End of 2019, I completed the Precision Nutrition program. Since then, I have been a certified coach in Sports and Exercise Nutrition. End of 2021 I passed the exam to renew my certification.
In this article, I want to share a recap of my Precision Nutrition certification program. I cover why a profound nutrition education is beneficial, the structure of the Precision Nutrition program, and its pros and cons including some improvement suggestions. Finally, I address my top lessons learned like systems over goals, and CICO, and how I put this nutrition knowledge into action within my programs and courses.
Why I Was Looking for Nutrition Coaching Education
Very generally I aim to never standstill. I simply like to always keep developing and improving myself. I aim to follow Bruce Lee's famous quote to try to always "be happy, but never satisfied." This is not just important for physical development, training, health, and improvement but also mentally and spiritually to keep life fresh and interesting. I do have a very broad set of interests and pick areas in which I specifically want to develop more. I have a strong interest in nutrition, which is extremely powerful and a main contributor to our health, our energy levels, and wellbeing.
That is what nutrition is one of the areas of my 4 Legs of Fitness model. I also want to constantly refine and improve this model, which I do by reading and researching a lot of books, articles, and academic literature. I run a ton of mini experiments with myself and clients -- sometimes with systems like the WHOOP (use my link and we both get one month of WHOOP for free).
I started to research nutrition courses and certification programs. My main criteria were: The program needed to be comprehensive, very practical (I need applicable stuff, no abstract theory), affordable, easily accessible, and with a lot of flexibility in execution.
I eventually found Precision Nutrition.
Top Coaching Course: Precision Nutrition
The Sports and Exercise Nutrition program and certificate by Precision Nutrition is first and foremost a very solid education that is offered in a very flexible way. Once you paid, you basically have as much time as you want to complete it. It took me about 10 months to complete all the modules. They have an excellent (huge 626 page) textbook and a lot of additional resources like videos, questionnaires which you can freely re-use or adapt for your own client work, and a rich database of free nutrition and training articles.
The Precision Nutrition education is not only about nutrition and physiological "hard skills." The first half of the program does dive into these topics such as what our cells do in our bodies and what they need, how energy is transformed, metabolism details, which organ does what, the role of hormones, how we process macro- and micronutrients (proteins, fats, and carbohydrates), etc. The modules include:
- What makes a great coach
- Helping people change
- Introduction to nutritional science
- Systems and cells
- Through the GI tract
- Energy transformation and metabolism
- Energy balance
- Micronutrients and whole foods
- Water and fluid balance
- Stress, recovery, and sleep
The second part covers nutrition coaching soft skills. This is a lot about working with real people and advice about becoming a credible coach who delivers results and can build a business based on helping people overcome diet and weight management challenges. Especially this part was very inspirational. The modules include:
- Coaching in practice
- Working With Clients at different experience levels
- Client scenarios with very special situations or goals
- Coaching business 101
Towards the end, several business models about how nutrition knowledge and coaching expertise can be leveraged via various business models, which gave me many ideas.
I love the Precision Nutrition philosophy. At the core, it is not about hardcore, short-lived, fad diets but it is about long-term health improvements in people by forming habits for behavior change. We achieve this by working closely with clients and testing and figuring out small new habits that clients want to do because they like it or see a clear benefit. This is the only way to change a lifestyle for better health forever.
Improvements for Precision Nutrition L1 Certification
There are two things that could be improved. First, a few times especially in the first part of the program some technical and pretty complex concepts are introduced. But then the explanations lack detail to really understand the concept, put it into context, and be able to practically apply it. I would prefer to really explain it well, simplify the concept, point to supplementary materials, or simply leave it out entirely.
Second, the textbook is just huge, heavy, and basically impossible to bring with you on travels. Maybe this textbook can be split up into various smaller, or simply provided as an ebook or Kindle version.
(Update: It seems that since I took the exam, the course creators at Precision Nutrition indeed decided to break up the huge book into several smaller ones. Next step: please provide it as an ebook.)
My Key Lessons Learned From the Program
One of my key take-aways is that our human bodies are a masterpiece and incredibly complex. But successful transformations towards your goal -- whatever that is -- do not necessarily have to be complex or complicated. The best is to always start with simple. This is very much in line with the concepts described in the book Atomic Habits by James Clear (affiliate link). I am a big fan of that book and use a lot of these concepts when working with clients or for myself. One of those concepts is the Two-Minute Rule. If you want to start a new habit, start simple. Lower the barrier of actually doing it consistently. For that, break the habit down to something that you can do in two minutes or less. For example, the goal of staying hydrated by drinking more than three liters of water each day can be initiated by drinking one glass of water first thing in the morning.
Another idea that is advocated by Precision Nutrition is that systems are more effective than goals. I love this approach and also wrote about it in my article Goals are for Losers: How to Use System Thinking to Improve Fitness. The rationale is that goals require more self-discipline and more active input. Whereas a good system “runs” almost automatically and requires less energy to do. Once you are used to drinking a glass of water first thing in the morning and you are convinced about the benefits, it automatically becomes the first thing you do after waking up and it does not require any thinking or energy. You just do it.
Furthermore, goals are fleeting. Once you hit a goal they don’t provide much lasting happiness after. Systems are continuous and long-lasting. So instead of "lose 10gk of weight" you set up a habit like "eat veggies instead of cookies every day." This way you're also winning a little bit every day, instead of waiting for one big win.
The Precision Nutrition program emphasizes a lot on the main and most important principle of weight loss or performance improvement: calorie in vs calorie out (CICO). CICO is the basis for any nutritional coaching. But it is essential for a coach to understand that CICO is not as simple as a mathematical formula that can simply be applied to all clients. It’s a guideline but it is influenced by a lot of factors. Calorie labels on foods are inaccurate. The body absorbs calories from different foods differently. E.g., we absorb more calories from fiber-rich foods. Each person's gut bacteria is different. Cooking, blending, and preparing foods, make more calories available for absorption. Stress, sleep, your daily non-exercise movement (NEAT), and many other factors influence how much and how well someone absorbs calories and hence her CICO balance. That means, although CICO is a simple and great starting basis, every client situation needs to be analyzed carefully before a coach suggests a nutrition plan.
Generally, diet protocols or programs such as Intermittent Fasting, Keto, low-carb, Atkins, Paleo, etc. are just ways to implement the CICO principle and make it easier for people to follow and achieve a negative energy balance. For some people, some diets are more appropriate and help them to achieve their goals. This is all about personal preference. The most important thing about a diet is to be able to stick to it consistently and long term. It’s a change in lifestyle due to a behavior change. No point in forcing yourself to do something which is hard and which you hate. You won't do it for long and you won't be happy. A successful diet is a habit that you manage to introduce because you like it. Examples include drinking a glass of water in the morning, swapping white bread for dark bread, or swapping soft drinks for fresh juices.
In line with this idea of simplicity, Precision Nutrition also offers a very "handy" method that allows avoiding exact calorie counting, which can be very tedious. In their article "Forget calorie counting: Try this calorie control guide for men and women" Precision Nutrition offers to simply use your hand to compare and determine how to size portions on your plate. This could be implemented, for instance, as follows:
- 1 palm of protein dense foods with each meal
- 1 fist of vegetables with each meal
- 1 cupped hand of foods dense in carbohydrates with most meals
- 1 entire thumb of fat dense foods with most meals
Below is an example:
It is only an estimation but in many cases, it is accurate enough and so much more convenient and faster than getting out your kitchen scale and your calorie counting app.
Nutrition Coaching Knowledge Into Action
Concluding my recap of my precision nutrition certification program, I do believe that it is an excellent education that helped me a lot in shaping my work with clients and my programs. It influenced a lot my flagship offer Build Bullet-Proof Health into which I incorporated many of the concepts and ideas from the Precision Nutrition program.
Just recently I renewed my certification. And I continue to enjoy being part of that network, leveraging their excellent online resources and access to a community of like-minded coaches. This also leads to a lot of interesting side effects, like the establishment of a collaboration with the nutrition coaches from Eat better, not perfect.
Apart from that, I am looking at the next development and education options to improve 4 Legs Fitness and to further grow my knowledge in this field. I came across the Functional Movement System (FMS) which seems to be in line and an excellent addition to 4 Legs Fitness.
Finally, based on a lot of Precision Nutrition input I created the Improve Your Health and Fitness Forever online course. After completion of this course, you will be able to create your own kick-ass health and fitness program. It’s based on the unique combination of the 4 Legs of Fitness: strength, endurance, nutrition, and recovery.
Take a look at the details of this health and fitness course here.
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