Communicating with Your Sports Nutrition Client
We build rapport as part of the assessment process – and this is good because we will need it when we explain how we can optimize working together toward their goals in a way they can understand or relate to.
For most clients, that means using simple language, without technical jargon. Since some learners respond better to visual cues, it might mean that you use a lot of demonstrations to be concise and confirm the client’s understanding of specifics like portion control or how to select quality, nutrient-dense foods. The client must be completely clear on all that needs to happen in this new co-active relationship you are creating with them.
For most athletes, try approaching change in the shape of new habits being introduced every 2 weeks – or a pace your client is able to manage. Some beginning level basic habits to consider can include better timing of fruits and vegetables, consuming more lean protein, learning to prepare training meals in advance, or eliminating caffeine.
For clients who compete or train at higher levels, the SNS may need to focus more on the specific timing of nutrition intake around a workout schedule, with emphasis on post-workout recovery, BCAA supplementation, and carbohydrate drinks during and after training. They manage basic nutrient timing to match their client’s training and competition schedule. At times they may also have to shift focus to working with obstacles and barriers or eliminating some subtle food intolerances and sensitivities with an elimination diet.
- A good plan matches the client data from all the information collected in the assessments
- Match the plan to what you know from your assessment of what your client can do consistently
- A good plan is progressive in nature, allows flexibility, and acknowledges periodization.
- Remember that you are not trying to change everything at once; go step by step
- Every good plan has a plan and can be commenced immediately
Everything action that you assign to your client is connected to the outcome goals they own. This means that your client should leave your planning session with a clear idea of what they are going to do, how they are going to do it, and when they are going to do it.
It takes a great deal of skill to create solid action plans for coaching initiatives you want to lead your client through. Communicating the plan effectively, and getting clients to buy into that plan is both an art and a science. This all comes after a proper assessment.
When we have finished assessing our client, it is most likely that we will have more than one goal to address; we will also have more than the stated objective or outcome that drives the client to you in the beginning; assessments, as you know, always reveal more for both the coach and the client to consider as action items for change.
The great part about this approach is that it allows you to make milestones with your client, using a co-active coaching approach that is based on decisions directly related to the outcomes the client wants to realize.
If it is all possible to meet with your client (albeit informally) prior to your actual first session, try having a simple conversation by phone or video conference with them prior to starting any coaching work. We can view this contact as a sort of pre-screen for clients and in this way, we get to learn some very basic information about them and their goals. But maybe most importantly, we first look to be sure that Sports Nutrition is appropriate for them. While you can technically work with any type of client, you have a very specific target market with this type of coaching and not everyone will want or need this specialized guidance from you.
Your intake forms should be professional in appearance; they also need to make logical sense and flow for the client to be able to intuitively complete the form and provide the information you are requesting of them. The SNS may want to consider a “less is more” approach here, by just posting a few key questions that are intended to be more of an ice-breaker and rapport-builder. Entire conversations are then built around these strategic questions.
During this time of assessment, we are also using our own intuitions – our coaching intuitions. We, therefore, do not take any of the answers or statements from our client as the totality of things. We may uncover goals that our client was unaware of, we might also demonstrate to a client that goals are not static – especially those that are prerequisites for change in other connected areas of the client’s health, fitness, or wellness.
Consider using “categories” to write down the client’s information and then sort through the content systematically in conversation. Also consider the fact that quite often, athletes will say what they think the Specialist wants to hear. If you notice inconsistencies or a lack of congruence in the statements from the client, how you bring light to these matters becomes important. We never press clients to answer questions, we only show curiosity with our words and follow-up questions – and we are always respectful of each client and their unique situations. Therefore, zeroing in on information has to balance many factors because we do not want our clients to feel they are being interrogated as part of the process. This is a skill that becomes more proficient with experience for the Specialist.
Use good questions to get the information you need and most importantly, to clarify what has been stated or shared by the client. For example, if your client states that they want to improve their athletic performance, you might easily see that this is not enough to base nutrition plans from; we have to get specifics.
“You have stated that you ‘want to get stronger.’ What activities are you doing currently that requires you to improve your strength? “
“It is a common goal for people to state that they want to look and feel better. What does that mean in your mind?”
One of the many benefits of doing such clarifying is that you create an environment where it is safe to bring up incongruencies that you may later observe in a client. This could easily be understood if you consider those times when a client relapses or worse, experience a total collapse in eating behaviors.
But as you might guess, there is a lot more.
One question every coach and Specialist faces is “how effective are our workouts/ practices/training sessions with my client?” If you really stop to think about this, you might agree that it really depends on what our model of performance is. This would include the qualities to which we aspire to master for enhancing performance with proper nutritional intake But before you can answer this, the Specialist needs to understand why we need a model for coaching and why we use it to help clients do everything from eating well to moving well. Simple to say; difficult to do.
What makes up an ideal performance? A coach would take the time to understand their athlete or sport to make the right decisions about what to include in practice and what to discard; what’s useful and what’s for later, or not at all Now, take all of these actions and apply them to the Specialist list of skills, as they are the same considerations, except you are zeroing in on how food intake and nutrition affect your athlete, wit the demands of their chosen sport or performance serving as outcome goals.
Overall Health Status – Current/Past
We have to consider that crafting and shaping a framework for delivering coaching may make more sense than following a specific coaching model with nutrition in mind, as there is room for interpretation and creativity – and therefore just having a framework for coaching can be more effective than specific coaching programs. Frameworks normally relate to principles from which skills and pragmatics can be derived or developed, progress as required, and focuses on needs being assessed. If an SNS in a situation to coach an athlete client, the value of such frameworks becomes even more important and greater.
Let’s consider what we mean by principle-centered frameworks, consider the athlete in this, and take a look at the benefit of such an approach as a coaching model, too. In this model, we put the athlete or client in the center:
The SNS evaluates any of the areas shown above that relate to their athlete’s success; with so many areas for exploring, one can see that we might have to use some powerful tools of persuasion at times. To be able to build enough credibility with our clients to be persuasive, we have to be authentic (real); we also need to have an appreciation of our client’s strengths. We seek to find a balanced approach here with our dialogue points – failing to do so may result in our client feeling badgered or even a sense of interrogation. We have to get this – and many other coaching actions – right. We will get into the specifics of coaching dialogues after we learn more about the different stages of readiness to change. At this point, we have assessed our client and know “some things”. But this is when you tap into your intuition and fish for the information that makes you curious.
Caution: do not attempt to work with an athlete or client with an eating disorder or even if you suspect disordered eating. This is a serious, medical problem that lies outside of the work a Certified Sports Nutrition Specialist would typically do.
Keep in mind that a client can be in a certain stage of readiness to change in one facet of their food intake (or lifestyle) and in an entirely different stage of readiness for another behavior or facet of their health, fitness, or wellness. You will need to understand where the client is relative to all factors possible. Luckily, we have pared down the learning of these stages (Readiness for Change) into five main themes or steps.
The NESTA Sports Nutrition Specialist course is designed for personal fitness trainers, strength coaches and nutrition experts who want to learn cutting-edge techniques for increasing sports performance, reducing recovery time, and enhancing the overall well-being of your clients and athletes.
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That’s it for now.