The Need for Individualized Nutritional Programming

There is no one-size-fits-all nutrition program. In fact, various programs such as Paleo, Keto, Zone, etc. may all live together within the same gym based on the membership population or even within the same individual depending on their current training status. Therefore, as trainers and coaches, we should be most concerned with which nutritional program is best suited for an individual athlete or client rather than voraciously debating the all-encompassing superiority of one program versus another. I was first turned on to this view of nutrition several years ago, listening to Dr. Louis J. Aronne, MD, FACP and Director of the Comprehensive Weight Control Center at the Weill Cornell Medical School discuss how to dispense nutritional advice to obese patients. He stated, “Whatever you pick for your patient, try it for 6 weeks. Start with the Mediterranean diet for example, go for 6 weeks. If you see no results, pick the next thing.” That really is the thing with nutrition; on an individual level you have to try something and stick to it for a dedicated period of time and if it isn’t working, then move on; just keep trying! Even if a program initially garners results, weight loss plateaus are very real and can occur during any nutrition program because, unfortunately as we start to lose body weight our metabolic rate actually slows down curbing further weight loss. Therefore, we may have to rotate through several nutritional strategies with an athlete or client based on their physiology, not what is trendy at that point in time. Therefore, the nutritional experiment may be never ending!
So, why is nutrition so complicated? Three explanations initially come to mind. First, people want a quick fix. They prefer to have lost 20 lbs. yesterday not in 6 weeks. Second, there are A LOT of dollars wrapped up in the food industry and food packed with refined sugar and high carbohydrates is cheap. Third, we are inundated by groupthink, public press releases, etc. advertising the next best and quickest way to lose weight in a one-size-fits-all model. Have you ever heard the local news anchor say, “And what’s best for your nutrition and weight loss goals, depends on you but it will involve a lot of time and whole foods!”? As complicated as it is to sort through these issues, and with legal ramifications in certain states effecting trainers dispensing nutritional advice, the importance of figuring all these questions out in order to provide the best individualized nutritional programming has never been more imperative.
So, what do we do about nutrition as a fitness community? As individual athletes, I think it’s imperative to read and research and then select a nutritional program you think is best suited for your needs. And then, GIVE IT TIME! Failure can happen fast, success takes time (6 weeks at minimum)! As a community, support your teammates at your gym for simply getting on board with a nutrition program. If they are looking for information and discussion, fully indulge but please avoid the, “What? Paleo? WHY that diet?” statements in favor of full on support for others and what they have chosen. Finally, as trainers and coaches, it’s important to start thinking of the nutritional needs of our athletes on an individual level. Yes; this is difficult. Yes; this creates more work. Yes; it is truly what is needed. Susan, Becky and Michael are likely all different types of athletes, at different places in their training and with different physiologies. Therefore, a blanket one-size-fits-all nutritional prescription is most likely not the most effective strategy for each athlete. As recently reported in the literature, “Physical Activity Does Not Influence Obesity Risk”, but rather the unabating obesity epidemic is an issue of individual nutrition quality and quantity. Nothing is currently more controversial than nutrition programming, and as we look toward the future as a fitness community nothing will be more vital to health than the quality of individualized nutritional programming.

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