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Periodization of Nutrition and Fat Loss in the Off-Season

By Sofia Marin | In Nutrition Tips, Optimal Performance | on December 21, 2018

The off-season is an excellent time to focus on improving body composition and getting lean.

Why is that? Early season training typically means spending a solid block of riding characterized by long, low intensity to build aerobic endurance. More specifically, training the aerobic system develops important capacities like improving fat oxidation rates (i.e. increasing the amount of fat molecules we utilize for fuel/energy), improving metabolic efficiency, and increasing stamina/endurance via carbohydrate sparing, just to name a few.

Optimal fat oxidation occurs between 59-64% of VO2 max (1), a relatively low intensity. With the lower intensity of aerobic training comes a fantastic opportunity: Fat Loss. When you pair your aerobic training with a smart, periodized nutrition plan, fat loss can occur naturally and almost seem, dare we say it, Easy!

Nutrition Should Match Training

INSCYD Metabolic Profile representing Fat & Carbohydrate Combustion rates for a specific athlete (anaerobic threshold of 429w). Generally speaking, as the season progresses, training will move from lower intensities primarily utilizing fat for fuel toward high intensity training/racing requiring high carbohydrate utilization and replenishment.

Just as our cycling training is periodized to meet different physiological goals, so too should our nutrition match the demands of our training and performance goals.

For those unfamiliar, periodization on the bike looks like dividing a training plan into specific blocks geared toward improving one specific capacity at a time (for example, improving aerobic, anaerobic or creatine/phosphate-ATP metabolic energy systems).

In fact, research shows(2) it is increasingly clear that adaptations initiated by exercise, can be amplified or decreased by nutrition. Importantly, findings show that nutrition is the largest influencer of body composition compared to training.   So, if you want to optimize training adaptations, you need to be thinking about your diet and matching it according to the purpose and demands of the specific workouts.

Nutrition Needs Change Throughout the Season

An example of macronutrient intake shifts and recommendations from pre-season to competition season.

Similarly, our nutritional needs change dramatically depending on the time of year. For example, during race season, you’ll benefit significantly from increasing carbohydrate intake and consuming large amounts of simple sugar carbohydrates on the bike due to the high-stress, high-intensity nature of the riding.

Conversely, during off-season aerobic conditioning, training in a low-carbohydrate state can elevate fat combustion and help you to lean up and improve body composition. Leaner body means improved power-to-weight ratio.

Weight Loss is Easier during Aerobic Training

Consuming a diet higher in fat and low in carbohydrates will yield improved aerobic efficiency and support both increased fat utilization and fat loss. If you’ve ever tried to lose weight during competition season, you know how stressful and detrimental it can be to overall performance.

Coupling your aerobic training with a matching nutrition plan will give you the best of both worlds: improved aerobic efficiency on the bike, and improved body composition via fat loss and combustion.

Most athletes find that fat loss comes significantly easier this time of year because high intensity training demands are relatively light and rarely tap into our glycogen (stored sugar) stores, meaning we have less voracious appetites than that of the race season.

Case Study: Off-season Fat Loss

With the expert guidance of Achieve Coach & Sports Nutritionist Sofia Marin, we highlight two athletes who were able to see significant fat loss in a short period of time.

Incorporating her knowledge of cycling training with a foundation in sports nutrition via her credentials with the International Sports Science Association, Coach Sofi brings together two sides of the same coin in one comprehensive approach to improving body composition.

Pairing the fat-burning workouts of aerobic training with a nutrition plan geared toward fat loss and utilization, we saw two Achieve athletes make outstanding progress toward their fat loss goals.

No calorie counting or restriction necessary! The process involves setting clear goals, identifying each client’s primary limiters, creating specific, easy-to-follow behavior goals for each meal, and scheduled body composition assessments.

In just 4 weeks of shifted behavior, here’s what happened:

What’s your Nutrition Strategy?

Your nutritional strategy should match your training needs and performance goals. Avoid quick-fix weight loss fads and focus on daily behavioral changes that will improve your body composition and health. Remember, fat loss makes the most sense during off-season aerobic training; whereas competition season typically requires an increase in carbohydrate consumption for optimal performance at high intensities.

During a typical nutritional consultation, Coach Sofi and her clients begin with identifying goals that are specific, measurable, attainable and time-sensitive.

  • Ex: Lose 5 lbs of fat in 8 weeks to improve power to weight ratio

Next, Coach and client identify the primary limiters hindering progress.

  • Ex: Busy schedule and lack of meal preparation, frequent eating out, limited knowledge of healthy food choices, meal timing.

Then, Coach Sofi creates behavior goals that can be applied with every feeding opportunity. Practical and realistic changes to the daily routine.

  • Ex: Commit to “earning your carbs,” eating complex carbohydrates (excluding fruits & vegetables) soon after exercise. Commit to reducing alcohol & desserts to 2 drinks and 1 serving per week, respectively.

Matching these behavioral changes with regular body composition measurements every 4 weeks allows the client and coach to measure progress and determine plan effectiveness. Behavioral changes lead to long-term solutions.


With periodization of nutrition, the overall aim is to obtain adaptations that support exercise performance. Remember that different times of year require different nutritional requirements. If your goal is to improve body composition via leaning up and reducing excess fat, the off-season aerobic training is the ideal time to do so.

If you’re interested in a nutritional consultation and plan, contact Coach Sofi via email: coachsofi[at]gmail[dot]com.


1) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15212756

2) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/28332115



INSCYD White Paper: How to Increase Maximum Fat Combustion


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