Nutrition Periodization for the Holidays

Nutrition Periodization for the Holidays

Dietitian to Olympians, Bob Seebohar, sent over a holiday nutrition article for cyclists just like you. It isn't full of "eat this, not that" advice, but an introduction to Nutrition Periodization and how it can be applied to this time of year and all the food, sweets and drinks provided at every gathering.

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by Bob Seebohar, MS, RD, CSSD, CSCS, METS

Jingle bells, jingle bells, jingle all the the fridge! The holidays are here and with that comes another article about nutrition for the holidays. But this isn't your typical article telling you to avoid this and that. I want to introduce you to the concept of Nutrition Periodization and how it relates to this time of the year for cyclists.

First, a quick lesson about Nutrition Periodization. I created this concept in 2003 because, as I worked with endurance athletes, I noticed that very few of them were aligning their nutrition to match their training cycle energy needs. The Nutrition Periodization concept was developed to help athlete's better support their energy needs as their training volume and intensity increases and decreases throughout the year through various cycles. Here's my mantra to remember it better: "Eat to train, don't train to eat".

Prepare your body and mind for this paradigm shift. Instead of training to eat and justifying the quantity of food that you eat based on the number of miles you log in the saddle, eat to train. Eat to support your training session energy needs. Take a step back and ask yourself if you are currently in a training cycle or not. Are you racing cyclecross? Then yes, you are in a training cycle. However, if you are logging some aerobic miles on the trainer or having fun in the saddle outside, then chances are you are probably not in a specific training cycle but rather a transition period where your focus is recovery, rejuvenation and fun.

Now that you have an understanding of Nutrition Periodization as a whole, it's time to take it down a few notches to why this really matters. Most cyclists just want to know what to eat. While that is not the easiest question to answer, it can be better understood by breaking it up into two parts: daily nutrition and training nutrition (also called nutrient timing). Daily nutrition comprises what you eat throughout the day, which includes meals and snacks. Training nutrition is what you eat or drink in the 1-2 hours before training, during training and within the first 5-60 minutes after training.

Want to survive the holidays without gaining much weight and feeling guilty when the first of the year rolls around? The thing to remember is using the Nutrition Periodization concept within the scope of your daily eating and nutrient timing plans. Here are some tips:

  1. If you are currently racing, be sure to keep your daily blood sugar in check by eating foods rich in protein, fat and fiber about 4-5 times per day along with implementing an individualized nutrient timing strategy. Typically, this means having a little carbohydrate, protein and water about 1 hour before training and having the same nutrients in a little higher quantity immediately upon finishing. You can normally go for up to 90 minutes to 2 hours without needing much in the way of calories during training sessions as long as you are fed well beforehand.
  2. If you are not racing and enjoying some easy miles, your main focus is on balancing blood sugar throughout the day by putting together good food sources of protein, fat and fiber. Eating between 3-4 times per day should do the trick and keep your energy levels stable from morning to evening. Be sure to experiment with the proper quantities (especially of protein and fat) to maximize your level of fullness.
  3. Of course, there will be some nutrition "distractions" at parties, at the office and at home and while it is important to engage in these, do so with caution and in small amounts. I always like to tell cyclists, "minimize the misses". Find that balance between depriving yourself (because that just doesn't work and is not healthy) and going overboard with the holiday treats.

There you have it! Remember, the holidays are a time to spend with friends and family. They are centered around food, so enjoy it without overdoing it. Be sure to control your blood sugar before social gatherings and enjoy the holiday season!

Bob Seebohar, MS, RD, CSSD, CSCS, METS is a sport dietitian and elite triathlon coach. He traveled to the 2008 Summer Olympics as the U.S. Olympic Committee Sport Dietitian and the personal Sport Dietitian for the 2008 Olympic Triathlon Team. He has served as coach for Sarah Haskins, 2008 Olympian, was a performance team member (sport dietitian and strength coach) for Susan Williams, 2004 Olympic Triathlon bronze medalist and was the coach of Jasmine Oeinck, 2009 Elite Triathlete National Champion.  


Bob's book, Nutrition Periodization for Athletes, teaches athletes how to structure their nutrition to best support their training cycle changes throughout the year.   For more information and to order any of Bob's resources, visit or contact Bob at