If you’re sick of always dieting but never looking the way you want, the thing you’re missing is nutrition periodization.
The nutrition periodization method we use with online client like you is basically a way to split your nutrition up into different “phases”.
These phases of nutrition periodization are designed to work together to support quicker growth of muscle tissue, better health and hormones, and easier fat loss.
When applied properly, you’ll actually achieve the physique you want sooner when using our nutrition periodization method (rather than always being in a fat loss phase like you’ve done in the past).
In today’s blog, you’ll learn exactly how we help our online clients optimize each phase of nutrition periodization for the best possible physique results.
What we often see with online nutrition clients is during each phase there tends to be a rush to get over with the current phase and move along to the next.
When we’re cutting, we focus on the hunger and low energy and just want to get done and move on to building some muscle. When we’re building we think we’re too fluffy and can’t wait to cut.
This is just the human condition to look at the negative parts of the current phase we’re in and think ahead to the positive side of what’s coming without considering the cons that will come along with that too….but, I digress.
Each phase of dieting has its own mindset that comes with it, and each has its “pros and cons” so to speak:
So you can see that each one has good aspects and some less desirable ones. A huge key to building your best physique and maximizing your genetic potential is to both optimize each one of these phases, and to fully commit to each and give it your best effort.
Let’s take a look through each phase, and see how to optimize and commit to each one.
For most athletes, this phase has the most appeal. This is where you are revealing all the hard work you’ve done in the past to build your physique, and where you’ll probably feel like you look your best. For competitors it’s where all the shows and photoshoots finally are completed and you get to show off your work.
To start out your fat loss phase, you first need to make sure you’re ready for it. A few questions we work through with online clients:
→ How long ago was your last diet?
→ How long did your most recent last?
→ How aggressive was your last diet?
→ How is your current biofeedback, and do you have your menstrual cycle regularly?
→ What’s your food focus like?
If all of these are currently in a good place, you’re probably ready to diet. If not, you may want to consider staying at maintenance for a bit longer until you’re in a healthier spot to start.
Once you know you’re ready you can go into a calorie deficit.
Typically, anywhere from a 10-25% deficit to start with works well. You can take several factors into consideration to decide how large of a deficit you need.
In order to get through a fat loss phase effectively and efficiently, you need to be able to switch your mindset into acceptance-mode.
If you don’t go into acceptance-mode, you’re setting yourself up to drag the diet on way longer than it needs to be, and end up with a worse outcome (both physically and mentally.)
Here’s what I mean by acceptance-mode:
You will need to ACCEPT during a fat loss phase…
→ You can eat almost anything you want, but not in the quantity you want, and it will make your life easier if you just abstain from things that make quantity-control hard.
→ Sticking to 85-90%+ whole foods makes your diet simpler, easier, and quicker.
→ You don’t have the flexibility to include lots of meals not cooked by you.
→ You’ll need to meal prep
→ This will not be the time to include much alcohol
The plus side to this is the fat loss phase can be just a short phase you pass through and get over with quickly IF you accept these facts.
Or you can fight against these things and 3x the time it takes to lose the same or less amount of body fat. Everything is a trade-off.
It’s helpful to keep in mind that these things don’t have to be as strict during maintenance, and if you execute your fat loss phase and reverse diet properly, the maintenance phase is where you’ll be able to spend a large majority of your time.
To find your maintenance range after finishing a fat loss phase, start out by assessing your ending fat loss macros. Your range has crept down as you lose weight (a lighter body burns less calories than a larger one.)
So from your ending fat loss calorie level you’ll want to maintain is where you have the largest amount of flexibility with all aspects of your diet.
Of course you don’t want to stray too far off course of your good habits, and a healthy lifestyle with a decently-lean physique will always have a foundation of principles like eating mostly whole foods, drinking moderately at most, training regularly, and hydrating.
But within that scope, you have the most leeway during maintenance. This is where you can have the freedom to shift weekly calories to accommodate for food-focused events, shift your food timing a bit more, and get away with some alcohol fit into your macros.
Your maintenance is a larger range that you’ll be working with than it is for fat loss or building, so that’s another aspect of the flexibility you have during maintenance.
Jump up to just a bit under where you think the bottom of your maintenance range is. (You can determine an estimate for this by how quickly you’re losing…if you’re losing about 1 pound per week, you can guess you’re at around a 500 calorie per day deficit. I’m on the more conservative side with this so in that case I’d bump up by 350-400.)
From there you’ll just inch your calories up week by week based on how you respond. You can expect an initial small weight gain just from having more food in your stomach, more sodium in food, and more carbs stored in the muscle.
After that initial weight gain, if you start to notice consistent gain you know you’ve overshot your top end of the maintenance range and you can pull back down to the previous adjustment. You’ve now found your current top end of your maintenance range.
This is likely to shift and expand as you’ve been out of a deficit longer, build more muscle, and move more or less, but most people find that they have a comfortable amount of leeway within this range while still maintaining their weight.
During maintenance you don’t have to have as rigid a mindset as in the fat loss phase, but you also don’t have room to eat whatever you want in whatever quantity you want. This isn’t really a reality for anyone in any diet phase that keeps a relatively lean physique.
Some general guidelines to maintain throughout maintenance (and all phases):
→ Eat what makes you feel your best in terms of energy, digestion, and satiety
→ Eat 80%+ whole foods with a variety of different micronutrient sources
→ Have about 1-1.2g/lb of protein spread between 3-5 meals
→ Keep an eye on health markers and biofeedback, including:
Taking time in a building phase is what will give you the physique you want, not just endless fat loss phases.
When you build up muscle tissue it…
→ Improves health
→ Improves blood glucose by giving glycogen (carbs) a larger storage tank
→ Strengthens bones and ligaments
→ Gives your physique shape
→ Speeds up your metabolism (muscle has weight and more weight = a higher BMR)
→ Improves posture
→ Decreases pain
In order to build muscle you need to have enough protein and a slight surplus of calories.
Protein needs don’t really change going between the different phases when we’re talking in generalities. They can change a bit based on the individual to adjust for things like trace proteins from plant carb sources, hunger, or preference, but as a general rule protein still falls between 1-1.2 g/lb.
As far as calories, we know that we have some individuals with rigid metabolisms and those with flexible metabolisms.
Flexible metabolisms will start to move more and increase NEAT when they eat more calories, so their increase as a percentage of maintenance will need to be larger.
Rigid metabolisms have a smaller maintenance range, and will need less of an increase when moving into a building phase because they compensate less with increased NEAT.
So it’s more helpful to look at this as a rate of gain.
In a build men and women should both look for about 0.25%-0.5% of bodyweight gain per week. That will probably look like 2-4 pounds of weight gain for men per month, and half that for women.
Knowing these numbers, you can just adjust calories up until you’re within that range. Going beyond that amount of calories will maximize the amount of muscle you’re building, but there is a cap to muscle gain, and any weight gained beyond that point will be fat gain, so for most people it’s worth it to take this a bit slower and keep gains leaner.
The mindset in a build is mostly around maintaining meal structure. You do have more calories to fit things in like meals out, but protein and carb timing becomes more important when you’re looking to maximize muscle gain.
Peri workout nutrition should be a big focus in a build, since you want to…
You also have less flexibility in a build to push and pull calories to different days to accommodate meals out, but since your calories are already high it shouldn’t be too hard to fit in a reasonable meal out.
The reason you don’t have as much flexibility with pushing and pulling calories is when you do that you end up in a much larger surplus some days, and going into a calorie deficit on other days. In a build we really want to have a steady stream of macronutrients to help build muscle tissue.
If you’re going into a calorie deficit on a training day to allot more calories to another day in order to eat out, you’re cutting your performance and recovery short for that day in a deficit.
It may be a slightly better option if you have to include a more indulgent meal out, and can’t just decrease portion size to accommodate your calorie target, to accept that if you do that you’re going to end your build with a bit more fat to cut back off when it’s over.
Each phase of the diet, when done right, can help set you up to have a more productive next phase.
A great fat loss phase sets you up to maintain long term, or sets you up for a productive building phase; a well-done building phase sets you up for an easier fat loss phase, and so on.
Each one just needs an intelligent approach, good effort, and the right mindset.
If you’re ready to take the guesswork out of achieving your best physique ever, click here now to apply for Online Coaching with our team. You’ll get the structure, accountability, and expert guidance you need through every step of the process of building your best body ever.
Andrea Rogers is a certified nutrition coach, personal trainer, and coach for BairFit. Follow her on Instagram for more helpful training & nutrition content.