of a peak performance.

On the nutrition front, the foods we consume contain some combination of the macro-nutrients that fuel us. These macro-nutrients are fat, carbohydrate and protein. Therefore, the concept of Nutrition Periodization is the thoughtful manipulation of the amounts of these macro-nutrients within a period of time. In addition, all three macro-nutrients serve a purpose and are valuable to not only our athletic performance but our survival. However, the ratios of nutrients can vary based on our training objectives to squeeze out greater performance.

Most effective cycling training plans are periodized in some fashion; each based on the coach’s or author’s opinion on the best method of periodization. However, different blocks of training require different energy demands in terms of fueling training sessions and recovering between training sessions. Herein lies the benefits of Nutrition Periodization. Aligning your nutrition plan with your training plan can reap substantial benefits in your cycling performance.


Nutrition Periodization within the Macro-Cycle

Macro-cycle is a fancy term which coaches throw around, usually referring to the larger training periods of a periodized Annual Training Plan; think: Base, Build and Peak. Similarly, the concept of Nutrition Periodization follows suit by periodizing your diet around the nutritional demands of your training blocks.

Base Period

The Base Training time of the season is often geared towards accumulating time at low-intensity training levels. This training phase improves your fat-burning aerobic energy system. During your base training phase, periodizing your diet to include increased amounts of high-quality fats, lean proteins and high-fiber carbohydrates from vegetables can help promote the use of fat for fuel and maximize your aerobic training adaptations. Among the adaptations includes changes in your body composition. These changes occur by means of improved mobilization of fat for fuel and reducing the dependency on sugars for fuel.

Strength Training

When including a Strength Training component in your annual training program, you should increase protein consumption compared to periods of the year when strength training is reduced. The additional protein intake during this time can enhance the rebuilding of muscle tissue that occurs following stressful weight training sessions. Strength training combined with proper nutrition to accommodate the stress both work to increase muscle mass (slightly) and reduce fat mass (significantly).

Race Prep

Later in the high-intensity and Race Prep periods of the season, a shift towards increased carbohydrate consumption will be more beneficial. This is due to the fueling demands required to complete tough sessions. Carbohydrates not only fuel your high-intensity training more effectively, but also help to prevent your body from metabolizing muscle mass. In addition, this helps to maintain your optimal body composition via increased lean tissue. Reducing fat and protein slightly to make room for more fruits and grain-based carbohydrates will be key to maximize training performance. Carbohydrates are also king when you’re inside a racing block or in the big event phases of your training program.

Examples of Nutritional Periodization at the Macro-Level:

Base Training Period =

    • 30% vegetable-based carbohydrates & leafy greens
    • 40% healthy fats
    • 30% quality protein

High Intensity Period =

    • 50% vegetable-based carbohydrates & leafy greens
    • 30% healthy fats
    • 20% quality protein

Peak/Race Period =

    • 40% vegetable-based carbohydrates & leafy greens
    • 30% healthy fats
    • 20% quality protein
    • 10% simple sugar carbs (ie. drinks, bars, gels)

Additional Suggestions on Macro-Nutrient quantities per training phase.


Nutrition Periodization within the Micro-Cycle

Narrowing the focus from the training block to the training week, we can look at Nutrition Periodization within the weekly micro-cycles of a cycling training plan. Typical training plans include two ‘structured workouts’, one or two endurance rides, two gym sessions, and a rest or recovery day within the weekly micro-cycle. Periodizing your diet to best accommodate these different training days can be of great value to improving your performance and achieving your body composition goals.

Day-to-day Nutrition Periodization can be as simple as on big training days you need to consume more total calories; and on lighter training days, or rest days, you need to consume fewer calories. Take your food choice a step further by manipulating the macro-nutrient intake to match your demands can be even more effective.

Examples of Nutritional Periodization at the Micro-Level:

Low-Intensity Aerobic Day =

    • 40% vegetable-based carbohydrates & leafy greens
    • 40% healthy fats
    • 20% quality protein

Endurance Day =

    • 50% vegetable & grain based carbohydrates & leafy greens
    • 25% healthy fats
    • 15% quality protein
    • 10% simple sugars (i.e. sports drinks, bars, gels)

High-Intensity Interval Day =

    • 45% vegetable & grain based carbohydrates & leafy greens
    • 25% healthy fats
    • 25% quality protein
    • 5% simple sugars (i.e. sports drinks, bars, gels)

Strength Day =

    • 30% vegetable-based carbohydrates & leafy greens
    • 40% healthy fats
    • 30% quality protein

Rest Day =

    • 45% vegetable-based carbohydrates & leafy greens
    • 30% healthy fats
    • 25% quality protein


In Summary

As you can see, the underlying concept here is to think about what you’re choosing to put in your mouth. Food is both fuel and nutrition. Attempting to eat around that concept is key to achieving your optimal body composition and reaching peak performance. To train and compete in endurance sports requires fuel: fat, carbohydrate and protein. Different phases of training should dictate which foods you consume to meet your fueling and recovery demands. Thoughtful manipulation of these macro-nutrient fuel sources is a way to further maximize your performance. This is Nutrition Periodization at its heart.

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