05 Sep

When to Prescribe Food Quality Goals vs. Macronutrient Goals


There is a reason why babies crawl before they learn to walk. This biological order of operation sets the child up for success as they begin learning how to run, jump, skip, ride a bicycle, etc. Each necessary skill builds upon the other to ensure proper balance, stability, and body awareness. Imagine learning how to ride a bike without first having the ability to walk. This would surely set you up for failure.

The same is true for nutritional practices. Moving too quickly across the continuum and skipping steps to reach a specific goal too quickly leads to a lifestyle of yo-yo dieting and minimal results that last.

At Central Athlete we have various levels of nutritional protocols that build a proper foundation for long-lasting results. If you want the fancy stuff, you have to earn it, or else it doesn't last. 

In this article, we look at two different individuals with varying goals and discuss their different nutritional protocols in detail. We compare when it is appropriate for someone to focus on food quality versus focusing on specific and complex macronutrient prescriptions. We also explain what would happen if the personalized nutritional protocols were switched, and how detrimental that could be for the client and their success.

Client 1

Jordan is a 45-year-old male, married with two children and a full-time job running his own law firm. He came to Central Athlete looking for increased energy, better work/life balance, and improved body composition. More specifically, Jordan wants to lose the 15 extra pounds he gained since opening his practice and become more productive at work so he can spend quality time with his family in the evenings. He’s found that he his energy and productivity dip in the afternoon and that causes him to have to put in extra time before he can go home. 

Based on a 14-day food log and his in-person assessment, his Central Athlete coach came to the conclusion that Jordan had very little nutritional awareness. He lacked consistency in logging his food and was consuming minimal micronutrients from whole foods (calcium, zinc, magnesium, fiber, etc.) 

Below is an example of a single day of Jordan’s food intake before coming into Central Athlete:

Breakfast: 1 cinnamon raisin bagel with cream cheese and a 12oz coffee with 1 tbs sugar, ½ cup hazelnut creamer 

Snack: 1 chocolate chip cookie, 16oz coca-cola, and 1 bag of jalapeno potato chips

Lunch: Turkey Sandwich with cheddar cheese on white bread with 1 bag of ruffles potato chips

Dinner: 3 slices of Pepperoni Pizza with a romaine lettuce salad and ranch dressing - 2 glasses of red wine

Dessert: 2 scoops chocolate ice cream

Total Calories: 3,948 • Protein: 102 grams • Carbohydrates: 458 grams • Fat: 178 grams

Jordan’s mindset around food was all about convenience. What was quick and easy to consume was very important to him because his schedule was extremely busy. Because of this, all of his meals included refined carbohydrates and lacked important nutrients. Micronutrient deficiency and refined carbohydrates are oftentimes the sole cause of afternoon fatigue and a lack of mental acuity throughout the day. 

To support Jordan's long-term success in becoming more efficient at work, improving his energy levels throughout the day, and losing body fat, his nutritional protocol first focussed on increasing food quality to improve his micronutrient consumption and decrease the number of refined carbohydrates he was consuming. Naturally, by adding in more nutrient-dense foods, Jordan consumed fewer calories, felt more satiated throughout the day, and experienced improved energy levels in a short amount of time.

Knowing that Jordan needed food that was fast and convenient, we started making small incremental changes to support improving his food quality and increasing his protein consumption while keeping convenience in mind. We began by focusing on his breakfast. We replace the bagel with pre-cooked organic Chicken Sausages and a 16oz smoothie (2 cups frozen spinach and kale, 1 serving Revive Rebuild protein powder, 1 cup frozen blueberries, ½ cup coconut milk, and 1 Tbs Almond butter). This was a great substitute that added no more than 3 minutes to his morning routine and provided the nutrients and macronutrient balance he needed to maintain alert and focused throughout the day! 

Client 2

Ashley is a 34-year-old female who works full time, is married with no children and has a strong foundation and knowledge around nutrition and training. She’s also had many years of CrossFit experience and had been logging her food and eating a paleo style diet for the past two years with great results. In the past six months, she had noticed a decline in her performance and came to Central Athlete looking to get stronger and improve her placing in the 2019 CrossFit Open. 

Below is an example of a single day of Ashley’s food intake before coming into Central Athlete:

Breakfast: 1 cup egg whites, 2 cups spinach, 1 slice turkey bacon

Snack: 1 cucumber with 1 tbs almond butter

Lunch: 4oz salmon with 2 cups steamed broccoli

Snack: 1 serving protein powder mixed with water

Dinner: 4 Cups raw spinach with 4oz chicken breast, 1 cucumber, ½ avocado, 1 celery stick mixed with lemon and olive oil

Calories: 1,242 • Protein: 131 grams • Carbohydrates: 46 grams • Fat: 59 grams

Her 28-day food log showed that Ashley had high nutritional awareness, great food quality, and a strong foundation of measuring and logging her food. Because of this information, we were able to conclude that the challenges she faced were a result of her energy balance not being aligned with her goals. Ashley was expending more energy than she was consuming and therefore the nutritional protocol given by her Central Athlete coach was geared towards specific macronutrient and caloric intake each day.

We focused on increasing her total caloric intake to 2,000 calories per day as a starting point and prescribed specific targets around protein, carbohydrates, and fat consumption to support her level of training.

Unlike Jordan, Ashley’s nutritional protocol required daily food logging and measuring to ensure she was following the prescription exactly to support her performance inside the gym.

Logging food alone can be a challenging task for most individuals. Asking Jordan to log his food every day and track specific macronutrients out of the gate would lead to feelings of frustration and failure as well as yo-yo logging and inconsistency. This prescription would not address his biggest priority of increasing energy levels and spending more quality time with his family. 

Asking for specific macronutrients too early without a foundation of food quality can also cause exhaustion, poor sleep, and issues with hunger management and satiety. A study done in 2010 found that hunger is one of the major impediments to successful weight loss. 

“Our findings suggest that it is not simply the caloric content, but more importantly the micronutrient density of a diet the influences the experience of hunger. It appears that a high nutrient density diet can result in a sustainable eating pattern that leads to weight loss and improved health” - Fuhrman et al. 2010

Therefore, by focusing on improving food quality first, Jordan not only experienced better energy balance and productivity at work, but his body composition improved as well. 

Since Ashley had already met the foundational requirements of food quality, awareness, adequate hydration and protein consumption with a long history of tracking her food, she was ready for a more specific and complex nutritional prescription. 

If we had Ashley continue focusing on only food quality, it would be more difficult to consume the number of calories needed to support her active lifestyle and performance goals. 

The importance of personalized nutritional prescriptions can not be understated. Even when two individuals have the exact same goal, their starting point, nutritional awareness, and lifestyle is not the same and thus require different protocols to ensure long-term success. 

At Central Athlete, our goal is to set every client up for success by meeting them where they are currently and moving them towards their unique goals through a personalized plan in training, nutrition, and more. This is done by creating small incremental changes over a long period that will last a lifetime. Quick and short term fixes do not result in long term success! Understanding the client’s temperament, lifestyle, priorities, and awareness around nutrition should all be taken into consideration when creating a nutrition prescription.  

If you are looking to take your performance or nutrition to the next level with a plan that is built specifically for you, Central Athlete is your gym! We have built our business with the individual, their results and experience as our guiding light. From personalized nutritional guidance to training and lifestyle support as well as monthly consultations, your Central Athlete coach works and collaborates with you to ensure you are objectively moving towards your goals. If you are interested in learning, be sure to hit the link below to speak to a Central Athlete coach today! 

In Health, 

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