This week was a busy week in nutrition services for me. Meeting with individuals in person, small groups, online and the phone had me thinking a lot about where the line is between those who really “get it” and others who are so close to making great progress but just aren’t taking the last few steps to help everything fall into place.
So I started thinking about how you have different levels of clients and even coaches. Most of us fall into a few tiers of training experience and nutrition experience. No level is bad nor does it indicate something is wrong; all it does is reflect your current state. However, like all coaches, we want to continually build up the appropriate level for the appropriate clients to get them the results they desire. I generally think about three levels. There are more shades of grey here but this helps us break down where we currently are.
Level One: Exercise and Eating Healthy
Just like with training, you have people who “exercise”. This is the nutritional equivalent of someone who “eats healthy”. They go to the gym and move around and sweat and it is awesome because they feel good and see positive changes in their body. Now the nutritional equivalent is our healthy eater. They know sweets are bad and they cut out soda, switch to wheat bread over white and stay away from fatty cuts of meat. Again, awesome. They’ve made positive changes and know they are doing something right but it is just the start.
Level One indicates that someone has committe themselves to a process and the results usually come quickly but fade out just as fast. This is the break where people choose to take the next step or get frustrated and give up.
Level Two: Programmed Training and Nutrition
For about 80% of my clients, this is where I want them to be. Everyone starts in Level One sometime but how fast we move to Level 2 is based on many factors like availability to coaching, financial resources, desire to learn, results acquired etc.
This is programmed progress. At this level, we aren’t asking a client to fully understand the programming but we know with time, they’ll see patterns, understand the process and some will move to level three. But Level 2 is just fine to stay in. Maybe for the first time someone moves from random exercise to a basic training template with linear periodization. They’re going to see progress, lots of it at first. Our nutritional equivalent is someone who now is getting more programmed advice for their specific needs. High or low carb or fat? Protein grams? Water intake? Nutrition for days on or off?
These adjustments mean someone is getting more personalized attention and everyone, barring kids and possibly the elderly, should be in Level 2 at some point. Take caution against comparing yourself to those who eat whatever they want and just do “whatever” in the gym and look good. They probably looked good before that too. Was someone a high school wrestler or track athlete? Were their parents? Did they ride their bike to school for 4 years? Honestly, we forget people have lives that exist before and outside of the gym, don’t stay in Level 1 just because so and so does and looks great.
Level Three: Periodization and Self-Programming
Coaches should know Level Three. They don’t always have to practice it or write their own programs but they should certainly understand it. Clients do not need to. However, with enough time and if you have the desire to learn, you can get to a place where you know exactly what to do.
Periodization basically just means there is a logical ebb and flow to your programs with the push towards progress. For clients it may mean 4 weeks of high volume, low intensity lifting with a transition to greater intensity, lower volume and more specificity over the course of the next 4, 8 or 12 weeks. It also means variations in workload and rest during those periods. Nutrition should be periodized as well to meet your training. Taking a refeed day, eating a surplus on higher volume training weeks or taking two to four week “lean out” periods between higher calorie phases are all examples.
I don’t need to do this with most of my clients but there are times when it is very helpful to further progress and it is an educational tool.
Spend enough time having someone program for you and you’ll eventually learn their thought process. It helps to spend some time here once in a while because it can be very freeing once you know what works.
Understanding Your Training
If you view nutrition as another aspect of training, it can help put things into perspective. When a client says they are really trying but just not getting it, feeling successful, having a rough week or what have you, I think it is important to understand what that means.
Effort in the gym comes down to many things:
- Showing up 90% of the time even if it isn’t convenient, or there is bad weather or not feeling very motivated
- Choosing challenging weights, rep schemes and/or rest periods
- Always working to improve form
- Understanding that training is a process, not a single event
So if a client says they are not having success with a training program but they are “trying” or making an effort, what do you look at? Maybe them come every single time but choose the same weights for months on end. Maybe they absolutely kill it every training session but only show up for half of them. Maybe they don’t listen and never take proper rest periods and constantly overshoot percentages.
You can see that what one person perceives as effort may be different to them than to you. Simply getting them to choose correct loading may be all the fix you need.
If we flip that from a nutrition perspective, what is effort?
- Actually buying the correct food at the grocery store
- Cooking or prepping that food
- Choosing to eat that food even when there are other choices
- Eating the recommended amounts
There are plenty more but this is a start. When I think someone is really putting in effort but not getting results, or optimal results, it comes down to education. So they may really be putting in maximum effort shopping and cooking but might not realize cooking with 2 tablespoons of olive oil at each meal is hindering progress.
My job then is to educate. But if someone already KNOWS what to do then it doesn’t come down to “things just aren’t working”, it comes down to level of effort.
As an anecdote that got me thinking about this whole process, I recently moved and was trying to reach the property management group that was sending me my deposit. I called and emailed MANY times and no response. Or I would call and the person I needed to speak to was always in a meeting, home sick etc…….right. Then I called one day and the receptionist said this person “tried” to contact me but couldn’t. I remember telling my wife that I received no calls, emails or voicemails. So unless this person’s arm fell off while dialing my number, they actually didn’t TRY to contact me.
I was amazed that after all the effort I put in, they would say that they “tried”. But this word gets thrown around so much that we forget trying implies effort. Whether you succeed or not is a product of time and continued effort. Just thinking about something or wishing it does not mean you tried.
It can be a hard pill to swallow that our results come down to the choices we make. If you reached right past that grilled chicken in your fridge and grabbed that block of cheddar for some night time snacking, then you did not "try". Unless your hand bounced off the chicken and knocke the cheddar into your mouth, you did accidentally eat it.
This is why it is SO important not to give clients over complex goals at first if they cannot handle them. Everyone wants to jump into the perfect program, but if you can't even boil water, we might want to start there first.
This is not meant to sound harsh or to belittle anyone’s efforts. To me it is just putting into perspective what we actually mean when we say effort, try, attempted and so on.
So if I give client the goal of "eat 150g" protein daily and they do, I don't say they did not succeed if they also ate a muffin. Their success was based solely on eating the required protein and that is all I care about at the moment. Then this opens up what the meaning of effort, success and results really can be.
I don’t always care what level someone is at when working with them, but effort trumps all. A high level of knowledge with no implementation will always fall short of a little ignorance and a whole lot of effort.
Your nutrition is your training. To get better you need to educate yourself to the degree that you understand the process and why you are doing what you are doing. But from there the next step is all effort. Just like all the intention in the world means nothing if you never step foot into the gym, all best laid nutrition plans mean nothing unless there is some hustle to implement.
So this ends with the question being asked: Do you need more education or more effort? There is nothing wrong with needing one or the other but if you choose neither, you will stay where you are.