Creating Strategies and Setting Goals With Your Sports Nutrition Client
A lot of health, fitness, and wellness professionals think that the process of setting goals is a sacred event, making them proceed with extreme caution to create “good, realistic goals”. But goals are not reached simply by setting good ones. And goals are not strictly achieved through sheer force of will. So, if we exclude mental factors like willpower, how do we work to make changes that our client seeks in pursuit of these highly coveted “goals”?
Successfully reaching goals, and sustaining the behaviors associated with them, happens more seamlessly when we can break down the action your client wants to do their goal into specific learned skills. Only then can we build upon these new skills through coachable daily acts or practices. In this way, we are looking to build our clients up for the work that is about to come. You have to find a way to engage the client in practice daily to build skills. Once this pattern is established, you can target specific skills to achieve subsequent goals.
An athlete that you can fast-track through this process will allow them to accomplish goals in a timely manner while increasing the chances that the athlete will also maintain their results.
When we create goals with our clients, we are coaching them with an action plan that seeks to address some important facets of coaching that you should be mindful of when working with an athlete or player in any environment or setting. And this creation is of course, based on matching the athlete’s goals, readiness, willingness, and ability to actually do what you going to be asking of them.
If we can get to know our clients on a very personal level, we can also get a clearer understanding of their whole life. This more holistic view of the client cannot be ignored, as it acknowledges goals and behavior change can be influenced within the context of the other demands of life, such as family, travel, school or work. Essentially, whatever else your client is dealing with outside of the nutrition and training forum.
The plans you construct for nutrition intake should align with who your client is, what is important to them, what the goals of performance are, and the results of your assessments. To accomplish this, you will ideally direct strategies that have balance. Consider the athlete’s abilities and balance that with how driven or motivated they are.
Part of the dialogue we have with athletes or players involves sharing information. You have to find balance once again, as we want to avoid playing the expert but our client is looking for our expertise. You can resolve this by coaching with strategies, not simply reciting facts. It is completely acceptable to proceed with an implied belief that your athlete or player already knows you have the knowledge of nutrition science, that is why they are working with you. Instead, we can use communications to guide our client’s nutrition behaviors, especially if they need to be changed.
We can use what we know about nutrition and eating to support our coaching foundations. You will change hats to be part authority and part supportive coach. This might come in handy when you and your client both have to agree on the trade-offs of change (or not changing) they are willing to make for their goals to be reached.
Building Client Confidence
Your strategies should be based on building confidence from the daily practice and implementation of smaller, doable changes. When behavior changes are needed from the client, your coaching actions should include the following:
Keep everything simple. It doesn’t work to load clients up with a lot of information or too much discussion on goals.
Behavior changes with food intake are best when broken down into smaller steps in-between. This empowers the client in terms of building confidence, as smaller goals are met on a continuous basis. This boosts motivation and forward movement (progress) toward goals. The plans you execute as a specialist need to be periodized just as training is, they should flow in a logical order as they build on one another. This is congruent with the other aspects of your coaching strategies to improve your athlete or player’s performance through the use of advanced nutritional planning and periodization. It is all about progression.
Never ask your client to do something you are not willing to try for yourself. This will help ensure that everything you ask your client to do has a specific purpose. You are keeping an eye on the end goal while figuring out the steps that will give you excellent results with your athlete because you will have built them up from their foundation and this means the odds are increased for these actions to translate to the performance goals of the athlete or player in a direct manner.
Considering that every action leads towards a goal, simply break large goals down into small daily actions and follow up with your athlete to support their progress.
A ‘best practice” includes coaching action plans that are based on being supportive. During your co-active relationship with your client, you provide what is needed for their success. It can be information, logistic support for nutrition goals and obstacles/barriers and even your action plans are part of this support profile. In reality, you will keep the coach hat on to help with anything else clients might require to get reach nutrition goals consistently.
Now we can try to explain how this might go for a new client. Their diet is far from ideal and they obviously have some nutritional deficiencies; they also fall short of water intake each day so they are underhydrated.
This client is a busy athlete, training twice a day, and a student as well. They have a particular style of eating, they don’t like vegetables and they rarely eat any fruit. But they do not seem to think they want to change this behavior. In fact, they do not believe they are ready for this, or for making any larger changes (priorities or triaged items).
In consideration of this client’s goals, who they are, what they want, and how quickly they want to see results, you can start with one small change. Keeping it simple, recommend a daily multivitamin, taken with a large glass of water.
This takes almost no effort for the client and there is no real likelihood of them resisting it, showing ambivalence or reluctance. But if you think about it, you may be changing two behaviors by having the client drink water AND take the multivitamin. When your client/athlete has mastered this, we can add another change or two.
After 7-10 days, your client should feel better in a couple of ways. They feel good from being properly nourished; they also feel the confidence that comes from realizing they have the ability to do the tasks you have assigned to them. This client may wonder “what is next?”, and they might be interested in trying another step in their journey, perhaps one that is more significant. What if we could get our athletes to try some new fruits or vegetables?
With this simple, strategic step, client reluctance, ambivalence, and resistance are lowered, consistency is brought to the forefront, and the client is empowered to keep progressing. How else could you apply this concept to another client, with a different goal? Keep thinking of strategic daily practices that can build client confidence and bring them in alignment with their goals and better results.
The type of clients you works with are mainly people who can do basic tasks well, and are looking for more guidance, planning, and direction to go to the next levels in their training and nutritional intake. This works well because these are clients who require direction from more tailored strategies than recreational or amateur athletes. Do not assume this, however – your client should be able to show you that they can do the basic tasks consistently and well, and are ready for more advanced tools and techniques. If they cannot, you may have to search for strengths in other key, but related, areas to support the nutrition plans you are using.
What Does Your Client Already Have?
Does your client have a normal kitchen setup, and do they have a regular and reliable food preparation and shopping habits? Does your client participate in a regular, consistent, and appropriately designed workout schedule? What is their training load currently? Is your client ready, willing, and able to put their energy and time into the plans you design for them? These are skills that a novice client does not have; at this level of training, it is a minimum expectation. Goals during this time are also different with this level of athlete or player as they may also be a time of competition phase training, striving for a specific physical goal, or looking to make changes to their body composition. The quest for these goals is taken more seriously.
Some advanced clients will use short-term plans for nutrition intake. Imagine a bodybuilder who is looking to lean out for a competition or an MMA fighter who needs to make weight; this is a very short-term goal, it is strategically derived and it is specific to the participant and the sport/competition. This is what being an nutrition specialist is all about. Ideally, there is balance in how you apply nutrition science but even more, details become factors as you apply the processes of coaching to the individual.
The most elite-level client is one who is ready, willing, and able to organize their entire lives around how they train and how they eat. At this level, the athlete may be getting meals delivered, or has a Personal Fitness Chef to help with meal preparation. Their entire routine is dedicated to executing the plan victoriously.
So, we know that there are different levels of intensity for you to operate. Next, we have to consider how this comes together for your client’s specific action plans. Start by trusting what your intuition is telling you about your client’s overall level of knowledge, skill, and ability. And of course, we get this information from them by using a complete assessment and asking for a commitment to be ready, willing, and able to be consistent with some basic rules about basic habits.
Always start with the assumption that clients are not experts in nutrition even when they believe they know vast amounts. If this is true, then it will come out in the time you work together; you will know your client perhaps better than they know themselves after you fully assess them. Once a client has shown their level of nutrition awareness, you can create the proper nutrition strategies to match their needs.
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.