Timing Food Intake with Training
Periodization is a very common word for many athletes. You hear it used throughout the year as training schedules are being built in their varying macro, micro and meso cycles, and you will hear them celebrated when a diligently thought out and designed training plan leads to great improvements in athletic ability and massive success in event day performance. One very large part of this important periodization that is often overlooked is the periodization of your nutrition. In the coming paragraphs, we will discuss diet periodization and how our training impacts our body’s substrate utilization and how it can change from one training block or from one event to the next.
In the last 20+ years, the importance of carbo-loading and carbohydrate fueling has been pounded into our heads. Even though the utilization of carbohydrates is very high,increased levels of intensity does not mean that we continually need to be on an IV drip of drink mix or the latest, greatest, snot-consistency, carbohydrate bolus available.
This is an optimal time to cut weight if you want to do so for the next season, big goal event or simply because. Unfortunately, this time tends to fall during the holiday season for many athletes and, because of this, many athletes gain weight.
Consider a ketogenic diet during this time phase of your training. With energy expenditure in workouts low and the intensity levels even lower, this high protein/high fat diet can quickly lead to weight loss because of the calorie deficit that is often associated with the increased satiety levels that higher protein levels can create. Bottom line: you’ll be feeling full longer and over-eating less.
During this phase of training an athlete’s intensity level generally increases. A higher focus is placed on workouts at or above threshold and the body’s demand for carbohydrates increases as well.
This is where the controversy comes in and part of the decision depends upon what your goals are, the type of event you are participating in, and where exactly your training intensity will be. The majority of our culture in sport, much like the general population, is very carbohydrate centered. Walk into your local bike shop or running store and look at the number one ingredient on nearly all of the products. It is some form of sugar.
The other extreme is a ketogenic based diet. With any high intensity exercise, the true definition of ketogenic is ingesting a maximum of 60 calories a day from carbohydrates. Typically, the breakdown of your nutrient intake would look something like this: 5% carbohydrates, 15% protein and 80% fat.
Shifting your caloric intake to a more carbohydrate dominant focus (50% or greater) during this time to see results as your boost your training into a higher gear.
Taper is the time period in which you scale back on your training to allow time for your body to recover just before your goal event. Whatever you do right now, do not cut your caloric consumption to go into a caloric deficit/weight loss phase. It is a common fear of many athletes to gain weight before their big day. Many athletes panic during this time because the exercise volume can, and, in most cases should, decrease. If athletes are subject to this frenzy (while it is semi-logical,) caloric intake is cut and puts that athlete into a deficit. This deficit deprives the body of the fuel it needs for the most important event of the year.
To overcome this, you can do several things. Have a resting metabolic rate test performed to track your resting metabolic rate. For any weight-conscientious person, this can provide a very accurate baseline of what your body needs daily to sustain life. With this information, along with the increase in accuracy of heart rate monitors, as well as power meters, you can fine tune caloric intake for each day based on actual workloads.
Your main takeaway for taper nutrition should be this: maintain a similar percentage of carbohydrate, fat and protein consumption, but decrease caloric intake to account for decrease in training load expenditure.
The big day has arrived and our advice is pretty straight forward. “Do not change anything on race day!” You should have practiced your pre-, during and post-race nutrition time and time again for the event. After weeks and months of training, you should know what works for you, what your body is able to digest effectively, and the amount of calories and fluid you need to intake for a successful day. Deviation from this could, and should, only be altered if elements are so incredibly different from what was expected what you trained in.