The world is filled with confusing and oftentimes conflicting messages. Eat breakfast, don't eat breakfast. Count your calories, or calorie counting doesn't work it's bad! Intermittent fasting makes you feel the best, or keto makes you feel the best. Eat carbs they are great for performance, carbs are filled with fiber which can cause gastrointestinal distress which negatively affects performance. Caffeine helps for a workout, caffeine keeps you up at night, and not sleeping negatively affects your workouts. Which one is it? Which is true?
IF any of those questions or other similar ones ever crossed your mind at any point, know that you're not alone. These are the shark-infested waters we nutrition professionals navigate daily, sifting through heaps of peer-reviewed articles to try to find the most appropriate answers for you. Trust that when you're done reading this, you'll have some of those questions answered, and more!
I'd like to first start by saying that nutrition is a science, while things change in science, it's not as dynamic as anti-science blogs seem to report. For example, the answers to the above questions will not change on the flip of a coin, however, context is the most important indicator of a nutrition question's answer. Nutrition, like with most other sciences, is not a one size fits all approach. Put simply, not everyone wants to lose weight, but even if they are all trying to lose weight, our starting points are all different, so why take the same approach? Similar to medicine, you might want to use the following example to understand: when you're in pain the doctor might normally prescribe penicillin as a painkiller. How about if the patient is allergic to penicillin? Well then obviously, that provides CONTEXT for the practitioner to come up with an alternative for that SPECIFIC person's condition. Does that mean that penicillin doesn't work? HECK NO, it just means that while it might be a suitable painkiller for one patient, it might also just plain old kill a different client 😅. If it were a one size fits all approach, everyone would be shredded, and nutrition professionals would all be out of a job. Unfortunately, we're in the middle of an obesity epidemic, fighting a global health pandemic and we're still trying to keep elite athletes fueled in their respective sports (if COVID-19 allows, of course).
Do You NEED help or can you do it alone?
Well I'm biased so I'll let the science speak for itself. A 2015 paper by Lauren Ball and colleagues suggested that nutrition interventions implemented by nutrition professionals had the potential to significantly improve dietary behaviours. According to a 2010 paper, interventions that are informed by scientific theory are recognized as more likely to elicit positive outcomes in dietary interventions. Specifically, most significant improvements in patients’ dietary behaviours were apparent in interventions with diverse designs, intensity, theoretical underpinning and follow-up periods. This implies that it is possible to elicit positive improvements in patients’ dietary behaviours with different interventions. This helps us to understand that not each patient/client should receive the same treatment, and those with tailored programs specific to each individuals circumstances are most likely to be successful. Suggesting that you could definitely reach your goals alone! However, a professional might be more adept at seeing a third-party perspective, understanding methods of implementing change and most of all, through follow-ups provide you the support you NEED to help reach your goals.
What are your WANTS/NEEDS
Nutrition is context-dependent. If you learn one theme from today, it's to ask yourself when reading nutrition information relevant to me. For example, If you are an athlete training for a weight-sensitive sport like boxing where you need to cut weight before a match and you stumble upon an article online titled, "best ways to lose weight, QUICK!" perhaps this might be of interest to you. Conversely, if you are an athlete playing Rugby your average Instagram nutrition coach may be inclined to provide the same copy and paste advice that they give to all clients, but because of the nuance of the sport, they may not even understand how harmful that could be. Sports, but especially team sports such as rugby have a massive variation in demands across different times in the season, day-to-day, match-to-match, and person-to-person through the different age groups and skill levels participating in the sport. However, the basics in nutrition remain; nevertheless, this variance has created a big need in sport for individual personalized nutrition support. To simplify, you cannot provide the same nutritional advice of a caloric deficit for someone that is looking to bulk up for a bigger position, or in order to add more muscle mass/ to improve their power. It just doesn't make sense. The needs of the athlete/individual are important to consider before making any nutritional interventions.
What are your goals?
We know that personalized nutrition is incredibly valuable for an athlete to ensure that they can perform at their best. What about an average joe? A general population member? I would argue that they should be looking at performance in their day-to-day as well. Their performance requires them to last all day at work, at home with the family, and maybe at the gym before or after work with a few walks here and there. I would argue that personalized nutrition programs are always the best possible bet. Is it always possible/ do our goals always align with that though? If our goal is to maintain, we love the way we feel currently and we see no need to improve our diet, well then one could argue that personalized nutrition has already been achieved for said individual. Spending the time and money on a nutritionist to guide them through this space might not be a necessary/viable option. One of the biggest hurdles to navigate as a user of nutrition consultation is cost-effective advice. One of the unwritten goals in everyone's mind is to reach their goals while paying the best possible rate. Naturally, systems that offer similar programming/nutrition advice to everyone are able to streamline their services for a lower price, thus increasing the potential value for a consumer that is held back with financial constraints. That being said, regardless of your context for needing nutritional support, your goal should be to learn something new. The true difference between evidence-based practitioners and Instagram coaches (besides the fact that "credentials" on IG is a topless photo and not a degree), is that a Nutrition practitioner is constantly reading up on research and applying it to their science background to help educate you on your position and what nutritional interventions you can take to improve them most optimally. An IG coach, on the other hand, may have struck the genetic lottery, or trained and through experience amassed knowledge that they believe to be superior. Either way, both are selling a product that has a value that can be very beneficial depending on their consumer and their goals.
Nutrition is context-dependent. Whether it be a 20-year-old male athlete or a middle-aged female, the best nutritional support comes from those who employ evidence-based practice. That isn't to say that other practice doesn't have value, but someone with the foundation in science understands that scientific (and let's remember nutrition is a science) communication is key, and can affect people differently. The healthier option between performance nutrition and weight-management nutrition might be both, it just depends on where you get your information and if it's a trusted source using up-to-date accurate information. Those in the sciences understand that different approaches must be taken with different clients and that's why we can't have an evidence-based approach that is applicable to all! That being said, if you're looking to take control of your life, improve your fitness and feel better, you have to look into getting evidence-based nutritional support to fully optimize your routine. For more information on this practice, see the following link. For an abundance of free information around nutrition and healthy subscribe for new releases and news updates.