When it comes to training, most people have heard the term periodization. For the athlete, perdioziation is dividing your training into cycles and phases that are appropriate through the yearly sports schedule. Unfortunately, few athletes consider the periodization of their nutrition program to also correspond with their yearly sports schedule. In reality, nutrition protocols should also follow the yearly training plan.
Here is how a yearly training plan is commonly planned out:
This is where most of the very intense training takes place to build lean muscle, lose body fat, increase strength, speed and/or power.
Athletes who followed the off-season training program now Focus on learning to play with their fitter, stronger bodies. This is where the true “sport specific” training happens. Athletes who did not follow the off-season training program spend the preseason in the athletic therapy clinic and standing on the sidelines with crutches while watching their team practice.
The primary focus is on the sport large amount of time is spent in practices and games. Training backs down to a minimum with the focus on small improvements or maintaining previous gains.
Athletes take a few weeks off official training to rest and recover.
One of the biggest things that should fluctuate throughout the year is your total caloric intake and especially your carbohydrate intake/selection. Carbs (especially starchy ones like grains and potatoes) are important for energy, but eaten at the wrong times they can lead to fat gain. Here are some nutritional guidelines to help you throughout the year.
Nutrition in this phase must be sufficient (e.g. total calories and nutrients) support the intense training of the off-season.
If lean muscle gain necessary (i.e. because your coach says so), then calories from mostly healthy foods must be increased to support the goal of increase muscle. Once sufficient protein (approx 0.8-1g/lb body weight), veggies and fruit (1-2 servings per meal) and fat (approx 25-30% of total calories), then any additional calories can come from healthy carb sources.
If body fat loss is required, then total calories may need to be decreased and total carbohydrate intake will decrease and an emphasis on more vegetables unless grains will often be helpful.
Note: in some cases, total caloric requirements as well as carbohydrate levels for strength, speed and power training (which have to be lower volume training) will be less than what the athlete needs during the season. Athletes who do not adjust for this end up gaining body fat in the off-season which hinders performance and increases the risk for injury when the season starts. This is common in sports such as basketball, hockey, soccer and running. As the athlete moves into the later phases of the off-season, and there is often a greater emphasis on conditioning, total caloric and carbohydrate intake may need to increase.
To prevent fat gain, many athletes mistakenly add extra cardio (e.g. jogging) to the set training program. This mistake increases the risk for injury, creates fatigue which masks fitness levels and interferes with the development of strength speed and power. If an athlete is gaining body fat, it is because of nutritional problem. Most likely total food intake will need to decrease with the decrease coming mostly from starchy carbohydrates.
Traditionally, the preseason is one of the most intense time periods of in athlete’s year. It was during this phase of the athletic year that the phrase “two-a-days” was invented. As a result, total caloric intake should be at its highest. In many cases, all nutrients should be increased. It is also important at this phase to ensure sufficient carbohydrate intake to replenish glycogen stores after the intense training.
Athletes who did not follow the off-season training program and are now injured should decrease their total caloric intake. Their food emphasis should be on vegetables, some fruits, lean meats and healthy fats to promote healing. Carbohydrate intake from grains and starchy vegetables (e.g. potatoes) should be decreased fairly significantly to prevent body fat gain which will increase the risk for further injury once athlete returns the competition.
The calorie and carbohydrate needs in season will vary depending not only on the sport, but also the position and the amount of playing time that the athlete receives. Ensure sufficient levels of vegetables, fruits, lean meats and healthy fats. Then add additional starchy carbohydrates to meet energy requirements. It is recommended that athletes regularly assess bodyweight to ensure that muscle is not being lost or fat being gained during the season and adjust nutrition accordingly.
It is also important in season two ensure that glycogen levels are optimal. This is especially important in situations of back-to-back competitions (e.g. having a game on Friday and then again on Saturday). This is best accomplished by having a moderate protein, high carbohydrate meal following intense activities such as training, practices and games.
The postseason is a time for physical and psychological rejuvenation. There is to be no official training during this time. Some physical activity is encouraged, but done at a more recreational level. As a result, carbohydrate and total caloric intake must be reduced to prevent body fat gain during this period of time. Instead of doing this, some athletes make the mistake of adding excessive amounts of physical activity to avoid body fat gain during this time. This mistake often prevents the recovery from the intense season and leaves the athlete physically worn out to start the important off-season training.
Nutrition should not be stagnant. It must be adjusted to correspond with the time of year your sport season.