Periodised Nutrition – what it means and why do it?

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If you’ve had an appointment with our dietitian already, you no doubt would have heard about carbohydrate periodisation. But what does that mean? And how do you implement a periodised nutrition plan?

Nutrition periodisation is the use of planned nutritional strategies in response to certain periods of your training program, to enhance the adaptations targeted by each exercise session or enhance performance long term. Nutrition periodisation can also have body composition benefits through manipulating your body’s use of energy during exercise.

While most athletes are great at following their training programs, the purposeful use of nutrition is often forgotten until it comes to competition or game days. Nutrition can be planned as much as training can be planned, with specific nutrition goals to accompany each specific training session. Understanding how to periodise nutrition can help you get the most out of your training program. There are a few ways periodised nutrition can be implemented.

1. Train low  

This is a term to describe training with low carbohydrate availability. Training low could be done by training after an overnight fast, before eating breakfast. If training twice a day, restricting carbohydrates after the first session will mean you are likely to be training with low carbohydrate availability for the afternoon session. This trains the body to run more efficiently on a lower fuel tank, which could translate to improved performance during competition when carbohydrate stores become depleted.

If training low, its important to consider what training sessions will be impacted as low carbohydrate availability could result in reduced immune function and expose you to increased risk of illness and/or injury if done incorrectly.

2. Sleep low

Similar to training low, this is the concept of training hard later in the day, eating a carbohydrate restricted dinner then going to bed. Muscle and liver glycogen will be low for several hours overnight, potentially driving adaptation overnight. Fuelling the next morning is important, particularly if following up with a morning training session. Studies have found this strategy to be associated with improvements in performance, but there are potential impacts on sleep quality if implementing this strategy too frequently.

3. Train high

Training high is when you are training on a full glycogen tank. Muscle and liver glycogen stores are high prior to the training session and are supplemented during exercise with carbohydrate sources. This approach is known to support quality performance sessions and reduce symptoms of fatigue and over-reaching. For those in longer, endurance event sports, training high is also beneficial in training the gut to tolerate carbohydrate intake during your event. 

During repeated, higher intensity training (such as a training camp), higher carbohydrate intake is preferred. The positive effect of high carbohydrate on performance is clear during higher intensity blocks, but studies do not show that this is beneficial for driving adaptation long-term, particularly if the body is used to a high carbohydrate diet at all times of the training program.

Running on an empty carbohydrate tank can compromise the quality of training sessions but when implemented strategically throughout your training program, can help you maximise adaptation, train the body to use fat more efficiently and improve aerobic performance. Strategically training high will benefit key performance sessions where top speed is required, or where injury prevention is key, or when you are looking to train the gut for upcoming events.

If you spend hours of the week training, but aren’t following this up with strategically planned nutrition, you may not be getting the most out of your plan and it can be harder to reach your goals. Our Sports Dietitian can help you periodise your nutrition plan, so it is specific to your training and your goals. To find out more, please contact Kelsey Hutton to ask questions, or hit the link below to book a one-on-one! 

References:
1. Hawley JA, Burke LM. Carbohydrate availability and training adaptation: effects on cell metabolism. Exerc Sport Sci Rev. 2010;38:152–60. 5.
2. Hawley JA, Morton JP. Ramping up the signal: promoting endurance training adaptation in skeletal muscle by nutritional manipulation. Clin Exp Pharmacol Physiol. 2014;41:608–13. 6.
3. Bartlett JD, Hawley JA, Morton JP. Carbohydrate availability and exercise training adaptation: too much of a good thing? Eur J Sport Sci. 2015;15:3–12. 7.
4. Burke LM. Fueling strategies to optimize performance: training high or training low? Scand J Med Sci Sports. 2010;20:48–58. 8.
5. Impey SG, Hammond KM, Shepherd SO, et al. Fuel for the work required: a practical approach to amalgamating train-low paradigms for endurance athletes. Physiol Rep. 2016;4:e12803.

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