You likely learned about nutrition 101 in your health and fitness training, but clients don’t always get the same education—or the right information. Yet, almost 40 percent of surveyed Americans want to eat healthier in 2021, making it one of the top five resolutions this year, according to a recent YouGov poll.
Yet, as you may know, healthy eating can be challenging. It takes time to prep, accountability to stay on track, and guidance to know which choices to make. This is especially true for beginner clients, who are still new to the experience. For these clients, you need to have practical, actionable strategies that are both easy to follow and promote sustainable lifestyle changes.
The nutrition 101 strategies shared here reinforce balanced, conscious behaviors around eating, making it easier for you to support them during and outside of sessions. When clients learn what to consume and how to form a healthy relationship with food, the work you to do together is that much more enjoyable and effective.
Use the “Healthy Plate” Model as a Reference Point
While everyone’s specific nutritional goals, needs, and preferences can vary, the USDA’s Dietary Guidelines is a useful reference point for beginners. The “Healthy Plate” model, created by the USDA, will help your clients visualize how much of the three macronutrients—carbs, proteins, and fats—they need to consume each meal.
Half the plate should consist of vegetables or fruits, one-fourth should consist of whole-grain carbs, and the other fourth should consist of lean proteins. This diagram also advises limiting dairy, sodium, refined sugar, and trans or saturated fat intake. With a visual like this, it’s easy to put together a meal that’s healthy and supportive of their fitness efforts.
Focus on the Type of Calories, Not Just the Amount
The trend of “counting calories” is prevalent, but it may not be a healthy or effective practice in the long-term. While it’s important to avoid eating an excessive number of calories, the nutritional quality makes more of a difference in your clients’ overall health than the numerical quantity.
For instance, 100 calories in potato chips are not metabolized the same as 100 calories in a baked potato. Processed oils, salts, and sugars do not yield the energy expenditure that bodies need to function, Nutrition Reviews points out, so remind clients to focus on nutrient density over total number of calories.
Start Each Morning with a Protein Dense Breakfast
Evenly distributing protein intake across breakfast, lunch, and dinner can provide numerous health benefits. Protein in the morning is especially helpful for increasing satiety between meals while boosting energy expenditure and improve muscle tissue repair by as much as 25 percent, according to the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.
Encourage your clients to choose breakfast proteins that are high in branched-chain amino acids such as eggs, chicken sausage, plain yogurt, smoked salmon, and whey protein shakes.
Make a Plan for Both Restaurants and Grocery Stores
Planning ahead is a key factor in nutrition success. In fact, meal planning can improve nutritional balance and variety, as well as decrease the risk of becoming overweight, according to the International Journal of Behavioral Nutrition and Physical Activity.
It’s hard to make healthy food choices when faced with so many options at a restaurant or grocery store, but walking in there with a can minimize the temptation. Work with clients to write a weekly grocery list and teach them strategies for choosing healthier foods at a restaurant.
Swap out Refined Carbohydrates for Whole Grains
When it comes to grains, make sure your clients avoid the white refined varieties, which are stripped of essential nutrients and filled with artificial preservatives to extend their shelf life. Instead, steer them toward 100 percent whole grains with an intact and unprocessed nutrition profile.
Whole grains are rich in fiber, iron, copper, zinc, magnesium, antioxidants, protein, and vitamins B and E, according to Harvard Health. What’s more, there are many versatile whole grains to choose from such as brown or wild rice, quinoa, oats, spelt, barley, amaranth, millet, and bulgur, to name a few. This variety makes it easy to choose healthy whole grains without getting bored.
Practice Mindfulness for Hunger and Fullness Cues
A mindful eating practice will increase your clients’ awareness of what their bodies actually need during each mealtime. Mindfulness also teaches people how to respond to their internal hunger cues, then stop once they’re satiated, which can reduce unhealthy cravings and emotional eating patterns.
In addition, mindful eating can enhance digestion and relieve stress on the gastrointestinal system, suggests the Integrative Medicine Clinician’s Journal. Here are some ways to practice mindful eating:
- Chew each mouthful 30 times.
- Put down the fork between bites.
- Take deep breaths during the meal.
- Pay attention to hunger versus emotions.
- Don’t use electronic devices while eating.
- Focus on the sensory experience of the food.
- Journal before and after the meal.
Be Sure to Choose the Right Sources of Healthy Fat
The diet industry often demonizes fat, as you know, but the right fats are necessary and beneficial. This macronutrient increases energy, stimulates cell growth, protects organs, and stabilizes body temperature, reports the American Heart Association.
As with calories, however, not all fat sources are created equal. Make sure your clients eat foods rich in monosaturated and polyunsaturated fats (liquid at room temperature) while avoiding trans and saturated fats (solid at room temperature).
Healthy fats to recommend include raw nuts, seeds, tofu, avocado, salmon, tuna, dark chocolate, and extra-virgin olive oil.
Prioritize Real Ingredients over the Artificial Kind
Some packaged foods are nutritious and help streamline the cooking process, such as frozen vegetables or canned low-sodium beans. However, it’s crucial to teach clients to read the ingredient label before consuming any pre-made or shelf-stable items.
Many of these foods contain artificial flavors, colors, sugars, and other synthetic preservatives, all of which contribute to an unhealthy weight, poor immune function and metabolic dysregulation, based on research from Frontiers in Immunology.
A good rule of thumb to teach clients is: if an ingredient is hard to pronounce or includes more than five items, put it back and find a better, whole food option.
Remember that a Starvation Diet Is Not the Answer
No matter how much your clients want to lose weight, it’s imperative they understand the harmful consequences of a starvation diet. Eliminating unhealthy foods is beneficial, but restricting their intake across the board can be problematic.
Not only will this often lead to nutrient deficiencies over time, but a deprivation mindset toward eating can ultimately exacerbate food cravings and cause binges, suggests Current Nutrition Reports.
To help your clients avoid the dangerous cycle of restriction and overeating, communicate the importance of fueling their bodies at consistent daily intervals.
Place Emphasis on Hydration and Nutrition
As you work with clients to improve their nutrition habits, don’t forget to monitor their water consumption as well. Hydration is essential for electrolyte balance, cell oxygenation, tissue, organ and joint protection, digestive health, and optimal blood pressure and heart rate, according to Harvard Health.
While some clients’ water intake needs might be more or less than others, the average healthy adult requires four to six cups of water daily, Harvard Health advises. In addition, your clients will need about two to three cups of water hourly during exercises.
The Nutrition 101 Guide Your Clients Need
While each client will require a nutrition plan customized to their specific needs, goals, or dietary preferences, these strategies can help them feel confident with making healthy food choices. Make nutrition 101 accessible and effective so clients can reap the benefits of all the work they do with you.