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Healthy Eating Strategies

Whether it is weight loss or gain, performance improvements or energy needs, nutrition is the vital link between you, your client and their goals.So many of us get bogged down in the meaning of nutrition, it’s as if it seems it is some vast unknown for the client who has no formal learning of science and bodily systems. Yes, nutrition means the ingestion, assimilation, and absorption of consumed food, but not just for those who are physically active. All individuals, regardless of circumstance, should follow healthy guidelines in the same manner.

Yes, it is also true that a physically active person being compared to a sedentary person would require more calories for energy.  There is an increased need for someone who fits the criteria of someone who is physically active. In your effort to strategize your clients eating for activity levels beyond a moderate level, it is vital that the FNC understand that with the added need for calories, ALL macronutrients will need to be considered. In other words, it is not prudent to increase just one macronutrient to meet the increased need.

One significant difference in the eating plan for an athlete is the timing of food intake or consumption. This could include making suggestions to your client on proper complex carbohydrate consumption prior to a bout of physical activity and/or simple carbohydrate consumption afterward. This basic nutrition information is what is expected to achieve results for your client, and to apply the principles of coaching, by relying on your science fundamentals and your specific knowledge of both macro and micronutrients. Remember, if you possess knowledge above a ‘basic’ level, you may engage your clients in dialogue about nutrition without fear of penalties.

Avoid making suggestions about specific food choices and portions, but you can certainly provide feedback about food choices made, or to explain to clients how to learn the difference between portions and servings from information provided on food labels. There are countless ways that you can strategize healthy eating options for ANY client, no matter what level of experience or circumstance – provided you are referring out clients when they present conditions outside of your normal scope or field of expertise.

A healthy eating plan or strategy will fulfill all of the following requirements in an active person:

  • Maximize energy
  • Lose Body Fat
  • Gain Lean Body Mass
  • Energy balance
  • Hydration
  • Adequate muscle glycogen stores
  • Enhance recovery

The needs of the athlete do go beyond normal nutrition in that we are trying to fuel the body for activity by timing the intake of nutrients – while guiding our clients through recovery times in- between physical activity bouts, with prudent nutrition coaching.

The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) develops new “dietary guidelines” every five years for Americans, in conjunction with the US Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). In 2011, the Food Guide Pyramid campaign (FGP) previously in use, was replaced by a new campaign – ChooseMyPlate.gov. The first or original FGP was designed as a guide to educate the general public about what constitutes a healthful nutrition plan and became one of many definitive sources for dietary recommendations within the field of nutrition. The new ChooseMy- Plate.gov campaign has evolved to provide new ways to think about portion ratios and variety – and maybe even a healthy dose of controversy. The new plate has five categories of food groups (with Protein also being the only macronutrient specified) arranged on a plate for spatial referencing.

For a Fitness Nutrition Coach, professionalism is shown in all of the details of your coaching knowledge. How would you answer this question?

Is corn a grain or a vegetable?

Botanical definitions may differ from the traditional use of the food. The USDA Food Patterns categorize foods based on tradition, nutritional value, and use at meals. The maturity level of corn at harvest may affect the use at meals and the nutritional value. For these reasons, fresh corn is considered a starchy vegetable and (milled) dried corn (e.g., cornmeal, tortillas) are considered a grain.

This recent redesign of the pyramid version looks different in that it has 5 categories presented in a round pattern instead of the blocked sections of the pyramid that were used before in the older designs. Food groups are represented more for their spatial relationships on a full plate, with labels for how the spaces should be filled. The FNC should also strategize eating patterns to correspond to the level of physical activity your client typically performs. Again, instruct clients who are more active, in general, to eat more of each food group. In theory, those who are less physically active would logically see that their caloric needs would be a different set of amounts or guidelines.

Another one of the main goals of the redesigned plate was to make the suggestions within it as more understandable to a broad, generalized population instead of individuals with a background in nutrition. This new MyPlate campaign also allows the individual to factor in physical activity as part of the plan, and this is congruent with our message as the FNC. The new MyPlate, in fact, includes physical activity guidelines!

To accomplish this, each user creates a profile by entering certain metrics and information in order to make more relevant suggestions for food intake and balancing eating patterns for optimal fuel. It is a very useful and important tool to understand and its use should be encouraged as it is a free, interactive and informative. It can also be used by clients who want to cross-reference your suggestions.

There is an emphasis on basics with the new MyPlate redesign. Since it is unlikely that anyone can get all of the essential nutrients needed when the same foods are consumed as part of a pattern, you will have to strategize with your client to balance energy in and out. Only after you have come to know your client, will you be able to really make relevant suggestions for foods within their eating plans and then to take it one step further – to recommend more variety among food items consumed. It should be conveyed that nearly all foods can be consumed by your client – but that the timing and the portion of the food must also be considered.

Since you will serve clients from different backgrounds and cultures, it is important to know how different values, attitudes, and norms regarding food are viewed from the clients perspective. If you are unclear where your client stands in this continuum, a good way to start getting to the root of the matter is by talking about the newest USDA ChooseMyPlate.gov program as an operating framework and explaining its use and how to interact with the website portal.

You can assume, if the client is eating well and incorporating variety in their eating patterns, most of the vitamins and mineral requirements are likely to be in balance. It is important that the client understands how variety is required to reach both nutrition and fitness goals; you may have to re-emphasize how vitamins, minerals, fiber, and even energy needs cannot be fully met if any macronutrients are restricted as part of the client’s typical eating behaviors.

There will always be exceptions to these guidelines, most likely in extreme cases, whereby you might find yourself coaching elite-level players or someone who performs high-intensity sports. Be aware that for some, the guidelines suggested in the Food Guide Pyramid may not be enough energy to meet their needs. Performance measurements, biometrics, and feedback may be used to assess if this is the case for your client. Using mathematics to validate your suggestions and recommendations is essential and in this way, when operating at this level, you are really fine tuning nutrition for your client! Remember that the pyramid guidelines are just that. If you have a different strategy, and you can back it up with science, you should feel safe proceeding, as there will be times when the needs or requirements of your client go beyond the maximal suggestion presented in the Food Guide Pyramid. But it is still a great tool to get a dialogue started with the client, regardless of where the client currently is.

What’s Next?

Regardless of the goal, whether it is weight loss or gain, performance improvements or high-intensity energy needs, nutrition is the vital link between you, your client and their goals. Ultimately, this will determine your success. For those times when you are not with your client physically, it is useful to instruct them on the use of food labels to support learning and so that eating plans stay on point.

If you want to help clients with food, diet, weight management and improving the results of their fitness routines, the Fitness Nutrition Coach course is for you. You will learn about optimal nutrition, including proven techniques for increasing energy, optimal health and decreased dependence on medications. Instantly increase your job and career opportunities with this popular professional credential.

NESTA coaching programs are open to anyone with a desire to learn and help others. There are no prerequisites.

That’s it for now.

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