With our online clients, we take a periodized approach to their nutrition.
What this means is that we aren’t always in one phase of nutrition.
A common mistake I see is someone always being in a fat loss phase.
After a while it gets old. Not only for the body, but also mentally.
It can be draining to always be in this dieting mindset.
Insert nutrition periodization.
In this blog I want to go over the various phases we work through with online clients and to give you an idea of what each one is like.
Pre Diet/Baseline Phase
This is the phase that everyone starts at. If they want to lose body fat, you start here.
If you want to add size to your frame, you start here.
If you want to maintain your weight loss, you start here.
In this phase we do set up an initial calorie goal, and usually focus on protein. For some clients we focus on carbohydrates and fats, but those two are a little less important during this time.
Our goal is to just get an idea of what a clients diet looks like overall. So hitting exact numbers isn’t as important.
We aren’t aiming for weight loss or weight gain during this time.
In saying that, some clients do see this because they have changed their habits during this time.
But we aren’t focusing on that. Again we re just looking to see where they are at. We are also looking for trends. Are there issues with their environment? Do they have times where they tend to go off the rails? Do they lack a particular macro nutrient? What does their sleep look like? Do they have high stress? Are they active or sedentary?
This is the time to dial these things in, as it will make every other phase much easier.
Some clients are in this phase longer than others. On average if the client is adherent, it usually lasts anywhere from 3-6 weeks.
Fat loss phase
Once a client has completed their baseline phase we can now move them into a phase dedicated to their actual goal. For someone who is overweight and wants to lean out, they go into a fat loss phase.
I have talked previously about what is in each clients fat loss phase, you can read that HERE.
In this phase, we usually set some calorie and macro goals. I find that this is the best way to get someone to really lean out as they like. If there is no tracking its hard to see where things are at.
In saying that, it can be done without tracking calories or macros, but some sort of tracking needs to happen. This can be hand portions, how many servings of macros per day etc. Whatever the client feels most comfortable with.
The overarching goal of this phase is to lose body fat and maintain muscle mass.
Clients can expect to be in this phase for around 8-16 weeks (but this can change on many factors).
Other than tracking we are aiming to find ways to eat foods that keep them feeling full, keeping protein relatively high etc.
Sleep and stress are also something we pay attention to as poor sleep or high stress can make fat loss challenging.
There may also be a bump in physical activity during this time. Weight training stays the same, but it is included.
We are going to place a greater emphasis on adherence to the plan during this time as well. Anything under 90% adherence is going to make this phase challenging.
You can expect to eat out at restaurants less, drink less. You can also expect to see hunger and cravings rise during this time.
We are basically more rigid with what we do, but this is why it’s only temporary and not long-term.
Measurements should go down, as well as your weight (not too quickly though). Energy levels may also decrease during this time.
Once this phase is done we will either go to a reverse diet phase, or a maintenance phase so feel free to skip ahead to there.
There may also be some refeeds and diet breaks during this time, if you want to see what those look like.
If a client wants to add muscle we put them into a building phase. You can do a building phase after a fat loss phase if you desire.
Many clients do a fat loss phase for about 8-12 weeks, run a quick reverse diet or maintenance phase, and then go into building as they find that the issue wasn’t body fat, but more so they just didn’t have enough muscle.
This phase is often overlooked, but for any client who is with us long term, they will go though at least one of these.
The overarching goal of this phase is to add muscle, while limiting fat gain.
Clients can expect to be in this phase anywhere from 8-30 weeks.
In this phase you can expect physical activity to decline slightly. However, your training volume will increase as the goal is to build muscle.
Hunger will be much lower than it was during a fat loss phase. If you are hungry, then chances are you aren’t eating enough during this phase.
Sleep and stress again play a big role in this phase, its tough to build muscle with poor sleep and high stress levels.
You should feel energized during this time.
Since the calorie goals are higher, there is room for more flexibility. You can enjoy some tastier treats, the higher your calories get and the longer you are in a building phase, adding more tasty foods is recommended.
While there is more flexibility in terms of what to eat, we do want to keep our calorie intake fairly similar from day to day, so there are NO refeeds during this phase.
Weight should slowly trend up over time, we don’t focus too much on measurements as much as we do during a fat loss phase. Progress pics are also helpful during this time. There is a greater emphasis placed on training performance as well. We want to make sure you are getting stronger.
After doing a building phase, clients go into a maintenance phase.
Depending on how long the client wants to be in a building phase, we may also take a mini cut at some point. So you can jump ahead to that.
Lets say a new client hasn’t lifted weights much in the past, or they are coming back from an injury/long lay off from lifting weight or they are more skinny fat.
Then we will put them through a recomp phase.
If you want to learn more about body recomposition read HERE.
This phase is great because you lose body fat and build muscle at the same time. The best of both worlds.
The downside is that after a while this slows down.
Usually clients who are in this phase come to us with a background of not lifting weights, being on a poor training plan, or have been eating low protein for some time.
This is usually someone who doesn’t want to lose weight, but wants to improve their shape.
We place an emphasis on weight training and protein intake.
Calories are around maintenance, so you wont see a large decrease in weight, but instead weight will maintain or slightly trend up BUT progress pictures and measurements improve.
Training performance will also increase during this time.
There is a decent amount of flexibility when it comes to nutrition. More so than during a fat loss phase.
We do not do refeeds or diet breaks during this time, since calories are at maintenance.
Energy levels should be high. As always we place an emphasis on sleep and stress.
Clients can expect to be in this phase for about 1-3 months. After that things will slow down and we need to focus on more dedicated phases like fat loss or building.
If a client has a crazy time coming up in their life, then a maintenance phase might be something we go into, but otherwise, maintenance is useless for this client.
If a client is coming off a fat loss phase or a building phase then we go into a maintenance phase where the goal is to maintain the new body weight.
Maintenance can also be used when a client has a very busy time in their life. Weddings, school, jobs, new borns etc. all play a role. During these times we find that focusing on maintenance is best.
Plus it is nice to not have to worry about changing your body weight mentally and physically.
This is the one phase that most people skip over and don’t know how to do.
In this phase we may stop tracking calories/macros and focus more on minimums for each day.
We WILL continue to track bodyweight. Studies show that one of the best ways to maintain long term weight loss is by continuing to monitor your bodyweight.
We will continue to weight training as normal, but training volume will be lower in most situations. Physical activity is around baseline. But we still want to make sure we are hitting a step minimum.
In this phase you can go out and enjoy food a bit more, especially compared to a fat loss phase.
However, protein still remains a priority.
This phase is essentially how you will eat for the rest of your life.
Clients can spend anywhere from 4 weeks all the way to forever in this phase.
You can expect some small fat loss and some small muscle gain during this time. But if you want to see notable improvement in either, then doing a fat loss or building phase will be something you will have to do in the future.
A mini cut is a phase we run sometimes during a building phase. The goal is to cut down body fat slightly so you can continue to gain after the mini cut.
It is a quick and large reduction in calories.
The other goal of this phase is for hunger. When you are eating relatively high calories for extended periods of time, your hunger goes down the drain.
With this quick and large reduction in calories, this can help boost hunger.
You should only use 1-2 of these per building phase and they should probably be spread out by ATLEAST 12-16 weeks. So if you do a 52 week building phase, you could do a mini cut around week 15-20 and then weeks 30-35.
You can expect hunger to be very high since it is a large drop in calories, but since it is short (2-6 weeks) you just have to push through.
Protein is again prioritized.
There is very little room for flexibility since your calories are low and since its short term.
This is only recommend if your goal is weight GAIN.
This should NOT be used if fat loss is your ultimate goal.
Here is a great resource for running a mini cut:
Reverse diet phase
This phase is used if a client is coming off a fat loss phase where they got very lean. Think sub 10% for men and sub 15-17% for females.
Brandon DaCruz we went over everything you need to know on a reverse diet phase HERE.
If a client isn’t very lean, then we just focus on a maintenance diet following a fat loss phase.
A refeed is used during fat loss phases. This can also be considered calorie cycling.
But what you do here is have 1-2 days per week where your calories are at maintenance.
Studies have shown that psychologically this can be useful when in a calorie deficit, there doesn’t seem to be much in terms of physiological benefits from a refeed.
We will increase calories via carbohydrates.
A diet break can be used during a fat loss phase as well.
If a client has a week where they have a ton of events or a holiday we can use a diet break to increase their calories to maintenance for that week.
We also use a diet break during a deload week as well for some clients.
It can also be used when a client is struggling mentally with their fat loss diet but doesn’t want to completely stop the phase.
The diet break can be anywhere from 1-3 weeks or longer if need be, but at that point it would probably be considered a maintenance phase.
There you have it, all of the nutrition phases we use with clients.
If you have more questions on this topic please send me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org or reach out via Instagram @jeffh91_
Lastly, if you want more guidance on how to run these for yourself, fill out the coaching app HERE and lets get to work.