Nutrition Periodization for Endurance and Power Athletes

We are all creatures of routine and our diets are no exception. Time strapped athletes tend to gravitate towards the same foods and supplements that allow them to fuel their bodies quickly and effectively. A proper training plan requires changes in training intensities and durations throughout the season and the training week. Nutrition periodization is a hot topic right now. The essence of this plan is to match your diet to the specific requirements of the training phase you are in on a macro level. It is equally important to make small modifications to your diet on a daily basis to compensate for variance in activity factor and caloric expenditure. The difference in energy expenditure between a rest or recovery day and a heavy training day can be enormous, and it is important to make small changes in your diet on days of reduced training. These small modifications to your daily diet add up and are helpful in maintaining your proper race weight. In other words focus on the best weight management strategies during the off season to maintain the optimal weight for the training season. This often amounts to preventing a weight gain for endurance athletes and preventing a weight loss for strength athletes.

Endurance Athletes

Nutrition adjustments throughout the season are vital for endurance athletes to optimize carbohydrate storage before competition, sustaining carbohydrate delivery during performance and recovering optimally after an event. Surveys of endurance athletes show that on average, an inadequate consumption of calories, or an over reliance of protein and fat is evident. In other words athletes tend to under rely on carbohydrates at crucial times. It is the carbohydrate level that ultimately determines whether an athlete will hit the wall during an endurance event, yet it is also the amount of carbohydrates that will ultimately determine weight gain in the off season.

Nutrition During Training

Specifically formulated sports nutrition products are used during long periods of training, and optimal carb protein mixes for recovery. Gels, protein drinks, and energy bars often contribute to maximizing glycogen in working muscles. These products add many calories to the average daily intake and they are typically burned because of the intensity and duration of the training. Weight stability, even with the higher caloric intake is effortless for most endurance athlete who feed their bodies the appropriate amount of calories to support their training.

Post season

Many athletes however, do not know how to reduce the caloric intake when the duration and intensity subsides once the season is over. Caloric deficit at this time is crucial for weight maintenance because not as many calories are being burned. Some simple tips to reduce the calories in the post season:

  • Even if you are continuing a strength training regimen, cut out the use of sports nutrition energy bars, drinks and gels, which are formulated for endurance (such as endurox, accelerade, gu, etc).
  • Be aware of caloric dense foods versus nutrient dense foods. In place of the bars, opt for the earthy, clean alternatives such as the (non-processed) fruits, vegetables and whole grains which are more nutrient dense as opposed to calorie dense bars and gels. Dense carbs that were important for glycogen restoration, such as power bagels, can be replaced with lighter, lower calorie whole grain breads, such as whole grain English muffins or whole wheat pasta and brown rice.
  • Eat appropriate portions. You may have gotten used to eating larger portion sizes while training and old habits die hard. Remember, ½ cup cooked pasta, rice or potatoes is a realistic serving size for weight maintenance, whereas these portions may seem extremely tiny when you are in carbo-loading mode. As little as 100 extra calories per day can amount to an increase in 10 lbs of fat gain per month.

Preseason Nutrition

Under the unforeseen consequence of now having to lose weight before the season begins again, be realistic in your diet implementation. Never opt to lose more than 1 – 2 lbs per week, therefore begin a nutritional regimen with enough time to meet these goals appropriately. Anything quicker than this usually amounts to a loss of muscle mass and water weight, which can be detrimental to performance.

Power Athletes

Power athletes strive for physique versus endurance. They are focused an optimal strength-to-weight ratio aiming for greater power at lower weights. The high muscle mass and low body fat of these athletes determine very strict meal plans throughout the year. Their sport requires a high level of power and thus a higher anaerobic component versus the aerobic component of endurance. Thus strength athlete’s nutritional methodologies differ from endurance athletes in that they are entirely dependent on phosphocreatine and glycogen as a fuel source. Anaerobic activity is reliant on strong and massive muscles, and thus many of these athletes falsely believe that phosphocreatine and muscle mass requires the majority of their diet to be protein.

Preseason Nutrition for Power Athletes

Monitoring weight and body composition during preseason is vital to gear up for a successful season. In preparation for competition require extra energy consumption to support the enlargement of muscle mass. The energy consumption ratio of carbs, protein and fat is vital to keep body fat to a minimum. The ideal protein intake should be between 1.2 to 2.0 gram of protein per kilogram of body weight. Strategies that optimize performance and hydration include eating smaller, more frequent meals with continuous hydration throughout the day. Once a caloric intake that sustains current weight is accomplished, an additional 300 – 500 calories per day (55%, 25%, 20% carb, pro, fat ratio) should be added for muscle enlargement , simultaneous to a continuously challenging resistance training routine to stimulate the need for larger muscle mass.

During Training for Power Athletes

Find a caloric caloric intake level that works for you as an individual for weight stability and healthy body fat maintenance. In essence, consume enough calories to sustain current weight and muscle mass built up in preseason. Muscle mass should be enlarged preseason and then during the competitive season, power athletes should reduce energy aimed at reducing body fat levels, particularly subcutaneous fat, even further so that muscle definition is maximized and highly visible. The week before a competition, decrease total energy intake, yet simultaneously increase carbohydrate to protein ratio so that glycogen is optimally loaded for the day of competition. Fluid and sodium levels are also manipulated for the most visual muscle definition; however this may not be safe practice for long periods of time. By restricting sodium and hydration levels, blood potassium and phosphorous can reach dangerously high levels, increasing the risk of heart failure.

Post season

It is common for power athletes to rely on strategies that increase desired visual effects, including dehydration during competition. On average, nutrient intake appears to be inadequate for power athletes. The reliance on nutritional supplements such as protein powders and shakes, amino acids, creatine, etc., rather than on nutrient rich foods, such as fruits and vegetables and grains, place power athletes at nutritional risks. The least the power athlete can do to remain healthy is to capitalize on the post season for health and nutrient sufficiency. A high carbs, moderate protein and low fat ratio (55%, 25%, 20%) that provide adequate energy should ensure optimal body composition as well as health during off season. General Hydration Strategies During training, weigh in pre and post training session, during the training session. Hydrate with a rule of one pint of liquid per pound lost. Different athletes have different sweat loss rates, thus implement an appropriate hydration schedule for you. Adopt a continuous sipping protocol and drink plenty of fluids before any training session. Drink at least 16 ounces one hour before a work out. After a training session or event, hydrate and refuel appropriately to restore glycogen and blood volume. In general, most athletes need to consume 0.5 grams of carbohydrate per pound of body weight every two hours for six to eight hours after a workout with additional protein. Typically a 3:1 carb to protein ratio is recommended after an endurance session. Avoid the use of caffeine and alcohol during the season. Both these have a diuretic effect, placing an athlete at risk of dehydration.


Far too many athletes get stuck in a rut which makes gearing up for a new season with the optimal weight, rather difficult. This article should hopefully give you a basic understanding of periodizing your nutrition and how it can potentially achieve optimal performance in-season and aid in weight management post season. Set the objectives for your weight during season. Meal plan according to the tips and techniques above, and monitor your weight throughout the year. Your meal plans should not be the same all year round. Remember, the human body needs to adapt and change with the environment. The season of training, whether it be pre, post, or during, and the type of sport whether it is strength or endurance, determines that environment.