Chapter 7: Periodization

Chapter 7: Periodization

While everything you learned in section 1 is the true foundation of nutrition, everything you will learn in section 2 is the true foundation of success.

As a Life Coach, you will understand that coaching an individual through the dietary process is the missing link, and has been for years, to creating success.

For an individual to be successful they must have the right program, remain compliant, and execute for an extended period of time. In this section you will learn how to help your client through all three. The exact tools needed to prescribe for your client based on their goals are contained in here, as well as how to work with your client through some of their more difficult times.

This is where the real magic lives, so let’s jump in!

Nutritional Periodization

In higher level athletics, training always takes a periodized approach. This is to say that at different times of the year there are different training goals and specificities. Each phase has a specific purpose that when combined with the other phases will yield a higher level of performance.

Until recently periodization was only applied to programming. However, in 2014 nutritional periodization was introduced into the nutritional coaching world. This model was built on the understanding that each phase of training has a specific goal in terms of adaptation and needs to be treated accordingly (i.e. – just because CrossFit is a glycolytic sport in competition, the off season training demands may not be overly glycolytic if the athlete is attempting to increase absolute power).

Most periodized training models have 4 phases, as does our nutritional periodization model:

  1. Season
  2. Post Season/Recovery
  3. Off season
  4. Pre-Season

While the nomenclature may vary depending on the activity, this “schedule” can be applied to almost all athletic and aesthetic goals.

Let’s examine each phase and the considerations necessary for a successful dietary protocol.


“In season” only two things matter – performance and recovery. This is relatively easily defined with athletic endeavors – we want to make sure the athletes have the proper fuel available to compete at their highest levels and complete the subsequent recovery to ensure that a maximal level of performance can be sustained throughout the season.

Two unique examples would be powerlifting and crossfit.

Recall from the Energy System Chapter in Section 1 that these two sports will use two very different energy systems and therefore will have different fuel requirements. Powerlifters will live primarily in the ATP-PCr system whereas CrossFitters will be using the glycolytic pathway.

With this in mind, the “in season” prescription in terms of fuel must match the activity (for both activities the overall caloric load must be emphasized but for CrossFitters we need to ensure that carbohydrate needs are met within the context of that overall caloric load).

Equally as important would be to look at the recovery variable. We need to determine the overall systemic effect as it pertains to caloric expenditure AND nervous system effect. Obviously we can conclude that the greater the expenditure the more calories that need to be replenished – but we also need to understand that as nervous system effect is increased, the demand for carbohydrate is also increased. Ignoring either of these variables in favor of aesthetics (or anything else) will never allow an athlete to perform at their highest level.

Post Season/Recovery

From a programming perspective, this would be a time of full body movement and movement restoration – a time to focus on any imbalances caused by solely living in the function and demands of the athlete’s sport.

Therefore, from a nutritional perspective, we must approach this time of year in a similar manner. The goal of this phase is physical restoration, which we usually see come in the form of GI health and/or hormone rebuilding.

A typical protocol will include shifting energy from carbohydrates to fats and proteins, a heavy emphasis on food quality (micronutrient intake), and a GI Health protocol that will include supplementation to maximize gut health and liver function.

It is important to remember that while you will likely not be responsible for an athlete’s physical programming, you will want to educate them about your specific goals in this phase – specifically how training volume/intensity may impact them. Less carbohydrate intake and more fat intake will not assist in hormone restoration if training volume/intensity remains high.

Typically we see this phase last anywhere from 4-12 weeks, depending on the duration of the previous season and the athlete’s physical health prior to the season.

Off Season

This phase is also referred to as the strength and skill acquisition phase. During the off season, an athlete’s training protocol should be based on improving their weaknesses. While there are endless possibilities as to what an athlete is looking to improve, the fundamentals are relatively simple and can be narrowed down to either increasing strength (absolute or speed) or improving skills – or a combination of both. Both goals allow for an emphasis directly on body composition, but it’s usually a skill emphasis that is more closely associated to weight loss and/or physical composition improvements.

Once again, communication with your client around intensity and volume of their training protocol is essential. While a calorie deficit for fat loss is acceptable, a deficit that is too large and subsequently creates a risk of metabolic adaptation and/or cortisol dysregulation is NOT acceptable.

This also tends to be a phase characterized by “balance.” Remember that in the context of a full year, an athlete also needs to find balance between athletic endeavors and personal life. As a coach, you should encourage this pursuit as well as foster it within the context of your protocol.


In the pre-season phase the goal is to shift the athlete towards consuming an adequate amount of calories and macros relative to the upcoming demands of their season.

This can come in the form of creating an increase in the direct fuel source associated with the activity or simply creating a more appropriate caloric load. It is during this phase that the final efforts towards ideal body composition can be made.

Repeat the process

If done properly, each year should build an athlete’s metabolic capacity as well as an understanding of the emphasis of each phase of the protocol. This understanding can be critical to a long term working relationship.

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