Why Gym Bros Should Periodize Their Nutrition
Today’s guest post comes courtesy of United Kingdom based strength & nutrition coach, Harry Archer.
He took my subtle hint from a few weeks ago when I made note of the dearth of nutrition content on my site and how I tend to not touch it with a ten-foot pole.
Not because I don’t know what gluconeogenesis is1, but because I know my where my expertise isn’t and I respect scope of practice.
Nevertheless, he reached out and offered to provide some nutrition-related content for the site.
I hope you enjoy it as much as I did.
Why Gym Bros Should Periodize Their Nutrition
Let’s face it – as a lifter and fellow enthusiast of all things getting Yoked, chances are you wanna be jacked/strong and lean all at the same time.
Admirable goals friend, join the Swole Club.
Unfortunately our physiology doesn’t really like us doing all three at once, so it’ll make excuses and half ass any adaptations and responses to lifting.
IKR, ffs, c’mon physiology.
Fortunately there’s a groovy nutrition concept that allows us to maximize training adaptations over time so we can indeed get massiver, stronger-er and more shredded..
It’s called Periodizing Nutrition, and I’m going to take you through it today.
All aboard the Gainz Train.
What Does Periodizing Nutrition Even Mean?
“The planned, purposeful, and strategic use of specific nutritional interventions to enhance the adaptations targeted by individual exercise sessions or periodic training plans, or to obtain other effects that will enhance performance longer term” – Juedenkup
In bro-terms it’s organizing what you eat around the type of training you do to get the best results.
You can’t maximize (<– note key term here) both strength and hypertrophy at the same time very well, nor can you do either of these things whilst dieting down to single-digit body fat at the same time.
I know, I’m as gutted as you are.
This is why training periodization exists – we can logically and systematically create training stimuli to produce different physical adaptations. We can lift heavier loads to create neural/strength stimuli, or we can lift moderate weights a lot of times to create hypertrophic stimuli, and we can do a load of cardio to help lose fat.
(Just kidding on that last one – don’t be THAT person).
The central idea of Nutritional Periodization is to match what you eat/how much you eat/specific macro ratios to the goal of your training block.
- If you’re getting jacked, we can use calories and macros strategically to maximize gains.
- If lifting heavy is your thing, I feel you homie, we can use certain nutrition protocols to maximize that.
- If you’re #teamnogains, then certain dieting nutrition protocols can attenuate losses in fat-free mass as you’re dieting so you can hold onto your gains as you spend time choosing to deliberately catabolize your gains.
Developing Your Very Own Periodized Nutrition Plan
Nutrition Periodisation by @feedthebarbellntr
I mean, just eat right?
Why not just eat “well” or eat “good foods” or have seven protein shakes a day?
Because, whilst that’s lifting nutrition’s most ok-est advice, we’re more interested in our goals than “just eating right.”
What happens if your “just eating right” doesn’t support the hypertrophic goals you have and training in a hard volume block doesn’t result in the desired muscle gain?
What happens if “just eating right” doesn’t support the maintenance of lean muscle tissue during a deficit?
What happens if “just eating right” isn’t a sufficient amount of carbohydrates to offset perceived exertion during exercise leading you to feel like you’re the weakest dude in any gym that ever gymed?
You put a limit on how much progress you’ll make. Let’s not do that…
Training x Nutrition Periodization
If we look at training periodization, we have different training goals for different blocks. Each goal has a different objective, to produce a certain physiological adaptation or response so we normally use three different phases:
- Increased Load = hypertrophic adaptations
- Maintenance Load = Context dependent – could be transitions, could be a strength block after hypertrophy training
- Decreased Load = usually transition between different blocks of training e.g. hypertrophy to strength or strength to deload
So, we can manipulate our nutrition to match the goal of the block right? Like so:
- Increased Load = ideal for gains, so ideal for a surplus!
- Maintenance Load = maintain body weight
- Decreased Load = ideal for a deficit
So how do we plan nutrition around our block of training?
I Wanna Bulk Up
Ok, now we’re talking. So how can we periodize nutrition for them sweet gains?
The goal of hypertrophy blocks is to accumulate maximum recoverable volume (MRV) at a sufficient intensity to elicit muscle hypertrophy.
Recover from lifting enough weight, enough times, multiple times a week so you get jacked.
When training load increases, guess what else should increase? If you said “calories, carbs and my biceps” you guessed right! Periods of high volume massing just need higher total calories and higher amounts of carbohydrates.
If we don’t periodize calories and carbohydrates to energy demands of our training, then very bad, super non-awesome stuff happens like overtraining, injuries and worst of all, you can’t fill out your Gymshark stringer Vest.
Topless gym selfies won’t be the same again.
How Fast Should You Gain?
When massing, we want to keep muscle:fat gain ratios favourable right? Keep rates of gain between 0.25-0.5% of your body-weight per week.
How Long Should You Gain?
You could probably make enough gains in 6 weeks, however, longer massing phases would see better results so push it to 12/16 weeks.
Is there a limit?
16 weeks. Outside of this, we run the risks of desensitising ourselves to training, the ratio of muscle:fat starts tipping in favour of fat, we start running into health issues and ultimately it means longer, and more frequent dieting + maintenance phases as you’ll have accumulated too much fat that you don’t want to keep.
Macros For Gains Phases
Calories = 30-45 kcals/FFM (fat-free mass)
Protein = 1.6-1.8g/kg
Fats = 0.2-0.4 % of total calories
Carbs = whatever’s left (calculate other needs first)
Bit Fluffy From Your Last Perma-Bulk? I Got You
The goal of fat loss blocks shouldn’t really be to lose as much fat as possible. Instead, productive fat loss phases should really centre on maximizing FFM/LBM during the dieting phase, pushing close to MRV and promoting recovery from training load.
There’s mixed opinion on training volume when dieting. General bro rules dictate trying to keep MRV (max recoverable volume) high to keep lean muscle mass during your dieting phase. There might be drops over time due to recoverability factors but cross that bridge when you get to it.
How Long Should This Phase Be?
Typically between 6-12 weeks, depending on how aggressive you want your deficit to be/how much you can handle. 6 week diets aka “Mini-Cuts” open themselves up to more aggressive losses, although these are typically fluctuations in water/glycogen and salt which aren’t fat.
Still, you can look pretty decent to your gym crush.
Longer dieting phases give us a better chance of retaining FFM due to slower losses, as long as you regulate training load. Otherwise, whilst you’re losing fat, you’re also increasing FFM losses, increasing injury risks and generally having a miserable time of it.
Proposed Rate of Losses?
Losses between 0.5-1% of total bodyweight per week is sufficient. Whilst a more aggressive approach may initially increase those %’s, most of that is water/glycogen and salt fluctuations. Higher rates of loss will come back to kick your ass with stuff like poor muscle retention, being hungry all the time, low sexual desires (what’s the point of looking decent if you can’t get laid?) and generally being a bit of a dick to everyone ‘cos you’re moody.
Is There a Limit?
There’s a concept of “Single Phase Limits” – up to no more than 10% of total body weight loss is recommended for a single dieting phase. The goal isn’t to hit maximum fat loss per phase, the goal is to retain maximum muscle mass and recover from training loads per phase. Always has been, always will be.
More aggressive losses are a wild ride. For most, lower rates of loss will be easier to mentally and physically manage which honestly increases your chances of sustaining your fat loss efforts. I mean, don’t go so slow that you can’t see any results because that’s not fun for anyone but keep it psychologically and physiologically sensible.
Macros For Fat Loss
Calories = 30-45kcals/kg FFM
Protein = 1.6-2.4g/kg
Carbs = whatever is left
Fats = 0.2-0.5% total calories
Ok, You’re Shredded. Now What?
Now your gym crush is following you on Insta, now is the time to avoid rebounding post diet.
Here’s where maintaining gains comes in.
Maintenance blocks are important as you don’t really wanna go straight into a bulk, rebound, and regain all of the layers of fat you’ve just spent months slowly peeling off now do you?
The goal here is to keep lower body weights stable, and to reduce any diet fatigue. It takes a while for your body to recover from dieting, so maintenance blocks should be about as long as the dieting block.
Or at least until you stop fantasizing over food more than your gym crush.
If you want to sequence several fat loss blocks together (Rule of 10%) then diets with maintenance phases are very necessary as each period of dieting becomes a little bit more difficult
Each maintenance phase should progressively get longer than the dieting period as you’ll accumulate diet fatigue across each phase, life sucks when you diet a lot and dieting gets super hard and takes longer as you get leaner.
Bringing It All Together
Choosing how to sequence your very own periodized nutrition plan is going to depend on where you’re currently at.
If you’re looking to pack on some size, then maybe string a few massing cycles together – with the appropriate maintenance blocks obviously, and see how you grow.
If you’re looking to shift a bit of timber in time for 6 Pack season, then sequencing dieting:maintenance cycles could be a good choice for you right now.
Ultimately you’ve got to decide what you want to achieve and then periodize your nutrition to match the goals of your training blocks.
Now, go get strong, jacked and shredded.
About the Author
Harry Archer is a Strength and Nutrition Coach based in Bedford, UK.
Having worked in the fitness industry for nearly a decade, he’s worked in commercial gyms, private gyms, performance gyms, health clinics and more recently online (thanks COVID), with a variety of clients, ranging from helping the John’s from Project Management get Jacked With Abs, to coaching Strength-Sport performance athletes attempting World Records.
He’s usually happiest when lifting and eating, and when thinking about lifting and eating. Follow him on his Insta HERE.