Functional Nutrition: What You Need to Know to Boost Client Results

By Alex Hoffmann on August, 19 2021
Nutrition
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Alex Hoffmann

Dr. Alex Hoffmann is the President of the College of Exercise Science. He earned a doctorate in Sports Management from the United States Sports Academy, a master's degree in kinesiology from California State University, Fullerton, and a bachelor's degree in exercise science from Central College. Prior to his career in academia, Dr. Hoffmann worked as Master Fitness Trainer course instructor for the United States Army, and as a strength and conditioning coach, personal trainer, and nutritionist.

Functional nutrition can be a key factor in helping your clients get the results they’re looking for. While you know both moving the body and eating well are necessary—clients may not. 

In fact, a study from the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that most participants were more likely to exercise without modifying their diets. Some of their eating habits even became less healthy than before starting a fitness routine, and researchers noted minimal health improvements—if any—with just exercise alone. 

However, another study from the BMC Public Health Journal found that when fitness and nutrition are combined, metabolism and energy are increased, blood pressure and cholesterol are reduced, and participants had a healthier body weight. 

The question is: what is the best nutrition plan for your clients? While this may differ from one person to the next, there’s one style of nutrition that can be valuable across the board and that is functional nutrition. Here’s what you need to know to implement this style of nutrition with your clients to boost their results.

Keep Reading: Intermittent Fasting 101: What You Need to Know

Want to further your skill set? Learn more about our Exercise Science Bachelor’s Degree

 

What Is Functional Nutrition?

Functional nutrition is a holistic way of eating that takes into account a person’s unique genetics, environment, chronic disease risks, physical activities, stress and hormone levels, sleep hygiene, nutrient deficiencies, food sensitivities and other lifestyle factors. 

Using their unique information, you can create an eating plan tailored to each client’s physiological makeup and specific needs. Ultimately, functional nutrition uses food as medicine to achieve optimal wellness and counteract imbalances, toxins, digestive issues or excess weight. 

As the Institute for Integrative Nutrition explains how this differs from what you might see as standard nutrition:

“Standard nutrition focuses on the nutritional facts, such as a food or food group’s ability to promote or damage health (whether it's ‘good’ or ‘bad’ for you). Functional nutrition looks at these facts, too, but in the context of an individual’s physiological makeup and how they live, such as how often they move, the quality of their relationships, and their stress level. Essentially, just because a food or food group has been demonstrated as being ‘good for you,’ it doesn’t mean it’s good for you—functional nutrition means one size doesn’t fit all!”

Keep Reading: Nutrition 101: Healthy Eating Rules for Beginner Clients

 

How Does Functional Nutrition Work? 

Genetics are central to developing a functional nutrition plan for each client. A person’s DNA  determines how they absorb, process and utilize the nutrients they consume. Knowing this will help you and the client figure out important nutritional details like:

  • Whether they’re deficient in certain vitamins or minerals
  • How healthy and efficient their gut microbiome is
  • Whether their hormones are regulated or out of balance
  • If they’re susceptible to bone or muscle weakness
  • If there are underlying conditions that can be improved with dietary changes

Once you understand these genetic DNA components, you can customize a functional nutrition plan for the client’s macronutrient (proteins, fats, carbs) and micronutrient (vitamins, minerals) needs. 

Before creating a nutritional plan, be sure that you’re still working within your scope of practice. You may need to refer your clients to a nutritionist to get the nutritional plan and support they need. However, you can work closely with that nutritionist to make sure you understand their plan and vice versa.

If you are creating the client’s functional nutrition plan, it’s important to remember that some of the daily requirements are based on measurable percentages, while others are more loosely based on each individual person. Here’s a nutrient breakdown to follow when creating a functional nutrition plan:   

 

Proteins

For clients with a normal genetic constitution (genotype) for protein utilization, this macronutrient should make up 15 to 30 percent of their daily caloric intake. For clients with an enhanced genotype (those who lose weight more efficiently with high protein levels), it should be 25 to 30 percent of their daily caloric intake. 

 

Fats

For clients with a normal genotype for fat utilization, this macronutrient should be eaten in moderation, but there’s no exact percentage, as it varies from one person to the next based on the other lifestyle factors listed above. For clients with a low genotype (those who are more susceptible to excess fat storage in the body), it should be no more than 15 to 25 percent of their daily caloric intake.    

  

Carbohydrates

For clients with a normal genotype for carb utilization, this micronutrient should be eaten in moderation, but like with fats, the amount will also vary from one person to the next based on lifestyle factors. For clients with an enhanced genotype, it can be as much as 65 percent of their daily caloric intake. For clients with a low genotype, the amount should be carefully monitored with a focus on complex carbs (such as beans and whole grains) instead of simple carbs (such as processed grains, starches and high-glycemic foods).

 

Vitamins and Minerals

For clients who are deficient in common micronutrients such as Vitamins A, B6, B9, B12, C, D, calcium, zinc, iron and magnesium, boost their intake of vegetables and fruits with a high concentration of those nutrients. For example, low iron and B12 can cause anemia which often leads to fatigue, while low calcium weakens bone density which can increase the chances of fitness-related injuries. So to maximize both nutrition and workout performance, ensure that your client’s eating plan includes these essential vitamins and minerals.  

Keep Reading: 10 Tips to Make Paleo Meal Prep Easier

Want to further your skill set? Learn more about our Exercise Science Bachelor’s Degree

 

What Are Some Other Functional Nutrition Tips?

Beyond genetics, functional nutrition looks at all aspects of the client’s body, as well as external influences that can affect the body. When developing a functional nutrition plan, it’s important to take a holistic view of the client’s lifestyle and help them make adjustments where necessary. Here are some additional tips to optimize the effectiveness of functional nutrition and to boost your client’s health and fitness goals in the process: 

 

Emphasize a colorful variety of whole foods

Teach your client how to fill their plate with nutrient-dense vegetables, fruits, whole grains, plant-based proteins (nuts, seeds, beans, lentils), or lean fish and poultry. At the same time, help them minimize their intake of refined sugars, trans or saturated fats, simple carbs, excess sodium and artificial ingredients that will cause health complications and stall weight loss efforts. 

 

Select foods that promote a healthy gut microbiome

According to Dr. David Heber at UCLA Health, “seventy percent of the immune system is located in the gut, [and] nutrition is a key modulator of immune function.” Processed foods (like the ones listed above) can harm the diversity and composition of bacteria in the gut which leads to inflammation and chronic gastrointestinal issues. So it’s crucial to help the client choose foods rich in fiber to strengthen this microbiome and elevate immune function. 

 

Combine nutrition with other positive lifestyle habits

Functional nutrition takes into account numerous lifestyle factors. In addition to healthy eating habits, create a plan that also promotes stress management, adequate sleep, consistent exercise, optimal hydration and other practices that will help to increase quality of life. 

 

Take Your Functional Nutrition Knowledge to the Next Level  

If you want to learn more about functional nutrition and the benefits of combining diet with exercise to boost client results, consider getting your Bachelors or Masters in exercise science. With specialized training, you can most effectively integrate both fitness and nutrition into your training to boost client results.
     

 

Enrollment Meet

 

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Alex Hoffmann

Dr. Alex Hoffmann is the President of the College of Exercise Science. He earned a doctorate in Sports Management from the United States Sports Academy, a master's degree in kinesiology from California State University, Fullerton, and a bachelor's degree in exercise science from Central College. Prior to his career in academia, Dr. Hoffmann worked as Master Fitness Trainer course instructor for the United States Army, and as a strength and conditioning coach, personal trainer, and nutritionist.

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