Nutritional Periodization for Sustainable Fat Loss and Muscle Gain

In the last article, I made my case for nutrition periodization. 

In this article, I want to get into the details a bit more. 

Just to remind you what nutritional periodization is:

“A periodized plan progresses in a logical, organized fashion with a specific goal in mind. Nutrition periodization means that diet phases are not random, they are strategic and purposeful. Periodized nutrition is absolutely necessary in order to maximize the chances of achieving any long-term fitness goal.”

-RP Diet Book 2.0

It sounds like something only advanced athletes or bodybuilders would do. 

BUT

This is a concept that needs to be adopted by the general population as well.

Did you know 80 percent of people who lose weight gain it all back plus more within a year? 

Again, if you aren’t sold on this yet, then make sure you reread this. 

There are four phases of nutrition that online clients will go through. 

The four phases are:

  1. Newly added: pre-diet maintenance (aka baseline nutrition)
  2. Weight loss (fat loss)
  3. Weight gain (building muscle)
  4. Maintenance

So let’s start with the newly added phase, the pre-diet maintenance. 

Pre-diet Maintenance (aka baseline)

When new clients come on board that wants to gain or lose weight it’s important we get a baseline for your nutrition, rather than throwing you straight into a weight gain/weight loss phase.

This is an important step missed by many, but something that I have always done, I just never had a name for it. 

You see a lot of people come to me that have tried dieting multiple times in the past, are already doing a ton of cardio, eat a diet that consists mostly of alcohol and processed foods. 

Some people that come to me already train 5 plus days per week. 

Either way, the goal of this phase is to get your body ready mentally and physically to make a change. 

You don’t want to go into a diet (whether it be fat loss or muscle building) in a highly stressed state and then add another stressor like gaining or losing weight. Because the truth is, changing your body from the status quo is an added stressor. So you must be prepared. 

The goal of this nutrition phase is to make sure you are:

  1. At maintenance level calories. The reason we do this is to make sure there is food to either add or take away when we start the process. If you are trying to lose body fat and are already eating very low calories then there is nowhere to go. 
  2. Not training too much. Again, if you are already training 6+ times per week and have been for a while then we need to make sure we lower your training for a little bit to reduce any stress and fatigue. So in this phase, if you have been training for a while with 6+ days of training then the goal is to do more maintenance style training so we can prepare your body for either losing body fat or building muscle.

*If someone hasn’t trained in a while, then the goal of this phase is to build foundational strength and get you in a consistent routine. So for most this phase is 3-4 days of lifting with minimal cardio

Again the goal here is to do less so eventually you can add more in down the line.

IMPORTANT* This phase is one that a lot of people will skip, but people who skip this step will be in a never-ending cycle of trying to build muscle or lose body fat with not so great results. 

You cant build a house on a terrible foundation. The same is true for changing your body composition. You must have a solid foundation in place. 

Expect to be in this phase anywhere from 4-8 weeks on average. 

Where to go from here?

So you have built a solid foundation, have no diet and training fatigue or stress, and are eating at maintenance calories. Now what?

Its time to decide if you want to:

A.) gain (build muscle) or

B.) lose weight (lost body fat, lean out, get shredded). 

If you are over 15-17% body fat for men and 25-27% for female then its probably best to start with a weight loss phase. 

If you are under these levels then a weight gain phase would be more beneficial for you to start. 

There are some circumstances where you can build muscle and lose body fat at the same time. This isn’t the article for that but a quick summary for those who can build muscle and lose body fat at the same time:

-New to weight training

-Haven’t weight trained in a while (think 3 plus months or so)

-Have a lot of weight to lose

 

Weight Loss Phase (fat loss)

You decided it would be best for you to start in a weight loss phase. Now its time to lose body fat and see progress. 

When dieting for weight loss you want to aim for 0.5 – 1% body weight loss per week. 

It’s tempting to lose quicker but this comes with nasty side effects. 

They are: 

  • Muscle loss
  • Decrease in gym performance
  • Overall health declines
  • Poorer sleep
  • Increased hunger/cravings
  • Increased stress hormones
  • Fatigue
  • Potential psychological issues

All pretty nasty side effects of losing weight too quickly. 

The first step would be to decrease your calories from your maintenance levels that were set in the pre-diet phase to aim for a .5 -1% body weight loss per week. 

You could also see a slight increase in your steps/cardio and/or increase how many days per week you weight train. 

The goal is to find a good combination of increasing movement (cardio, steps) and eating less that allows for the best adherence from the client to get you into a negative energy balance (cite calorie def article) 

You have three options: 

  1. More movement/keep food slightly higher
  2. Less movement/decrease food intake more
  3. Split between the two

It all depends on your lifestyle and what you like most. I recommend starting with option 3 and then going from there.  

So now that you have your calories and cardio prescription set, now its time for the fun. 

Im sure you will wonder if your calories are right or if you are doing enough cardio or weight training, but the best thing you can do is stay consistent and then make adjustments when and if you need to. 

With online clients, we aim for being in the weight loss phase for about 8-16 weeks. If you want to do 8 weeks then you can be a bit more aggressive, if you want to stay in it for up to 16 weeks then you aim for closer to the .5% of bodyweight per week. 

Why only 8-16 weeks and not longer?

The longer you diet for weight loss the chances of declining adherence increase and weight rebound is increased. Hunger and cravings also go up the more weight you lose and the longer you diet for weight loss.

In order to make sure you are progressing online clients will track their:

  • Hunger
  • Sleep
  • Steps
  • Training performance
  • Recovery
  • Weekly measurements
  • Weight ( at least 3 weigh-ins per week).

 

Ex weight loss week of tracking:

weight

 

If weight isn’t going down as you want then you can make a few adjustments, here are your options:

  • A small decrease in calories (pull from carbohydrates)
  • Increase cardio (add 1,000 more steps per day)
  • Make sure you are accurately tracking your food.

Ideally, you would pick either a decrease in calories OR an increase in cardio. WARNING: don’t do both at the same time. 

Once you complete your first weight loss phase then it will be time to take a maintenance phase. More on this in a bit. 

Weight Gain (lean muscle) 

Based on the recommendations you decided you wanted to gain weight. 

Weight gain? Why would anyone ever want to gain weight? Simple, to build muscle. The more muscle you have the easier fat loss is down the line. 

For most beginners (people who have been lifting less than a year) there is no need for a weight gain phase because the body is so sensitive to muscle growth that a good training program and adequate protein is enough. 

However, the longer you lift, in order to grow muscle (enough to notice a difference) you must have phases where you gain weight (calorie surplus). 

When dieting for weight gain you want to aim for 0.25 – 0.50% of body weight per week. 

Anything more than this per week and you are increasing the chances that more of that weight gain is fat compared to muscle. There is going to be some inevitable fat gain when you are in a weight gaining phase, however the goal is to limit as much fat gain as possible. 

That’s one other thing, mentally it’s tough to see some fat gain. However, it’s very minimal and it’s only temporary. Muscle is much tougher to build that fat is to lose. 

A lot of people don’t grow as much muscle as they can because they are afraid of seeing a little fat gain. 

They think they can stay lean all of the time and build muscle, but unfortunately, you are just slowing down and limiting how much muscle you can gain by never purposefully increasing your body weight. 

You have to be OK with this, just realize it’s temporary and not a forever thing. 

 

Here is an example of my experience running weight loss and weight gain phases over the last 3 years.

In the first pic I am about 155lbs the day of my first show (Nov 17), the second pic is after my last weight gain phase that lasted from Nov 18-May 20 and then now here I am at 154lbs in August 20′.

Again, it is much easier to lose fat than it is to build muscle. 

So by gaining 0.25 – 0.50 of your body weight per week, you are decreasing the risk of extra fat gain. 

With online clients, we aim to keep them in a weight gain phase for between 8-20 weeks at one time.  

Why only 8-20 weeks and not longer?

The longer you gain weight, the more likely the weight you gain is more fat compared to muscle. Just like the faster you gain weight, the longer you do it, the same thing happens. 

So we must take a break from gaining weight at some point. 

Just like when you are losing weight and it gets tougher the further away you get from where your body is comfortable the same thing happens when you are gaining weight. 

Rather than your hunger and cravings increasing, they disappear, making weight gain much tougher. 

In order to make sure online clients are building muscle and gaining weight (making sure most of it isn’t fat gain), they track their: 

  • Hunger (we would like to see this low, otherwise you aren’t eating enough)
  • Sleep (need adequate sleep to build muscle)
  • Steps  (if weight isn’t going up, then steps need to be decreased)
  • Training performance  (needs to be good so muscle growth is happening
  • Recovery (low recovery is bad for muscle growth)
  • Weekly measurements  (make sure muscle groups we want to grow, are doing that)
  • Weight ( at least 3 weigh-ins per week).  (make sure weight is going up)

 

If your weight is not going up then you can:

  • Make a small increase in your calories
  • Decrease cardio (look at about 1,000 steps or so)
  • Lower protein intake slightly and replace with fats or carbs

Once you complete this weight gain phase it is time to take a maintenance phase. 

Maintenance 

This is the secret tool for making long-lasting progress. 

Also, think of this as the phase that holds everything together.

Everyone can gain or lose weight, but they usually use short term approaches and once they lose a bunch of weight they just go straight back to what they were doing before and it comes back. 

Or you never allow yourself time to get rid of all the diet fatigue we discussed earlier. 

So you end up in this never-ending cycle of not really making any progress, spinning your wheels essentially. 

Lose weight, gain it back, lose weight, gain it back, so on and so forth. 

But by adding these maintenance phases in, you will no longer be on the constant yo-yo dieting cycle. 

The goal of this phase is to get your body used to this new bodyweight AND recover from the diet fatigue you accumulated in the weight loss phase. 

Once you are fully recovered from the weight loss phase, then you can begin another weight loss phase if you still need to lose more weight. 

With online clients we have them stay in a maintenance phase for about 4-8 weeks in between weight loss and weight gain phases. 

How do you know if you are ready for another fat loss phase?

  • Boring food doesn’t taste as good as it did when you were losing weight
  • Cravings have slowed down
  • Food isnt the only thing you think about
  • Your weight has stayed within 2lbs or so for a few weeks

Sample 12 month fat loss periodization

Pre-diet

(4 weeks) ⇒

Weight Loss

(8 weeks)⇒

Maintenance 

(4 weeks)⇒

Weight Loss

(8 weeks)⇒

Maintenance

(4 weeks)

Weight Loss           

(8 weeks)⇒

Maintenance         

(4 weeks)⇒

Weight Gain

(8 weeks)

The takeaway here is that at some point, even if fat loss is your goal, you must take maintenance periods and then eventually a phase where you focus on building muscle and gaining a small amount of weight. 

 

Sample 12 month muscle gain periodization 

Pre-diet

(4 weeks)⇒

Weight Gain

(8 weeks)⇒

Maintenance

(4 weeks)⇒

Weight Gain

(8 weeks)⇒

Maintenance

(4 Weeks)

Weight Gain

(8 weeks)⇒

Maintenance

(4 weeks)⇒

Weight Loss

(8 weeks)

Again, the takeaway here is that if muscle growth is your goal, you must take maintenance periods, and then eventually you will have to do a weight loss phase to get rid of some body fat. 

There you have it, nutritional periodization. 

Most of us know what we SHOULD be doing to get the results we want, but we’re missing the accountability & structure needed to make it happen.

It’s time to get more structured, more consistent, and finally achieve your best body ever.

Click HERE now to apply for online coaching with me.

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