NutritionQ & A

7 Questions All Nutrition Coaches Need To Know How to Answer


With fad diets flooding the marketplace, obesity and heart disease numbers rapidly increasing, and more confusing food choices than ever before, Nutrition Coaches are in particularly high demand.

This is an exciting, rewarding career for people who love helping others. And for those who love being their own boss.

If you’re interested in becoming a Nutrition Coach, NASM has just introduced Nutrition Certification, a breakthrough program that combines cutting-edge nutrition science with behavior change and nutrition coaching strategies.

Several of the topics below are covered in the program. Read on and discover some of the common questions nutrition coaches receive – both about their career and nutrition in general.

What’s the role of a Nutrition Coach? How is it different than a Registered Dietitian? 

There are clearly defined boundaries between the services of a Certified Nutrition Coach and a Registered Dietician Nutritionist, or an RDN.

Nutrition Coaches serve clients who do not have any known medical conditions (e.g., diabetes, hypertension, etc.) and want to:

  • Learn more about healthy eating practices
  • Lose or gain weight in a safe and effective manner
  • Improve athletic performance through foods they eat
  • Increase energy through dietary improvements
  • Learn more about healthy shopping, cooking, or sound dining-out strategies

One of the many benefits of working as a Nutrition Coach is witnessing any or all of these amazing changes in clients, no matter who they are. Because a Nutrition Coach can even choose to specialize with certain populations – athletes, post-partum mothers, or overweight executives, to name a few.

Many people enlist the services of a Nutrition Coach to help them sift through all the confusing information that’s out there. Between all the controversies surrounding gluten, carbs, proteins, etc., there’s a lot to keep a Nutrition Coach busy.

To be a Certified Nutrition Coach, you have to take a Nutrition Coaching program – such as the aforementioned NASM Nutrition Certification – and pass the certification exam. These programs vary in length. NASM Nutrition Certification, for example, is a self-paced, online program, that can be completed in as little as 8-12 weeks. The program is open to anyone, even those with no previous fitness background.

The role of Registered Dietitian Nutritionists, or RDNs, is more medical in nature. RDNs design nutrition programs to protect health, prevent allergic reactions, and alleviate the symptoms of many types of disease. 

To be a licensed RDN, you have to earn at least a Bachelor’s Degree from an accredited college or university, had their course work approved by the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics’ Accreditation Council for Education in Nutrition and Dietetics (ACEND), fulfilled hundreds of hours of supervised dietetic services in a variety of professional settings, and must have passed a national exam provided by the Commission on Dietetics and Registration (CDR).

Isn’t nutrition as simple as monitoring calories in and out?

Not quite. For those who have an unhealthy relationship with food, losing weight can be a lifetime struggle. Simply telling someone who’s struggled with weight loss that they need to cut their calories and exercise more won’t be an effective strategy because it doesn’t actually provide the individual with concrete, actionable steps to move in the right direction.

It’s important to take several variables into consideration, such as if there have been failed attempts to lose weight in the past. Also, it’s wise to find out if a client believes he or she can make a change, or whether they are filled with self-doubt to accomplish their goals.

Furthermore, it’s important to understand that some mental disturbances, including stress, depression, or having been exposed to trauma, can affect appetite for some individuals, leading to over or under-consuming calories. It’s also important to know that everyone reacts in a different way to these potential triggers. 

Getting this sort of background information is invaluable in forming a nuanced, individualized approach to helping clients reach their goals, no matter what they might be.

What’s the deal with High Fructose Corn Syrup? Is it good or bad?

High fructose corn syrup (HFCS) is a man-made sweetener derived from corn starch. You can find it in many commercially available products ranging from soda and sports drinks, to salad dressings and barbecue sauces. 

HFCS is preferred over real sugar by many food companies since it’s cheaper, more abundant, has a longer shelf life, and has a broader range of food-processing applications versus cane sugar.

From a perspective of caloric density, it is a little sweeter than sugar, which implies that less could be used. But per gram, HFCS is no different than cane sugar (i.e., one gram equals four calories), thus it cannot be implicated in promoting greater levels of obesity by itself. 1

However, it’s most often found in snacks and junk foods that are usually calorically dense, and thus becomes guilty by association. 

The same must be said for HFCS negatively affecting metabolic or endocrinal (hormonal) responses in the body – no real evidence links HFCS per se to compromised health.

HFCS is one of the most abundant sources of added sugar. So reducing HFCS is a smart choice for most people. However, when ingested in small amounts, HFCS does not directly pose major health issues. Its impact on the body is similar to cane sugar.

Carbs. Will they make me gain weight?

A macronutrient (that’s the fancy term for something that’s consumed in large amounts— carbohydrates, protein or fat) by itself does not necessarily promote obesity, unless its quantities are significantly elevated.

Rather, the overall energy density of the diet, or how many calories are consumed, appears to be the primary cause of overweight and obesity.

So why are carbohydrates always portrayed as the bad guys?

Part of this blame stems from the fact that carbs, especially sugars and processed (simple) carbohydrates with little fiber, empty from the stomach faster than other nutrients. They can also cause a rise and fall in blood sugar faster than other nutrients.

But neither of those are the real problem. The overeating is. And simple carbs are very easy to over-consume because often they’re easily accessible, and to many, sweet foods taste good.

The accessibility combined with the taste tends to stimulate appetite, resulting in more food being consumed. When more energy is consumed than the body uses, weight gain occurs. It’s just the law of thermodynamics.

The trick is to opt for primarily nutritious carbohydrate sources like whole grains, legumes, whole fruits and vegetables over simple carbohydrate foods like cookies, pastries, chips, and other junk foods.

Does a decrease in dietary saturated fat intake reduce heart disease?

In short, yes, decreasing saturated fat can reduce the risk of heart disease.

But it’s not as simple as that.

Dietary recommendations have focused on reducing saturated fat intake to lower LDL-cholesterol, and thus, cardiovascular disease.2

However, this strategy has not been well established without recommending what specific nutrients should be substituted for saturated fat.3

Based on numerous studies, several conclusions have been made:

• Replacing saturated fat with refined carbohydrates does not reduce risk of cardiovascular disease.

• Replacing saturated fat with polyunsaturated fat may reduce the risk of cardiovascular events.

• And reductions in saturated fat without replacing those nutrients with other nutrients is not well understood.

Bottom line:

People should reduce their saturated fat intake to the recommended guidelines; about 10%, or less, of total calories. If they are consuming more than recommended guidelines, they should replace saturated fats with unsaturated fats, including nuts, seeds, fatty fish, olive oil, and avocados.  

Does exercising on an empty stomach burn fat?

The idea of “fasted cardio” – or fasting during aerobic exercise – has been around for decades. The underlying idea being that when you don’t consume food, specifically carbohydrates, for an extended period, your body will use its fat to get its energy.

There is some rationale to support this idea. For example, in a study of ten healthy overweight men walking for 60 minutes on an empty stomach burned more fat than when they consumed carbohydrates prior to walking.4

In another study, active men burned nearly 20% more fatty acids when running on an empty stomach compared to after eating breakfast.5

These studies simply measured markers of acute fat oxidation (or burning fat), not long-term outcomes of actual body fat loss. 

In a four-week long study of females on a 500-calorie-a-day deficit, fasted cardio was not more beneficial than non-fasted cardio for changes in body composition, or body mass index (BMI).6

In some cases, fasted exercise may be detrimental, specifically in higher intensity training, or longer duration training where pre-workout carbohydrates are needed to increase performance. 

Bottom Line: Fasted cardio does not appear to provide any additional benefit on body fat loss when calories and training volume are equal. 

The Keto Diet – Is it a fad worth falling for?

The ketogenic diet – or Keto Diet, as it’s commonly known – is a dietary approach that utilizes a very low-carbohydrate, high-fat approach to eating. The idea is when there is a severe reduction of carbohydrate intake, the liver begins to produce ketone bodies to be used for fuel, a process called ketosis.

There is some promising research regarding a keto diet and specific diseases. For instance, up to 50% of young people with epilepsy had significantly fewer seizures after following a keto diet.Ketogenic diets may also aid in fat loss.

However, when calories and protein are matched between diets, a ketogenic diet does not necessarily lead to more fat loss than a non-ketogenic or higher carbohydrate diet.

Bottom line: A well-formulated ketogenic diet may be safe to consume for many people, with the presumption that the diet is comprised of mostly whole, minimally-processed foods and providing adequate micronutrition (vitamins and minerals) and fiber.

However, a ketogenic diet may lead to increases in LDL cholesterol – or ‘bad’ cholesterol.9 If this happens, that should be of concern, and may warrant reducing fat intake in those susceptible individuals. It should be noted that there is a large individual genetic variation in response to high-fat diets.

We hope this has answered some of your burning questions about the role of Nutrition Coaches , and some of the more hot topics in nutrition.

And if this blog has piqued your interest in becoming a Certified Nutrition Coach, you can learn more by clicking here.

1. Smith AM, Collene, AL and Spees CK. (2018). Wardlaw’s Contemporary Nutrition (5th edition). New York, NY. McGraw-Hill Education.

2. Mozaffarian, D., Micha, R., & Wallace, S. (2010). Effects on coronary heart disease of increasing polyunsaturated fat in place of saturated fat: a systematic review and meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials. PLoS medicine, 7(3), e1000252.

3. De Souza, R. J., Mente, A., Maroleanu, A., Cozma, A. I., Ha, V., Kishibe, T., … & Anand, S. S. (2015). Intake of saturated and trans unsaturated fatty acids and risk of all cause mortality, cardiovascular disease, and type 2 diabetes: systematic review and meta-analysis of observational studies. Bmj, 351, h3978.

4. Chen, Y. C., Travers, R. L., Walhin, J. P., Gonzalez, J. T., Koumanov, F., Betts, J. A., & Thompson, D. (2017). Feeding influences adipose tissue responses to exercise in overweight men. American Journal of Physiology-Endocrinology and Metabolism, 313(1), E84-E93.

5. Gonzalez JT, Veasey RC, Rumbold PL, Stevenson EJ. Breakfast and exercise contingently affect postprandial metabolism and energy balance in physically active males. British Journal of Nutrition. 2013 Aug;110(4):721-32. doi: 10.1017/S0007114512005582. Epub 2013 Jan 29.

6. Schoenfeld, B. J., Aragon, A. A., Wilborn, C. D., Krieger, J. W., & Sonmez, G. T. (2014). Body composition changes associated with fasted versus non-fasted aerobic exercise. Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition, 11(1), 54.

7. Sharma, S., & Jain, P. (2014). The ketogenic diet and other dietary treatments for refractory epilepsy in children. Annals of Indian Academy of Neurology, 17(3), 253-8.

8. Johnston C., Tjonn S., Swan P., White A., Hutchins H., Sears B. (2006), Ketogenic low-carbohydrate diets have no metabolic advantage over nonketogenic low-carbohydrate diets, The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, Volume 83, Issue 5, 1 May 2006, Pages 1055–1061, https://doi.org/10.1093/ajcn/83.5.1055

9. Kephart, W., Pledge, C., Roberson, P., Mumford, P., Romero, M., Mobley, C., . . . Roberts, M. (2018, 01). The Three-Month Effects of a Ketogenic Diet on Body Composition, Blood Parameters, and Performance Metrics in CrossFit Trainees: A Pilot Study. Sports, 6(1), 1. doi:10.3390/sports6010001


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National Academy of Sports Medicine

National Academy of Sports Medicine

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3 Comments

  1. July 3, 2019 at 6:08 pm — Reply

    My husband and I aren’t the best with nutrition, so we wanted some options for changing that. I didn’t know nutrition coaches helped you learn more about healthy dining-out strategies. When I think about good nutrition, I always thought about only cooking; I’ll have to hire a nutritionist that can help my husband and I eat better, so we don’t have to give up dining out completely!

  2. July 18, 2019 at 5:39 pm — Reply

    Thanks for explaining that nutrition coaches can help us lose or gain weight effectively. I’ve been wanting to lose weight and feel healthier. Your article helped me see the value that working with a nutritionist would have!

  3. November 11, 2019 at 8:11 am — Reply

    It’s good to know that nutrition coaches are certified to help people without medical conditions be more healthy through their diet. My wife has been thinking of starting a keto diet to help improve her health, but she’s been wanting more detailed advice and support on how to go about that. We’ll probably end up looking for a licensed diet coach to help support her and make sure she’s taking care of her body in the best way possible.

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