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:
- Better Fueling for Improved Performance (increasing fitness)
- 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.
It’s common thought that to maximize sport performance you simply need to train more and push harder to be successful. Many endurance athletes are familiar with the 10,000 hour rule (associated with the writer Malcom Gladwell’s book Outliers). This concept says it requires 10,000 hours of deliberate practice to obtain elite level proficiency in cycling, running, swimming or triathlon. In many ways this concept holds true; you need to put in the time for your body to make the physical adaptations. However, we have found that there is more to the equation than just simply training more. You certainly can and do become a better cyclist simply by putting in more miles. Assuming you have the time and fitness to spend 5+ hours a day riding your bike, in time, you will become a highly competent cyclist.
There’s no question that if you put in the time, you will improve. But is this high volume, single-focused training approach the right way to maximize cycling performance? Maybe, maybe not. Is it the only way to maximize performance? Definitely not.
Endurance Sport Training Philosophies
There are many theories out there to follow, however we have found the answer to be: “It depends”. It depends on who the athlete is. How old is the athlete? What is the athlete’s background in sport? What is the athlete’s lifestyle? Do they have a job and/or a family? Do they have the time, energy and physical capacity to allow them to train 30+ hours a week, week in and week out?
If you’re a 20-something year old, athletic individual with minimal life stress and plenty of financial backing, then it’s time to put in the big volume. However, if you’re over thirty, have to make money to support yourself and/or your family, or are a less than perfect physical specimen, then simply doing more of the same thing is not the best path to follow to reach your fullest potential.
Through working with hundreds of different athletes coming from all shapes and sizes of background in sport, we have found that there are six essential components required to maximize fitness and athletic development.
So how is the aspiring athlete going to maximize improvement when spending endless hours cranking out the effort is not an option? We have found over the years that all athletes must make fitness and sport a lifestyle. Much like a professional, you must focus on both the large and the small components of fitness to build the best possible athlete you can be. We have identified six key elements that are crucial to athletic success. Each one can be implemented regardless of the individual experience level or the amount of time the athlete has to devote to their sport.
Our 6 Components of Performance of Sessions:6 Sport Performance:
Strength & Stability
Diet & Nutrition
By learning, incorporating and striving to always improve upon these six key components of fitness, an athlete will be better able to reach their fullest potential in sport performance.
The Endurance Athlete’s Training
The first three components, aerobic conditioning, muscular stability, and skill proficiency make up the physical “training” an athlete with do.
Aerobic conditioning is highly trainable. The most common method is by spending more time performing your endurance sport at low to moderate intensities of effort. Training aerobic endurance by extending the durations of your training sessions can also improve aerobic conditioning. Training plans that include high intensity interval training at specific periods are also very effective at improving your aerobic conditioning.
Including muscular strength and joint stability training will improve an athlete’s range of motion, application of force, and overall durability. Improper joint mobility and/or joint stability limits nearly every athlete in some manner. Improving these characteristics through proper strength training modalities, an athlete will become more efficient and able to use more of their given maximal aerobic capacity.
Developing the skills to move the body in the most efficient manner is critical to maximizing performance. Wasted energy through improper movements not only slows you down but wastes valuable energy. Both of which limit your performance. By incorporating deliberate skill practice into your training plan you will maximize gains in strength and coordination leading to increased movement efficiency.
Sport Performance In Between the Training
The last three key components: diet & nutrition, stress management, and mental fitness are efforts made in between the physical training sessions. These details require as much or more effort to incorporate into an athlete’s routine. However they can also often yield some of the biggest results.
Most athletes are aware of the importance of nutrition but few actually take it seriously for any length of time. Many gains can be made through optimal nutrition: you perform better on race day. You’re more likely to achieve optimal body composition for improved performance. You can obtain optimal energy levels to improve training capacity as well as optimal hormone operation within the body to improve health and recovery.
Recovery between training sessions is critical to maximize your training consistency and adaptation. Learning and incorporating proper recovery methods are critical to adapting to your training load. In addition, recognizing non-training forms of stress in your your life and adjusting your training accordingly will allow you to train more effectively. Combined, both efforts will allow you to get more from each training session.
Finally, perhaps the most neglected and overlooked component of success in sport is the power of the mind. Getting yourself in the right mindset to compete to your fullest potential can be difficult to learn. It is subsequently also one of the most important abilities for athletes to transform themselves into champions. Practicing mental strategies and learning how to compete to your true ability will unlock the complete athlete within you.
To become the best athlete you can become and reach your fullest potential in the least amount of time possible, you must address these six crucial components of sport performance development: aerobic conditioning, strength & stability, skill proficiency, diet & nutrition stress management, and mental fitness.
When any one of these components is neglected or underdeveloped an athlete will fall short of their maximum ability. Don’t fall into the trap that there is only one path to improvement, doing the same thing over and over. Rather, choose to expand your athletic ability by addressing these six components of performance. Allow yourself to continually evolve and improve as an athlete. By incorporating these 6 components into your daily lifestyle you will be able to consistently improve your performance year after year.
Written by Cody Waite, professional endurance athlete, endurance sport coach and founder of Sessions:6 Sport Performance. Looking for help with your endurance sport training? Check out S:6’s Training Plans, Team Programs, and Personal Coaching options created to fit your needs and budget.
Discussions of diet and nutrition are often the most hotly debated topics in the fitness world. They can be fueled by emotion, personal beliefs and preferences. Within physical training methods there are many ways to achieve similar levels of fitness and performance. For example, high volume-low intensity vs. low volume-high intensity. The same can be said for diet and nutrition concepts. There are multiple variations that can lead to similar results; meat eaters vs. vegetarians for example. The key point here is that people are different. With that different strategies work for different people. There is no right way. Regardless of where you stand on diet and nutrition, there are some key points that recent science and ‘experts’ have established that cross over between all ‘diets’. These concepts are crucial for both long-term health and improved sport performance.
Without argument, athletes can make major breakthroughs in their training and racing performance by incorporating intelligent diet and nutrition strategies.
This is Our Take on Diet and Nutrition
As you read on, please keep in mind that this is our opinion (Cody & Kathy’s) based on our own experiences and my study as a lifelong elite endurance athlete, as well as over 15 years in the coaching business. I am not a dietician. However I have always had a strong interest in diet and nutrition, for both ‘healthfulness’ and performance. Combining this with a passion for good food. This passion for food led to a short stint as a coffee shop and catering business owner after completing culinary arts school.
Before we go any further, we should address my definitions of ‘diet’ and ‘nutrition’ within this specific discussion. As by themselves these terms can carry a multitude of different connotations. I like to break apart daily food intake and the total calories we consume into two parts. Diet is what I refer to here as your daily food intake to get you through the day. Nutrition is referring to your training and racing intake.
THE DAILY DIET
Without writing pages and pages of nutrition concepts and theories, I want to keep it short and simple with advice on how you might be able to improve your diet, nutrition and performance. As athletes we hear the term ‘eating clean’ thrown around a lot. This term ‘clean’ can have many different meanings based on what you perceive as clean. Clean could mean simply not eating ‘fast food’. Or it could mean eating only organic and naturally raised plants and animals. Or it could mean a strict plant-only diet. The point is ‘clean’ is a relative term and what is clean to one person may be far from it to another. Much like when you ask a typical single man what a clean bathroom looks like and what my wife, Kathy, thinks a clean bathroom looks like… two different bathrooms.
Diet and Nutrition: The Basics
How ‘strict’ you want to be with your diet is up to you. However, here are two focus points I have found to help everyone improve their diets. First, limit/reduce the quantity of processed foods consumed. Second, base your diet around eating as many fruits and vegetables as possible. By simply following these two basic guidelines, you can transform an average diet into a very effective one. Processed foods are foods produced in a factory or laboratory. In general, the more humans tamper with ingredients found in nature the worse it becomes for you from a nutritional standpoint.
Take for example, butter. Butter was once thought to be bad, so we manufactured margarine as a ‘better’ alternative. Not a good idea, as now we are finding it to cause all sort of problems. Surprise, saturated fats are not what we once thought! Or take the egg; the cholesterol in egg yolks was thought to increase cholesterol in our blood. As such, we decided to separate what nature designed to be together by creating ‘egg whites’. Sadly, this ‘improvement’ meant we missed out on the nutrients in the egg yolk. This deeply held and popular belief has recently been disproved. Cholesterol in food actually has little to no correlation to cholesterol in our blood. Subsequently, whole eggs are one of the best foods we can put in our mouths!
Put simply, avoid processed foods and choose to eat as close to what nature provides us as possible, with the base being fruits and vegetables.
Don’t Follow Diets
A third key concept is to NOT adhere to a ‘special diet’. Your daily diet should not have a name. As such, Paleo, Atkins, Ketogenic, Gluten-Free, Low-Fat, Low-Carb, High-Protein, etc. Instead, it should just be a good well-balanced diet based on:
- Whole Grains
- small amounts of high-quality animal protein (as desired)
Conforming to a ‘specific diet’ is not sustainable nor does it create a positive relationship with food. You can agree with concepts of specific diets. However, when you begin to strictly avoid certain food groups you are setting yourself up for a struggle. As athletes we need all three macro-nutrients in our diets:
Our primary fuel sources come from fat (low-intensity) and carbohydrate (moderate to high intensity). When you limit your intake of either, your physical performance will stagnate or decline over time.
Depending on your activity levels throughout your training season, you may need more or less of carbohydrate. As result, this leads to carbs being the largest variable macro-nutrient. Protein is not directly a fuel source but rather predominantly a hormone-regulating nutrient that is responsible for keeping our bodies functioning correctly. Most first world people consume excessive amount of animal protein in their diet. Rather than making ‘meat’ the focal point of every meal, fill your plates first with vegetables, followed by whole grains as needed, and then add small portions and of the highest quality protein (wild, natural, grass fed, organic, etc.) you can afford and prepare at home.
The fourth concept is hydration. If you train for 10 or more hours a week and don’t consciously consume multiple glasses of water a day (outside of training) you are in a negative state of hydration. Hydration is not always recognized by our thirst mechanism. Often it is confused with hunger, which leads to excessive calorie consumption. By making a conscious effort to drink large glasses of water throughout the day and before meals you can do your body a world of good.
Eat When Hungry, Don’t Get Full
The final piece of the puzzle, and perhaps the most important for those struggling with achieving an ideal body composition, is to only eat when you’re hungry and to stop eating BEFORE you feel full. Achieving your ideal body composition has more to do with the “calories in vs. calories out” principle than actually eating healthfully. By eating both healthfully and in the appropriate quantities that your body requires, you will continue down the road towards the lean and powerful body you desire.
DAILY DIET AND NUTRITION DOs & DON’Ts:
- DO eat when you’re hungry (as frequently as needed)
- DO eat as close to nature as possible
- DO maximize fruits & vegetables (8+ servings/day)
- DO avoid processed foods (chemically altered and/or high in refined sugar)
- DO eat the highest quality foods you can afford (organic, natural, free-range, grass fed, wild, etc)
- DO drink plain water throughout the day (between workouts)
- DO eat small quantities, more frequently
- DO eat pleasurable foods (“treats”)
- DO NOT exclude foods or food groups (unless you have a true allergy, or you just don’t like them)
- DO NOT follow a ‘named diet’
- DO NOT over consume animal protein
- DO NOT over eat (except at Thanksgiving, then go BIG!)
Supporting your physical training efforts with adequate and appropriate nutrition is essential for long term success in endurance sports. The more you train the more nutrition you need to support your training and recovery. Improved sports-nutrition can also lead to improvements in your body composition. Increased lean tissue is perhaps the most effective way to improve both your speed and endurance for racing.
As mentioned above, our primary fuel sources are fats and carbohydrates (glycogen). Fats are the ‘unlimited’ fuel source for low-intensity activity. Through effective aerobic training we improve our body’s ability to use fats for fuel at higher and higher effort levels. The more aerobically fit you are the faster you can go while using more fat and sparing more glycogen. Training the body to spare glycogen is one of the primary goals of the training that we do as endurance athletes.
Glycogen for the Win
Glycogen is a limited fuel source. For longer activities we must supplement with carbohydrates to delay the depletion of our stored glycogen for as long as needed to get to the finish line. For this reason, training nutrition revolves around consuming the right amounts of carbohydrates in our daily diet, as well as sports-nutrition while we train. This is why ‘low-carb diets’ do not work for endurance athletes when they are in stages of heavy training and/or racing. We need carbohydrates to perform at our peak! During other times of the year, when training volume and intensity are low, reducing the extra carbs is helpful to minimize weight gain (see nutrition periodization).
Consuming calories prior to, during, and following training sessions sets you up for success; for both the immediate session and sessions in the days to come. On the flip-side, you do not want to consume any more calories than what’s required to fuel your training. Your muscles require fuel to function. The following are some simple guidelines to consider to maximize your training program.
The calories you consume prior to your training sessions provide the starting point from which you draw energy. For efforts lasting two hours or less you need little more than your regular meal 1-2 hours out from the start. For longer efforts you can ‘pre-load’ with a bit more calories (especially if it’s low to moderate intensity). If it’s been more than 2 hours since your last meal (ie. early morning workouts), you will likely be better off with 100-200 calories of primarily carbohydrate before your session. With proper fueling throughout your day you are less likely to need a ‘pre-workout’ snack or meal.
Workouts lasting 90 minutes or less require little to no mid-session fueling, other than water and/or electrolyte drink. This is especially true if you are well fueled prior to beginning the session. Workouts beyond 90 minutes are best served with 100-300 calories (of predominantly carbohydrate) per hour of training. The fuel source when training at low intensities is best coming from whole foods as much as possible avoiding ‘sports nutrition’ sources. As intensity ramps up in training, more calories can come from liquid/semi-liquid sports nutrition sources. Beyond 90 minutes, you also want to include electrolyte supplementation. This can be achieved through drink mixes or tablets along with plenty of water. 1-3 bottles an hour depending on body size, temperature and humidity.
Consuming calories following your workouts is essential for maximizing recovery, refilling energy stores, and readying yourself for your next session. The trick with recovery nutrition is understanding how much fuel (and what type) you burned in your workout compared to how much you replaced while working out. Far too often I see athletes sucking down ‘gels’ in the middle of an hour long session; or finish a moderate session and then down a 300 calorie ‘recovery drink’ before going home for dinner. This ‘train hard, eat hard’ way of thinking can make it difficult to achieve your goal body composition for competition.
The goal with recovery nutrition should be to consume enough calories, both during and following your session, to replace the carbohydrates you used. This will effectively refill your glycogen stores. Your next meal will address the additional calories (if any) that may be needed to feel satiated. The following are some recovery nutrition guidelines for different training sessions.
- Low to moderate intensity workouts under 90 minutes: little glycogen utilized. All you may need is a glass of electrolyte drink (low-calorie) and your next meal.
- High intensity workouts of 1-2 hours: moderate to high amounts of glycogen utilized. Immediate 150-300 calories recovery drink, predominately carbs and 10-20 grams protein. Follow with next meal an hour after.
- Low to moderate intensity workouts of 2-6 hours: with proper mid-workout fueling you shouldn’t dig too deep into your glycogen stores. All you may need is a glass of electrolyte drink (low-calorie) and light post-workout snack or drink. Followed quickly with your next meal.
- Mid to high intensity workouts of 2-4 hours (races): high amounts of glycogen utilized (possible depletion). Immediate 200-400 calories recovery drink predominately carbs and 15-25 grams protein. Follow with carb-based meal when stomach is ready for it. Follow with potentially a second meal 1-2 hours after the first (more fats/proteins).
- Monster workouts/races of 6+ hours: you’re likely depleted and dehydrated. It doesn’t really matter because you’ll need a few days to recover anyway…drink a lot and eat what ever the heck you want (without over eating!).