Nutrition periodization and the preparatory cycle: Let's get started!

It's time to get back into training, as I suspect you have a full race season right around the corner.

Since you are beginning (or if you have already begun) your preparatory/base training cycle, it is important to remember some key principles associated with your nutrition.

Why, you may ask? Well, it is during this training cycle when you are very motivated to train again and while your training time does increase, food intake shouldn't take too steep of an increase.

Since training volume will begin low and gradually build up and there is no sign of intense workouts in the near future, there is no sense in increasing the amount of food you eat just yet.

First, let's talk about the goals associated with this training cycle since they will be different from the previous cycle.

The preparatory cycle builds aerobic endurance as well as improving overall strength and flexibility. Most athletes should be focusing on maintaining lower heart rates for most of their training and very little intensity, if any.

Because the primary goal is to improve cardiovascular conditioning, the body only needs enough calories to support these training sessions. And because the volume and intensity are fairly low, don't get caught up into eating more than your body needs.

This is very common practice among endurance athletes -- your energy expenditure increases from the increased training time and your body automatically thinks it needs to compensate, and overcompensate, by eating more.

That is simply not the case, especially during the early parts of the preparatory cycle. This is the cause of the "I've been training but I haven't lost any weight -- in fact, I have gained weight!" phenomenon.

The key goals for this cycle include:

1. Weight loss

If you did manage to gain some weight during the transition cycle (or you were not able to lose any weight), the beginning of the preparatory cycle is the second safest cycle to try to lose it. Weight loss of around 1 pound per week will be safe enough to not void your body of nutrients while you ramp up your training again, and 1 pound per week is a fairly realistic amount to lose each week. Focus on your portion sizes more than anything and don't overeat.

2. Eat-to-train paradigm

This is the time of the year when I like to teach the athletes I work with what it means to "eat to train" rather than "train to eat." Eating to train can be defined as eating to supply your body the proper quantity and quality of nutrients that will support training, whereas training to eat is using the calories burned by exercising as an excuse to eat.

The latter is a horrible cycle that too many athletes fall into. Plan your longer or higher-quality training sessions and prepare for them nutritionally.

3. Trial and error

This is by far the best time of the year to experiment with different food and drink combinations along with sports nutrition products without it causing too many problems with your body.

4. Recovery nutrition.

This is important throughout the year, but I begin educating athletes of the concept during this training cycle so they can have a good grasp of it before their next training cycle.

Contrary to popular belief, recovery nutrition does not merely focus on what you eat and drink after a training session. It is quite the opposite, actually.

Recovery nutrition begins before you begin a workout. Remember, the goals of recovery nutrition are to prepare your body for the upcoming training session, supply nourishment during the training session, and provide nutrients in the correct amount and quality immediately after a training session so that you are able to recover your emptied "gas tanks" and train the following day.

Here are some specific objectives to help you be successful during this training cycle:

  • Eat a minimum of 6-9 servings of fruit and vegetables per day to make sure you get enough vitamins, minerals, and phytochemicals.

  • Choose high fiber foods.

  • Try new foods and experiment.

  • Experiment with different energy bars, gels and sports drinks in order to choose the products that agree with your body.

  • Find out what nutritional products will be used at your races in the upcoming season and try them in training.

  • Don't forget about the environment. If it is cold it is still necessary to drink. Cold weather doesn't change the amount of sweat glands that your body has.

  • Don't get in the rut of eating the same thing everyday. Rotate through different foods and menus in order to get more overall variety and balance in your eating plan.

    For those wanting numbers to calculate specific carbohydrate, protein and fat needs during the day, refer to the guidelines below. Remember though, ranges of nutrients and calories exist because each athlete is different.

    Preparatory cycle guidelines

    5-12+ grams per kilogram of body weight

    1.2-1.7 grams per kilogram of body weight

    0.8-1.0 grams per kilogram of body weight

    *Divide the amount you weigh in pounds by 2.2 to determine your weight in kilograms.

    **There are 4 calories per gram of carbohydrate and protein and 9 calories per gram of fat.

    Bob Seebohar, MS, RD, CSCS is the Performance Director at the Colorado Center for Altitude Training and Performance (ATP Center) in Evergreen, Colorado. The ATP Center provides training, coaching, physiological testing and nutrition services for all ages, types and abilities of endurance athletes.

    To learn more about nutrition periodization, check out Bob Seebohar's recently published book, Nutrition Periodization for Endurance Athletes, found at or

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