Periodised Nutrition – tailoring nutrition to an athlete’s training programme
Training sessions vary during a week, from week-to-week and across the season, differing in duration, intensity, type and aim. What an athlete consumes before, during and after training is known to influence how the body responds to that training session, both in terms of how the session can be performed and how the body adapts to that session. Of course, this then impacts how well an athlete can perform, both short and longer term. Thus, it makes sense that an athlete’s nutrition is tailored according to the training programme.
Although training sessions are normally well planned and tailored to maximise performance for the sport, nutrition often does not receive the same level of attention and planning. But, this looks set to change with periodised nutrition becoming more popular.
Periodised nutrition refers to tailoring dietary intake according to the training session and daily needs, in order to enhance adaptations, which will then benefit performance. Take rugby for example; a player’s weekly training sessions will include skills, aerobic and anaerobic fitness, position-specific drills, strength and power. The number and type of sessions per week will differ depending on the stage in the season, with different aims at different times in the season. From pre-season objectives of enhancing fitness and targeting optimal weight, to enhancing recovery and ensuring optimal fitness and readiness for matches during the season. Tailoring nutrition according to each athlete’s training can help them make more of their sessions and enhance their performance.
Carbohydrates are well known as an important energy source, especially at higher intensities, as the body can utilise the energy from carbohydrates faster than it can from fat. The working muscles get carbohydrate from three sources:
- Liver glycogen (used across the body, including the muscles)
- Muscle glycogen (used by the muscle; total amount varies depending on muscle mass)
- Exogenous (dietary) carbohydrate
Our endogenous stores – those stored in liver and muscles – are limited to around 2000kcal (depending on trained status and muscle mass), but they provide critical energy source. Daily carbohydrate intake should be manipulated according to the daily needs, to provide the energy needed, achieve the aims of training sessions and work towards weight goals.
Although carbs are the best source of energy for higher intensity exercise, so-called ‘train low’ is becoming increasingly popular in the scientific world. The essence of this is to undertake some sessions with limited carbohydrate stores, as this could enhance gene expression, muscle adaptations, help weight management and the body’s ability to utilise fat as a fuel. Athletes have been doing train low sessions for decades, but the science now shows these good reasons as to why it may be advantageous.
Train low entails:
- Starting sessions with low carb stores, and/or
- Avoiding carbohydrate feeding during and/or after training
The normal ways to practise train low are:
Please do note that chronic low carbohydrate can lead to compromised immune function, so while train low can be beneficial for weight management and training adaptions, it is not recommended for all training sessions!
Furthermore, 1-2g caffeine per kg body weight caffeine can help an athlete to perform during these sessions (just be cautious of having caffeine before evening training sessions).
Having carbohydrates before and/or during prolonged, intense sessions allows a greater work capacity and reduces rating of perceived exertion (RPE) versus no or low carbohydrate. So, it makes sense to plan the carbohydrate intake around intense training sessions. Here are the guidelines amounts for daily intake and for tailoring around training/competition:
If an athlete experiences gastrointestinal issues when they take fluid or fuel onboard during training sessions, this can generally be trained by introducing them gradually over training sessions and trying different sources (gels, liquids or solid foods). Of course – don’t try something new in competition that hasn’t been tried out in training!
TAKE ADVANTAGE OF PROTEIN
Although carbohydrate has been shown to ‘turn off’ some training adaptions, protein does not. This means that protein can be used after train low sessions and the benefits will still be seen. Furthermore, protein helps with muscle building and increased satiety, so it may keep away those hunger pangs when avoiding carbohydrate. General guidelines suggest:
- 0.3g protein per kg body weight immediately after training sessions
- 2.2g protein per kg body weight per day (sport dependent) – this varies depending on the athlete’s needs
- Spread protein throughout the day with at least 20g at each meal
- Tailoring nutrition according to training session can maximise training gains, adaptations and performance, as well as achieving weight goals
- Higher intensity sessions, especially competition, should occur with full glycogen stores and carbohydrate intake during (if they will be performing for prolonged period)
- Completing some lower intensity training sessions with low carb stores could enhance adaptations
- Caffeine can help to reduce RPE and enhance performance, especially during train low sessions
- Chronic low carbohydrate can compromise performance and immune function
- 0.3g protein per kg body weight after training sessions, particularly if multiple sessions in one day, can help maintain muscle mass and still allow adaptations to occur
Check out the following for more info…
- A great summary on periodised nutrition and the research behind it: Jeukendrup, A. (2017) Periodised nutrition for athletes. Sports Med 47(Supp 1): S51-63
- A recent study looking at short term performance benefit of periodised nutrition: Marquet, A et al. (2016) Periodization of Carbohydrate Intake: Short-Term Effect on Performance. Nutrients 8(12): 755
- How Team Sky periodises their nutrition to enhance performance – click here
- North American dietary guidelines for athletes: Thomas, DT et al. (2016) Position of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, Dietitians of Canada, and the American College of Sports Medicine: Nutrition and Athletic Performance. J Acad Nutr Diet 2016 Mar;116(3):501-528