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Nutrition Programming, Part 1

By Nicki Cartwright | In Blog | on April 10, 2015

I do not think it is news to anyone that a sound nutrition plan plays a tremendous role on your athletic, health, or aesthetic goals. Optimal performance, recovery and growth are as much dictated by ingestion as by external activity. From fat loss to muscle hypertrophy, bodybuilders to power lifters, soccer players to track runners, the bulk of my work with clients is around nutrition programming.


There are many scenarios I have encountered that have helped to weed through a lot of misconceptions when it comes time to put together a Nutrition Plan–from getting through an eating disorder, early studies as a Dietetics student, Personal Training nutrition studies, training for figure competitions and ultimately powerlifting. Having worked with so many different people and body types with varying goals, I have come to narrow down essential elements to speed up the process of a custom program.


Many people hire others (like myself) to do the programming for them. It can become complicated and overwhelming, because every body really is individual and there are a multitude of combinations of macronutrients (carbs, fats, protein). However, there are a lot of common factors as well, which is also comforting. You will find that what one coach, trainer or nutritionist will put together for you might be quite different from what another will, and another so forth. It does not necessarily mean that there is only one right way, and the only person who will truly know what works best is YOU based on how you feel inside and out, what works with your lifestyle, etc. In this 2-part series (or possibly more), I will lay out my suggestions for how to put together your own Nutrition Plan.


PART 1: Prescreening




Keep in mind that no one ever has only one goal. You always have a primary goal, but many will have a secondary goal and even tertiary goal. For example, my primary goal is to have energy for powerlifting training and get stronger. My secondary goal is to keep my body weight stable, and my tertiary goal is to maintain my body fat level.


Write down your goals in their levels of importance.




The best way to put a program together is to first evaluate your current lifestyle. This is the most critical element for me when I begin working with someone. If you eat fast food everyday, changing that to home cooked meals without any specific guidelines will produce quick results. If you eat three meals a day, adding in two snacks between meals will reap great benefits. However, someone who already has healthy eating habits down might need something more specific right off the bat. Keep in mind that any positive changes will produce results, and steady, conservative improvements might be what a person needs instead of a very strict diet.


Write down your current eating habits:


How many times do you eat per day?
How long do you wait between meals?
What supplements do you take?
How much water do you drink?
How much caffeine do you consume?


Write down your current training:


How many days do you lift weights? How long are you sessions?
How many days do you do cardio? How long are your sessions?




The key to sticking to a program is to find a happy medium between what is ideal and what you can realistically stick to. While some changes and compromises are necessary, you cannot alienate your friends, family and social engagements all of the time. It is neither realistic nor healthy. Do not compare yourself to other people, and be okay with taking small steps to change if you need to. Some people love structure and for athletes with very specific training goals, it might be easier mentally to stick to a detailed plan.


YOUR JOB – Many occupations do not allow one to stop and eat when it is 3 or 4 hours on the dot. Furthermore, some people work on their feet and with their hands for hours at a time while others sit at a desk for 8 hours.


Write down what you physically do at work, and how many times you can realistically eat.


Moreover, you might have certain food allergies, metabolic or immune system needs that are different from the average person. As stated earlier, there are not one-size fits all plans for everyone. If your body cannot digest sweet potatoes, have red potatoes. If you cannot handle whey protein, have a piece of chicken. Just because you read in a training article that certain foods are the “best”, doesn’t mean another option will not get the job done.


Write down you particular needs or restrictions when it comes to eating.


Prescreening Solutions


Here are some general suggestions based on possible prescreening answers.




  • Performance + muscle gain
    • You are eating to perform and build, so you will need more than your current calories, carbohydrates and fats to get you through your training and to build.
  • Performance + body composition
    • You are eating to perform, but timing your nutrient intake of carbohydrates for utilization around intense training and fats around more cardiovascular or low intensity activities.





  • Eating frequency
    • 5 or more meals per day
  • Time between meals
    • 2-4 hours
  • Supplements
    • Multivitamin, calcium/magnesium, EFA (essential fatty acids), Vitamin D, Vitamin E, B-Vitamin Complex (for strenuous activity and occupations), Creatine (if you weight train, always a bonus), Joint complex (MSM, glucosamine chondroitin, hyaluronic acid). There are many more great supplements to take, these are just my power essentials
  • Water Consumption
    • ½ – 1 gallon per day, based on body size.
  • Caffeine intake
    • Least amount possible, but let’s be real! Just try to stay under 1 g (1000 mg) per day, and replace each caffeinated beverage with an equal amount of plain water for hydration.


  • Weight training
    • If you weight train more than 3 days per week for 60 minutes or more you definitely need at least 1 gram of protein per pound of bodyweight if not more, and have a moderate to high intake of carbohydrates (again, based on goals).
  • Cardiovascular training
    • If you do more than 3 days per week at least 30-60 minutes, make sure you have at least one serving of essential fats (oils, nuts, nut butters). If your cardio is intense (over 75% max heart rate or intervals), you cannot have too low of carbohydrates in your diet (low being less than 0.5 x bodyweight in grams).




  • Job
    • If you have a physically demanding job, you might need an extra 200-500 calories based on your metabolism. If you are sedentary all day, you might need 100-300 calories less than a moderately active person. Monitor your appetite and energy levels and adjust accordingly. If you can only eat twice on your work shift, keep quick snack on hand that you can consume quickly, such as a protein drink, nuts or fruit.
  • Nutrition Restrictions
    • There are always options when it comes to food. Stay away from foods you are allergic to and research alternatives.
    • If you have a metabolic disorder, carefully monitor your appetite and how your body responds to certain foods. If something does not sit well or just makes you “feel” bad, avoid it. Aim for nutrient dense foods (complex carbohydrates, possibly plant based, and vegetables and fruits) and lean protein sources.
    • Stick to healthy foods you can realistically eat! If you cannot bring yourself to eating egg whites, by all means eat some other protein source within reason.


Other Suggestions


As cliché as it sounds, journaling/monitoring your habits every day will make a world of a difference when it comes to narrowing down your ideal nutrition plan. The more detail you include, the better. Information such as what you ate, how you felt afterwards, food digestion, and changes in energy or mood are great things to start with.


Remember, this is ultimately about you learning about yourself. As your body evolves (which it does constantly and progressively), so will your nutrition. It is a never-ending journey of troubleshooting, but the more you observe, the more control you will have, and the better equipped you will be when your body needs a change.


Again, what I presented is just based on my education and experience, so please take it in stride. Research information BUT also know how to understand data you encounter. Many studies are not controlled, observations or subjects may not be consistent with the objective, and the data can be deceiving. It is always best to take articles (such as this) and apply new practices to yourself before coming to a conclusion as to what works for you or what does not.


The suggestions I gave are very broad, and I will go into further detail in Part 2 with plenty of numbers, templates and equations!


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Nicki Crapotta