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utritional Periodization: Eating according to where you are on your athletic training load

In the last blog post I talked about how some athletes experience winter weight gain, and why daily nutrition is a critical element of any training plan. Now I’d like to further explore how nutritional periodization can complement your training, and a few examples and ideas to help you.

Just as you periodize your training blocks, you can also periodize how you eat throughout the year according to where you are in a particular training cycle. Many elite athletes
break down their diets and eating habits into the exact same phases as they do for their yearlong athletic training program – base, build, taper, peak and then recovery. You can modify your diet according to each of these phases. However, this might be a bit much if you are only doing a couple of races or just starting out in the sport… so for ease of explanation I have broken this out into 2 “macro” phases.

Off Season/Recovery

~ Stick with whole foods (unprocessed) + large amounts of nutritionally dense fruits and vegetables

~ Healthy fats in moderation
– avocado, nuts, olive oil, etc (limit processed oils, fried foods, etc)

~ Lean protein –preferably grass fed/organic meats and dairy

~ Limit processed foods and refined carbohydrates, prepackaged foods, sweets and high calorie drinks – such as white pasta, white rice, cookies, crackers, bread, sodas, juice drinks, etc – use these foods as more of a “condiment” this time of year . I am not saying eat a “low carb” diet; I’m suggesting that you get the majority of your carbohydrates from fruit and vegetable sources and that if you really want to eat starchy carbs, eat yams, sweet potatoes, spaghetti, squash, acorn squash, or butternut squash. These are better dietary selections because they are far more nutrient dense and far less caloric than a bowl of rice, even brown rice.

In Season – can include base, build, taper and peak

As your training load increases and your energy demands increase, so do your caloric demands. As you do longer and more intense sessions, your body will need quicker access too easy to digest carbs for an additional energy source. This is the point where you can add back in small portions of whole wheat pasta, brown rice, grains, whole grain bread, etc.
Always try and choose high quality carbohydrates throughout the day and eat them along with lean source of protein and a good fat (polyunsaturated (fish) and monounsaturated fats (nuts, some oils, avocados) rather than saturated fats (high-fat meats, butter, lard, some oils and processed foods such as cookies and chips).

* As a side note – if you are in the prep or base phase of your training season (like now – just starting to get back into things…) and your intensity is relatively low – you probably
don’t need to use sports nutrition products at all – i.e. – sports drinks, gels, bars, etc. This holds true for most training less than a couple hours in length as long as they are of sufficiently low intensity. Stick with water and maybe some electrolytes and then focus on a balanced healthy snack or small meal after your training session. This will also help your body become more metabolically efficient which is a fancy phrase for saying that you will tap
into your fat stores as a source of fuel during these less intense base building sessions.

I personally take this even a bit farther and try to eat more of an “off season” diet except when I have a double training day. So, unless I have run/bike in the morning and then
strength, yoga or swim session later in the day, I limit my carbs to only fruits and vegetable sources. I eat mostly lean protein and lots and lots of vegetables. Some might say that it sounds a bit boring, but it has actually has made me a better and more creative chef.

Gluten: Should I cut it out?

Recently, limiting gluten has become “fashionable.” It’s not for everyone,but the theory behind it is all about reducing inflammation. This could be a whole other blog post and I don’t want to go into the details about this but there is a lot of interesting information out there about limiting (or eliminating) gluten intake for endurance athletes that might be worth considering – especially if you are planning on going long this year.

But again, a plan only works if you can stick with it and being gluten free is tough – especially if you like to eat out. You have to do a lot of due diligence at restaurants prior to eating and you will be amazed at all the foods that you will not be able to include in your diet as a result of going gluten free.

Here is a short, and by no means a full and comprehensive, list of products that contain gluten (Barley malt, malt flavoring and malt vinegar, Rye, Triticale (a cross between wheat and rye), Wheat, Bulgur, Durum flour, Farina, Graham flour, Kamut, Semolina, Spelt, Beer, Breads, Cakes and pies, Candies, Cereals, Cookies and crackers, Croutons, French fries, Gravies, Imitation meat or seafood, Matzo, pastas, processed luncheon meats, salad dressings, sauces, including soy sauce, seasoned rice mixes, seasoned snack foods, such as potato and tortilla chips – the list goes on)

So what does this all mean?

You might not need to change anything in your diet, BUT, there is nothing wrong with experimenting with better (more nutritionally) complete foods and you just might just discover:

~ That you feel better,

~ Recover faster

~Drop the winter weight faster

~ Are better able to tolerate heat and humidity

~ Want to train more…
As the season progresses and you start to go longer and have more intense workouts …

~ You might be able to work out more often

~ You might be able to work out with more intensity or focus

This in turn will lead to increased success on the racecourse.

Something I’m pretty sure we can all agree on – IT’S GREAT!

Happy training everyone!

Jennifer Rentch

Jennifer started doing triathlons in July of 2008. In the past five years, she has raced extensively in and around the United States in a variety of triathlons and AquaVelo races including 4 iron distance races. Jennifer is a Level I certified USAT coach and co-owner of Meridian Performance, a triathlon and endurance coaching company with her husband. She is also a member of the Bike Rack Multisport team.