How Periodized Nutrition Can Increase Your Running Performance

Athletic Woman Running Outdoors

The Runner’s Guide to Performance-Based Nutrition

Committed runners know, hitting a new milestone requires a progressive training plan that continually challenges your body to grow. But many runners forget that their approach to nutrition needs to adapt their nutrition alongside their training routine to meet the demands of their improved performance. If you’re a runner looking for an ideal nutrition plan that evolves with your training, periodized nutrition may be just what you need!

What is Periodized Nutrition?

When it comes to periodized nutrition for runners, the basic idea is that your nutrition strategy should never be static. There’s no universally perfect meal for runners, but if you examine your training schedule, you can identify an optimal approach.

Periodized nutrition requires you to plan your nutrition to match your training schedule and adhere to its specific needs. A proper periodized nutrition plan can help enhance your running performance and overall athletic ability. It is purposeful and planned, just as your running training should be.

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Two Categories of Periodized Nutrition

We can look at periodized nutrition through two lenses, the first of which focuses on your training goals. The primary objective here is to supply your body with the ideal nutrients to maintain metabolic flexibility, sustain your training intensity levels and maximize your recovery time.

The second lens focuses on your race-day goals, focusing more on your immediate performance rather than your long-term physical fitness development. After all, during a race, your main goal should be to keep up with your body’s fueling and hydration demands.

Three Cycles of Periodized Nutrition

Periodized nutrition is a bit of a balancing act, as you always want to keep the bigger picture in mind while also ensuring you’re still meeting your daily goals. To do this, think of your nutrition in three cycles: monthly, weekly and daily. It’s important to keep these cycles in mind as you plan your nutrition, and also note when your hardest training sessions and recovery periods take place. Put simply – specificity is your friend!

Beyond the timing of your training, you’ll also want to design your plan based on your social calendar and habits. For starters, factor holidays and planned vacations into your schedule. Also, account for personal lifestyle preferences. For instance, if you’re typically ultra-tired on Mondays, you’ll likely want to plan on meal prepping another day of the week. Bottom line – planning ahead for small roadblocks will help you stick to your periodized nutrition plan!

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Three Tips to Get Started

1. First, assess your training load, as it goes hand in hand with your nutrition cycles. Look at your calendar and map out the intensity and duration of your training sessions. Then, you’ll have a better gauge of when you need to optimize your diet.

2. Next, assess your current dietary patterns. In order to build an improved nutrition plan, you need to identify any gaps or needs in your current dietary habits. As you do this, be honest with yourself, as honesty will help you take everything into account and prevent potential pitfalls further down the road.

3. Lastly, consider other lifestyle factors that influence your eating habits. For example, you can monitor and optimize your sleeping habits, stress levels and alcohol intake, as they can positively or negatively impact your ability to adhere to a periodized nutrition plan.

Picking a Plan

Beyond the science, you need to make sure your approach to periodized nutrition aligns with your lifestyle and food preferences. So, be sure you enjoy the food you’re eating! Also, make sure your meal timing works with your social life.

It’s tough to stick with something that feels more like an obstacle than a plan. So, be sure to devise something realistic that you’ll be certain to adhere to, and before you know it you’ll have built a healthy habit that helps you run faster!

You should also streamline your process with services that do the footwork for you! For example, a high-quality, healthy meal delivery service, like Factor 75, can handle all of your meal prep needs for you, giving you more time to train, recover and live life to the fullest!

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Other Factors to Consider

Many factors can increase your body’s demands for energy, such as extreme temperatures, high altitudes, stress, injuries and certain medications. On the other hand, certain factors can decrease our body’s demands for energy needs. For example, age, decreases in fat-free mass and the follicular phase of a woman’s menstrual cycle.

Remember, your periodized nutrition plan should be highly personalized. After all, what works for one person will not necessarily work for you. For instance, recovery nutrition for runners is important, but it can look different from person-to-person.

Design a plan that fits your lifestyle, not the other way around. Remember that your nutrition needs will change regularly. Lastly, do your research and develop a plan backed by science so there’s no guessing whether or not your plan will do what you want it to.

About the Author:

Holly Martin is a San Francisco-based running coach and personal trainer. With a 20+ year background in dance, Holly brings a strong focus on technique and mobility to all of her coaching. Currently, she coaches online with The Run Experience, an online training community that specializes in providing marathon training plans, half-marathon running plans, workouts and more. She trains clients at Midline Training and Nfinite Strength. Get in touch with her to learn more about various other running advice.


Want to try a periodized nutrition plan, but don’t know where to start? Schedule a free 20-minute nutrition consult with a Factor 75 dietitian for help building an expert-advised plan!