Nutrition prescriptions can be both simple and complex depending upon the individual’s starting point and their motivation for change. At Central Athlete, it is no secret that our mission is to build long-term healthy habits that support each client’s specific goal and function.
Every prescription begins with a thorough assessment that takes a deeper look into the lives of each individual from their nutrition to sleep patterns and stress to their lifestyle, routines and much more. This gives us a baseline on where to begin, but it is important that progress and metrics are continuously tracked to ensure the plan moves in the right direction. Consistent monthly consultations with each client give our coaching staff the ability to adapt and adjust the plan as needed. A few important metrics that we track regarding our nutrition prescriptions are changes in body composition, performance inside the gym, recovery between training sessions, daily energy levels, and perceived mental acuity.
This article dives deep into how our nutrition prescriptions are formulated for each individual—as well as the true meaning around “personalized” nutrition.
Just like training, it is imperative to have a deep understanding of the principles regarding nutrition that lead a client to long-term success. It does not make sense to load up an individual with a heavy back squat if they do not have the proper motor control to support a technical bodyweight squat; similarly, it does not make sense to focus on macronutrients and supplementation if a strong foundation of nutrition and awareness has not been achieved.
An individual's nutritional awareness, their starting point, their motivation, their habits, their environment, and more importantly, their overall intention, will be the drivers for what goes into each individual’s nutritional prescription.
This can be explained in more detail on a previous blog: When to Prescribe Food Quality Goals Vs. Macronutrient Goals, where we discussed the difference in nutritional prescriptions based upon two different client avatars.
At Central Athlete we have three phases of nutrition, each building upon the previous phase to ensure the maximum benefit. Depending upon the objectives, level of motivation and the level of awareness, clients will progress at different rates. It is important to honor each phase of nutrition and to emphasize that there is no shortcut for time spent in the trenches, similar to developing the aerobic system. Just like training, nutrition is all about the long game. Despite what Instagram may tell you, there is no such thing as a quick fix that supports long-term success!
Phase 1 - Awareness, Protein, Nutrient Density, Hydration
It is extremely common for individuals to begin at Central Athlete with a focus on phase 1 nutritional practices, but where their coach chooses to start the nutritional prescription is dependent upon their specific goals and where they will see the most potential for success. For some clients, focusing on increasing their protein consumption will result in the greatest physiological change, in the least amount of time with the least psychological resistance while for others, it may be improving overall food quality.
There are also different ways to focus on the singular goal of improving food quality, which is also dependant upon each unique client. For some, their focus will be improving quality one meal at a time, while for others it may be adding various foods throughout the day that have greater nutritional density. What is their weakest link and how confident is the client regarding adhering to the new prescription? Those questions, among others, are important determinants when deciding each client’s starting point and ongoing nutritional protocols.
For clients who have mastered the foundation of nutrition and are still motivated to upgrade their nutritional focus, they are now ready to transition into phase 2 nutritional protocols. These protocols are more specific and advanced and involve more responsibility, time and complexity.
Phase 2 - Fats, Carbohydrates, Lifestyle, Intolerances
Ah, fat… everyone’s favorite topic. First of all, fat isn’t all bad for you. It’s important for digestion, cellular function, and the nervous system. The important thing is getting the right fat. The best sources of fats are animal sources, coconut, and olive sources, as well as some nuts and seeds, depending upon known food intolerances. A general guideline is to stay away from fats that are overheated or used for long-term shelf life in products.
When it comes to carbs, contrary to popular belief, the right carbohydrates can be fine depending upon function, activity, goals, and lifestyle. Additionally, a focus on improving the quality of those carbohydrates becomes part of the prescription. For example, is the client eating white bread toast with their breakfast or sweet potatoes? There are a variety of factors that should be taken into consideration here such as current body composition, activity level, and the client’s objectives.
A rhythmic lifestyle that adheres to sound evolutionary principles is paramount to long-term success, both inside and outside the gym. Quality sleep is the most important component for the absorption of nutrients, satiety, energy levels, and hormones. Seven to nine hours of sleep with no disruptions is ideal. If sleep is disrupted, hormones are released to create hunger and require more calories. Additionally, an individual's environment will always trump habits. You can “biohack” your way to better results, but you will always be fighting an uphill battle if you put yourself into an environment where you are constantly pressured to frequent bars and eat out at restaurants.
Although a bit “woo woo,” there is truth to the philosophy that if people do what they love and feel fulfilled, they will have a better system at the cellular level and absorb food more efficiently. Fulfillment, happiness, and purpose indirectly tie into nutrition. A stress response from a lifestyle of anxiety may change the gut composition and food absorption, and relying on false energy such as caffeine means food absorption may be suffering. Additionally, a client’s vocation may affect nutritional quality. If their job is weekday-intensive, we need to make sure their morning and weekend food profiles are dialed in.
Gaining a deeper understanding of which foods are well tolerated within the body is extremely personal based upon each individual and can have a big impact on performance and body composition. No two bodies are the same, but in order to complete this process successfully, an individual should remove a suspect food for a period of time and reintroduce the food and document how they feel. This can be a very tough change to accomplish for individuals even though the benefits are astronomical when it comes to optimizing health and wellbeing. We often experience clients dropping weight quickly when they avoid eating a food to which they have become intolerant. Food intolerance testing is something that clients often bring up; however, an elimination diet is considered the gold standard for determining food sensitivities as well as understanding the emotional connection to the intolerant foods.
Lastly, food hygiene and the values around food and eating are very important. Does the client smell their food during the cooking process? This will start the process of salivation and digestion. Sit down, chew slowly, with no stimulation (answering emails, scrolling Facebook, etc.) or liquids.
Once a client has shown long-term consistency and success related to their goals in phase 2, their coach may opt to start discussing phase 3 nutrition protocols. Keep in mind, this could take anywhere from 3 months to 3 years. As always, this is dependent on the client’s goals; for some, it isn’t necessary.
Phase 3 - Longevity, Performance, Supplementation
Phase 3 nutritional protocols involve a deep connection to what the client wants to accomplish and why. In regards to longevity, a food profile can be viewed through the lens of years instead of days and weeks. This is about day-to-day functioning, indefinitely. The food profile for health should be in terms of health markers, not entirely looks. There are way too many things going on inside the body to look at someone and determine health. Health is good energy, sleep, libido, musculoskeletal system, and an absence of aches and pains, overtraining, cortisol issues and sleep disruption.
However, performance is about points and the client may lose out on some health markers with regards to sleep, energy, processed foods, supplements, and energy rhythm to push beyond their current limits in competition. The post-workout window is of high importance here, as well as the dose/response of the workout prescribed. When workouts have a high central nervous system (CNS) demand, protein is even more important. When workouts have CNS and aerobic or glycolytic demands, both protein and carbohydrates are important. Additionally, cutting or taking out carbs when dealing with performance can lead to high stress and cortisol responses as well as overtraining, so how this impacts the specific client needs to be understood.
One of the final components of phase 3 is supplementation. As Hippocrates once said, “Let food be your medicine.” A good food profile must be in place first and then supplements will address any deficits that can’t be met with food.
It is important to understand that the principles around sound nutritional practices do not change and that the personalization begins with a deep understanding of where the client is starting and their capability to take on change based upon their current routine and lifestyle, not with the protocol itself.
Lower order nutritional prescriptions are common and most often result in macronutrient implementation too early in an individual's health journey or by creating a nutrition plan without a deep understanding of the individual’s lifestyle patterns, resilience, and nutritional awareness.
When the time is right, there will come a point in some clients’ journeys where a macronutrient focus is a great phase of nutrition upon which to focus. It is crucial to wait until the client has a solid foundation of nutritional awareness while continuing to provide other inputs around food quality, hydration, protein, and food hygiene before implementing this phase of nutrition. Similar to the principles around Central Athlete’s three phases of nutrition, there are also principles that Central Athlete coaches use to prescribe personalized energetic inputs and macronutrient prescriptions. How these numbers are calculated are determined specifically by the individual's goals, how much energy they expend, how well they tolerate carbohydrates and much more. Check out our blog that goes deeper into the importance of energy balance for performance and recomposition goals.
How fast an individual will move through these various phases is dependent on their motivation and compliance. If a client cannot adhere to the nutritional protocol with at least 90% consistency on a monthly basis, it does not make sense to then add another more difficult plan of action. This is the importance of Central Athlete’s monthly consultations as they give the coach a deeper understanding of how to support each client through the various phases of nutrition, training, and lifestyle. In the end, the only plan that truly works is one that can be followed consistently!
If you are looking for more guidance around your nutrition to ensure long-term success, the elimination of yo-yo dieting, and/or the ability to support your performance inside the gym or office, click the link below to speak to a Central Athlete coach today.
Interested in learning more? Click this link to access all of our nutritional content and keep reading to see what Rachel had to say about her experience working with a Central Athlete coach.
“I’ve learned more in the past 4-5 months working with Jesse at Central Athlete than I did with decades of self-study/trial and error (that almost always led back to where I started, resulting in a feeling of failure and exhaustion). The ultimate goal is to achieve a balance while pushing myself to hit realistic yet increasingly challenging mini-goals along the way. I feel better at 30 than I did at 20. Anxiety is gone, my body fat has come down by 4 %, my energy levels are high, and I feel strong as ever. The biggest lesson I’ve learned is to outsource your accountability - I couldn’t have done it without my coach at CA, my boyfriend Travis (who has the same coach and working to get healthier too), along with an awesome group of friends who don’t pressure me to drink/eat unhealthily. Thank you all for the support!”