Maintenance and Consolidation: Why Status Quo Is Key

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I’ve researched the topic of goal-setting and written at (some) length about it - by putting together Get After It, my free goal-setting workbook, for instance. Today I’d like to take a step back, reframe the question by remind you of the importance of building in and honouring maintenance and consolidation phases in our lives.

More pragmatically, I started reflecting on this as the Crossfit Open wrapped up and my clients started looking looking forward to the next phase in their training.

If you take nothing else away from this article, I urge you to slow your roll! We don’t need to be striving for the next thing every week. In fact, building in maintenance or “consolidation” phases is extremely beneficial both for habit creation and dieting.

This week, we will cover why periodization is key when it comes to nutrition, along with the benefits of maintenance phases and how to go about them. Next week, we will explore what periodization means to athletes, in particular with it comes to Crossfit; later on, we’ll discuss why maintenance or consolidation matters when it comes to habit building.

You can’t diet forever: the importance of nutritional periodization

The first thing we need to get out of the way here is that you cannot diet forever. I get it, you may feel like you have a lot of weight to lose or you have big body composition goals, but no matter how you slice it, it’s not going to be a linear process. Even when done “right”, dieting is hard on the body (afterall, you are feeding it less calories than it needs to maintain itself, which, from a survival standpoint is far from ideal) so we need to build in recovery/maintenance periods.

Because dieting is a stressor on the body, coming out of a deficit and finding your maintenance point will also cause you to reap the benefits of decreased stress levels overall. That is to say, by eating a bit more you may sleep better, experience less brain fog and anxiety, generally be in a better mood, have more energy and a better sex drive, get sick less often… what’s not to love?

Another benefit of maintenance phases is the increased flexibility it affords you. This ability to go with the flow a bit more with your food gives you a much-needed mental break. By building in maintenance phases where you get to relax a bit with regards to food, you allow yourself the mental space to be more “on it” and dialed in when you are actively dieting.

This isn’t to say that you can throw caution to the wind while on maintenance. Your goal should still be to eat predominantly whole, nutrient-dense foods, but it will be much easier for you to indulge in moderation because your caloric intake will be overall higher.

My biggest piece of advice when it comes to dieting is to play the long game. As Cody McBroom puts it, “you need to have a plan for after the plan”. We need to establish a general long-term road map from the get go; this will be incredibly useful down the road when you get antsy for another cut or feel like this diet is going on forever.

The specifics of a nutritional periodization protocol (cut cycle) vary from person to person, depending on their goals, lifestyle, preferences, individual biology, etc. I would recommend you reach out to a coach you trust if you have any questions, but I have also listed some additional reading resources below.

My experience

While the cut was not particularly difficult for it, I was glad I had planned ahead so I could go into the Open well fed and ready to give it my all.

While the cut was not particularly difficult for it, I was glad I had planned ahead so I could go into the Open well fed and ready to give it my all.

After spending the better part of a year trying to heal my body from a host of digestive and hormonal issues - and gaining almost 25lb in the process, in November I felt like I was finally in a place to start paying attention to aesthetics again. In other words, I had earned the privilege to diet, after doing right by my body.

My plan was to do a 12-week cut, which would end 2 weeks prior to the start of the Crossfit Open. Now I wasn’t taking the Open  “seriously” this year, but I still didn’t want to feel like trash during those hard workouts, hence the specific timing. The cut was very gradual, and had minimal effect on my overall performance. If you care about numbers, I ended up shedding 10lbs during that phase.

My plan is to maintain until June, because I foresee my work stress increasing throughout the spring. During that time I am also planning on participating in a couple of athletic events (one women’s enduro bike event + one 10K).

Given the added work stress I can foresee, I wouldn’t want to be cutting while I am also increasing the amount of aerobic work I do every week, as I think it would just be too much for my body. Stress, whether psychological, emotional, or physical, is perceived the same in the body, and has a compounding effect, so the physical stress of a calorie deficit + work stress + increased physical demands would likely be a recipe for disaster for me.

I will reassess come June, if the “life factors” (professional and personal life) are more under control I may consider another short cut cycle. But then again, maybe not - but one thing is for sure, I am spending the next couple months cutting myself some slack, focusing on eating plenty of nutritious foods and crushing life!

Not sure how to set up your nutritional periodization to maximize long-term results and manage stress? Please reach out, we’ll talk about it!

Part II: the importance of periodization and maintenance phases for athletes.

Part III: maintenance matters for habit building