Stay Leaner, Eat More, and Avoid Burnout—with Periodization
Written by Sara Frenza (@sara_frenza) and header image by Katie Goode
Are you fading as a result of being in one dieting phase too long? The lean out phase is usually the culprit—but to each their own. So, let’s walk through the phases of a program and talk about lifestyle and gym integration, for your jaw-dropping physique results.
It’s time for a new approach to your diet: nutritional periodization. This simply means, with every active fat loss phase must come a recovery phase, a build phase, and a habit-creating phase. These other phases besides fat loss are often-overlooked elements of weight loss, especially if you’re on a mission to lean down within a particular time frame. Too often, we don’t take the time to let our bodies recover from a fat loss phase, and we let it go on too long. This causes burnout, frustration, and—at worst—gaining all the weight back and eventually having to start from square one again. Yes, the dreaded yo-yo.
By implementing nutritional periodization, you can not only achieve your desired results for the long haul, but also continue to see progress and growth—avoiding frustration and roadblocks. So, how does this approach work? Let’s look at how it can be applied specifically to the goal of fat loss and improved aesthetics.
Achieving Hormonal Homeostasis
When aiming to achieve fat loss, it's important to keep in mind that there must be a recovery phase to restore proper hormonal function and bring the body back to homeostasis. This is where nutritional periodization comes in. By categorizing dietary pursuits into phases—lean out, recovery, muscle building, and prep for the lean out phase—you can achieve your goals while still allowing for proper recovery and restoration of homeostasis.
All too often, I see women hit their lean out goal but then let it go on too long and eventually burnout or bounce back up, but with nutritional periodization, you can not only achieve your goals but sustain your results. So, let’s review what each phase would look like so that you can create long-term gains (and losses)—that stick.
Lean Out Phase
During the lean out phase, you will be in the active pursuit of change and focused on achieving your fat loss goals. Your goals could include things like: prepping for a photoshoot, wanting to be confident and look smashing in a swimsuit, fitting into a wedding dress, or just simply wanting to appear and feel your best.
Pursuit of fat loss will require a caloric deficit with an adequate amount of protein. Performance output is not an emphasis in this phase; maintaining lean muscle will be the only goal. Biofeedback markers like sleep, digestion, recovery, and libido start to decline during this phase as stress on the body is high. The lean out phase is complete once you’ve reached your goal date—the wedding day, vacation, or photoshoot, for instance. Abide by that… Pinky swear?
Your lean out phase should always be followed by a recovery phase, during which you will actively and adequately recover from the demands of the previous phase. If you fail to go into recovery and instead continue to push a lean-out lifestyle, this is bound to become a major stressor on the body. So, instead, simply focus on recovery and enabling a return to homeostatic balance.
As humans we have a natural set point and any navigations from that set point will yield adaptations. Adaptations are a normal part of the process, as they allow you to become "adapted"—this will hinder any future fat loss pursuits. In order to return to your natural set point or homeostatic balance you will need to slowly increase calories over time until you bring calories back to maintenance calories. Training performance will potentially have to increase, as you adequately start fueling the body. However, training performance should not be the emphasis of this phase. Instead, the focus is physiological, with restoration of metabolism and hormones. We don't want to push the limits of performance during this phase as we want maximum desired outcomes of a future lean out phase. AKA, we need to give your body time to fully recover!
Muscle Building Phase
Next comes the muscle building phase, during which you can focus on strength acquisition; the goal is overall improvement. Training performance will increase, as you will be consuming more fuel to build lean muscle mass, with a target to improve on metabolic capacity and find balance between fitness and life. This is where you’ll really learn to bridge the gap between diet and life. You’ll improve metabolic capacity by gaining more lean muscle during this phase. Bonus benefit? You can enjoy eating even more calories when you go back into your next lean out phase!
Prep for Lean Out Phase
Finally, prepping for the next lean out phase is a time to transition physically and mentally towards the demands of the upcoming phase. Reintroducing phase-specific activities, like more precision with tracking your food (measuring), is a great idea during this period of time. It’s also the perfect time to mentally start preparing for hard work ahead. If done correctly, this will alleviate the difficulty usually associated with the first few weeks of dieting.
It’s a Lifestyle
Listen, these phases aren't just for contest athletes—they can be applied to anyone seeking real and lasting results. This is where, “It’s a lifestyle,” vividly comes into play. By implementing nutritional periodization and allowing for proper stress and recovery periods, you can achieve your physique goals while maintaining your great health (obviously critical) and avoiding burnout.
So, if you're looking to establish long-term habits that will have you continually seeing progress and growth, consider implementing nutritional periodization into your approach. My bet is you’ll be eternally grateful you did.