Periodizing your nutrition is important for many reasons, but one of the most important reasons being that our bodies aren’t meant to look or stay the same year-round.
Our metabolism & bodies are dynamic matter. Meaning, they’re going to fluctuate week to week, month to month, year to year which is why results don’t tend to be linear or why a singular approach is more than likely not going to work long-term (aka why that 1200 calorie diet MFP spit out to you stopped working after a few months).
The purpose behind and the process of nutrition periodization entails strategic planning and adjusting certain variables to optimize results. Its purpose is to not only cultivate lasting results, but also reduce the risk of metabolic adaptation, to work towards the needs of your body, and promote psychological, physical, & emotional health throughout the dieting process.
There are 4 main dieting phases that are applicable to where & how to periodize your nutrition. These include cutting/weight loss phases (calorie deficit), reverse dieting, maintenance phases, and bulking/gaining phases (calorie surplus).
Alright so now that we know what nutrition periodization is and what the main dieting phases are, how do we apply that to our goals and where do you begin with tackling those goals?
This blog aims to teach you how to determine where to start your nutrition periodization journey not only based on your goals but also how to apply that to where your health & wellness is at RIGHT NOW.
It can seem like a complex process, but here at Clar-e-ty, we aim to provide you with all the clar-e-ty you need to take your health & wellness into your own hands.
*Important to note: we always ask our clients to understand their why before they start any type of dieting phase. It’s important to ask yourself the deeper questions and get to the root cause of why you’re seeking the results you’re seeking. Please don’t skip this step!! Your why will be what you lean on when things get tough.
For example: If you want to lose weight so you can be a better version of yourself and live a longer, healthier lifestyle for yourself, kids, grandkids, etc., this is what will ground you and keep you going. NOT the fact that you want to look good naked. It’s important to know the difference. Looking good naked is a valid goal, BUT is that why going to ground you when you’re 6 weeks deep in a 12-week cut and you’re hungry, cravings are high, energy is low, etc. and you’re questioning why you’re doing this? Maybe, maybe not which is why we encourage all clients to find their WHY before starting any type of dieting phase. So ask yourself how this goal serves you now.
Before we get into the details here is a template for a basic nutrition periodization plan and how we typically structure things here at Clar-e-ty:
The starting point is always dependent on the client and where they’re currently at, however, most Clar-e-ty clients start out either in a reverse diet or at maintenance when they come to us.
We believe in prioritizing and advocating for the overall health of our clients before we start diving into things like cuts because once the little nuances are taken care of, oftentimes the results are going to happen organically.
Now it’s time to take a look at each individualized dieting phase to help you figure out your jumping-off point.
And we’ll start with the approach that is most essential for your health and that is maintenance phases.
Your body's maintenance calories are its equilibrium. Your maintenance calories are specific to you and based on things like your basal metabolic rate and activity level.
Maintenance is where we should try to shoot to live for the majority of our lives. We encourage clients to get comfortable living at maintenance for the longest period of time possible since maintenance is essential for a thriving mind and body.
Living at maintenance also allows you to achieve body recomp at higher calories, build sustainable eating habits, give your metabolism time to repair and recover from dieting, and gives you the opportunity to be more successful in a cut or gaining phase down the road.
So how do you know if a maintenance phase is right for you?
If you just finished a reverse diet, it would be wise for you to consider chilling at your new maintenance calories for a period of time to allow your metabolism time to reset and to allow your hormones, nervous system, & body time to repair themselves from being in deficit.
On the flip side, if you’ve been in a bulking or lean gaining phase for over 16 weeks, it might be time for you to get back to your new maintenance calories more so to give yourself a break from eating that much food and to keep your metabolism on its toes by not letting it adapt to being in a surplus.
And now for one of our favorite goals. If you’re looking to maximize your performance in the gym, a maintenance phase is probably right for you, if not being in a slight surplus. Since your body will be thriving on all the energy and nutrients you’re giving it, why not put it to good use by getting after it in the gym?
Again, maintenance is where people need to spend the majority of the year if not the majority of their lives.
It might not be the sexiest phase of periodizing your nutrition but is absolutely essential for your physical & mental health.
Now that you’ve been living at maintenance for a while, you might want to shed some body fat. So next up we’ll be diving into what a fat loss phase entails.
An active fat loss phase requires you to be in a calorie deficit to achieve a goal of weight loss. If you haven’t read the Clar-e-ty blog on “The diet before the diet.” and you’re considering entering into a cut, I would HIGHLY recommend reading what some of the most important Clar-e-ty prerequisites to a cut are.
Some important things to ask yourself before a cut include:
Have you been living at maintenance for 3+ months?
Have you dieted in the past 6 months?
Again, it’s important to make sure you've been comfortable eating at your maintenance calories for a prolonged period of time to ensure you'll be more successful during an active fat loss phase.
Are you sleeping 8+ hours at night?
Are your stress levels under control?
Is your general mood good?
Do you have your period (females)?
Do you have morning wood (males)?
If the answer is no to any of these questions, then it's probably not the best time for you to cut.
Are you eating your body weight in grams of protein and 20-30g of fiber daily?
If not, it will be much harder for you to retain what muscle mass you have now and you’ll be less satiated than if you were eating adequate protein and plenty of fruits/veggies while in a fat loss phase.
Are you consistently moving your body in some type of way daily?
If you’re not moving your body, the deficit you will need to create for yourself will be more severe than someone who is walking/working out/moving their body daily.
Is this the right time for you to cut? Do you have any vacations/big trips coming up?
If you have a big trip coming up it might not be the best time for you to cut because it will be harder for you to adhere to lower calories while on vacation.
Are you consistently able to adhere to your maintenance calories?
If you're unable to adhere to higher calories, it's very unlikely you'll be able to adhere to lower calorie/macro targets.
Are you ready to be hungry and tired at times? AKA why your WHY is important.
All of these questions are SUPER important to go through and ask yourself before you enter into an active fat loss phase.
And if you have been chilling at maintenance for a while, have checked all the biofeedback boxes and you want to enter into a cut, GO FOR IT and get after those goals! You’ll be ready more prepared and ready to tackle all a cut entails if you do check those boxes.
So let’s say you finished your cut or have been chronically eating in a deficit for a prolonged period of time…
What do you do?
That leads us to our next dieting phase.
The Reverse Diet
We say it all the time at Clar-e-ty but it’s important to remember...
You’re not supposed to live in a deficit year-round (nutrition periodization coming full circle), so having a strategy for how your diet after your cut looks is almost as important if not more important than your actual cut itself.
Once clients reach the end of their cut, a common approach we take at Clar-e-ty is a reverse diet. This is the act of slowly and gradually increasing your caloric intake over time to your new maintenance calories to promote sustained weight loss and weight maintenance.
We take this approach if a client comes to us and has been chronically under-eating or yo-yo dieting for years, or if the client has been dieting for 16 weeks or more.
Also, if progress during your cut has stalled for more than 3-4 weeks, or your biofeedback is in the toilet (i.e. have you lost your period, no morning wood, no sex drive, not sleeping through the night, stress levels high, are you constantly thinking about food, etc.), it's time for a reverse diet!
Reverse diets are essential for building our metabolisms back up post-diet to make entering back into a deficit later on down the road more successful.
Remember, once you finish your reverse diet, it doesn’t mean you can immediately go back into a cut. Consider a maintenance phase for at least 6-8 weeks before you dive back into being in a deficit.
If you think a reverse diet might be the right approach for you, but don’t know how to get started, check out this Clar-e-ty “Guide to Reverse Diets” for all of the how-to’s that go into reverse dieting.
And last but definitely not least, we have bulking/gaining phases.
Bulking requires being a calorie surplus to put on some muscle/size. Although bulking/gaining phases can be exciting, it can also be mentally challenging seeing either the number on the scale rise or changes in body composition, especially for women.
We encourage our female clients (male clients as well) looking to put on some muscle to keep the bigger picture in mind when it comes to being in a gaining phase.
If that means not stepping on the scale as frequently and using progress pictures & performance/strength gains in the gym to be the indicator for progress (which is more fun anyway), then so be it! The scale doesn’t have to be the ONLY way for you to determine whether you’re on the right track or not.
It’s important to keep in mind that you will likely put on SOME fat while actively trying to put on muscle, so make sure you’re okay with the idea of making that sacrifice for some strength gains before starting a bulk.
You might also consider a gaining phase if you’re seeking a “toned” look or shape. This “toned” look would require you to put on some muscle, then maybe shed some fat.
Once you’ve finished your gaining phase, you can head back to your new maintenance for a period of time and then decide if it’s time to cut/shed some body fat or go back into another gaining phase.
And there you have it, folks.