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Using Your National Nutrition Guidelines

Encouraging most of your personal training clients to eat more in line with their national guidelines will be great for their health. Find out what the 'jist' of these guidelines are in this article.

As personal trainers very few of us are actually qualified to operate as dieticians or nutritionists and therefore design longwinded, complex diets for our clients.  This is a good thing however – because whether you’ve noticed it or not diets seldom work for anyone in the long-term, and as personal trainers we’re all about achieving long-term, sustainable results for our clients. 


The reason diets are so ineffective is because they typically require the dieter to make and sustain large changes to their well established eating behaviours – often with very little on-going support.   As personal trainers one of our greatest values is the on-going support we provide our clients, as well as this, in relation to nutrition we must also provide them with clear, simple guidance.


Why must our guidance be simple?  Because to successfully help clients change their eating behaviour you must identify simple changes, specific to each client that can be realistically embraced if you and your client are to be successful.  The more complicated and unrealistic the changes you require your client to make…the greater the likelihood of failure. 


Although a lot of people are making a lot of money out of attempting to complicate nutrition, (check out the rows of shelves in bookstores and magazine racks of various diets) when you boil it all down nutrition and healthy eating is actually quite simple.


This is where national nutritional guidelines come in.  These guidelines (most countries have them) are:


  • Simple and easy to follow 
  • Developed by nutritionists from a significant research base
  • Based on evidence regarding prevalent nutritional issues regarding food intakes in various countries
  • Not developed with the aim of selling more copies through false or misleading promises or celebrity endorsements


In general improving a client’s nutrition may be as simple as supporting them to eat more in line with their national guidelines and using the same type of behavioural support as a personal trainer would with exercise, namely; to introduce tolerable changes, sustain them to create habits, and then perfect them to create results. 


So as a personal trainer you should know and understand your national nutrition guidelines and use them as a base to help your clients eat more in line with.  Interestingly, the guidelines are very similar across many ‘western’ countries as the nutritional issues that affect the populations in Australia, New Zealand, and South Africa are very similar to the issues that affect the populations in the USA, Canada and the UK.


So let’s have a look at how the nutritional guidelines of different countries compare.  Note that these guidelines are general guidelines for the average adult for ‘good health’.  This simply means that if the guidelines are adhered to then all the nutrient requirements for good health should be achieved.


It’s also worth noting that the guidelines talk about foods and food groups more than they talk about nutrients such as carbohydrates, protein, vitamins and minerals.  This is because they are intended to be easy to understand (for all people - clients included!).  There is a good lesson here for personal trainers – always talk to your clients in a language they understand!  Clients understand ‘bread’, ‘fruit’ and vegetables much better than ‘carbohydrates’, ‘vitamins’ and ‘proteins’.


National Nutrition Guidelines



Recommended number of serves per day for good health (Adults)


Fruit & Vegetables

Breads & Cereals

Dairy & Dairy Products

Meat & Meat Alternatives (includes poultry, fish, seafood, nuts, legumes)


At least 2 fruit & 5 vegetables

4-9 (females) & 6-12 (males) (preferably wholegrain)

At least 2 (choose low fat options)

At least 1  (choose lean cuts, avoid sausages & processed meats)

New Zealand

At least 2 fruit & 3 vegetables

At least 6 (preferably wholegrain)

At least 2 (choose low fat options)

At least 1 (choose low fat options)

South Africa

At least 5 total

Make starchy, unrefined foods the basis of all meals

2 – 3  (choose low fat options)

2 – 3  (choose low fat options)


7-8 total (females) 8-10 total (males)

6-8 (at least 50% being wholegrain)

2 – 3  (choose low fat/skim options)

2 (choose low fat options)


General message is to increase intake of both

General message –  increase intake of wholegrain options to at least 50%

General message – increase intake of low fat milk and dairy products

General message – increase intake of fish, seafood & oils


At least 5 total

Eat plenty – preferably wholegrain options

Include some milk & dairy (choose reduced fat options or eat smaller amounts)

Include some sources of protein


At least 5 total

At least 6 – choose high fiber

3 (choose low fat options)

2 (choose lean cuts of meat and include some oily fish)



Recommendations based on national nutrition guidelines and food intake patterns


In relation to the national guidelines and research into the patterns of consumption there are some consistent recommendations made by the national health/nutrition bodies of most western countries, the major recommendations include;


1. Energy Intake & Expenditure


personal%25252520training%25252520energy%25252520equationAcross the western world rates of overweight, obesity and associated consequences such as diabetes continue to rise and are either at or approaching epidemic rates.  So regardless of what people are actually eating the reality is that in most cases people are simply consuming too many calories and not burning enough of them off through physical activity.


So as a personal trainer don’t overlook the obvious – for the majority of your clients who will want to lose weight/fat you’ll simply need to focus on tipping the energy balance equation to weight loss by helping your clients find ways to increase their energy expenditure and reduce their caloric intake.


Interestingly over 80% of diabetes is linked directly to people having a poor energy balance, namely eating too much, not exercising enough and gaining significant quantities of excess weight as a result.


2. Fruit and Vegetables


personal%2520training%2520fruit%2520and%2520vegeEating more fruit and vegetables is a key recommendation in most western countries as research shows that very few people actually meet their national guidelines for fruit and vegetable intake.


When you consider that fruit and vegetables are rich in nutrients and low in calories when compared to foods with a higher fat content then for many of your clients you’ll need to help them increase their fruit and vegetable intakes to at least meet their national guidelines.


3. Breads and Cereals




A consistent message in regard to intakes of bread and cereals products is that most people need to eat more wholegrain sources as opposed to the highly refined/processed sources that tend to predominate. 



When bread and cereals products are refined/processed the majority of the fibre in these products is removed.  As fibre is not digested by the body it provides no calories yet it helps to slow digestion and makes people feel ‘fuller’ for longer.  So helping your clients to increase their consumption of wholegrain foods and reduce their intake of highly refined sources will help them to reduce their caloric intake.


4. Dairy and Dairy products



personal%2520training%2520dairyResearch shows that generally most populations meet their national guidelines in regard to the consumption of dairy products.  The consistent recommendation though is for people to choose low fat options.


So for many of your clients helping them to reduce their caloric intakes may simply revolve around helping them to change from full or high fat options to low fat options or at least reduce their consumption of high fat dairy options.


5. Meat and Meat alternatives


Similar to dairy products the research shows personal%25252520training%25252520meatthat most western countries eat plenty of meat, perhaps too much.  While meat and many meat alternatives are a great source of protein and other essential nutrients such as iron, it is also a source of a lot of fat.


So the consistent recommendations regarding the intake of meat and meat alternatives is to choose low fat options and avoid high fat options such as salami’s and sausages.  Many countries also recommend eating more fish and seafood as opposed to red meat.


6. Water


personal%2520training%2520waterMost national nutrition guidelines recommend drinking plenty of water, specifically 6-8 glasses per day (equivalent to 2-3 litres).  Most guidelines also specify that ordinary tap water is ideal as opposed to bottled water and carbonated fizzy drinks. 


As ordinary tap water has no calories it also serves as a good appetite suppressant (provides a sense of fullness without adding calories), so encouraging many of your clients to drink more water and have a large glass with every meal will be a great help for reducing caloric intake.


7. Alcohol


personal%20training%20alcoholAlmost all national nutrition guidelines recommend lowering the intake of alcoholic drinks.  While there is evidence that alcohol can be beneficial in moderation, the research shows that in general too much alcohol is being consumed.  As alcohol is a very high source of calories (second only to fat) then helping your clients to reduce their alcohol intake will also help to reduce their overall caloric intake as well as protect them from the numerous negative effects of over consumption.


8. Sugar


personal%2520training%2520sugarAnother consistent recommendation is that people reduce their intake of products with unnecessary amounts of added sugar such as soft drinks, cakes and sweets, which people are generally eating far too much of. 


If you consider that the average can of fizzy drink contains a massive ten teaspoons of sugar in it then helping your clients to drink tap water instead will not only save them money but improve their health and reduce their caloric intakes significantly.  Helping clients to change their snacks from sweets and ‘sweet treats’, such as cakes and pastries to fresh fruit will also be extremely beneficial.



9. Fat


personal%20training%20burger%20%26%20chipsReducing fat intake and changing the type of fat people consume is another consistent message that comes through in the guidelines.  It seems that the population in general is eating too much saturated fat, typically from the popular fast foods – burgers, pizza’s, chips etc.  Not only do these types of food have huge amounts of calories they are also the most dangerous fats for humans.  High intakes of saturated fat are linked directly to premature death through cardiovascular disease.


So for clients that have a high intake of fast foods then helping them to choose healthier, lower fat options will be critically important.  Also encouraging lower fat cooking methods such as grilling as opposed to frying and roasting will help to reduce fat intake and switching to vegetable oils as opposed to the solid fats such as butter and lard will also be beneficial for many clients


10. Salt / Sodium


personal%20training%20saltMany of the national guidelines also recommend people reduce their salt (sodium) intakes.  A high intake of salt is directly linked to high blood pressure and premature death.  Many fast foods and heavily processed foods are high in salt so generally westerners have excessive salt intakes.


So helping your clients to avoid adding salt to their foods, choosing healthier fast food options and avoiding heavily processed foods will be very beneficial for your client’s health.


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