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By Catherine Delaney

When I first became a trainer, I was intimidated when it came to helping people with their nutrition. It sounds silly to admit it now because nutrition is arguably one the most important factors when it comes to getting results. Over time, I have found that working with people on their nutrition is also the most complex and personal part of my job. There came a point in my career when I realized that my clients needed more than just workouts and I wanted to be the one to walk that journey with them rather than pass them on to someone else.

Have you heard the saying that losing weight is 20% working out and 80% nutrition? It gets tossed around so much because it’s true. It’s easy enough to get your clients to work out when they are with you, but inspiring them to stick to the program during the other 23 hours of the day can pose quite the challenge. This is how I do it:

1. Educate Yourself

When I decided to tackle nutrition, I knew that I needed to find a certification to not only give me credibility, but to further the knowledge I had already attained through personal research. My club in particular is a big advocate of Dr. John Berardi’s Precision Nutrition certification. When I completed that certification I also completed an in-house certification to become the Nutrition Coach at my club. But it doesn’t stop there. I follow several nutrition blogs, including those provided by my certification. I don’t pretend to know everything and my clients know that. They also know that if they have a question I cannot answer, I have reliable resources to figure it out.

2. Help Your Clients Become Self-Aware

Helping people with their nutrition is a big job, especially when you first start with them. I’ve often heard trainers say they wouldn’t even know where to begin because they’ve been doing it for so long it’s hard to go back to the basics, but the best thing we can do for our beginner clients is to start small. I’d say about 90% of my clients tell me they know what to do or that they don’t eat “that badly.” But when I have them start writing down everything they eat, the problem areas quickly show themselves. That is usually the first place I start. It’s more than being honest with me; it’s a matter of being honest with themselves. Having open communication with your client and making sure they know you are not there to judge them will ensure that your clients will actually start seeing results and gives you answers when they don’t.

3. Help Them See the Long Term

I don’t do meal plans. Simply put, for the vast majority of people, they don’t work. We have to help our clients understand that this is a lifestyle change, not just a plan to lose a certain amount of weight. I do this by addressing one habit at a time. In today’s busy world, the key to success is having the client change one thing at a time, not everything overnight. For example, if my client tells me that they only drink 20 ounces of water a day, then I have them spend the next week or so focusing on increasing their water intake until they reach the desired amount. Sometimes my clients doubt this slow-paced approach, but this way the change sticks and we move on to the next item on the list, often uncovered by the things we discover in their food tracking.

4. It Comes Down to Trial and Error

One thing that I’ve learned is that there is no “one size fits all” when it comes to weight loss, muscle gains, increased performance, etc. Each body is vastly different and while there are a few principles we can count on, finding the right balance for each individual is key.

Ultimately, I want my clients to feel their very best while getting optimum results and that’s often times easier said than done. I once had a client who was eating all the “right” foods, but was unsuccessful in tipping the scale. We were working hard three times a week and making sure that she was eating a good balance of protein, carbohydrates, and fat, but the results simply weren’t happening. She went to get tested in a Food Sensitivity Panel, a blood test that can determine foods that are causing an adverse reaction in the body. Turns out, she was having adverse reactions to several of the “healthy” foods she had incorporated into her diet. So, she made some changes and finally the results started coming. It is important to use your resources!

5. Know Your Limits

Not only is nutrition one of most important factors to getting results, it is, as I have said, one of the most complicated. One very important thing I have learned is to know the limits of my own scope of practice. If a client is part of a special population with, for example, diabetes or celiac disease, then they will need to be referred to a registered dietician.

In addition, our clients come to us from all different walks of life and the psychological connections to food can run deep. Unless you are a trained counselor, knowing when to refer a client out is key to getting them results. If you feel that a client has issues beyond your scope, knowing who to refer them to is important. Make yourself familiar with local groups and resources so that you can get your clients the help they need.


Ultimately, while nutrition is a multifaceted issue, addressing it with our clients is the key to getting results. It is our job as professionals to simplify the process for beginners and walk them through the process step by step, focusing on individualized habit changes, education, and self-awareness. While this approach may not seem fast enough for the gung-ho beginner, they quickly see the importance and lasting results of this very manageable approach.

Catherine Delaney

Catherine Delaney is a PTA Global Personal Trainer and Nutrition Coach as Life Time Fitness in Raleigh, North Carolina. She got started in fitness in Washington, DC and moved back to beautiful NC where she is raising two young daughters with her husband. She specializes in weight loss, pre and post natal exercise, and functional fitness.