Nutritional Nuts and Bolts: What Actually Matters?

Nutritional Nuts and Bolts: What Actually Matters?

As Mark takes another bite of less-than-nutritional lunch, his thumb flicks through his iPhone, and he finds himself overwhelmed by the steady stream of information.

The headlines seem never-ending…

  • “Researchers from Stanford Discover the Fastest Way to Build More Muscle in Less Time”
  • “Creatine Monohydrate is Cheap, Well Researched, and Effective – So, Why Aren’t You Taking it?
  • “Could 40g of Whey Be Superior to 20g for Older Populations? One Study Thinks So!”

You might be like our friend Mark – overworked and struggling to keep up. It’s understandable because we live in the age of information, and social media seems to add to the problem.

This begs the question: What really matters for you and your clients when it comes to nutrition?

Nutritional Habits: Nature or Nurture?

As a personal trainer, understand that your role extends far beyond the gym. While barbells, dumbbells, and protein are your main tools during your coaching session, realize that your client’s environment largely dictates their lifestyle for the other 23 hours of the day.

So, consider all the following when determining how to restructure someone’s daily habits to influence their nutritional choices:

  • What does this person value?
    • Money vs. Time
    • Principles vs. Rigid Numbers
    • Structure vs. Flexibility
    • Looks vs. Performance
    • Outsourcing vs. Personal Responsibility
  • Does their career require extended hours, night shifts, or exceedingly stressful situations?
  • What commitments do they have in their social and family life?
  • How much are they willing to invest – financially, emotionally, and physically – in themselves and your coaching?

If you don’t factor in all these issues when discussing nutrition and lifestyle, you’re going to wind up banging your head against the wall.

Nutritional Meal

Small Hinges Swing Big Doors

With nutrition, focus on what makes the most impact. Drive home the basics instead of what’s trending on social media.

Your clients need to learn to be independent.

Sure, some people like showing up and being told what to do and when to do it. But at the end of the day, your focus should be on making your clients independent. If they want to eat, teach them to fish – show them how, where, when, and why, instead of continually handing them fish.

If you aren’t sure where to begin, here’s a simple template to get you started with 95% of your clients:

Nutritional Quality

    1. Eat 90% 1-ingredient whole foods.
    2. Consume protein with every meal.
    3. Eat 7-9 servings of fruit (1-3) + veggies (6+) daily.
    4. Diversity – seek to eat new foods weekly and rotate protein/fat/carb sources.
    5. Meal prep education – learn how to cook the basics exceptionally well.
      1. Protein (Get a meat thermometer)
        1. Chicken, free-range/organic preferably
        2. Beef, grass-fed preferably
        3. Fish, wild-caught preferably
        4. Whole eggs
      2. Carbs (YouTube has countless recipes for these)
        1. Rice
        2. Potatoes
        3. Oatmeal
        4. Quinoa
        5. Squash – such as spaghetti, butternut, and acorn
      3. Fats
        1. Olive, coconut, macadamia nut, avocado oil
        2. Nuts, seeds, nut butters
        3. Grass-fed butter
        4. Avocados
    6. Invest in kitchen gadgets
      1. Instant Pot
      2. Crock-Pot
      3. Air Fryer
      4. High-quality cutlery
      5. Outdoor grill
      6. Heavy-duty blender

Nutritional Quantity

  1. Pick your formula:
    1. SIMPLE
      1. Fat loss = 12-13 calories per pound of bodyweight (BW)
      2. Maintenance = 15-16 calories per pound of BW
      3. Weight gain = 18-19 calories per pound of BW
    2. COMPLEX
      1. For men: BMR = 10*W + 6.25*H – 5*A + 5
      2. For women: BMR = 10*W + 6.25*H – 5*A – 161

BMR = Basal metabolic rate (Daily calorie expenditure at rest)
W = Weight in kilograms (Divide body weight by 2.2 to convert from pounds to kg)
H = Height in centimeters (Multiply body weight by 2.54 to convert from inches to cm)
A = Age in years

Nutritional Timing

  1. Consume 20-30g of high-quality, complete protein before any training session.
    1. Can be in the form of a meal or snack
    2. Must contain all 9 essential amino acids (BCAAs are not a viable option)
    3. Solid or liquid options, depending on personal preference, gastrointestinal (GI) tolerance, and typical rate of digestion for protein sources
  2. Eat 3 square meals daily – This works for most people and allows for a wide range of calorie intakes while still having a social life.
    1. Shorten by 1 meal if…
      1. Breakfast must be skipped.
      2. Someone struggles with feeling full from meals.
    2. Lengthen by 1-2 meals if…
      1. Higher caloric intakes are desired.
      2. Reduced appetite makes it difficult to meet caloric goals.
  3. Space meals at least 3-4 hours apart.
    1. Spacing meals too closely together (1.5-2.5 hours) can cause blood sugar issues while also dysregulating metabolic signaling, such as muscle protein synthesis (MPS). For example, MPS needs time to reset and come back to the baseline after a meal, which takes roughly 3-4 hours. Thus, consuming meals inside that window won’t cause MPS to respike until it fully resets. Therefore, slightly longer windows between meals may be more beneficial from a digestive and metabolic standpoint.
  4. Options = Flexibility
    1. Post-workout shakes aren’t necessary if a meal was consumed 2-3 hours before or will occur 1-2 hours after a training session.
    2. Some people don’t like whey or experience GI distress when consuming it, so additional suggestions may be necessary on a case-by-case basis.

Preparing Nutritional Meal

While social media wants to make nutrition sound overly complicated, you can easily break the topic down into 3 simple principles – quality, quantity, and timing – that your clients can learn and apply in a few days.

Don’t make this harder than it has to be – teach someone how to cook, structure meals, and establish some basic meal-prep guidelines. A person’s success depends on whether they can restructure their lifestyle, not just merely clinging to arbitrary numbers.

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