How to choose a nutrition coach
The answer to this might seem a bit obvious but, like in any industry, there are a lot of scheisters out there. A friend of mine recently had his car stolen by a used car sales business. They only dealt in luxury cars, they seemed to have a reasonable reputation locally and so my friend chose them to sell his car for him. A week later he drove past and the entire lot was empty, they had scarpered and taken all the cars with them. What does this story have to do with choosing the right nutrition coach?
I know people who have been similarly duped by fitness professionals.
First off let me just say that I am not passive aggressively ragging on anyone in particular, so if you think I’m talking about you, that says more about your practice than it does about me. In fact, in the cases I have come across the name of the coach was never actually divulged to me but if it was you, then shame on you for bringing our industry into disrepute.
What to consider for starters when choosing a coach
First off, what exactly is it that you want to achieve?
Knowing this is important, I’ve had people come to me because they wanted to (in their words) “tone up and build muscle” but what they were actually looking for was to slim down, meaning they needed a fat loss diet, which is slightly different. So, be honest, both with yourself and your coach. If you want to build muscle then say that, but be aware that this means gaining weight and, maybe, a little fat. If you want to lose fat then say that you want to lose fat. This starts you and your prospective coach off on the right foot.
Next you need to find someone who’s principles and message resonate with your own. Don’t pick a body transformation coach with an Instagram account full off lots of gym mirror selfies unless you want to train, eat and act exactly like them. Sure, there are exceptions and some transformation coaches are also fantastic at coaching ‘normal people’ who aren’t further along the narcissism spectrum, but these are few and far between. You wouldn’t choose a rugby coach to work with a swim team, the same applies.
Do they have any testimonials?
Read them, but analyse them to see if they seem genuine? If they post a lot of transformation photos - are they genuine? One thing about Instagram is that you often see the same photos posted on different accounts, meaning that they have either been stolen or bought and aren’t actually that person’s work. All testimonials are cherry-picked, nobody is going to post a monologue by a client who thought you were rubbish, but if someone has really impressed a good number of people and they are happy to write about it, that’s a good sign.
Just like the last point, though, are these before and after pictures and testimonials reflecting the kind of result that YOU actually want? The last thing you want is to choose a nutrition coach who forces you into dieting down for a photoshoot in order to bolster their portfolio when all you actually want is to learn how to manage a healthy lifestyle while balancing a busy work schedule and 3 hungry kids, without feelings of guilt for doing something for yourself for a change.
Where to find the right coach for you
I’ve already mentioned Instagram and this is a great place for finding physique coaches because the format lends itself to posting those pictures, selfie anyone?
If that’s your thing, do some window shopping there. In fact, social media is pretty good in general; some coaches use Twitter, but what can you REALLY learn about a coach from 140 characters or less?
Facebook is great because it allows for long form text posts, photos, videos and external links to the coach’s website (i.e. here’s my Facebook page: www.facebook.com/TmFitness). This is where you can get to know the coach better. Do they have a sense of humour that matches yours? Does their message resonate with you? If they are highly active on social media you’ll pretty quickly learn whether they are focused on educating and backing their points up with evidence or if they put most of their effort into talking other coach’s down in an attempt to reinforce their own sense of insecurity.
At the end of the day, the client-coach relationship is a special one and if you don’t have anything in common with your prospective coach or the coach lacks empathy, the relationship won’t be a happy one. It may not seem like it, but this kind of thing matters.
Referrals are always a good indicator but even here it’s important to understand the journey that the person making the referral went on. Did they choose a coach to help them get their diet right for a power lifting comp? Are you a power lifter? But, if the friend, or whomever is making the recommendation, had similar goals to you and was, or is, satisfied with their results that’s a good sign that you could have similar success with that same nutrition coach.
What is the coach’s approach?
Does the coach you are considering advocate a specific method or protocol? Do they make all their clients go low carb and do hours of fasted cardio because fat loss is hard and only magic works? Do all of their clients find themselves tied to a calorie tracking app? Is everyone buying the same supplements? Or, do they place an emphasis on general principles then use expertise to utilise specific methods for specific goals?
As a general rule of thumb, simple usually works best and the more stressful the approach seems, the fewer people actually need to use it. You see, a good nutrition coach will offer a bespoke service and even the most evidence based coach can fail to apply critical thinking when dealing with the general population. Just because the research says that you might need to eat 200 grams of protein broken up evenly over 4 meals every 3-4 hours to maximise hypertrophy, that doesn’t mean that YOU actually need to do that right away. They should work with you as an individual to find the ideal balance between the mythical ideal and the practically possible.
I had a client recently who was used to a fairly low carb diet, but being that most of their training was resistance based with some intense cardio the theoretical ideal intake for her would have been close to 5g per kilogram of bodyweight. Rather than just going with the evidence I worked with her to find a happy medium which improved her performance but also made her feel good and allowed her to adhere to the plan. We found that 3-3.5g per kg was her upper limit before it started to affect her levels of digestive comfort and so, despite the theory we kept it there. Her sleep improved and so did her lifts and she still lost body fat. We just dropped the carbs on non-training days so that she could eat the fatty foods she loved.
This kind of bespoke and very specific approach wouldn’t happen if you chose a coach who gives out cookie cutter approaches based off online calculators and textbooks alone, then provides little to no bespoke guidance. Some coaches think that nutrition is about working out your calorie needs, assigning you protein, fat and carbohydrate numbers via very simple maths and saying “eat that”, but in the real world this won’t cut it. I have heard of coaches who have a no refund policy and then fail to deliver any results and just take your money. You signed a contract, after all!
Is the coach certified?
This is pretty important. When you are choosing a nutrition coach you need to think “Are they qualified to provide the service they offer?” This is particularly relevant to the physique world where gyms up and down the country are full of gurus and ‘experts’ who have trophies but no vocational qualifications.
If you find a personal trainer giving out meal plans which tell you what to eat and when - they are working outside of the confines of their remit. REPs (Register of Exercise Professionals) put a stop to this because, unless you have clinical qualifications like a Registered Dietician you are NOT qualified to prescribe meal plans. This is simply because too many trainers were giving out something which looks like this:
- Meal 1 – 4 Egg whites, 75g oatmeal, 1 scoop of whey
- Meal 2 – 4oz chicken, ½ cup rice, spinach
- Meal 3 – 2 scoops whey, 1 tbsp peanut butter
- Meal 4 – Same as meal 2
- Meal 5 – Post workout – 2 scoops of whey, 1 scoop of maltodextrin
- Meal 6 - Salmon and green beans
It doesn’t take a dietician or a blood panel to show you that, if you actually manage to stick to that, you’re going to become deficient in something and you’ll indeed lose weight, but it’s not sustainable.
The nutrition coach / nutritionist should be certified and insured for what they do and should know how to operate within their remit (as are all BTN coaches, and graduates of the BTN Academy), so do check this for piece of mind so that you can be assured they simply know what they are doing, and are insured against their advice to you.
"What exactly is it that you want to achieve?".
Does the coach have a good reputation?
I’ve kind of touched on this one already, but it’s safe to say that if your prospective nutrition coach doesn’t have much of a reputation in their area or online then they are either new (not necessarily a bad thing but experience is important) or not very good. Of course, it’s possible that they are just bad at marketing themselves, but if they get results they will gain a reputation regardless.
Conversely, if they have a reputation for giving out the aforementioned cookie cutter plans, ripping people off or pestering people to sign up to their network marketing scam… I mean, scheme.. (NO, f*** it I DO mean scam) they’re best given a wide berth.
Their reputation should be far more than before and after pics, do people use words like rapport, empathy, sensitivity, flexibility when talking about their coach? These are all good signs that they have a good nutrition coach. I can honestly say that some of the best results I’ve had with weight loss clients have come when I’ve stopped talking about nutrition and started listening to their problems. Sometimes being a nutrition coach is like being a hair dresser or barman, people tell you stuff they wouldn’t even tell their partner. If you are this person then you really ought to make sure that you are talking to a coach who actually wants to listen.
Questions to ask a prospective nutrition coach
When you approach a coach, if they are a decent human being they will be happy to answer your questions and may even offer you some free time on skype or a quick phone call. Tell them what your goals and expectations are, ask them how they would approach helping you to achieve your goals, ask about their background – if they are offering sports performance packages do they have personal experience or qualification? Ask them what their area of expertise is, how they work and if you have any limitations or reservations tell them and ask how they would address these.
When you talk to them do they listen to you or talk at you? Do they talk about themselves a lot or do they address you directly or say ‘we’ a lot? This last one may seem a little odd but if the coach says things like “what we’ll do” or “how we’ll approach this” could indicate that they will be as invested in your journey as you are.
So there you have it, choosing a nutrition coach can be daunting, so my advice is to not rush into it. Follow a few coaches whose message seems to resonate with you and then whittle it down to a couple. Drop them an email or give them a ring or message them on their preferred social media format and take it from there.
Just don’t be a nutrition coach groupie, as lovely, patient and empathic as we are (those of us who do care) we like timewasters no more than you do so when you do make that step to reach out be certain that you intend to actually go through with it. If there’s any doubt in your mind then you probably aren’t ready to create change just yet, or are not 100% sure if this coach is for you, just yet.
In case you are actually looking for a nutrition coach, by the way, we have a bunch of them who are all great people as well as great coaches, but obviously, I’m the best so choose me.