Periodization for Tactical Athletes

periodization podcast Dec 22, 2020


This is Susan Lopez and welcome to episode 2 of season 2 of tactical nutrition and performance.

 Guys, this is an exciting day.  When I started this podcast last year it was really because I felt there were few resources out there for sports dietitians in the podcast space.  And as my practice has grown over the last year I realized that I needed to stop being selfish and decided, not to long ago, that anyone, not just future or new dietitians, should be able to benefit from the information that could be put out on this platform.  So this season is going to be for anyone who wants to benefit from knowledge regarding nutrition in the tactical space.  AANNNNDDD…. My hope is that I will also be able to bring you info from some of the leaders in performance and mindset in this space as well.  It’s going to be a good year I think.

 BUUUUTTT today I am flying solo!  And not just that but as I am recording I am also LIVE Streaming on IG so I am really in the hot seat guys.  If you don’t follow me already you can check me out on IG @tactical.dietitian and next time watch me eat shit in real time.                

Alright so let's just get into it so today we're going to be talking a little bit about nutrition periodization.  now you maybe have heard the term periodization for training programs but perhaps you've never really applied it to your nutrition or maybe you have been using a type of  periodization but you just didn't know it.  periodization is simply the art of laying out your training plan working backwards from a specific goal putting everything out on a timeline over the course of a day a week a month a year these are typically written out as macrocycles meso cycles micro cycles – maybe familiar terms to some of you. 

If you’re a dietitian working in performance nutrition then you should absolutely be familiar with these and I think we should also be teaching our clients this method.   as a dietitian sometimes we have a tendency to really do our clients a disservice in the way that we disperse education.  While there are many that need the general recommendations and education that we give out, there are also those who need to be moved beyond general recommendations and start being taught the art of self-management.  Especially in the tactical space.  Also because if we are not putting out the good info, then joe schmoe wants to sell you a tea that can improve your weight ,health and make you rich if you recruit 100 of your best battle buddies.  We don’t want that for our clients and followers we need to give out timely and reliable info and I think that teaching nutrition periodization is the next iteration for these athletes to learn. 

 So where does one even begin when it comes to nutrition periodization, especially in a tactical population.  How can we periodize without sacrificing performance and still be mission ready at all times?  Well it can be a little bit of a dance between appropriate volume and intensity of training and optimizing nutrition and recovery.  If you took the Nutrition for Tactical Athletes Seminar than you have heard me say this before – Proper nutrition creates the environment that is optimal for the stimulus (training) to have the desired effect.  And you know that the 1st place to always start is with self assessment which allows for greater self-awareness and leads to appropriate goal setting. when we are periodizing a nutrition program it should be in support of a training goal as nutrition will create the conditions and set up the environment that allows the training stimulus to be most effective,  With tactical athletes and management of training volume and recovery is essential to ensure daily readiness. pretty hard to run down a criminal for six blocks or more if you got crazy doms from a high-volume session two days ago or if you have not addressed your health and that has lead to a either a weight and or fitness problem.

 To give you more of an example of what periodization for nutrition looks like we can discuss what it would looks like in the traditional athlete.  and then from there we'll talk about how to apply that as a TA

 if we're talking about baseball for example the traditional annual cycle for a baseball player may look something like offseason going into spring training going into the in season postseason - and during each of those cycles of the year different things are occurring . In the offseason this may be where we are managing body composition either putting on weight or dropping weight where we may be addressing any issues with lingering injuries or weaknesses areas that need improvement.  For the TA I usually like to call this cycle to health optimization phase.  and you guys know that there are big differences between traditional athlete resources and tactical athlete resources right so your traditional athletes typically going to have an entire team behind them especially if they're on the professional level there's a lot of financial resources and they don't necessarily have to deal with a lot of the day-to-day stress that a tactical athlete is going to have to deal with .  so during the health optimization phase for the tactical athlete the goals might be body composition alteration, general physical preparedness, developing sleep routines, learning how to mitigate stress -  which is really an ongoing process, and may be addressing any underlying medical issues such as elevated blood pressure high cholesterol levels blood sugar issues hormonal issues anything that might come up during a biochemical exam or lap test. 

I will tell you that one of the biggest mistakes that I see tactical athletes make is trying to do too much at one time.  One of the most frequent questions I get asked is how do I drop body fat while I'm working so and so’s hypertrophy program. And I address this in my Instagram stories a lot so I felt like it was worth discussing.  It’s important to understand that weight and or body fat loss requires a calorie deficit. And if you are doing a hypertrophy training program this would imply that you are trying to gain lean mass or weight and you need to be in some sort of calorie surplus .  The math doesn’t work, and having done some hypertrophy programs myself if you are creating a moderate to large deficit in your nutrition, there is a great likelihood that you are not going to fair well while doing the amount of training volume a hypertrophy program requires.  So in the health optimization phase regardless of whether you are trying to gain weight or lose weight you need to make sure that your nutrition and your training program are synchronized in terms of volume and fuel. 

Also weight loss sucks; calorie deficits are sucky.  Programming specific weight loss cycles into your annual training plan in most cases will be much easier to stick with and see long term success because there will be less metabolic adaptation from low energy availability, meaning you don’t have to eat low calorie for months on end and your metabolism will suffer less because you will actually be eating closer to what you need the majority of the time and still see results.  If I am programming a fat or weight loss cycle typically I will recommend eating closer to maintenance calories, maybe slightly below, and creating a larger deficit through daily movement and training volume which has been shown to be effective for weight loss in trained athletes.  This is also ideal for the tactical athlete as it allows for gradual loss without a big impact on physical performance and readiness.  Creating a deficit through training may actually be more beneficial for creating a negative energy balance short term for a couple reasons.  When creating a deficit primarily through nutrition intake hunger, food cravings, and energy intake typically all increase whereas a deficit created through training does not induce these changes with hunger and intake.  Even if we consume additional calories due to hunger when training most of us only consume up to a third of the additional energy we have expended through exercise.  The longer we diet, the greater the deficit from nutrition intake needs to be in order to continue losing weight which is another reason periodizing multiple short weight loss cycles annually may be more beneficial and easier to adhere to. (jeukendrup)

After health optimization depending on individual goals you may be cycling through strength, power, SAQ, or perhaps doing some time of hybridized training or undulating microcycles where you may be cycling through different energy systems each day.  Whichever the case may be nutrition should be periodized accordingly. That is why if you work with me you are required to be on a formal training program.  And you guys know my favorites.  If you are new here I will list them in the show notes. 

So we are optimizing health and addressing body composition and after that cycle I am typically going to recommend a transition period or weight stabilization period.  Why?  Stabilization of weight in between or during a training cycle is going to assist in maintaining metabolic health and also allows for a psychological break in between periods of fluctuating energy intake.  So in between periods of maybe high calorie intake and high-volume training rather than jump into a low energy, moderate volume program where we are constantly training low we allow time to transition.  Allow hormone levels to stabilize, avoid overreaching symptoms, this is something that I see from time to time esp in athletes who have maybe been training for 12 to 24 months straight hoping to enter into a SOF contract.  Its all GOGOGOGO and then they hit zero day physical and mentally drained.  So transition periods (and tapering) is important. 

 For someone who is preparing for a school or entry into the military or some type of selection test.  A basic periodization scheme may include Health optimization body composition alteration at least 6 months out; training should also be focused on some type of GPP; as we move closer to your event we spend more time in a weight stabilization and energy matched state with our nutrition while we enter train up phases and more specific preparation for your events. 

 Tapering also needs to be considered in your training cycle and this is something that I emphasize during lead ups.  2 to 3 weeks out from 0 day hydration status, sleep, mental prep should be your main priorities.  Training volume should be relatively low, weight should be stable, You should have already done lab testing and optimized micronutrient health, possibly through supplementation if needed (vit D).  You should be getting your head right.  And of course I emphasize this in a lot of my classes – no alcohol.  DO that before you enter taper if at all. 

 All right so that is a basic introduction to the periodization process for you guys to think on for a little bit and possibly in future episodes we can get a little bit deeper into what that might look like for more specific train ups  and also from a macronutrient standpoint. 

Ok so since we are live and we have a few minutes I am going to answer some questions right now.  So if you are on IG get them in and let’s discuss.  If you are listening at a later date on apple pdcasts or spotify you can click the link in the show notes to leave a voice message and I will answer your question and add it to the episode.  So please I always welcome comments, questions, anything that can be added to the conversation.  If you are a dietitian or performance professional and you want to add your insight please do so in the voice message link.  I am always happy to have contributions from my peers. 


Integrated Periodization in Sports Training & Athletic Development by Tudor Bompa et al. 

 Jeukendrup, A. & Gleeson, M. (2019). Sport Nutrition. (3 ed.)

 Peos, J., Norton, L., Helms, E., Galpin, A., & Fournier, P. (2019). Intermittent dieting: Theoretical considerations for the athlete. Sports, 7(1), 22.

 Stellingwerff, T., Bovim, I.M., & Whitfield, J. (2019). Contemporary nutrition interventions to optimize performance in middle-distance runners. International Journal of Sport Nutrition and Exercise Metabolism, 29, 106-116

 Nutrition in Athletic Performance (AND)

 Energy Availability in Athletics





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