Periodizing your Diet

Most endurance athletes follow a periodized training program: typical periods or phases include base, build, taper, peak, and then a recovery phase. So why not have your diet follow a periodized approach too?

I have a lot of respect for Dave Scott. After all, he was the first six-time Ironman Triathlon World Champion. An amazing athlete, and what I find equally amazing is that during his winning streak he ate a vegetarian diet. So when Dave talks about nutrition, I’m all ears.

Dave Scott

Dave Scott

Dave contributed to a Performance Nutrition Handbook that is available on Pacific Health Lab’s website. Given that it is published on Pacific Health Lab’s website, there is a marketing slant towards their products. However, I think it contains some pieces of good information.

The handbook talks about how your nutrition should follow your different training phases; Off-season, base, and taper/peak. Here’s a summary:

1. During the off-season when you’re not training as much and don’t have the same energy requirements the handbook suggests you cut down on carbohydrates (especially refined carbohydrates) so you don’t gain too much weight. I like that the handbook does acknowledge that it is OK to put on a few pounds in the off-season, but to try to keep the weight gain in check so it doesn’t exceed 3-5 pounds (around 2% of your body weight).

2. During the Base and Build phases of your training is when the energy demands increase, and so therefore the caloric demands too. To ensure proper fueling and recovery make sure you eat 1.8 – 3.6 grams of carbohydrates per pound of body weight (or 7.2-14.4 calories per pound of body weight).  Make sure you are eating quality carbohydrates throughout the day, and eat them along with protein and fat.

3. Typical taper/peak plans involve a reduction in training volume to make sure you are rested for your big event. This is also a time to watch your calorie intake. The handbook recommends reducing your diet by 300-700 calories per hour of training that you have cut back on. You don’t necessarily make all the reduction in terms of carbohydrates though because you need to make sure you keep your glycogen stores are topped up.   A great point the handbook makes is during this phase to also support your immune system. The last thing you want to do is get sick this close to your big event. Consider taking supplements to help boost your immune system: glutathione, vitamins C and E, and zinc.

My personal experience: I don’t consciously make changes to our diet, but there are some subtle changes that just seem to happen during the year. We do eat different during the off-season. As the training volume reduces, so does the need for calories. We tend to eat smaller portions, less fruit (just because it is out of season), and less energy drinks/bars and gels. It is typical for me to see a 3-4 pound increase in my weight, that is until spring rolls around. Given that I no longer train for an event that requires a multiple week taper, I really don’t do anything different other than no new foods.  And since I have been racing cyclo-cross in the Fall, I do work hard on keeping healthy (vitamins, immune boosting supplements, saline nasal flushes, and lots of quality sleep).

A couple of other good points from the handbook worth highlighting include:

Energy Gels, Bars and Drinks

Energy Gels, Bars and Drinks

-The ideal pre-race meal and race nutrition is very individual. You need to practice during training to find out what best works for you.  There are so many products out there. Some may agree with you, some may not. It’s best to find out what works for you during your training workouts, rather than suffering half through your big event.  If you are doing a long event, find out what drink/food they will have at aid stations and practice using it beforehand to see if it works for you.  I like to have a couple of tried and tested fueling plans.

Race weight

Race weight

-Tips to help achieve your ideal race weight: you don’t necessarily need to try to eat less, but try to make sure the food you do eat is high quality. High quality foods (whole grains, quality fats, organic fresh fruits and vegetables) have more nutrients compared to low quality foods (processed/packaged foods, refined foods, sweets, high calorie drinks, etc.). Try to eat only when you are hungry, and not out of habit.

Quality Foods

Quality Foods

I’ll add my 2 cents in here: make time to plan your meals so you can make sure you are getting good quality nutrients. A little planning goes a long way when it comes to meal quality.

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