I recognize that nutrition is a HUGE component to a well-rounded performance program, and for many that this is their pitfall (often myself included). I understand that people want nutritional advice from their favorite fitness professional as they assume we have it all together or know 100% what we should eat all the time. They figure we loathe sweets, only eat chicken breast, and stay away from fast food at all costs – and while for many of us that is the truth, we are also human. But, my insane sweet tooth and love for cookie cake are NOT the reason I steer away from this topic. No, my main reason is that I am an EXERCISE scientist.
I’m an Exercise Scientist
As an exercise scientist. I love exercise physiology. I spent seven years of my life in higher education, learning everything I could about human anatomy, exercise physiology, program design, and the psychology behind performance. Simply put, I KNOW exercise! It is what I eat, sleep, and breathe. (I joke all the time that I can explain to you anaerobic threshold backward and forward, but don’t ask me anything about current events or who our 22 president was!)
In those seven years I only took 2 nutrition courses – 1 introductory course that taught the basic principles and 1 advanced class which focused on nutrition’s application to exercise physiology. In all my schooling I never had to learn the chemistry of food. I never had to understand how certain foods interacted with specific medications or medical conditions. Simply put, my nutrition knowledge is very limited to what is taught to the general population through the USDA.
My friends in the Nutrition department, who went on to become Registered Dietician Nutritionist (RD’s), they are the ones who focused on the science of food and nutrition. They know food inside and out, just like I know exercise science, sports performance, and Group Fitness like the back of my hand. They eat, sleep, and breathe food calculations. They get a rush over creating meal programs specific to an individual’s performance goals and current conditioning level. They know the what, why, and how of food planning & caloric needs and do an awesome job at it.
We are NOT Registered Dieticians
Throughout college it was emphasized to use that we were NOT Registered Dietitian Nutritionist. That we were NOT EVER to prescribe nutritional programs or tell someone the amount of calories that they were to consume in a day. We could give very general suggestions based on the USDA Recommendations, but doing any more than that was a breach of our professional scope of practice and could place us at risk for legal ramifications if someone got sick or died due to a nutritional plan we prescribed.
I really took this to heart, realizing that I could not know everything, and deciding to specialize in Exercise Science, Group Fitness, and Sports Performance. So instead of faking my way through it, or providing suggestions that are not 100% based on nutrition science, I leave this to the experts. When someone asks for meal plans, I refer them to local RD’s who I know and trust. I provide exercise programs and Registered Dietitian Nutritionist can provide the meal plans.
It would be crazy to go to your cardiologist for an orthopedic injury, so why would you go to an exercise scientist for nutritional advice???
You should note that a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist is VERY different from someone calling themselves a nutritionist or certified nutritionist.
A Registered Dietitian Nutritionist or RDN is….
- A nutritionist accredited by the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics (formerly the American Dietetic Association or ADA).
- Has completed an undergraduate program in nutrition and also a one year clinical internship program.
- Must pass a national exam administered by the American Dietetic Association.
- Must maintain their registered status through continuing education and advanced degrees/certifications for areas of specialization.
A nutritionist is….
- Non-accredited title that may apply to somebody who has done a short course in nutrition or who has given themselves this title.
- The term Nutritionist is not protected by law in almost all countries so people with different levels of and knowledge can call themselves a “Nutritionist”.
- Could have simply completed an online certification course, instead of studying the science through an accredited collegiate program.
Fit Pro’s: I challenge you to question YOUR practices. Are you providing nutritional advise and programming without the adequate knowledge and education to prescribe safe and effective programming. Don’t be afraid to refer your clients out to someone else who you know and trust.
Athletes: Take a look at the credentials and educational background of those you are taking nutrition advice from. I challenge you to look at that “prescribed meal plan” that comes with the 30-day challenge and ask if it was in any way customized to your health, medical needs, and personal goals. Just like no exercise program is one-size-fits all, nutrition programs MUST be customized in order to be safe and effective. I beg you to stop purchasing those “meal plans”, dietary supplements, protein shakes, and whatever other plethora of nutritional products that may get pushed on you from “fitness professionals”. Instead, do your research and find a Registered Dietician Nutritionist in your area.
Ultimately, I decided to keep my personal website purely about exercise, exercise science, and group fitness instruction. If you are looking for some reparable nutrition experts, then do your research and find someone with a strong background in Nutrition Science.
If you are wondering how I approach nutrition & weight loss questions with participants & clients (because I inevitably DO get them), I keep it simple. I just STICK TO THE BASICS. I discuss the general knowledge points that they should know and understand. Things such as:
- AVERAGE recommended calories per day is 2,000 (USDA)
- 3500 calories = 1 lb
- Healthiest way to lose weight is 1-2 lbs per week, which is a reduction of 3500-7000 calories per week (through a combination of diet and exercise). This breaks down to 500-1,000 calories/day. One of the easiest ways to do this is simply cut out 1-2 sodas and get a 30-minute walk in.
- Protein & Carbohydrates have the lowest amount of calories per gram (4 calories/gram), while Alcohol has moderate (7 calories/gram), and Fat has the highest (9 calories/gram).
- Carbohydrates are important component of any well rounded meal as they are the primary source of ENERGY for the body and are vital in ATP production (especially important for endurance athletes).
- Understanding how to read food labels (do they understand how many servings are in their favorite bag of chips).
- Diets don’t work! Find a healthy, all natural way to eat, and stick to it. Diets are more prone to failure because they are not emphasizing a healthy lifestyle, instead a “quick fix”.
I NEVER discuss my personal programs or what I eat daily as it may not work for everyone else. My program is specific to my activity levels, my goals, and my nutritional needs. I have worked with RD’s over the years to determine this, and know that it is not right for everyone else. As a fitness professional it is important to remember: WHAT WORKS FOR YOU MAY NOT BE APPROPRAITE FOR EVERYONE ELSE.
Plus, the longer you get to know me you will learn that I do prefer salads over fast food and I would die without fruit in my diet. But I also LOVE my Friday night pizza and a movie date and that mom made it really hard to end any meal without a yummy desert to top it off. It may not be the best, but it is what works for me, and probably wouldn’t work for others.