Level 1: The new rules of sports nutrition: This could revolutionize the way you coach athletes.

by Fitcoachion | Last Updated: September 8, 2020


When you think about sports nutrition, what comes to mind?

Answer A, B, C, or D (everyone’s favorite)? That’s pretty typical.

There’s just one problem: Even collectively, these responses represent only a small slice of what sports nutrition is really all about.

That’s why…

It’s time we redefine sports nutrition. 

And that’s exactly what we’ve done, based on our years of experience coaching elite athletes and active people.

In this article, we’ll show you how to use our new rules of sports nutrition to:

And most importantly? We’ll explain how this new perspective on sports nutrition doesn’t just get your clients to perform better. It can also help them live more balanced and fulfilling lives.

Because peak performance is great. But combined with a healthy, vibrant life? Now you’re truly winning.

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The 5 new rules of sports nutrition.

New rule #1: Don’t treat all athletes the same.

In some ways, all athletes are the same. All human bodies who move share the same general needs and basic biology.

But in other ways, all athletes are different. 

For instance:

Traditionally, sports nutrition has focused on the science of nutrients and making prescriptive, idealized recommendations. This typically includes designing a plan based on: 

These are all crucial factors to consider. They’re something we think about a lot, in fact. (Can we interest you in a fascinating discussion of how protein needs are determined in the lab? Wait… come back.)

But in our experience, nutrients, simple body measures, and sports-based factors aren’t enough.

There’s more to a person than their stats and training schedule. 

Even two people who have similar body sizes and the exact same training schedule will have important differences to account for.

Here’s an example. Derek and Vishal are youth soccer athletes. They share some key characteristics. They’re both 14, are on their school’s soccer team, and are around the same weight.

But Vishal and Derek are on a different schedule of physical and psychological development and maturity.

Check out their profiles below: Can you spot why giving them the same exact nutrition recommendations might not work so well?

Let’s take a look.

Vishal’s profile

Vishal hit puberty young. That’s given him an edge in soccer, since he’s got much longer legs and a significantly more muscular body composition than many of his teammates.

He loves playing soccer, but he never really thinks about his future in the sport. In fact, Vishal doesn’t think much about his future at all. For now, he’s just enjoying high school. After all, he’s only 14.

Derek’s profile

Derek hasn’t grown much in the past couple of years. His appetite has increased recently, but he isn’t growing at a pace to match, which means he’s gained some fat over the past few months. His dad keeps telling him, “I was a late bloomer myself.”

Derek is a fast sprinter and a talented dribbler, so he’s maintained his spot on the team’s starting lineup. He also thinks a lot about where soccer might take him. Derek hopes it’ll be his ticket to the university of his dreams, and he’s willing to do whatever it takes to ensure he gets in peak shape.

Okay, those are the details. Got your answer? See how it compares to ours.

Vishal and Derek: Why their nutrition plans should differ

Though their bodies follow the same physiological laws, and they have similar athletic demands, Vishal and Derek have different…

For these reasons, if you give Derek and Vishal the exact same sports nutrition plan, they’re not going to get the same results. 

Enter: movement nutrition.

We define this as nutrition that fuels, enhances, and/or promotes recovery from a wide range of activities and movements.

Movement nutrition goes beyond just the science of nutrients or prescriptive recommendations (like “eat X grams of nutrient Y”) to coaching a person in the full context of their life.

It includes:

Two Venn diagrams showing the difference between traditional sports nutrition and Precision Nutrition’s movement nutrition concept.

A sports nutrition coach who uses movement nutrition takes the full picture into account.

With movement nutrition, you still use nutrition science. But you expand your perspective to better understand and help each athlete as an individual.

New rule #2: Don’t ignore athletes’ psychological and social health.

Athletes aren’t just moving bodies. They’re real, unique people with real, unique lives.

Take Lorain, for instance—an accomplished powerlifter. Her dad owns a lifting gym, so she was raised between sets of squats.

A Black female powerlifting athlete holding a barbell above her head.

To help Lorain reach her weight class goal, you’ll need to look at more than just her health stats.

Lorain wants to qualify for Nationals, but she knows she has a better chance of making it if she cuts down to the 185-pound (84 kilogram) weight class. That’s why she came to you for coaching.

It sounds simple enough, right? Athletes cut weight all the time, and Lorain is clearly a hard worker. You’ll just gather info about her current height and weight, what she’s eating, how she’s training, and use that to create a plan that’ll get her into a calorie deficit. You’ll chip away at that goal together, slowly and sustainably. Easy.

But after a month, Lorain’s not seeing much progress, and you’re left scratching your head.

Here’s what you didn’t know about Lorain:

All three of these factors are making it harder for Lorain to stick to the plan you’ve created for her.

But you won’t find out about them unless you look beyond the obvious data.

This is where so many sports nutrition coaches go wrong. 

Enter: The biopsychosocial model.

Lorain’s initial weight-cutting plan only took into account biological factors: her physical stats, eating habits, and workout routine.

But the psychological factors and social context are also important parts of the big picture. Lorain’s stressed from school, feeling alone, commuting in a less-than-ideal environment, and getting pressure from her dad.

A Venn diagram showing how the biopsychosocial model works, and what areas of life are included in the three areas: biology, psychology, and social context.

The biopsychosocial model can help you get better results as a sports nutrition coach.

Asking about all aspects of your athletes’ lives will help you collaborate with them to develop customized nutrition plans that set you apart from other “just make a meal plan” coaching approaches.

That’ll improve the quality of their results. And bringing your client’s awareness to the factors that may be limiting their progress? That’s also likely to improve their quality of life.

(Deep health is another useful model for learning more about your active clients’ lives.)

And by the way, this isn’t just a good idea on paper. It comes from our direct experience working with clients.

The bottom line: Learn more about your clients as people. 

That way, you can use your nutrition science knowledge and coaching skills to create a plan they enjoy, appreciate, and most importantly… will actually do.

New rule #3: Expand your definition of the word “athlete.”

Typically, we think of “sports nutrition” as something geared towards people who are “elite” in some way: pro basketball players, competitive marathon runners, and high school sports stars.

Not only does this mentality limit your pool of potential clients, it might also limit your clients’ results. After all, we’re seeing people with more diverse bodies, abilities, ages, and skills training and competing as athletes these days.

Valentina is a prime example. She’s in her 40s and runs a school for young girls and their pursuit of glory in the sport of charrería (Mexican rodeo).

After working with the girls all day, she spends another five to six hours taking care of all the horses, running the barn, and caring for her family.

It wasn’t a big deal when she was younger, but after years of under-eating and body image issues, it takes a bit more than a couple of NSAIDs to get Valentina back into the saddle and recover from a day’s work.

Valentina might not fit the typical definition of an “athlete,” but due to the active nature of her job and life, she could really benefit from a targeted nutrition strategy. One that’ll help support her busy and physically-demanding schedule.

The bottom line:

Elite athletes aren’t the only “movers” you can help.

Generally, there’s some point at which a person moves often and intensely enough to need or want some type of nutritional support.

Rather than lumping all athletes together, we use three categories to think about people who move their bodies and can benefit from targeted movement nutrition strategies.

These categories overlap. All athletes are movers, of course, but not all movers or exercisers are athletes. People can move in and out of different categories.

All athletes are—at the most basic level—movers.

Our point: Most people aren’t professional athletes.

But you can help all active people, in some way, with nutritional support.

This mindset shift can translate to a broader pool of clients and ultimately, better results.

New rule #4: Focus on fundamentals before advanced nutrition methods.

Biochemistry is cool. And when you’ve got the science of nutrition down, it’s tempting to rely on the highest-level, most innovative and cutting-edge protocols you can think of.

But even the most talented athletes aren’t always advanced nutritionally. In fact, they’re often missing fundamental nutrition skills.

Take Stephen, for example. He’s a talented basketball player who’s just been given a college scholarship. Scouts have their eye on him as a future NBA pro.

A young athlete holding a basketball.

Focusing on the fundamentals can help athletes like Stephen stay in peak shape.

Not only is Stephen great on the basketball court, he’s been terrific at every physical activity he tried.

Stephen is what you might call “jacked.” And at 18, he’s nearing his prime physical performance and physique.

So what’s his diet secret? Surprise! It’s Burger King, Taco Bell, Pizza Hut, KFC, and Frosted Flakes. Washed down with a Super Big Gulp from 7-11. In other words, whatever is cheap, fast, and easily available.

Turns out, Stephen’s secret to being ripped, swole, and a top athletic performer is youth, lots of activity, and good genes. Unfortunately, most of those gifts run out during an athletic career, and a poor diet will accelerate the process.

When it comes to athletes, Stephen is closer to the norm than an outlier. 

Don’t knock nutrition basics—even for top-level athletes.

As his coach, you know that if Stephen wants to last through his college and professional seasons, he’s going to have to do some things differently.

But giving him a complicated plan with specific macro ratios? Or an elaborate nutrient timing protocol?

Considering how he’s currently eating, that’s probably not going to work.

So for Stephen and other athletes like him, consider developing fundamental skills like:

The takeaway: Basic nutrition habits can make a real difference—even for elite athletes. 

New rule #5: Use a systematic coaching method.

The first time you meet an elite athlete client can be scary. You might be sitting across from a million-dollar body, and maybe their million-dollar coaches too.

Alternatively, you might be working with special ops military personnel. And they’re depending on you to help them pass selection.

Your newest client could also be a stay-at-home mom who doesn’t just want to run her neighborhood’s annual 5K; she wants to win.

Helping movers achieve their hopes and dreams can be a lot of pressure. 

You need a coaching plan.

And not just any old plan. You need a coaching method. One that:

This is why we developed the Precision Nutrition Coaching Method. It’s a six-step coaching process that can help ask the right questions, and take the right actions, at the right time.

A visual representation of the six steps of Precision Nutrition’s coaching framework.

All six steps can be used with every single client.

Here are the steps and some questions you might ask in each:

Before you start (step 0): Plan and prepare. 

Step 1: Assess and gather data. 

Step 2: Understand and explore. 

Step 3: Strategize and plan. 

Step 4: Choose and test.

Step 5: Observe and monitor.

Step 6: Analyze and evaluate. 

(If you want to learn more about PN’s coaching method, we teach it in depth in our Level 1 Certification.)

The takeaway: systematize your coaching, and you’ll feel excited when an athlete comes to you with a big goal—not nervous. 

We’re born to move.

Humans start moving well before we’re born. We emerge into the world flailing and grasping, with built-in movement reflexes firing.

Unless we’re constrained, paralyzed, or otherwise actively prevented from movement, we move throughout our lives until we die.

By expanding the idea of what it means to be a sports nutrition coach, we can more effectively understand, plan, and implement good nutrition practices for a wide range of active clients.

Because it’s not just about energy and nutrients. 

It’s about performing and winning… and staying sharp and energetic. And recovering. And having a long, healthy, active life.

If you’re a coach, or you want to be…

Learning how to coach clients, patients, friends, or family members through healthy eating and lifestyle changes—in a way that’s personalized for their unique body, preferences, and circumstances—is both an art and a science.

If you’d like to learn more about both, consider the Precision Nutrition Level 1 Certification. The next group kicks off shortly.

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