NASM CNC Chapter 21: Navigating Diets

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    Chapter Goals:

    • Discuss the characteristics in the major diets we see.
    • Find the claims regarding body composition and health relating to the types of diets.
    • Know the evidence relating to each diet.
    • Be able to use the strategies that are evidence based in order to debate claims on popular diets that are out there. 
    • Discuss the science and the mechanisms behind diet trends.
    • Discuss the facts of different diets when clients are wanting to explore them.
    • Find the concerns with regard to having a one size fits all approach for diets.

    Navigating diets Introduction

    It is important for the nutrition coaches to be very aware of the popular approaches to dieting that are out there, as well as appreciating the consensus of the scientific community regarding their effectiveness. This will give the coach the tools they need for their clients and cut down on the idea that a one size fits all approach works. The approaches to diets are based on several factors, some of which are:

    • Controlling energy
    • The composition of macronutrients
    • Food type, group choices and restrictions
    • Time restrictions
    • The degree of flexibility of the diet

    Principle Versus Methods

    A common question heard by nutrition coaches is “what is the best diet out there?”. And this is wrong because there is no diet that is best for everyone. To be able to assess the best diet for one person, we must be able to understand the principle through which the diets influence body composition and health, instead of using any diet method. So, the client should instead ask you “what principle do these diets work with?”.

    Any loss in body fat is going to be due to a calorie deficit. This is when you intake less energy than you expend. And when it happens over a good amount of time, you see weight loss. 

    Another major principle of a diet is the intake of macronutrients, micronutrients, the quality of the food, and the diet adherence. 

    Diet Approaches Based On Macronutrient Consumption

    Many diets are based on restricting and promoting some macronutrients in some way. Modifying the amounts of one of these macronutrients is going to have an impact on the choices of food. 

    Low-Energy Diets

    These will be diets where the person is taking in low amounts of total calories. This is usually seen as 800 – 1,200 kilocals per day. Anything under the 800 calorie mark would be a very low energy diet. Weight loss occurs here faster than any other diet, but it has many more negative effects that can happen. These negative effects include decreases in performance, increases in hunger, less ability for the body to recover, and lean body mass loss. The protein taken in is prioritized here since it is more important for those functions of the body to stay consistent. 

    Low-Fat Diets

    There is no exact definition, but many consider it a diet where the goal is to intake 20 – 35% of calories from fat. Possible negatives here are the elimination of foods with many positive benefits, decreases in sex hormones, difficulty adhering, and deficiencies in vital fats we need. 

    Low-Carbohydrate Diets

    These are like low fat diets, as there is no specific amount we have to classify it, but usually it is seen as less than 40% of total calories coming from carbs. These have been shown to lead to reductions in both long and short term fat reduction and body weight reductions overall. But, they are not superior when looking at fat loss. 

    Ketogenic Diets

    These are plans that involve many calories coming from fat, a moderate from protein, and then very small amounts from the carbs. This combination leads to ketosis in the body. This is the metabolic state where the liver makes ketones from the fatty acids. The long term use of ketogenic diets has been shown to lead to greater losses in weight, than other traditional low fat diets, or other control diets. But also, it is important to know that it does not lead to more fat loss than non-ketogenic diets or other high carb diets when the calories and protein amounts are matched.

    High-Protein Diet

    This is when a diet contains more than 25% of total calories from protein, or when you are taking in more than 1.2 grams per kilogram of your bodyweight. Keep in mind, the RDA for protein Is set at 0.8 grams per kilogram. There are many benefits for these diets, the best of which is preserving the fat free mass, increasing satiety, and also increasing the thermic effect of feeding. You will also likely see greater reductions in your body fat levels.

    Diet Approaches Based on Food Choices and/or Restrictions

    Some approaches will be simply based on restricting some food choices. 

    Mediterranean Diet

    This was made based observations of healthy living in people from the  Mediterranean area. Their diets have plant foods, grains, and nuts as the basis of the diet. Red meat consumption is considered low here, and there is inclusion of fish and dairy. 

    It has been shown to reduce many chronic disease risks that are out there, as well as reducing mortality. 

    Vegan Diet and Vegetarian Variations

    • Vegan diets are ones that exclude anything made by animals. We have many forms of diets restricting consumption of animal products to some degree.
    • Vegans eat no animal products at all.
    • Lacto Vegetarians eat no animal products besides dairy.
    • Lacto-Ovo Vegetarians eat no animal products besides dairy and eggs.
    • Pescatarians eat dairy, eggs, and fish, but no other animal products.
    • And Flexitarians are semi-vegetarians that are vegetarian, but occasionally eat meat or fish.

    Some pitfalls of these diets are:

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    • Protein intake can be too low for the diet.
    • The protein quality is not good enough.
    • Vitamin B12 levels can suffer from the lack of eating their source foods.
    • Omega 3 Fatty acids levels can be low.
    • Calcium levels may be of concern.
    • Iron is a concern.
    • Creatine is of concern since it comes from animals. 

    For these reasons, you will often see the need for supplementation to prevent these pitfalls previously mentioned. 

    Paleo Diet

    This is a diet approach where the focus is on eating foods that were in most of our evolutionary history like the meats, fish, veggies, fruits, nuts, and seeds. It calls for avoiding the grains, legumes, dairies, and processed foods. This leaves consumption to the more nutrient dense foods and restricts the energy dense ones. 

    Gluten Free Diet

    This is going to obviously restrict the gluten that we intake in our diet. This is around due to people that have Celiac disease, and wheat allergies. 


    This is the most current attempt by the USDA to show the guidelines to follow with a visual representation of their recommendations. This shows the makeup of what a healthy meal on a plate would be. This shows them in the proper portions.

    DASH (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) Diet 

    The recommendations are:

    • Eat fruits, vegetables, and whole grains.
    • Include fat free or low fat dairy, fish, poultry, beans, nuts, and veggie oils.
    • Limit the foods high in saturated fat.
    • Limit sugar sweetened drinks and sweets. 
    NASM CNC Chapter 21: Navigating Diets 1
    NASM CNC Chapter 21: Navigating Diets 2
    NASM CNC Chapter 21: Navigating Diets 3

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