May 20, 2014 posted by

The Importance Of Periodizational Dieting

The Importance Of Periodizational Dieting

If you’ve read the P90x nutrition plan (or X2 or x3), you’re familiar with the concept of periodizational eating, even if you don’t know it. In the simplest sense, this is eating in different phases, each with a targeted plan to guide your overall results. Today we’ll look at why this is the most sensible way to eat when you’re trying to achieve a goal.

I stated “cutting diets” was coming up next in the weight loss series but realized that, given the logical order of things, two topics must be covered first, in order to appreciate the importance of the cutting diet: the concepts of peridoizational and zig-zag dieting.

Like it’s more recognized sibling, periodizational training (the foundation of P90x’s muscle confusion), this type of “dieting” starts with a goal and works backwards in phases. The reason phases are used is because as your body changes, so do your nutritional needs, so it’s better to tackle individual targets in a way that will get you to the big picture in the most effective manner. Within this simple framework, it could be set up any number of ways. Let’s use two examples: getting ready for a bodybuilding competition and P90x.

We’ll use three main phases. There could any number but three is common.

Bodybuilding – goal: to be massive and shredded.

Bulk phase: eating huge, with muscle size the only goal. No care placed on associated body fat gain.

Performance phase: still looking for size but limiting associated fat gain.

Cutting phase: focused solely on losing body fat and keeping as much muscle as possible.

P90x – goal: to be super fit and have a body that reflects it.

Shredding phase: losing body fat

Transition phase: teaching your body to eat based on performance

Performance phase: eating to support recovery from hard training

These two scenarios seem  opposite, so let’s look at the rationale behind them because, at the end, you see really fit looking people using both.


When a sport is based on muscle size, you need to focus on it, first and foremost. Since it’s easier to gain muscle size along with some associated body fat, the quickest way to get big is to train as hard as you can and eat everything in sight. There are individual strategies for how to best accomplish this but we’re just looking at the overview, so we’ll leave it at that.

A performance phase is still a part of bulking, in this instance, because that’s the sports make or break point. Here things are  more balanced, in order to keep cutting to a minimum. Most bodybuilders already have most of their size goals and work in a performance phase, balancing nutrition and performance, to targeted specific goals like, say, larger biceps or any weakness they may need to improve.

The cutting phase is when you drop all of your excess body fat in order to look shredded in a comp. Strategic, difficult, and unsustainable, we’ll go into this in depth in a future post.


This nutrition plan is designed to teach your body its relationship with food and how to fuel for performance over the long haul that is life. Carbohydrate intake is limited in the first phase. While this does create a “cutting” effect, it’s more holistic than that. The goal of this plan is to teach the user the role of carbohydrates in their diet and nothing gets that concept across as clearly as limiting them, since most people eat way too many.

P90x is a difficult program and most people struggle with it at first, meaning they aren’t burning as many calories as they will later on, so they also need fewer carbs to fuel their workouts in the beginning than they will later on. Furthermore, most people use the program to lose weight. Training without ample fuel will teach your body to more efficiently use its fat stores for energy. This is a benefit whether you want to lose weight, or not, but it does help the weight loss process become more efficient.

As they get fitter, workouts begin to decline without ample carbohydrate intake, so the second phase ramps this up. The goal here is that the user feels the difference. They body should quickly responds to the added carbohydrates, which fills depleted glycogen stores, causing instantaneous improvement in workouts and, thus, results.

The “athletic” third phase ramps carbs again, this time to mimic macronutrient ratios an athlete would use when training. Since each user is different, the directions guide each individual to test—switching back and forth between the phases (a type of zig-zagging, which we’ll get to next time), until they find their nutritional sweet spot.


Periodizational dieting is just an overriding structure. It can be shaped many different ways to target any goal. It makes sense because your body should eat based on short term goals at any given time, and as your body changes its nutritional needs, your diet should change to reflect it. It’s a very simple concept, though the guts can get quite complex, which you’ll see as we move into cutting diets. But whether your goal is athletic or simply to look good and feel better, the periodizational approach is the most effective way to plan out a nutritional strategy over the course of a program, or even a life.

note: random periodization image that means nothing in relation to the article.


  • Steve, great information here. I’ve been reading up on “bulking” because I like the idea of adding on some muscle mass, but I do have a hesitation. Having lost 30 pounds utilizing the Beachbody programs (Insanity, P90X, and P90X2), I’ve worked hard to get leaner and decrease my body fat, only now to read that I should switch gears and start gaining weight!

    I like the idea of having a diet that is sustainable in the longterm. For the past few weeks I’ve been keeping my calorie intake around maintenance level while I decide what I want to do. I’m interested in the Body Beast program, which takes on more of the Bodybuilding approach that you mention above than the P90X program, from what I can see. I am wanting to stay lean but also get stronger and grow some muscles on my bones.

    Any advice you can give to someone who has accomplished their original P90X goal of losing some fat, getting in reasonable shape, and ready to start building a better body from a relatively fit standpoint? Thanks!

  • Bo, it’s not like gaining muscle happens over night, so you can dip your toes in the water and see how it feels. The Beast workouts are great, and fun (I think), and can be used without fear of gaining much mass, which is more dependent upon how you eat. I’d recommend doing the workouts, without following the Beast nutrition plan (focused on weight gain) and see how you like it. If you feel you need more variety, you can easily mix in some X workouts to temper the pure hypertrophy the Beast programs focuses on.

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