Coaching is a science and an art. The rapport between client and coach is very important, but some people are better at selling themselves than they are at actually producing results. I put together this list of basic questions I ask every client I work with, and I firmly believe that if your coach isn’t asking the same questions, you need to consider working with someone else.
1. “What are your goals?”
It’s important that your coach understand what you want to accomplish by working with them. Yeah, everybody wants to look better, move better, feel better…but what about the specifics? How much fat do you want to lose? How long will it take? Without defining realistic goals to accomplish in a realistic timeframe, you can self-sabotage your results and wind up with a program that’s generally effective, but not specific enough to do what you ask. A good coach will help you break down long-term goals into shorter ones, help you map them out over the course of your relationship, and keep you accountable by providing checkpoints and ways to measure the efficacy of the program.
A big thing to watch out for is a coach who tries to assign their own personal goals to you – they’re concerned about strength primarily, so they kind of force it on you. They’re a runner, so they force running on you even though you like to squat. Incongruities among your own desires and what the coach wants are not a deal breaker but when they’re living vicariously through you, the relationship will not last long. While you may be “better” in the end, you’re not really getting what you want and that can be very demotivating. If you find yourself in such a situation, don’t feel bad about going elsewhere.
2. “How much do you weigh?”
The scale gets a bad rap, but weighing yourself before you start working with a nutrition coach is completely necessary. Skinfold readings and circumference measurements are all helpful metrics to use when judging body composition changes but knowing how much you weigh is the precursor to determining your optimal Caloric intake – how much you need to eat to maintain, lose, or gain weight effectively. If your new coach doesn’t ask for at least a ballpark figure before giving you advice, they’re shooting fish in a barrel.
Now, some people are very sensitive about their weight, which is completely understandable. Daily fluctuations in weight can be disappointing at best and frightening at worst. I’m not suggesting that you have to weigh yourself every single day (although I do) but once a week can’t hurt. Whether your goal is to lose body fat or put on some muscle, hopping on the scale once in a while is going to give you the information you need to determine if things are headed in the right direction so you can make changes to the program.
As a general rule, if your weight increases significantly within a short period of time, it’s probably fat. Building muscle is a slow process. Similarly, when you lose weight too fast it’s probably not fat – it’s more likely you’re just losing water weight. As a general rule, one pound of weight loss/gain a week tends to be good rule of thumb. There are extreme examples where you can get away with being a bit more aggressive but unless you weigh over 250 pounds as a female or 300 pounds as a male, one pound a week will serve you quite well.
3. “How much do you eat now?”
This is the first thing I usually want to know when I begin working with someone: “How much are you eating now?” Look, I get it – you have fat to lose and you probably think you are over eating, but guess what? You are going to have to prove to me that you’re eating too much because in my experience, most people are on the complete opposite end of the spectrum.
If your nutrition coach isn’t looking at food logs with specific Calorie and macronutrient breakdowns that represent your way of eating before you begin the program, they are pretty much wasting your time. Think about it like this: if your estimated daily energy requirements sit around 2500 Calories, but you’re only eating 1300 a day right now, you probably don’t want to bump things up by 1200 Calories overnight. You’ll feel bloated and probably put on a little bit of fat. Gradually increasing Calories is the way to go! This also applies to losing body fat – if your coach puts you on a 2000 Calorie diet assuming that it will result in a 500 Calorie deficit, but you’re only eating 2000 Calories to begin with…you aren’t gonna lose any body fat!
Now of course this doesn’t mean that you need to count Calories for the rest of your life but if you want specific results, your coach should be collecting food logs and basing their suggestions off of that information.
4. “What do you do for exercise/how active are you?”
Activity level is important for a lot of reasons but when you are trying to determine the amount and type of food a client is supposed to be eating, you should have something to base it on. In my opinion, the Harris Benedict formula or the Katch Mcardle formula (assuming you know the clients body fat percentage) are some of the best starting points in terms of understanding how much a client should be eating.
As an example, if someone kills themselves in the gym six days a week but they’re only eating 1700 calories a day, a hypocaloric diet isn’t the best place to start. Having them eat less is just going to push them closer and closer to injury. Remember that leaning out/reducing body fat percentage can be accomplished two different ways: by addition and by subtraction. In other words, you can either add muscle or lose body fat. A lot of coaches only know how to do things one way – they only know how to subtract, and that simply isn’t the right way to go all the time.
Building lean muscle goes hand in hand with optimizing the fat loss process, so you can’t always be dieting! In fact I would argue that any nutrition coach that isn’t honest with you about that should be fired immediately. Which brings me to my next point…
5. “Do you understand that this won’t be a linear process?”
I might argue that the myth of linear progress is one of the most damaging ideas circulating in the fitness industry today.
Here’s a common scenario:
- Person starts dieting and makes minor changes that initially show great results. They quit eating M&M’s and drinking sugared pop, and they start exercising. It’s amazing how dropping 500 or more Calories of useless, empty food can help things along.
- Next, they work their way up to running 3 miles a day, start eating mostly meats and veggies…But they never quite get “there”. Progress slows down and they’re convinced that they must be doing something wrong because they saw an ad where someone went from “flabby” to “six pack” in 28 days. Despite the fact that they’ve made great progress eating better and exercising, they’re convinced that they’re simply not working hard enough. They need to go to the extreme.
- That’s when they meet “Major Pain” and head off to “boot camp”. Major Pain doesn’t know how much you are eating – he/she just assumes you’re overdoing it and that you need to get up off your butt. Frankly, fat loss isn’t their game. If they knew what they were doing, they would know that “extreme exercise” without respect for energy balance is a seriously flawed methodology.
Most people never make it past the boot camp phase without something going wrong. They either quit because the extreme activity and over-the-top “motivation” don’t work, or they get injured and turn away from fitness forever. The people that make it often haven’t learned a thing about how to reach their fat loss goals; they just got lucky. They probably won’t keep that streak running for very long.
Simply put, the fitness industry sells fat loss as if it’s a brute force endeavor from point A to point B that requires endless detoxes and fat burning workouts. The problem is that their formula is outdated and mostly ineffective; it revolves around trickery and deception. There isn’t “one simple trick” that will “unclog your liver” and help you “melt off 20 pounds of fat in 20 days.” Even if you work out six days a week for two hours a day, that’s still only 12 hours a week. That leaves 156 hours where you have no plan.
To achieve your ultimate goals, you’re going to need to understand that when you encounter hurdles, you can’t just push harder and harder to get there faster. It’s going to take as long as it’s going to take, and there will be periods where you feel like you aren’t making as much progress as you should. This is why we believe performance is so important, even for people who aren’t competitive athletes; getting better at exercise gives you something else to be proud of and focus on when you feel like you’re stagnant.
Unfortunately, the fitness industry doesn’t sell “getting better at exercise” – that isn’t what people buy. The reality is, though, that every ideal physique you see was attained through a lot of hard work over a long, long period of time. Every fit person you want to look like put in years of training, eating, and learning about their bodies. It doesn’t happen overnight but work capacity matters and building it is a big priority.
Bottom line: If your nutrition coach isn’t honest with you about how long it’s going to take you to achieve your goals, drop them like a hot potato. Don’t be a sucker for the rest of your life. That might sound harsh but UNDERSTANDING is important, and I know that. I personally bought into all of the misdirection that was available for me to buy until I decided that I need a better understanding and a patient approach. That was the big secret in the end.
6. “Are you ready to commit?”
Look, I get it. Before I took my health seriously, I wanted to undo all of my bad decisions all at once too. That never landed me in a healthy place though; I was a victim to the shortcut mentality. I just wanted it to be all over as quickly as possible and it just constantly landed me back in a place making bad decisions.
I’ll put this as simply as I can: A patient approach will take you where you want to go. We offer a year-long membership for a reason. We built Eat To Perform around the idea that helping people develop a better mentality allows for patience. Patience opens your mind to a realistic, sustainable approach where maintenance and building most of the time are the norm, with the occasional period of dieting each year to emphasize fat loss.
Oh, by the way, we aren’t the only ones out there doing it this way; in fact, there are a lot of like minded coaches doing great things for people. Unfortunately, they are being drowned out by the deceitful marketing tactics of wizards peddling miracles. True understanding takes time and a willingness to explore something you hand’t considered – maybe fat loss can move down your list of priorities a bit.