Clients will often come to you looking for you to prescribe them a meal plan. Number one: unless you’re a medical professional you cannot prescribe a meal plan, but in most states, you can offer general nutrition strategies. Before making any nutrition recommendations, you should look into your state laws. For example, Florida has some of the most strict laws when it comes to delivering nutrition advice.
Number two: as we have discussed earlier the likelihood of a client adhering to a meal plan is pretty slim. Before a client (or ourselves) will adhere to a meal plan, we first have to tackle the client’s mindset and giving them some mental fortitude to respond to threats instead of reacting. We do this by changing how they eat before we change what they eat. This will give them the ability to notice and name why they are reaching for that cupcake in the office and giving them the ability to say yes or no to the cupcake based on their needs at the time. Once a client is displaying appetite awareness and control, then we can start focusing on what they are eating.
First, we focus on some BIG ROCKS as we make changes:
1. Can they do it?
- This is where we use Ready, Willing, and Able
2. Appetite Awareness
- Eating Slowly and Eating for Fat Loss or Gaining Mass
3. Macronutrients: The big three (protein, fats, carbs)
4. Consistency and Systems
5. Food Quality, Nutrients, and Intolerances
Most of your clients are not going to be elite level eaters. Your clients and most likely yourself are what we like to call level 1 eaters. Level one eaters often know what to eat but their life gets in the way, and they aren’t as consistent as they need to be to meet their goals. Level 1 eaters (real everyday people) also eat real food and not macronutrients.
Real people eat things like:
All of these things are a mix of macronutrients, and if we give macronutrient goals to level 1 clients and ourselves, we can get bogged down with counting numbers and details that we forget to check in with ourselves and using internal forms of control like our appetite. We start using external forms of control; which doesn’t work with the average person. We put too much focus on our food; therefore, creating unneeded stress and setting up a client and ourselves to fail.
For clients to succeed, we use the hand portion system from Precision Nutrition. This way a client and yourself can get in the ballpark of their nutritional needs.
Each meal would eventually contain:
1-2 Palms worth of lean protein (aka your serving is the size of your palm)
examples: lean meats (beef, pork, bison, wild game), poultry (chicken, turkey, pheasant), fish and seafood, eggs and egg whites, strained plain strained yogurt (Fage or Siggis), protein powder, lentils or beans, and tempeh or tofu
1-2 Fist size serving of fruits/veggies
examples: berries, peppers, broccoli, eggplant, apples, oranges, green beans, dark leafy greens (spinach and kale), cauliflower, bananas, pomegranate
1-2 Thumb size servings of a healthy fat
examples: avocado (yes only a thumb, not a whole avocado), nuts (walnuts and almonds), nut butters (peanut butter and almond butter), olive oil, coconut oil
1-2 Cupped handful of slow digesting high fiber carbs (this could be fruits and veggies, or it could be things like lentils, oats, and quinoa)
examples: potatoes (sweet, red, purple, Yukon, russet), rice, quinoa, farro, oats, or more fruits
Now, this seems like a tall order for a client or yourself to start out with, that is why you would focus on this one step at a time. Pick one group to practice at a time. I usually recommend starting with protein because for fat loss it helps us stay fuller longer and less likely to overeat and it helps with not losing as much lean mass during a weight cut. For gaining mass, starting with protein helps with muscle building. Focus on one part for a week or two to get consistent before moving on to the next part of a well-balanced meal. When in doubt: do less.
These suggestions are also just starting points. You start with these portion sizes and then adjust according to outcome-based decision making. Start with a goal, collect data on how you would like to measure success, and then adjust your nutrition based off of if you are making progress towards your goal.
Consistency and Systems
A big part of success is consistency. A B- effort done every day will outperform an A++ effort done once a week. We need to be honest with ourselves whether we are consistent with our nutritional changes. You can track consistency with a food journal like we did earlier this semester and if you aren’t nailing a habit consistently: scale back. In other words: do less.
Consistency comes with having systems in place to help you succeed. Motivation alone isn’t enough; we need structured plans (the what: like eating a palms worth of protein at every meal) and the systems (how: like a Sunday Ritual or meal delivery service) to nail consistency. Without those, we are just fumbling and tripping down a path without looking forward seeing what’s up ahead that could slow us down. We need to plan in order to have success. We have to look ahead. We can dream of a goal all we want, but at the end of the day, we have to be consistent in our actions. The only way to meet a goal is to plan our actions consistently.
“Plans never work, but planning always does.”
Food Quality, Nutrient Density, Timing, Elimination Diets
Only after a client or yourself is consistent with adhering to basic nutritional guidelines, can we take a more detailed focus on our nutrition. We always see articles online that “Bananas are Making You Fat”, “Red Meat Will Kill You”, “Superfood X Will Cure Cancer”, “Veganism Trumps All Diets In Health”, “Grains Cause Inflammation and Joint Pain”, and “Is Fat Killing You, or Is Sugar?”.
We see these lines and roll our eyes because we know that these articles have an agenda of some sort. Your clients do not have the knowledge or the background to filter these out. They collect every piece of nonsense written on the internet in hopes of gaining more knowledge, and if they just knew one more piece of information, they will know what to do. This can get overwhelming and often paralyzes us into inaction. Inaction is a recipe for disaster.
But, if a client is displaying consistency, then we can focus on “better” food quality. All foods are on a spectrum. We don’t consider anything “good” or “bad”.
To transfer a Level 1 client to a Level 2:
- You can start moving towards grass fed, free range organic meats and dairy products.
- Try a new vegetable they haven’t had and learning to prepare it in a tasty manner.
- Switching to more organic fruits/vegetables
- Growing your fruits/vegetables yourself
- Practice eating every color of the rainbow every day
- Is your client over-eating fats or not getting enough?
- Making salad dressing yourself instead of store bought.
- Try to experiment with different fats. Add to the list of foods a client will eat.
- Start trying out less processed grains: switching from whole wheat bread to minimally processed grains like amaranth and quinoa.
- Start soaking and preparing grains yourself instead of store-bought ready-made.
- Reserve starchy carbs like potatoes, oats, amaranth, and quinoa within the 3 hours post intense training session (or your post-workout meal) for “better” body composition
- Only after a client is extremely consistent with their basic nutrition guidelines and they are not getting results, or their reactions are interfering with their life.
- Most of the time a client will not need to go on a complete elimination diet, with a food journal that includes physical sensations you and the client can often pin-point intolerances.
Always focus on the big picture first: is my client, or am I, consistently meeting basic nutrition guidelines with an 80-90% accuracy before moving onto a detailed lens of nutrient density, nutrient timing, or elimination diets with a client. Clear the clutter first. You will meet many clients that have this dream of doing everything perfectly and thinking they need to go on an elimination diet when they are eating frozen crispy chicken strips for dinner every night, having white refined carbs every day for breakfast, going to the bar every night with friends, and having a daily Starbucks dessert in a cup. Does this client really need to go on an elimination diet? Or do they need to focus on some consistency with basic nutrition habits first? Don’t make this shit complicated, do less.
- Focus on the BIG ROCKS before changing anything
- Can they do it?
- Are they Ready, Willing, and Able?
- Appetite Awareness
- Have they consistently eaten slowly and either 80% or 100% full depending on their goals?
- Consistency and Systems
- Food Quality, Nutrients, Intolerances
- Real people eat food, not macronutrients
- To meet basic nutritional needs use your hands for portion sizing
- Protein: 1-2 palm size portions per meal
- Fruits/Veggies: 1-2 Fist size portions per meal
- Fats: 1-2 Thumbs size portions per meal
- Carbs: 1-2 Cupped Handfuls per meal
- Focus on one group to practice on for one to two weeks before moving onto the next group
- Do less
3. Consistency and Systems
- Plan and look ahead to how you are going to complete a task when it comes to adhering to nutritional guidelines
- You can have all the hopes and dreams in the world. Only planning action and then acting on that plan brings results.
4. Food Quality, Nutrients and Intolerances
- Only start experimenting in this category if your client or yourself is nailing 80-90% accuracy on basic nutrition guidelines, or you will just find yourself deep in a rabbit hole with no success.
- Most clients will never get to this level and that’s ok! You can ride out the basics for the rest of your life and it be very rewarding
5. Focus on the Big Rocks in the outlined order before you make any nutritional changes. When in doubt, do less.