Beginner Nutrition Tips for Working Out

ISSA, International Sports Sciences Association, Certified Personal Trainer, ISSAonline, Nutrition, Beginner Nutrition Tips for Working Out

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As a fitness professional, you know proper nutrition and meal planning is a huge component of a client’s success. However, this can be somewhat challenging to navigate because you also need to stay within your scope of practice. Before you give any guidance in regard to nutrition, you must understand your state laws so you know what nutrition information you can share

Generally speaking, most states allow personal trainers to provide general nutrition advice, which is typically what most beginner clients need. There are a variety of different nutrition strategies that can help change the body (nutrient timing, intermittent fasting, manipulating macronutrients, etc.). But, learning to help educate clients and provide them the appropriate resources and guidelines is most valuable for optimal health. Whether the goal is weight gain, weight maintenance, or weight loss, beginner clients often need guidance with their nutrition as they start their commitment to exercise. The following sections include basic nutrition tips to help new clients get started with their diet and meal planning. 

To earn more and help clients make better, healthier food choices, get certified in nutrition. Learn everything you need to know and get support starting your business with the ISSA’s Nutritionist Certification Program.

Nutrition Tips for Your Beginner Clients

Nutrition can be confusing! Add this to your diet! Eat that! Don’t eat that! Wait, maybe eat just a little bit of that! The truth of the matter is, every body is different and the diet should reflect that. Genetics, ethnicity, activity level, absorption, and many other factors can play a role in an individual’s nutritional needs. There are, however, a handful of healthy eating tips that are relevant for almost everyone when pursuing optimal health. For a client that is new to exercise, the concepts are all important to understand and apply. 

Calories Matter

Although there may be other factors that contribute to why and where an individual stores fat (genetics, hormones, metabolism issues, etc.), “calories in, calories out” typically plays a big role in weight loss or weight gain. The following bullets include a few basic pieces of information that can be helpful for beginners when navigating calories:

  • A 3500 calorie deficit = 1 pound fat lost
  • Have clients track EVERY meal, snack, and drink they consume for a few days to capture their calorie intake
  • Have them calculate their energy output
  • Calculate a healthy daily deficit that aligns with their weight loss goals (or healthy surplus of calories if the goal is weight gain)

They can use this knowledge to modify their diet plan and move closer to their weight loss or weight gain goals. As clients progress in their workout routines, it is important to help them navigate calorie intake so they have the adequate energy and nutrients their bodies need. 

What should you eat when working out? Here are a few options:

  • Healthy energy bars
  • Greek yogurt with nuts and fruit
  • Peanut butter sandwich
  • Eggs and whole-grain toast
  • Workout recovery smoothie

Eat the Rainbow

Many Americans do not include enough fruits and vegetables in their diet. Fruits and vegetables provide the body with a variety of essential micronutrients that are needed to function. From metabolism to nutrient delivery to proper muscle function, the body requires these important nutrients. These micronutrients are essential for daily function and play a significant role in exercise. The neat thing about fruits and vegetables is that the color can be an indication of the nutrients inside: orange carrots = beta-carotene. When clients include many different colors in their diet, it can help support the variety of nutrition that the body needs for each workout. 

Water, Water, Water

Drink more water! The human body is made up of over 50% water. And, that water is heavily involved in many body functions. It plays an important role in temperature regulation, digestion, the production of energy, joint lubrication, and many other functions (1). It is clearly not only essential for daily functions but also incredibly important in movement and exercise. The body loses water through sweat, internal processes, urination, etc. So, it is important to replenish to stay properly hydrated. Water needs can vary quite a bit because of age, muscle mass, sweat rate, climate, etc. However, experts suggest that between 91-125 ounces are typically adequate daily intake for many men and women (2).

Baby Steps

Focus on making little changes to the diet. Clients often want to make drastic changes to both their diet and exercise habits to get results. When clients try to change too much or make drastic changes, they often fail. Diet failures can transform into lack of motivation to exercise and begin a vicious cycle of weight loss attempts. So, if you help clients narrow down healthy behaviors that they know they can commit to consistently, you can help them start building healthier habits that are sustainable. Keep in mind, small behavior change commitments can vary from person to person. One client may be able to commit to adding one piece of fruit to a meal each day. Another client may be able to commit a mix of healthy fats, whole grain carbohydrates, and lean protein at each meal.


Choose Healthier Versions

Simple nutrition swaps can make drastic changes in health and activity levels. Some diet changes can reduce caloric intake while others provide a more nutritious option. The wrong foods can contribute to feeling lethargic and/or a lack of the appropriate nutrients for adequate function. You want to encourage clients to give their body the right nutrients to feel good before, during, and after physical activity. The following table includes a few examples of healthy eating swaps:

ISSA, International Sports Sciences Association, Certified Personal Trainer, ISSAonline, Nutrition, Beginner Nutrition Tips for Working Out, Nutrition Chart

Recipe for homemade banana ice cream

Listen to your Body

People don’t always eat because of hunger. Stress, boredom, social gatherings, and lack of sleep can all contribute to poor eating habits. When trying to make changes to eating habits, it is important to pay attention to why and when food is consumed. Clients may want to consider starting a food diary that includes, what they eat, when they eat, and how they are feeling when they eat it. This can help create awareness of their diet and help them identify unhealthy patterns that might be sabotaging their workouts. 

Learn to Read Labels

Clients won’t know how to evaluate what they are eating unless they understand how to read food labels. The following list includes some of the basic things they should know:

  • What the appropriate serving size is
  • How many calories there are per serving
  • Macronutrient content (protein, carbohydrates, and fat)
  • Nutrients that they may want to consider limiting (trans fats, sugar, sodium, etc.)
  • Understand what % Daily Value means
  • How to locate dietary fiber
  • Ingredients are listed in descending order starting with the predominant ingredient
  • How to identify “other” names for certain ingredients (example: high fructose corn syrup or cane juice = SUGAR)

If clients understand how to navigate food labels, they can make better decisions about what to include in their diet to fuel and recover from their workout.

Eat Protein

Whether it is plant- or animal-based, the body needs enough protein to build muscle. This is important for both aerobic exercise and resistance training. Protein is also lower in calories (only 4 calories per gram) and can help change the glycemic index of a meal because it can take longer to digest. Clients can add a little bit to every meal to help reduce blood sugar levels (3) and support the feeling of fullness, both of which can be valuable for client progress.

Educate your clients! Ideally you want them to get to a point where they have a good base knowledge, can navigate fact versus fiction, and have a desire to keep learning so they can make healthy nutrition decisions on their own. 

Are you a nutrition coach yet? What are you waiting for?! It’s easy to get certified when you study online at your own pace. Check out ISSA’s Nutritionist course and get started today! 



  1. Kravitz, L. (2008). “Water: The science of nature’s most important nutrient.” IDEA Fitness Journal, 5(10), 42-49.
  2. Institute of Medicine. (2005). “Dietary Reference Intakes for Water, Potassium, Sodium, Chloride, and Sulfate.” Washington, DC: The National Academies Press.
  3. Gannon MC, Nuttall FQ, Saeed A, Jordan K, Hoover H. “An increase in dietary protein improves the blood glucose response in persons with type 2 diabetes.” American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. 2003;78(4):734-741.

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