Nutrition 101

Nutrition 101

What is Nutrition and Why Does It Matter?

Nutrition Coaching is a central component to all programs at Sarah Bartlett Coaching and we pride ourselves on teaching a nutrition philosophy that is healthy, simple to learn, gets results and is flexible.  This is pivotal because in order to get the best RESULTS, requires much more than just reps and sets and training tips. Why do we place such an importance on things such as counting calories, macronutrient ratios, and quality of food sources? Why is simply telling your clients to “make healthier choices”, or “eat more vegetables” simply not enough?!

In this blog post, Head Coach and Educator, Sarah Bartlett, will go into the basics of Nutrition Coaching, as we teach it..

The Basics of Nutrition Coaching

Nutrition Coaching can be as simple or as complex as you make it. As a coach, the simpler you can make something for your client, the far greater their chances of sticking to the plan. It is simple physics: the fewer moving parts, the less opportunity for something to “break down”. The first of the key philosophies governing our coaching practices at Sarah Bartlett Coaching is:

Compliance is King

As a coach, I could write the absolute “best” nutrition recommendation for a client, but if the client can’t, won’t or doesn’t follow it for any host of reasons, the plan won’t work. If you were to give a busy corporate client working 50+ hours per week, a nutrition plan with 6-7 meals per day, with various protein, fat and carb sources, it is likely that, at best, they will not be able to stick to it with ease, or at worst, will actually increase stress in their life, thereby hindering their results.

Our role is to identify what habits are holding our clients back, and provide them with methods to break away from those habits to achieve their best body, mindset, relationships, career and more. Our role is to provide our clients with a solid, simple plan, to be the best versions of themselves. Our client’s role is to stick to it!

In doing so, we need to consider all aspects of our client’s lives, and how we can best make a plan fit and work. To understand this, there is certain prerequisite information you need as a coach, to determine someone’s ideal nutrition plan.

This can include, but is certainly not limited to:

  • Metabolic Risk Profile
  • Client Goal
  • Client History
  • Family History/Genealogy
  • Lifestyle
  • Personal Preferences (cultural, vegan, allergies)

Change as little as possible, for the maximum effect

The human body is an incredibly adaptive and regenerative organism. It WANTS to be healthy and to thrive, and we are absolutely born with the ability to – but in our modern lives there are so many hindrances to being the best version of ourselves. It seems like every day we are confronted with more new studies linking our favourite foods, drinks ad habits to cancer, obesity, heart disease, Alzheimers, etc.
As our science progresses, it is evermore likely we will continue to find more and more links and correlations between lifestyle, food, stress and other habits. If we were to take it all on board, and tried to avoid anything and everything that is found to be “dangerous” we can be left totally overwhelmed and uninspired. Change is hard – especially when the effects are of a cumulative nature, meaning we don’t necessarily feel the negative effects of doing something that is holding us back, nor the positive effects of something that is pushing us in the right direction immediately. It takes time to build up your acceptance and adherence to change. Yet so many trainers try to overhaul the client’s entire life in a week, and wonder why the client is non-compliant.

Everyone has a different history, and therefore different negative habits. For each individual, there are certain things that, if we changed those alone, they would have such a drastically beneficial impact upon the individual, we may not have to worry about changing something else. 

Gary Keller sums it up beautifully, in his book, The One Thing. As a coach, it is about asking yourself and your clients, “What is the one thing I can do, such that by doing it everything else will be easier or unnecessary?” If you can identify 1-3 negative habits for each client, that by changing those alone, will have the most beneficial, immediate and noticeable impact upon their life, you will have the greatest influence on their overall health and wellbeing.

Here is an exercise I use with my clients, to help ascertain what the One Thing (or few things) will be in their initial 12 weeks:

Identify 10-12 things in their current life, which, by changing those, would have the most beneficial impact upon this person’s life. Next, narrow the list down to the 6 most impactful. Now, share this list with your client, and ask them the question,

“Which of these lifestyle changes, do you feel you could implement from tomorrow that would be the least difficult for you to change but have the greatest impact?”

Repeat the question 1-2 more times, until they have selected a few “goals” that you and the client are happy with 

Basically, pick 2-3 habits to change that will have such a dramatic impact, that you will either:

  1. Not need to change other habits as urgently
  2. Build up the client’s willpower and ability to make greater changes

You see, willpower is a limited resource, and it works a lot like our muscle glycogen stores. We have a certain amount each day, and as we deplete that supply through usage, we reduce the amount we have left to use. As we become fitter, our muscles’ ability to store glycogen is enhanced, so that we can store more, to better meet the physical demands next time. Fortunately, like our muscles, as we use our willpower each day, our brains learn and adapt. We not only replenish our willpower, but with the correct approach we can increase willpower stores, so that over time, change becomes an easier process and making those changes into lasting habits requires less time and effort. 

As coaches, we want to set our clients up for success, not failure. Changing too much too soon, can be a recipe for disaster depending upon the client.  Being smart about what you choose to change, and having the client’s input here, is beneficial for a number of reasons:

  1. More bang for your buck – it requires less noticeable effort for your client, whilst still having a dramatic impact on their health and getting them closer to their goals. Basically, it makes you look like an amazing coach!
  2. Cortisol management – change is a stressful process and most clients are already more stressed than we would like them to be. By changing less, you reduce the overall stress in their life and the success of this increases their resilience to Cortisol. 
  3. Mindset benefits – “I CAN do this” is the type of mindset needed to have a successful transformation. Failing/falling off the bandwagon produces the opposite kind of self-talk. Mindset is everything, and we need to preserve this and strengthen it at all times. 

Over time, as the habits set in, you can reach for more challenging changes with greater success. 

Remember the 80:20 Rule

With general population clients, the general principle is that if you get it right 80% of the time, you will get the results that you are after. Balance is key, and most people still want to enjoy life and do the things that are “bad” for them, without having a severely detrimental impact upon their health. And, within reason, you can!

Understanding that 100% commitment, focus and dedication at 4/5 meals will allow your client the ability to reach their goals, whilst still giving some freedom to enjoy life, is the key to creating habits they can stick with. So, provided that at 80% of their meals, they are following the nutritional guidelines, they can have a more relaxed approach 20% of the time. 

If a client is eating 6 meals per day, over the course of the week (7 days) that is 42 meals in total. If they keep 34 of those meals (80%) strictly following their plan, a total of 8 meals (20%) throughout the week can be more flexible. 

The key to the 80:20 principle is for the client to be honest with themselves and their coach. Overtime, or as the goals become more ambitious, you can tighten this ratio, to 90:10. For clients with very ambitious goals, physique competitors, athletes, and people with a lot of weight to shift, we start at 90:10. For most clients the following recommendations will apple when it comes to optimising and fast-tracking results:

  • No gluten or dairy
  • No refined sugar or alcohol
  • Fibrous green veggies with every meal
  • Limit starchy carbs to post workout
  • Limit high GI fruit to post workout
  • Consume at least your minimum water requirement

Coaching Food Quantity

First and foremost, food is energy. We know it provides us with far more in the way of vital nutrients, enzymes, microbes, water and a host of other substances – but in the name of keeping things simple, the most basic layer of nutritional coaching is what we term ‘energy balance’. 

Nutrition coaching to achieve body composition must begin with energy balance. In Part II of this series we go into this far deeper, detailing what calories are, caloric/energetic deficits, surpluses and how to manipulate training and nutrition to achieve one or the other depending upon the goal. 

For now, let’s focus on why energy balance matters.

Basically, this refers to energy in, versus energy out. Imagine your energy balance as an energy bank account. The more you withdraw from the energy bank (your body) the less you have in your account to use. If you overdraw your account, it will go into deficit, or negative balance. Increasing the balance of your energy bank will put you into an energy surplus. 

In order to increase the account balance, we need to deposit energy, whilst withdrawing energy will decrease the account balance. We withdraw from the energy bank by using our bodies; Every process and function requires energy, from thinking to digesting, sleeping to moving, walking to lifting weights – these will all cause us to have a reduction of energy, depending upon the energetic demands of the task on the body. 

Our bodies have a set amount of energy that will be used each day to simply keep the system going – we call this your Basal Metabolic Rate (BMR). There are a number of formulas for calculating BMR. 

At SBC, we prefer the Katch-McArdle method, as it takes into consideration a person’s Lean Body Mass, or how much muscle they currently have.  Other methods use gender, height and weight only to calculate the BMR. 

The Katch-McArdle method is superior as the goal of nutrition coaching is to feed the lean body mass (aka the muscle tissue), which they already have to enable it to grow. Without knowing this number, we are not necessarily going to calculate their calories or their macronutrients as accurately.

But the calculations don’t end there. If the Basal Metabolic Rate is the minimum number of calories a body will need each day just to maintain life, the next step is to calculate how many calories a person will actually need in a day when you factor in their lifestyle. We call this their Total Daily Energy Expenditure, or TDEE. The formula to calculate TDEE is as follows, where ‘PAL’ refers to the individual’s Physical Activity Level.:


In order to achieve a certain outcome, i.e. gaining muscle, losing body fat, we need to eat to achieve either an energetic surplus or deficit. The quantity of the food you consume in calories, minus your TDEE, also in calories, will determine your overall energy balance.  But more in this in a future blog post…

Why Food Quality Matters

We are what we eat – or more accurately, we are what we assimilate. 

Food is energy, but it is more than just energy alone. Good quality food and a well-balanced diet should provide us with our entire daily nutrient requirements, as well as enzymes, microbes and phytochemicals, all of which have an impact upon digestion, assimilation and our health.  

It’s no secret the population is getting fatter and sicker, despite our understanding of nutrition growing so vastly and rapidly over the past 50 years. So where are we going so wrong? What has happened to our food over the past 50 years?!

It’s a combination of a number of factors, really, that have led to the culminated effects we are seeing today of increased obesity rates, increases in chronic and lifestyle based diseases and people spending years of their lives in sickness. We are living longer, yet spending more of our lives sick and diseased. We have achieved and increased quantity of life but in doing so, have sacrificed quality. 

Historically, people lived in nomadic tribes, where the men would hunt and the women would gather together and spend hours, if not days, preparing food for the entire tribe. People were incredibly involved with the preparation of their food – a very different relationship to what many people have with their food today. These days, “food” can be prepared in 20minutes or less, using cooking methods and ingredients that favour convenience and cost saving, over nutritional quality. It suits our busy lifestyle sure – but at what cost?

The course of history has had great influence upon the changes to human nutrition and diet, especially in the West. As such, Quality of Food is a vast and expansive subject, and one we will explore and discuss at length in many other blogs; today, we will outline a few key issues.  

The addition of stabilisers and preservatives to increase shelf-life of foods, the usage of microwave ovens, the war on fat and its’ subsequent removal from consumer products, the inclusion of sugars, sweeteners and flavourings, etc. – all these small changes have been made slowly over time, altering our food chain. The reasons behind these changes are not because they are essential components to human nutrition, but rather, these practices increase the profitability of the consumer goods for the food manufacturers. Their job is to make money, and lots of it. Making food which lasts longer and can be easily stored or transported, more palatable or even addictive, yet nutritionally void, suits this agenda, yet is having dire consequences for our collective nutritional conscience.  

The invention of Agriculture and its’ refinement over the decades has been hugely beneficial in keeping up with feeding our increasing population. Yet at the same time, is having dire impact upon Mother Earth and nature. You see, in nature plants grow very differently to agricultural ‘crops’. 

In nature, plants grow in a symbiotic fashion, living in close proximity to each other, communicating and helping each other to grow, via the soil, microbes and fungi, which live in the soil. Furthermore, in nature, plants die, their matter rots and is returned to the soil, which deposits minerals and nutrients back into the soil, helping to maintain a healthy foundation from which future plants grow. 

When we plant fields of crops, and harvest those, we are disturbing the natural cycle and preventing this symbiotic relationship from occurring. For decades now, we have been harvesting crops we have sowed, often by removing the entire plant along with small amounts of soil each time, thus depleting the soil of its’ minerals and mineral elements over many years. If the soil is not replenished with added bulk and minerals, those nutrients are not available to the plants, which in turn are less present when consumed by humans.  

The increasing usage of chemical herbicides and pesticides, not only further depletes our soil, it also allows for micro-traces of those chemicals to enter the food chain and water supply. All herbicides and pesticides used in commercial farming practices are legally required to be deemed safe for human consumption. The amount in which they remain present on our food, are certainly not enough to kill us, or cause us to become acutely unwell. 

However, as we know, our gut is riddled with microbes, some friendly and some less so, but maintaining the balance is key to proper gastrointestinal heath and function. We are outnumbered 10:1 (number of cells) by the microbes that we host in and on our body, and we are just now beginning to understand the pivotal role these ‘germs’ play in maintaining our health. We are a not just an organism, but each human being is its’ own ecosystem for its’ own microbes. Whilst the pesticides and herbicides may not harm us, there is mounting evidence to indicate they are killing microbes, which can lead to imbalances in the gut flora, having a drastic impact on our collective gut health. 

Understanding exactly the journey your food has taken from pasture to plate is where food quality comes into play. There are steps you can take to minimize your exposure to toxins, harmful chemicals and additives, which can impact your gut microbiome, liver function, brain function and more. 

These include practices such as buying organic fruits, vegetables, meats and dairy produce, purchasing foods which are in season in the country you live in and grown locally, washing your fresh produce with surfactants to remove harsh chemical residues, being mindful of cooking methods used, and minimising heavily processed foods. We need to understand what processing, if any, our food has undergone and the methods taken to produce that food. Put simply, when health matters, quality matters.

Barty xx

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