This is my second time writing this article, to be honest. The first go around I tried to simplify the concept, explaining to you not only what Nutritional Periodization is but also why it’s so important.
We touched on the definition of, how to look at your nutrition from a larger scale (birds eye view, kind of approach), athletes vs. bodybuilders, etc…
It was a great article, I even got interviewed on a podcast based on the article itself – because it’s not a very commonly discussed topic and it especially wasn’t when I first wrote the article over 1 year ago. In fact if I’m being honest, I don’t think ANYONE was talking about this publicly a year ago – the conversation stayed in the athletic realm and inside the coaches circles.
[By the way, if you’d rather listen to this episode – click here now!]
Which is why I wanted to revisit this topic.
Not because my mind has changed, at all. Because my stance stays the same on this topic, it’s pretty critical to long-term success and reaching the pinnacle of potential you truly have as an athlete and as an optimized human being.
But because I think the concept stays in the athletic realm and the conversation is rarely targeted towards 1.) the average individual and 2.) towards fat loss or body composition changes in general.
See when I tell my elite level CrossFit clients that we need to periodize their nutrition, theirs no argument or confusion. It makes sense. We have periods of time (in-season) where we need to prioritize performance, short-term recovery and the individual fuel demands required for competitions that may follow week after week or month after month.
Then we have periods of time (off-season) where we may go months without a competition, which is recommended, and we need to prioritize things like neurological, hormonal, muscular tissue, and joint recovery – all things where we can slow down training, bring up fats in the diet, keep carbs moderately high but not drive them into the athlete at insane quantities.
And as we look at the year of training and competing, we can periodize these phases throughout the year – usually sticking to each “phase” for a minimum of 4 weeks but can extend upwards of 16 depending on what their personal year of performing looks like.
It’s a smart approach that has athletes recovering faster, performing harder, feeling better, and sticking inside their sport for longer.
But what about you?
The guy or gal just looking to shed 10, 20, or 30+ lbs. of unwanted body fat.
You need this strategy too, just in a different context. Because you will still have different phases of your year, vacations or events to prep for, and most importantly you will still have stressors on your body, both physically and neurologically, from the training, dieting and lifestyle factors you endure week-to-week.
This calls for Nutritional Periodization, too.
And trust me, it’s no mistake that I’m writing this less than a month away from the New Year… I know you’re about ready to make your resolution, hoping that this IS the year you stick it out and see your outcome out til the end result is here.
But here’s the issue, and my opinion on why 80% of people actually fail on their New Year’s Resolution (real statistic)…
They do not have a diet plan, for after the diet plan.
See that right there, is failing to have any Nutritional Periodization (p.s. – there’s a video on this at the bottom, check it out after you’re done reading or if you’d rather watch than read).
So first, let me define what this strategy is and then we can go into setting it up for you personally.
Nutritional Periodization – The process of planning out your diet, on a macro level, ensuring you have phases dedicated to each outcome needed to facilitate long-term success. These phases include fat loss, recovery, maintenance, and the optional muscle tissue-building phase.
In other words…
You need to plan out when the diet begins, how long the diet lasts, how hard you will be dieting (Aggressive deficit? Minimal effective deficit?), when you will implement a recovery phase (Diet-Break), when you should probably sit at maintenance (Let your body recover), and when, if at all, you plan to shift gears to put on more muscle tissue once getting to your leanest body.
“Alright alright alright… slow down, Cody. That’s a lot of shit to think about. I just want to shed some weight man!”
I know the feeling, trust me. But here’s the reality. If we do not at least THINK of this, we are setting you up to lose weight and gain it all back, and possible more than when you started.
Read the stats inside this infographic, because they’re factual – I promise.
If you don’t have a plan for after the diet, then you’re setting yourself up for rebound and nutritional periodization IS the path to sustainable results. Whether we take a shorter aggressive approach out of the gates or a slower more sustainable approach, you will still need something mapped out for when it stops – because it will stop.
Let’s dive into the steps needed to map out 1 full year of fat loss (this can be shortened to a 6-month period – if 1 year is too overwhelming. If you’re ready to have this done for you, click here now and apply for The Individualized Nutrition Coaching.).
PRE-DIET PHASE (BODY PREP)
This is something not enough people think about and not enough coaches implement. This is part of the reasons why BBP Nutrition Coaching stands out in the crowd of coaching; we DO focus on the preparation of an individual prior to starting.
The reality is that not all the individuals who want to start a fat loss journey are actually ready to start a fat loss journey – their bodies are not in the place physically, neurologically, or hormonally to take on the stress of dieting.
Training hard (using more fuel) and creating a calorie deficit (taking in less fuel) are both stressors that are literally working in opposite directions, in order to create the result we want. This is good, but it’s still stressful and we cannot ignore that. So if you’re starting from a place where your body literally cannot handle the stress we’re about to place on it, not only will this just not work but your body will not adapt the way you wish it to – in fact it’ll adapt negatively.
So before we start a diet or a fat loss phase, we need to make sure of a few things:
- You’re already at maintenance level calories or above. We NEED something to pull from because you can’t take water from a bucket that’s already empty.
- You’re fully recovering from the training you’re already doing, meaning that you’re not overly fatigued and stressed going into this. We NEED to manage prior stress before creating new stress.
- You’re currently doing less than the most you can do. What I mean by this, is that if you’re already lifting 5 days a week and doing 4 extra cardio sessions on top of… that’s a lot, so where do we add, implement or tweak?!
- You haven’t aggressively dieted in the last 3 months, ideally. At times we can still take on a client who has recently dieted but in many cases, if you just went at this and created the stress on your body – we’re going to need to work on recovery before we start the diet plan again because your body will simply not respond otherwise.
Once we can either a.) check off the list, as these things are good to go, or b.) start helping you to recover on whatever was not sound here; we can begin the next phase – The Fat Loss Diet.
DIET PHASE (FAT LOSS)
Now you’re ready to actually diet and see some progress, “Hell Yes!”
The most important thing we need to determine here is the timeline of the diet, because that determines our speed of fat loss per week and also whether or not we need to hit the next phase (which is optional).
There’s 3 ways to approach this:
1.) The Mini Cut
- This is where we spend 4-8 weeks cutting, aggressively. I only recommend this when you’re someone who is working to build more muscle mass or you’re an athlete who needs to shed some weight in order to make weight, perform better, or be lighter for the gymnastics aspect of your spot (CrossFit). In this case, we cut hard and get the job done as fast as possible so we can bring you back up to maintenance calories as soon as possible.
2.) The Fast Track
- This is where we spend a minimum of 8-10 weeks, but more likely 14-16 weeks, dieting for fat loss. We do create a physically noticeable deficit, we do push your body a bit harder, and we really do get after it, but it is not as harsh or aggressive as the mini cut because you have more weight to lose overall than that individual and because we more time to work with. This is the most common and in my opinion the best route to take. It’s more motivating than the later because it doesn’t take as long and you can see the light at the end of the tunnel, plus you should be seeing visual progress every week which is super motivating in itself. Our goal for fat loss is about 1-2lbs per week for most individuals and this comes when you have 20lbs. or less to lose.
3.) Slow and Sustainable
- This is for our clients who have more than 20lbs. to lose and/or need an approach that is more flexible, easier to follow, and doesn’t create a negative relationship with food. See here we will be anywhere between 0.5-2lbs per week on average and some weeks not even any, but as long as we’re consistent that’s all that matters because any weight that falls off during this time is much more likely to never return. This is a process that we’re spending 16-24 weeks, sometimes more depending on how much weight there is to lose, in a fat loss phase. Slow, steady, and sustainable. This one will need the next, optional, phase in many cases.
DIET BREAK PHASE (OPTIONAL RECOVERY)
If you’re doing a mini cut, this isn’t necessary. You just need to stay consistent for your short sprint and get to the finish line.
If you’re doing a longer, but still moderately intense diet in the 8-16 week timeframe, then this becomes intuitive. If you’re pushing 12+ weeks and you’re feeling rundown, you may want to implement this to help with recovery and the psychological stress that comes with dieting.
If you’re in the 16-24+ weeks camp, you should absolutely implement this because too long in a deficit is never going to be healthy chronically.
So what is this optional phase? It’s a diet break. It’s where you refeed, or bring your calories up to maintenance, typically via carbohydrates, for an extended period of time, usually within the 3-14 day timeframe (large, I know).
For some people we can spend a weekend here and get the benefits. Others need to spend a week or more to recovery and rehabilitate. The best way to look at it is the longer or harder you’ve been dieting, the longer this time period should be because we’re repairing from a larger amount of stress.
When we bring calories up to maintenance we are allowing some hormonal processes to recovery that will allow us to get the metabolism going again and avoid any negative hormonal implications that arise from dieting (testosterone declining, chronic cortisol elevation, thyroid dysfunction, etc.).
You can plug these in every 4, 8, 12, or 16 weeks. They can be 5, 7, 10 or 14 days long and the best way to determine how long you need them for is to track your biofeedback (or have a coach program them for you). If you’re watching your stress, sex drive, performance, recovery, fatigue, cravings, sleep, etc… prior to the diet break and during the diet break, you’ll typically know when it’s the right time to go back to the diet.
You can also determine how long by how long you’ve been dieting. Every 4 weeks, just have a 2-3 day refeed. Every 8 weeks, just have a 5-7 day refeed. Every 12-16 weeks, just have a 7-14 day refeed.
This is also why “The Matador Study” made calorie cycling week to week very popular inside the nutrition coaching space and why we’ve used it on countless clients. After you’re done reading, check out the video below:
MAINTENANCE PHASE (MANDATORY RECOVERY)
This is where a lot of people drop the ball, because they assume once they hit the end of their timeline or reach their target weight loss goal… it’s over, time to celebrate and go back to whatever it was you were doing prior to starting the diet.
Problem here is that what you were doing before the diet, made you overweight or gave you some extra fluff that you really didn’t enjoy staring at in the mirror. That’s why we started all this in the first place, remember?
This is why the maintenance phase is so important – we could also call this the reset phase, because it’s where we attempt to reset your new body fat level.
It can be frustrating, but after we get to your goal weight we want to actually stay there – maintaining your new weight and body fat level – for a minimum of 2-3 weeks but often times 4-6 weeks.
During this time we may be able to bring up calories just a pinch, but sometimes we actually will leave them in the deficit that got you to your goal, while adding in 1-2 refeed days per week (for sanity and performance). This is going to allow us to actually give your body time to adapt to it’s new norm and make this new body size more of a “set point” than your previous set-point, which wasn’t where you wanted to be.
POST DIET PHASE (REVERSE DIET)
I know I’m biased, but this is where I would say you should really look into having a coach. Because reverse dieting is just not easy! It’s so simple, in theory… add a small amount of calories each week, letting weight creep up slowly or maintain during the process – add when it stays or drops back down and wait when it doesn’t (Check out some of our client’s reverse diet stories and results, right here – they may relate to you quite a bit).
But the psychological and emotional process of reverse dieting can be tough and in order to be SLOW with this process, you have to be one disciplined mofo – because you want to eat, period.
But this post diet phase is where we slowly bring calories up to maintenance once again. We’ll have another maintenance, or reset, phase once we bring calories up to your new maintenance level and hopefully close to your previous maintenance – things can change with your metabolic rate from dieting, so it may not be exactly what it once was.
The reason we take another maintenance phase is because we want to ensure that you’re maintaining your new metabolic rate WHILE maintaining your new body fat/weight levels as well. This is creating your new set point or homeostasis, once again.
This is when we put nail in the coffin, in a way.
It’s when we solidify your new intake, with your new body. We need to once again make sure we can actually maintain this and if we want to sustain our new result, this is absolutely mandatory because without this we either a.) gain weight back or b.) stay in a chronically low caloric state (which leads to hormonal dysfunction down the road).
And as you can see… the phases after the actual diet are just, as if not more, important than the actual diet itself.
MUSCLE BUILDING PHASE (OPTIONAL)
This is the phase where we change our goals, a bit.
You lose weight, hit your goal, and take a look at your body and realize… “I’m kind of skinny-fat now…?”
I’ve had a lot of clients who get to this point and to be honest, I was there too when I first lose fat. I expected to drop lbs. and be chiseled like a Greek God, yet there wasn’t really much muscle underneath all that fat I lost. So I had to attack a new journey, building muscle mass.
This article will not go in depth on what this takes, but you can check out the Part 1 and Part 2 guide to building muscle (both free articles) and get a good summary of what you need to do.
What I will give you here, before signing off, are 2 ideas that you need to consider and possibly implement when going into your journey from day 1.
#1 – Build Muscle in The Process.
When approaching fat loss, consider the longer more sustainable approach IF you do not have a seriously solid base of muscle on your body already. When doing this, it’s easier to prioritize performance and muscle growth because you’re not creating large deficits and if you don’t have much muscle, I assume you’re a beginner and that will allow you to build muscle during this process of dieting, still.
#2 – Don’t Neglect Strength Training.
This and eating adequate protein are the 2 best ways to make sure you maintain as much muscle as possible during your diet phase. So don’t stick to cardio, lift some damn weights! Click Here Now if you don’t have a program and would like access to a library of some of the smartest training programs online.
By the way, I’ve also created a video on this topic for you – in case you’d rather watch, than listen:
And because I believe in this strategy SO much, I actually created an infographic for my instagram followers as well. So I’m going to finish this off by dropping it here, so you can get a fast visual image of what this strategy looks like:
Cody McBroom is owner and head coach of Boom Boom Performance. He’s a Strength Coach and Nutrition Expert located in Seattle WA. He coaches people in person and online, now internationally. His passion is helping individuals changing their lives through body composition transformation, as well as creating content across all platforms to help individuals and other coaches learn more about training and nutrition.