9 Nutrition Mistakes Trainers Make

Nutrition Mistakes Trainers Make

It’s not enough to provide only training help for your clients. You want to truly impact your clients performance, how they feel and especially how they look.

You can argue that some of those are very superficial goals, but it’s what drives a lot of clients. And you and I both know that good eating habits will make the client healthier and happier in the long run.

With all the nutrition info available it’s easy to get overwhelmed with what to give your clients which leads to a failed attempt to truly change their eating habits and get them the results they want.

That’s why I’ve asked my friend, FR Coaching Client and Co-Creator of Habit Catalyst, Trevor Wittwer to cover the top 9 nutrition mistakes trainers make when it comes to coaching their clients.

I’ll let Trevor take it from here…


Top 9 Nutrition Mistakes Made By Trainers

Clients rely on you as their expert for training and nutrition guidance. Both of them are critical to getting great results. So why are so many trainers either avoiding nutrition with their clients or failing to get the results and changes they want?

It’s not because you don’t care! It’s simply that you have too much info coming your way and no one’s shown you how to avoid the 9 biggest nutrition mistakes a trainer can make. The nutrition mistakes are as follows:

  1. Information Overload
  2. Generic Meal Plans
  3. The “Do This” Approach
  4. Losing Sight of the Big Picture
  5. Macros vs Real Food
  6. Ignoring Nutrition All Together
  7. Skipping Compliance Tracking
  8. Assuming Competence
  9. Aiming for Perfection

Let’s cover each of them in detail…

Mistake #1: Information Overload

Think back to when you were a beginner at something. Maybe it was learning to play piano. Did the instructor on Day 1 ask you to play “The Ride of Valkyries“?

Of course not. You first learned the individual notes and how to read music. You strung a series of notes together. Then you got into chords. Then you started playing with both hands.

The same goes for our clients. Because we are experts in this field, we have a tendency to give them too much information at once. We assume the client should already know this—it’s easy for us—but the client gets overwhelmed with information.

The excessive information causes many people to hole up and do nothing because they don’t know where to start. Just like exercise, clients need the right information in the right amounts.

In the gym, Day 1, for a complete novice, we are probably not doing barbell power cleans from the ground. At least I hope not.

Mistake #2: Generic Meal Plans

Meal plans are great and they can serve a very specific purpose. But most of the time they end up lost on the coffee table.

A certain type of client does great with a meal plan. A client who lives by themselves, knows how to cook well, is comfortable in the kitchen, has a good understanding of meal prep, and is extremely motivated.

Unfortunately, take this client out of their home environment or put them in a stressful situation and all the rules get thrown out of the window. Meal plans work for about the first week, until the client gets bored, stressed or the dog throws up on the carpet.

Think about it this way for a second. If a client is a complete novice in the kitchen and has been living on boxed space food for his entire life and we hand him a meal plan, we are assuming the following:

  1. He knows what the foods are on the list.
  2. He knows how to shop for those items.
  3. He knows how to prepare everything.
  4. He knows how to cook.

Since it’s just a meal plan, we leave out the education piece on why he is doing this, why it’s important, and how he can make modifications up to chance.

Meal plans can serve a very specific purpose for a dedicated client with a very time-sensitive goal. For the majority of our clients though—people who want to drop some pounds, get healthier, live a better life and tone up—improving their lifestyle habits may be a better approach.

Mistake #3: The “Do This” Approach

I have been guilty of this time and time again. I meet with a client, we talk, I know exactly what they need to do, I think it’s easy, then I just play the part of expert and tell them what to do.

The client gets excited in the moment because they now know what they need to do, but they don’t do a very good job following through with what I told them to do. I get frustrated because it’s easy for me. Just eat more vegetables, or fast all morning, or just pack a lunch for work.

A better approach is to have the client come up with the solution. Involve the client. The client should drive the process so they feel a sense of autonomy, like they are making the decision on what to do. Now, the client has a level of ownership.

Instead of simply telling the client, “You need to do x, y, z”, we ask the client what they feel they need to do. Or, based on these 3 things we could work on, which do you feel is the best place to start? Tell me how you would go about completing that.

If the solution comes from the client, a level of ownership ensues which works wonders for follow-up because it is what the client decided to do.

Mistake #4: Losing Sight of the Big Picture

long term vision“I want to lose 10 pounds, yesterday,” says every client. If we could give our clients the option of taking this pill today and losing 10 pounds instantly or having to wait 3 months to lose it, every single person would choose the pill. And they would probably pay a premium for it.

Unfortunately, we know this is not how human physiology works. Fat loss takes time, and sustainable fat loss takes even more time. Everyone gets caught up in quick fixes. They are exciting. Don’t get me wrong. Quick fixes are possible, but they are rarely sustainable.

I can get someone to shed a TON of fat in 6 weeks, but it takes extreme dedication. There isn’t any room for error, and the client can’t expect to have much of a life. After those six weeks, most people are so relieved to be done that they binge out for the next week and lose much of the progress they just made.

Now, I play the long game. I look at the next 6 months or the next year. My clients work on one thing at a time, getting better at the process, failing and learning. They are focused on a lifestyle change rather than a quick fix.

Yes, we still have short 4-6 week sprints where the goal is to really dial it in. But after the sprint, they go right back to tangible, trackable habits.

Play the long game.

Mistake #5: Macros vs Real Food

I see this way too often in popular media. You should be eating 1.8 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight. Keep your carbs below 100 grams.

This is great and all, but most clients don’t care. People eat food. They don’t eat carbs and protein. They eat apples, they eat spinach and they eat beef. When we start talking in macros and grams, we lose most clients. We need to speak in client-speak.

This goes for measuring as well. Right now, I want you to get out a block of cheese and cut off 1 oz of cheese. What the heck is 1 oz of cheese?

Yet this is the information we are giving our clients. How about 4 oz of chicken breast, have you heard that one? Do you measure the size of the breast and cut it down to a 4 oz serving when you get the chicken home from the store? Absolutely not, we cook up the whole dang chicken breast and eat it.

Speak how a client eats, in real-food terms. A great tip, learned from Precision Nutrition, is to use familiar measuring tools like body parts—a palm of protein, a fist of vegetables, a thumb of fat or a cupped hand of carbs.

Use visuals like a plate. For a typical meal, ¼ of the plate is protein, ¾ of the plate is vegetables and water to drink.

Mistake #6: Ignoring Nutrition All Together

We see this all the time in the fitness industry. We just hope the client starts figuring out their nutrition through osmosis. Many trainers are afraid of what they can and can’t say with a client if they are not a registered dietician, so they opt for saying nothing at all.

This is not a solution. You are not using food to treat or cure anything. Your goal is the help your client build healthy habits. You don’t need a Masters in Dietetics to help a client eat more vegetables, but you can’t help a client eat more vegetables so they can treat their diabetes.

Most fit pros don’t have a system for nutrition. That makes the whole process overwhelming. Just handing out a meal plan is way easier than trying to develop an entire nutrition program based around habits.

Mistake #7: Skipping Compliance Tracking

Tracking can get really tricky, especially if you have lots of clients.

Who has the time to read hundreds of food journals and comment on each with actionable items hoping the client puts into practice the advice you gave? No one. Unless, of course, you hire another full-time staffer to simply address the food journals.

Who has the time and energy to go through hundreds of habit sheets that clients turn in, record them, and get the next set out to them? No one. So just like your clients, when they run into something complicated and hard, what do most of us opt to do…nothing.

Most clients hire a coach because they are looking for accountability. The coach holds them accountable to their workouts, which is easy because you are with them. What about the other 165 hours of the week? Who is holding them accountable then?

Mistake #8: Assuming Competence

Fitness and nutrition is easy for us. We do it every day, 8 hours a day. We study this stuff in our free time. We experiment with new diets. We learn new recipes. We try different workouts or cooking methods and we coach people on this all day long.

Most of our clients don’t have the same passion for this stuff as we do. They just want to fit into that old pair of jeans or lose the muffin top. If they could take a pill for it they would. Some have even tried.

Trainers tend to infer that the knowledge they have is the same knowledge the client has and we forget that they are beginners. We assume they know how to shop for the right foods. We assume they know how to pick ripe vegetables. We assume they know how to prepare and cook those foods. We assume a higher level of competence than most people have.

This assumption leads to the delivery of information that is too advanced for a client. If you were just learning how to play the piano and you were given Beethoven’s 5th Symphony in C Minor to play, do you think you would stick with it very long?

I doubt it.

Mistake #9: Aiming for Perfection

The all or nothing approach is all too common in the fitness industry. It’s vegetarian or carnivore, it’s paleo, it’s vegan or it’s a very strict set of rules to which I need to adhere. If I stray at all from those rules, it’s a failure.

How often do you see a client that becomes very rigid with their diet only to have an epic meltdown and completely fall off at some point?

The goal is not perfection. The goal is progress. Progress takes time. Progress means failing. Progress is messy.


Check Out Habit Catalyst

If you want to avoid making these nutrition mistakes with your clients and are looking for an easy solution to help you manage nutrition coaching in your business, I highly recommend that you check out Habit Catalyst.

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About the Author

trev.wittwerTrevor Wittwer is a part of the FR High Performance Coaching Program. In addition to being the  co-creator of Habit Catalyst, he also owns and operates Functional Fitness in Redwood Falls, Minnesota.

He attended college at Gustavus Adolphus College in St. Peter, MN and then played basketball overseas in Germany. Trevor has his BA in Health Fitness (pre-chiropractic) with a minor in coaching, and is passionate about helping people lead healthier, happier lives.

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