You’ve probably heard of periodizing your training, but did you know you can and should consider periodizing your nutrition?
I’ve practiced periodizing my nutrition for years now and I teach it to my clients as well. Nutritional periodization is the perfect way to prioritize your health while working towards your long term goal of fat loss. It’s the answer to losing fat and keeping it off through phases of eating for fat loss and eating for health and building muscle.
So what is nutritional periodization?
It’s basically when you break your nutrition up into cycles over a longer period of time, based on your goals.
Here’s a rundown of what periodizing your nutrition would look like:
The first cycle for most people is more of a “pre-dieting phase.” This phase can last anywhere from 3-6 months or more and is an extremely important part of this process, especially if you’ve been under-eating and trying to lose weight for a long period of time. This first cycle is also called reverse dieting. Going through this phase will not only optimize your health and nutrition but also set you up for success over the long run for fat loss and improved health.
You know when you’re ALWAYS on a diet but can’t ever seem to reach your goal?
Most likely your metabolism has been sacrificed due to restricting food over a long period of time and your body adapts to this as your new normal because our bodies are always looking to be in homeostasis. This is the reason you hit that inevitable plateau when you go on your fat loss journey through restricting food.
This first phase (reverse dieting/ pre-diet phase) usually leads to:
- Feeling better in general
- Increased energy throughout the day
- Improved mood
- Better performance in the gym
- Increased sex drive
- Better sleep
- Less stress
- Build up your lean body mass
Eating appropriate amounts of food for your lifestyle and activity level puts you in a beautiful position for many things like building precious muscle and improving hormones and metabolic health. Some people, aka “the hyper-responder,” even lose weight in this phase due to positive metabolic adaptations from eating more, however, most people maintain weight in this phase. Once you’ve been here long enough (we’ll figure this out through biofeedback and your weekly check-ins), you’ll be primed for the second phase.
The next cycle (second phase) in nutritional periodization is a fat loss phase. This means all your biofeedback is showing us that you’re ready to go into a caloric deficit. This phase usually goes on for 12-16 weeks and may involve some diet breaks along the way as well. These diet breaks are imperative in my opinion as they will keep you sane and allow you to continue seeing results over the long term. Dieting too long and restricting food is never a good idea for our overall health, hormones, and mental state. This is why periodization is the perfect way to approach your long term fat loss goals.
This fat loss phase over a longer period of time can lead to:
- Decreased metabolism
- Brain fog
- Muscle loss, your body will start breaking down your muscle protein for energy
- Decreased sex drive
- Decreased performance in the gym
- Trouble sleeping
- Less motivated to work out
This fat loss phase of dieting can be done a few ways.
- A mini cut. This is a shorter and more aggressive approach to fat loss. It should last anywhere between 4-8 weeks and is for someone who needs to make weight or has a deadline to meet. Then, we’ll get you to your new maintenance so your body and mind can recover.
- A slower and longer cut, lasting around 8-16 weeks, where we create a deficit, but it’s not as aggressive. It’s a slower approach to fat loss and is more sustainable over time. Over time, you can expect to see visual changes with body composition.
Through both of these scenarios, we are watching your weekly biofeedback closely by taking time to answer things like: how’s your sleep, are you hungry, are you excited to train etc. Many times, when we diet too hard and/or too long, we start to feel negative effects, which is why biofeedback and 1:1 nutrition coaching can be so beneficial. This will also help you learn more about yourself and how to navigate through these times better. Sometimes you need a diet break or refeed to get you through and keep you moving toward your end goal. It sounds counterintuitive but it’s what works for most people. I know it does for me.
The diet break phase is something that’s used often when you’re taking a slower approach to dieting, but not for mini cuts. In my opinion and experience, diet breaks are a huge part of staying on the progress train with sustainable fat loss. Diet breaks help with recovery, the psychological stress that comes along with dieting, and help mitigate any metabolic adaptations that happen when you’re in a caloric deficit.
In this phase, you can expect your dieting calories to come up to your maintenance calories and this is done mainly through carbohydrates. Diet breaks are beneficial because they optimize your health by keeping your hormones and metabolism in a healthy place and keep you mentally able to stay on track and get back into a deficit.
Diet breaks can be implemented as your biofeedback calls for it or if you’re feeling ramifications from being in a fat loss phase for too long. You’ll know this because you’ll start to experience certain cues your body gives you like: fatigue, cravings, decreased desire to train, slower recovery, or trouble sleeping. You may also feel the negative effects of prolonged dieting on your mental health and ability.
The Maintenance Phase is by far the most important phase to prioritize. Once you’ve gone through all the phases described above, THIS phase is the way to pull it all together and lock it in. Remember, just because you’ve reached your goal of fat loss doesn’t mean you go back to your old ways and habits of doing things. In this phase, our goal is to maintain your new weight and body fat levels you’ve achieved. This can take some time.. anywhere from 2-6 weeks. Our goal is to make this current body size you’ve attained your new “set point,” which means you must give your body time to adapt to your new normal and recognize this as homeostasis. Patience is key in this phase.
I know this seems like a lot to take in, but don’t over-complicate it. Keep it simple. Eat enough for a while to experience the benefits of feeling good, having healthy hormones and a thriving metabolism. Then, start eating less to elicit some fat loss. Be careful here though, and don’t do it for too long (more than 12-16 weeks). Consider taking some diet breaks in the fat loss phase if your body gives you these warning signals as mentioned above as they are super tools to use and to keep you making progress. Once at your desired goal, find your new maintenance calories and stay here long enough to make it your body’s new set point.
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