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  • Writer's pictureEve Guzman

Nutrition Periodization: What Is It?

Updated: May 23, 2023



Authored by: Eve Guzman, CEO of Macro Mentorship



Nutrition Periodization is a word that we are now constantly hearing in the coaching space, whether it's on YouTube, wellness articles, Instagram, or even TikTok. Personally, I’m glad we are hearing it more because that means we are seeing it in practice and can all benefit from it.


Nutrition periodization is the creation of blocks of time where we focus on a specific nutrition goal to drive toward performance, health, and/or aesthetic goals over time. Nutrition periodization is highly recommended for athletes and the general population.


The nutrition block that gets the most attention is a calorie deficit for fat loss, but there is more to performance, aesthetic goals, and building a healthy metabolism than focusing on fat loss only. I want you to think about the big picture of what I need to do after a fat loss phase to maintain weight loss, feel better, look better, and achieve even better results in the future. It's time to start thinking about ‘now’ and ‘then.’


There are three distinct phases of nutrition periodization (and a fourth* if we want to break it down further, though a reverse diet isn't a distinct phase):

  • Caloric deficit (weight loss, fat loss, cutting, shredding)

  • *Reverse diet

  • Maintenance

  • Caloric surplus (weight gain, muscle gain, massing, bulking)

Now, let’s run through each one!



Caloric Deficit


This is the phase where you create a calorie deficit for weight and/or fat loss. This phase requires accurate food weighing tracking to ensure you are in a deficit. A deficit will occur when you eat below your total daily energy expenditure (TDEE). For most people, this is about a 15-20% deficit depending on their body fat %, goals, length of deficit, dieting history, health conditions, activity level, etc. The recommended duration for a calorie deficit is 2-4 months.



Reverse Diet


This is the phase where you transition from being in a caloric deficit to increasing calories up to your theoretical (calculated) maintenance calories. In fact, it is not a diet at all. We are reversing out of the diet back to maintenance.


A reverse diet will take as long as it takes. For some, it may take a couple of months to increase calories back to maintenance or your TDEE; for others, it will take six months to increase calories over time. The faster we increase calories to the new maintenance calorie intake, the sooner we can offset the adaptations that happen from being in a deficit. Some of these adaptations are a lower BMR, lower TDEE, decreased leptin, increased hunger, lower levels of thyroid hormones, etc.



Maintenance


This is the phase where you are eating at your TDEE in an effort to maintain weight. It occurs after a reverse diet is completed or as a starting phase for those initiating macro tracking to assess habits, food quantity, food quality, and TDEE. Think of this as the dieting off-season.


This is the phase where we can focus on muscle hypertrophy, life balance, improving hormonal health, recovering from a diet, and mentally taking a break from being in a deficit. Tracking calories and/or macros during this phase, along with weekly weigh-ins, allows you to make sure you are in a maintenance phase. The goal is to spend more time not dieting so that we can improve our metabolism, build muscle and make future fat loss efforts more successful.


The recommended time for maintenance is at least the length of the calorie deficit, but more time at maintenance is always better. I aim to have our clients in maintenance for six months or longer before going into a future calorie deficit phase.



Caloric Surplus


This is the phase where you are eating above your TDEE in an effort to gain weight and/or put on muscle mass. Food tracking during this phase is key to making sure you are in a calorie surplus. A calorie surplus of 10-15% above your TDEE has shown to be effective in putting on mass. The recommended time for a surplus phase is 2-4 months, or however much is needed to hit your target size or weight goal.



How do I put it all together?


How might these phases look as a full year of nutrition periodization? Check out an example here:

  • Jan, Feb, March: Caloric Deficit phase

  • April, May, June: Reverse Diet phase

  • July, Aug, Sept, Oct, Nov, Dec: Maintenance phase

  • Jan and onward: 2nd Caloric Deficit or Surplus Phase

The phase order and timeframes will all depend on your specific goals and adherence along the way. Also, neither the phases nor timeframes are set in stone, so be sure to adapt the plan to your needs.


If you don’t know where to start, I recommend setting your goals to ‘maintain weight’ in the MacrosFirst app and track all of your meals, snacks, and BLTs (bites, licks, and tastes) for 14 days straight to find your maintenance macros as a starting point. From there, you will be able to set your next goal for nutrition periodization.



Want to learn more?


If you want to learn more about nutrition periodization or more about nutrition in general, check out Macro Mentorship. It's a 4-month NASM, ISSA, and AFAA-approved CEU group coaching program and business course for existing or aspiring health coaches to become certified macro nutrition coaches.


MacrosFirst Subscribers can save $200 off our Macro Nutrition Certification by using code MACROSFIRST when enrolling.


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