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Essential Guidelines When Providing Nutritional Advice to Personal Training Clients

How do you make something simple really really complicated? The short answer is; include nutrition in the topic! Nutrition is relatively simple topic, but crikey has it been made into a confusing muddle of misinformation. Who benefits from all the confusion - it’s more likely to be the fast food giants or the publishers of the latest fad diet book or TV show, than your personal training clients.

I watch too much television - my bad!  But anymore than one hour a day is too much for me now as there really is so much annoying drivel on the box.  I can't help but think that the programmes on TV are little more than cleverly timed 'interruptions' to the ever lengthening commercial breaks.

Another annoying thing about TV is that it constantly bombards us with information concerning food and diet.  Whether its the latest celebrity chef, the latest weight loss challenge, or the numerous junk food commercials with nostalgic jingles designed to give us 'warm fuzzies' about eating their nutritionally deficient product, you cant escape the fact that food and dietary information is everywhere on TV.

And the pervasion of this information (or should I say 'mis' information) extends to all other forms of media; pop-ups on the internet, magazines, newspapers and entire sections of bookstores.

This all ads up to a simple reality - for the general public (who make up your personal training clients by the way) it's damn hard to see through the fog and figure out what actually is healthy in terms of food and diet.  The often contradictory misinformation that pervades the public media turns a relatively simple topic into a confusing minefield.

So how do you address this as a personal trainer?  As a start here are some simple guidelines that I advise personal trainers to stick to;


1. Gather information before giving any form of advice

No matter how well intentioned it is, the generic advice that is so often provided is virtually useless.  What's the point in telling a client to increase their intake of fruit and vegetables if you haven't established that their intake is actually deficient in the first place?

Prior to giving any form of advice or direction a great personal trainer gathers information about their clients actual nutritional intake, their eating habits, and their food preferences.  Great personal trainers do this so they can adhere to the second guideline;


2. Limit the advice you give to only and exactly what is specific to your clients individual situation and goals

Any advice that isn't relevant to your client equates simply to 'irritating background noise'.  The more of this noise that you provide, the harder it is for your client to actually hear the important messages.  Even if you find numerous areas in your clients diets that have room for improvement, limit your advice to one or two changes your clients can realistically implement in order to improve their nutritional intake.

And make sure your advice can be implemented.  "Reduce your fat intake Bob" is not specific advice and is hard to action unless 'Bob' knows exactly where and how to implement it.  "This week Bob I'd like you to try not spreading any butter on your sandwiches" is advice that is specific, understandable, it can be implemented and it can be measured to determine how effective the action is.

The harder the change is for a client the less likely they'll be to succeed with it.  This is a major reason why diets dont work in the long term as they require radical changes to established eating habits that are simply too hard to sustain.  This leads to the next guideline;


3. Be realistic

'Rome wasn't built in a day'...or a week...or even a year!  Your clients eating habits and behaviours are built over years and influenced by numerous factors - peer pressure, convenience and food availability to name but only a few.  With this in mind don't expect all their 'less than ideal' habits and behaviours to change overnight.  Be realistic with your advice and make sure you support any, and every action clients make to improve their nutritional intake.

For example - telling a client that drinks six cups of coffee everyday with three teaspoons of sugar in each, to give up coffee completely, will require a significant change in an established behaviour.  So it's unlikely to be sustained.  Setting an initial target of eliminating one teaspoon of sugar from each cup is more realistic.  And if sustained would result in that client consuming over two thousand less teaspoons of sugar per annum.

Bear in mind that success breads success - so feeling good about sustaining this goal may well result in the client reducing to one teaspoon of sugar per coffee and eventually becoming sugar free.  Try to always remember, 'Rome wasn't built in a day' and 'patience is definately a virtue'!


4. Avoid adding to the misinformation minefield

I watched a nutrition 'expert' on TV telling their client that they needed to reduce their carbohydrate intake...and in the next sentence the client was told to increase their intake of salad greens and fresh vegetables.  This misinformation is sadly quite common - dont contribute to it!  The last time I checked salad greens and vegetables were great sources of carbohydrate!

If you actually mean eat more salads with green leafy vegetables then just say that.  If you mean reduce your intake of (highly processed 'poor carbohydrate') white bread and choose wholegrain instead then just say exactly that.  Don't expect your clients to be able to decipher what your message says if that message isn't actually clear, or can be interpretted in many ways other than how you actually intended it to be.

'Carb's' aren't 'the enemy', just as 'fat' isn't the enemy - these are quite simply nutrients found in the foods we all eat. It's the eating habits and behaviours of people that determine whether the intake of these nutrients is healthy or not.  So focus on habits and behaviours rather than the pro's and con's of different nutrients.  It's also a heck of alot easier for clients to understand foods rather than the nutrients within foods, so talk in terms of 'bread, fruit and vegetables' rather than 'carbs', or 'butter and margarine' instead of 'fat' for example.

Sadly everytime I hear a trainer tell a client to 'cut out their carbs', or 'eat less fat' I feel like pulling my hear out.  Personally I'd prefer not to be 100% Kojac like this time next year.

And lastly,


5. Avoid anything 'faddish' like the plague.  Learn your national nutritional guidelines

Enter 'diet' into a google search and you'll get almost 70 million hits!  The online encyclopedia 'Wikipedia' lists an A-Z of over 100 common diets.  So diets are everywhere yet the national waistlines of every western country are expanding...again - diets just dont work long term.

Develop your critical thinking skills rather than just embracing the latest 'scientific research' presented by a technician with a lab coat, or a celebrity that receives a hefty endorsement fee for promoting the latest fad.  Diets do not, and cannot hold any magic bullet for you or your clients because they require radical, unsustainable changes to most peoples well established eating habits and behaviours.

Most countries have simple nutritional guidelines for good health - as a personal trainer you should know these and realise that success for your personal training clients comes from supporting them to make small sustainable changes in their eating habits to help them move closer to achieving these guidelines