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Working as a nutrition coach is something you can do as a stand-alone career or as an additional offering with your personal training. Either way, you'll find that the heart and soul of this job is very similar to training and fitness: you are helping people make real, lasting, and positive health changes.
What's different about nutrition coaching are the nuts and bolts of the knowledge you impart to clients and the tasks you'll do with them. For many people, making changes to eating habits and food choices is much more difficult than adding in workouts and fitness. Your tasks as a coach will include straightforward tasks like making meal plans but also finding ways to remove the psychological and emotional barriers that keep people from eating well.
To be a good nutrition coach and to help your clients, your tasks begin with determining their nutritional level. When you know where they stand you can then develop and assign specific and individualized tasks that help them set and meet health and nutrition goals.
There are many factors that will go into being an effective nutrition coach. One of the most important is being able to determine where your clients stand at any given moment. The tasks of a nutrition coach can only be effective if they are appropriate for the individual. Assess your clients at the beginning of your journey together and throughout your coaching sessions so that you can assign the right tasks to meet their goals.
What makes a good nutrition coach? Find out from this informative post about the qualities of a good coach.
Most clients are at level one, and even for those with more advanced habits and knowledge, level one coaching is a good place to start. You can't go wrong with the fundamentals. Level one clients work out fewer than six hours per week; they struggle with consistency and staying on track with healthy habits; and they have a lot of limiting factors preventing change. Their main goals are to get healthier and fitter.
Few of your clients ever need to be at level two. These are the people who already work out a lot and understand good nutrition. They mostly eat well and are healthy. What they want from a nutrition coach is to address performance and appearance goals. They want to improve their half marathon times or increase muscle size. A lot of level two nutrition coaching tasks are short-term, designed to meet specific goals like these.
As with level two, clients at level three are interested in improving performance, appearance, or both. The difference between these two levels is the degree of intensity, knowledge, and consistency. Fitness and health are their lives, and there are no barriers. These are serious or professional athletes looking to make minor tweaks.
Level three has the potential to be harmful: clients may go too far, lose too much body fat, disrupt hormones, get injured, develop mental health issues related to food, and even cut out other healthy lifestyle factors, like socializing with friends, due to lack of time. If you ever have a level three client, monitor him or her carefully.
As mentioned, most clients you encounter in nutrition coaching will be at level one, even if they think otherwise. And, those who have some aspects of level two are still likely to spend at least some time in level one. This is one of the most important stages for you as a coach to focus on, and that focus is largely on identifying limiting factors.
What are the barriers holding back a level one nutrition client? What limits them from achieving their goals? Two of the biggest areas in which you'll find these roadblocks and where you can really help your clients are in eating habits and life skills.
Here are some things you'll help level one clients with when it comes to choosing foods and how they eat:
Choosing more healthful, whole foods and eating fewer processed foods
Drinking too many sugary beverages or too much alcohol, or both
Failing to feel satisfied after eating
Eating too quickly and distractedly
Eating on an irregular schedule
Not recognizing fullness cues
Eating too much at once, even binge eating
To help your clients better understand what good nutrition is, check out this post on the ISSA blog.
Your level one clients are also likely to struggle with some essential skills that are useful for eating well and developing better habits. You'll likely help them with:
Basic food preparation and cooking.
Grocery shopping for health and nutrition.
Being pushed by others to eat junk food or drink too much.
Impulsive choices regarding food.
The tasks for coaching clients at level two will be more focused. Your clients here will have more specific goals like adding muscle mass or hitting a specific performance target for a race or competition. They already have good eating habits and life skills that they practice most of the time. Your tasks will be to tweak those and help clients stay on track.
Some examples of eating and food tasks you may work on with level two clients include:
Eliminating nearly all processed foods.
Choosing the most nutrient dense foods.
Creating a supplement plan.
Making a plan to cut back drastically or completely on alcohol.
With level three clients commitment is never an issue. These clients are focused and have no barriers to break. They want to refine their goals and hit very specific targets. Just keep in mind that these should always be temporary. No one can or should stay at this level indefinitely. Here are examples of tasks you may have with a level three client:
Weighing and measuring food and creating a strict meal plan with no exceptions
Limiting food choices
Making a plan to cycle macronutrients
Choosing the right supplements
Cutting out caffeine and alcohol
Planning hydration exactly in order to meet weight or body goals for competitions
Setting clear expectations with family and friends
Developing an exact daily schedule for eating, training, and other tasks
Making decisions in advance and leaving nothing to chance
Clearly, the tasks you'll have as a nutrition coach can vary widely. From basic meal planning and grocery shopping with level one clients to specific hydration schedules with level three clients your work will never be boring. Expect to tackle practical tasks like balancing nutrients and food choices but also more psychological tasks like connecting feelings to food and eating habits.
The best nutrition coaches are prepared to work with a range of clients with different needs, limitations, strengths, and goals. When you understand your clients you will be best able to help them by developing and assigning the right tasks.
If you want to learn more about working with level two and three clients, check out the ISSA's Nutritionist Certification course.