Periodization is an essential concept in sports nutrition
21 Feb 2020

One of the key concepts in current sports nutrition is periodization. Nutritional periodization involves merging it with other physical and mental training strategies.

Periodization involves, providing athletes with meals that fit their needs for different moments throughout the day as well as allowing to create immune, metabolic and muscular adaptation strategies, during rest periods and also for cognitive aspects which respond to a scheduled plan or strategy.

Periodization involves eating in a way which adapts to the different intensities for preseason, during competition or throughout the day, always looking for a correct adaptation and enhancement.

Following this idea, different strategies are created using different ingredient proportions, according to the goal in mind. These goals can vary, such as adjusting body composition or accelerating recovery. For female athletes, it could be to adjust the carbohydrate intake to their cycle.

Preseason is key

A good example of periodization takes place in the preseason phase, when double training session strategies, changes in lunchtime and other circumstances might cause positive outcomes: the athlete body composition has to be adjusted and it is possible to help by educating the athlete to know what meal best suits them to improve, for example, body fat.

In this period an athlete’s diet will contain more vegetables and food with fewer carbohydrates which are less energetic than what the athlete will consume during competition. Carbohydrates (like rice, cereal or pasta) are changed for fruits and vegetables in salads, juices or bowls in order to later increase again, and according to the needs, the amount of the first ones too.

Healthy fats like olive oil, tuna, nuts or avocado also play an essential role and allow the athlete’s muscle to physiologically “learn” to use this energy, and also know how to use rice, potato or pasta.

Experts state that preseason is the best moment for the athlete to assimilate and learn these concepts, due to the few matches played as the league has still not started.

Personalization is essential

Personalization is a second key aspect in the athletes’ diet, as the strategies used for the training session and intensity that look for the player’s adaptation, can vary for each member of the team. What might be beneficial for one, can be insufficient for others.

To achieve the goals established by the nutrition team, it is important to take into account the which moment of the season we are in and the athlete’s age or gender, as there is a metabolic adaptation.

Taking into account the athlete’s preferences

Another aspect that shouldn’t be forgotten is the range of options and preferences of meals for each athlete because, in some cases, options are very limited, and the diet lacks variety to fit the best option for adaptation. The diversity of food eaten by a person is an indicator of the quality of the diet, which also applies to athletes.

For this reason, as FC Barcelona’s nutritionist, Toña Lizárraga explains, personalization will depend on each player; their capacity, motivation and interest to establish these changes to their routine to effectively value the effect it has, always respecting their preferences as much as possible. The idea is to introduce new ingredients or patterns with specific goals.

On the other hand, there are cultural and religious factors that lead to not eating some ingredients like pork and other health factors such as intolerance to certain food products.

Be visual

A visual example to explain periodization can be through the concept of a bowl dish that changes the ingredients and quantities as required.

The basic approach involves putting in a plate or bowls the ingredients: proteins, vegetables and carbohydrates and increase or decrease the number of carbohydrates such as pasta or rice according to the intensity of the effort or moment of the day (before or after exercising). From there on, it can be personalized by modifying with different options such as gluten or gluten-free, with or without lactose, vegetarian, of easy digestion…

Extending an athlete’s career

Finally, we can consider that all of these aspects can adapt throughout the sports career of an athlete as they get older. Age is another factor that is having more influence when choosing adaptation strategies.

It has been proven that the career of an athlete (which is extending more and more) is going to largely depend on everything they have learned in regard to nutrition. The goal is to slow down or restrain the moment in which performance seems to be affected because it takes more time to recover and there are more accumulated injuries and inflammations.

Because of that, it is recommended for older athletes an antioxidant and anti-inflammatory diet, to further extend their career, while in a younger player it is important to cover the energy, growth, and muscle mass increase needs, as well as establishing a good recovery strategy.

Digestion and tolerance to certain food products can be very different at the age of 17 compared to a 32-year-old, and this also has to be taken into account.

Periodization is one of the concepts referred to in the second edition of Barça Sports Nutrition Conference.

Javier Granda Revilla


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