Over the last decade(s), there have been arguments both for and against the importance of meal & nutrient timing. You may have seen it argued that meal timing doesn’t matter at all, as long as you stick to your daily calorie intake, you’ll be ok. I’m sure you’ll also have seen recommendations that people should eat lots of little meals throughout the day, spaced 3 hours apart to maximise protein synthesis.
By going to either extreme, you could be missing out on ways to increase your clients' satiety through the day, improve their health, and accelerate them towards their goals, whilst building a routine that fits into their lifestyle. Remember, your client and making their nutrition work according to their lifestyle is the biggest priority.
With more recent research papers being published, it could be fair to say that the timing of meals is an important factor in your clients health and results. But some of the more recent research hasn’t purely focused on meal timing in itself, it’s looked into the timing of our meals in accordance to our daily biological body clocks (circadian rhythms).
Let me introduce to you this concept:
A relatively ‘new’ term in the field of nutritional science, first developed in 2005. In very general terms, chrononutrition is the area of nutrition that looks into our circadian rhythm and our day-to-day dietary routines.
Before we go further, a quick summary of circadian rhythms will prove useful for you as a trainer, so you can really see the effect nutrition can have on your clients body.
Circadian rhythms are “are physical, mental, and behavioral changes that follow a daily cycle.”
In our brain we have what’s seen as the “master clock” or central rhythm, a biological clock that cycles for about 24 hours (on average it’s 24 hours and 15 minutes). External stimuli can influence this with the main stimuli being light & dark, sleeping & waking and feeding & fasting.
You see, we don’t just have one body clock. In fact we have several that control an array of processes within the body, from hormone control to nutrient metabolism.
As individuals, if we chronically disrupt the alignment of these body clocks, the risk of suffering adverse health effects is increased.
For example misalignment has been shown to increase glucose levels, reduce sleep efficiency and reverse the daily cortisol rhythm.
Why does this matter for your client
Feeding is one of the stimuli that can affect some of the internal body clocks, and ultimately play a part in the regulation of these rhythms.
Circadian rhythms also impact how well nutrients are metabolised (broken down and used) once they have been consumed.
With the data we have available to use at the moment, this means that there could be “better” or “worse” times of the day to be consuming food.
Studies have shown a poorer metabolism of food when it is consumed at night time (important consideration if your client is a shift worker), poorer sleep quality and body composition.
The evidence points towards eating earlier in the day, but how early in the day is unclear. But within the first 2-4 hours of waking would be a good place to start for your client.
Should your client eat Breakfast
Naturally when talking about meal timing, the argument as to whether you should eat or skip breakfast is always going to come up. Clients will tell you that they’ve heard that eating breakfast kick-starts & boosts the metabolism (strictly speaking it doesn’t, much), others will tell you they’ve heard skipping breakfast increases fat burning (strictly speaking, you use fat as a fuel more, but it doesn’t lead to greater fat loss without a calorie deficit).
Advantages and potential benefits of consuming a meal earlier in the day include:
Should Your Clients stop or avoid eating at a certain time?
Now we’ve spoken about how clients may benefit from having meals, and potentially more of the daily food intake earlier in the day compared to night time, you may wonder whether clients should stop eating by a certain point of the day?
As previously mentioned, the thermic effect of food has been seen to be much less when consumed in the latter stages of the day compared to the morning. Consuming large meals in the evening has been linked to increased susceptibility of obesity and other cardiometabolic diseases.
This suggests that our clients, where possible, should avoid consuming larger meals in the evening as our bodies don’t metabolise them as well in comparison to when they are consumed in the morning.
More recent research is beginning to show that if night time feeding is to occur (again, thinking about our shift workers), it may be wise to choose low-calorie options (~<200kcal) as the negative effects reported with large intakes are not consistently reported with low-calorie intakes.
This being said, we know from fasting research that having a feeding window of 8-10 hours can provide many benefits from a health point of view for our clients.
(see here for our article on fasting/time-restricted feeding)
What Should Your Client Do?
Practically, using the information we have available to us so far (I anticipate a lot more to come in the coming years), it could be wise to try and match up your clients' feeding window to their other biological clocks (light-dark & sleep-wake).
Your client should understand that the time of day they choose to eat their meals can have health implications for them, with the potential for more positive ramifications with earlier ingestion of food in the day. If possible clients should try to avoid large night time meals where possible (the odd night time social here and there won’t be too detrimental).
If they are going to consume food into the night time, low calorie options (~ 200kcal or below) may be beneficial for avoiding negative health effects (we don’t have lots of data on this currently, but what we do have suggests this is a good idea).
Finally, if you clients can eat within a 8-10 hour window, this again, could be beneficial from a health and body composition point of view.
What do you need to know - and say - when coaching a vegan client?
VEGAN OR PLANT BASED?
Veganism has been on the rise over the past few years, with obvious implications for fitpros.
10 years ago, the chances of you having a vegan client were minimal.
These days, it won’t be unusual for you to have fully vegan, part vegan, or “trying it out for a month” vegan clients on your books.
Veganism is defined as the elimination of any animal-based products from the diet, this will include honey.
Some vegan clients will extend their vegan beliefs to footwear, kit, and apparel (leather being the obvious culprit)
You need to be aware that a person’s vegan ethics can affect details of their life that you might not anticipate as a non-vegan coach.
The term plant-based eating has gained popularity in recent years.
This can mean someone is fully vegan, but it can also refer to someone who prefers to eat plants and legumes when possible.
The best approach to understanding your client’s individual approach to veganism?
CONSIDERATIONS FOR TRAINING A VEGAN CLIENT.
When you take on a vegan client, you’ll need to think about how their vegan diet might impact their training or recovery and how you will need to programme around their food preferences.
VEGAN MACRO DIET COACHING
For a meat eater, it’s difficult to comprehend how difficult it can be to cleanly hit macros on a plant based diet.
The reason is simply. Vegan foods are rarely “one macro” foods.
There are very few vegan friendly foods that are purely protein, for example. Tofu, soy beans/edamame, beans, pulses, and legumes are also great sources of protein. But they are inherently bound up with carbohydrate (or less commonly some fat).
So it’s not easy for a vegan client to “just bump up protein intake” by 25g a day. Meat eaters could chop a little extra chicken breast onto a salad, or add a few extra egg whites into an omelette.
Vegans need to get a bit more strategic.
This means vegan clients tend to be more diligent, creative, and happy to seek out variety in their food intake. At least once they have been educated about macros, tracking, and meal prep.
HIGHER CARB BY NECESSITY
Vegan clients tend to gravitate towards a higher-carb approach, especially if they’ve been eating a vegan diet for many years.
Your fat loss clients might need to get more of their carbs from plant sources (fruits, vegetables, root veg, pulses, legumes...)
And your maintenance, weight gain, or endurance clients could boost carb intake with pasta, rice and other grains.
Vegan protein sources are not always complete (meaning they do not always contain a full balance of essential amino acids).
Protein is made of 20 amino acids, some of which are “essential” (they can’t be produced by the body).
For this reason, you should work with vegan clients to ensure they get a balanced intake of macros, micros, and amino acids across their day.
This will mean smart combinations of foods (nut butter on wholegrain bread, cornbread with bean chili, red bean stew and rice).
Other ideas could be a tofu stir-fry with rice noodles, fruit smoothie with soy milk and vegan protein powder, hearty bean casseroles or stews, salads with olives, legumes, and hummus.
VEGAN PROTEIN SOURCES
- vegan protein powders (soy, hemp, pea, brown rice or a blend)
- dairy free milks
- nuts, seeds
- nut and seed butters
- soy beans/edamame
- seitan (made from wheat gluten)
- beans and legumes
- lentils and pulses
- quinoa and millet (and other grains to a lesser extent)
- sprouted beans
- dark leafy greens (and all vegetables to a lesser extent)
COACHING A VEGAN CLIENT
There are lots of things you need to think about when coaching a vegan client. But - at the same time - there are not so many differences. And you certainly shouldn’t make their veganism a bit deal.
Question, but never challenge.
Be curious, but never judge. Accept their choices (whether or not you agree!).
Get on with your job of improving their health, body composition, strength, and performance.
There are no rules about programming for a vegan client.
Everyone is an individual, and their veganism is just one more factor in this person’s individuality.
If their diet is deficient in key minerals (or calories!) then this is likely to impact strength, performance, or recovery.
But you can step-in and advise, improving their nutrition so they can cope with training and recovery.
Veganism will not inherently mean a client is weaker, less able to deal with volume or load, or more likely to get injured.
But you do need to consider that a vegan client might come to you with nutritional deficiencies (especially if they are a new vegan)
Here are some nutrient deficiencies to look out for.
SUPPLEMENTS FOR VEGANS
There are no non-animal sources of B12, so vegans need to supplement with it. B12 is important for cell growth, bone marrow, gastrointestinal health, and nervous system function.
Vegan clients can be deficient in heme (one form of iron) as this is found in animal
products. Ensure adequate heme and non- heme iron intake for your vegan clients,
especially females of menstruating age.
Creatine is a great all-round supplement for strength and power. But it’s mostly found in muscle tissue, so vegans will struggle to get it from diet alone.
Carnitine is mostly found in meat and milk, so your vegan clients may benefit from supplementing with l-carnitine.
For 9 years FitPro Cookbooks has produced vegan recipes on a monthly basis.
All my 3 kids are vegan, and while not one now, I was back in 1986+
FitPro Cookbooks has always catered very well for your vegetarian & vegan (as well as the carnivores)
You can check out the full range of what we do & how we help YOU by joining the no-strings trial at www.fitprocookbooks.com
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