How To Use An Athlete Centered Approach To Change Nutritional Habits


With managing a whole team, 12-14 hour days and a limit on time, many coaches don’t take the time to work on nutrition with their athletes. It’s easy to just hand out a meal plan and to say, “eat this, not that.” If coaches took the time to understand behavior change, helped athletes understand their goals, and created an environment for them to succeed, they would not only see positive results, but they would also build a stronger team.

Strength and conditioning coach Adam Feit, was recently invited to the NSCA Coaches Conference to speak about an athlete-centered approach to nutrition coaching. The entire session is available to watch directly on their website.

Adam compares the awfulness versus awesomeness-based coaching models and provides a scalable method to approach changing athlete habits for the better. Nutrition change isn’t about how many reps, it’s about helping athletes develop good habits to achieve the goals they set for themselves.

In most coaching, but specifically to nutrition, using an athlete-centered approach is the best way to get successful outcomes.

Athlete-Centered Approach

  • Doing what’s best for our athletes
  • Meeting our athletes where they are at and setting realistic goals
  • Giving credit where credit is due
  • Guiding our athletes into the drivers seat of their own journey

Instead of telling our players how to change their diet what they need to fix, why don’t we sit with them instead and talk about it.

Using the awfulness approach is an easy approach for coaches because they are so used to fixing problems, they end up always looking for something that is wrong. Instead coaches should refocus their approach to be more positive, or awesome-based.

Awfulness based:

  • We need to fix broken athletes
  • Forcing athletes into new identities
  • Win/Lose driven outcomes

Awesome based:

  • Turn up the good and turn down the suck
  • Highlight and build upon the bright spots
  • Shift from me to we. Guide vs. push.



  1. Clarify
  2. Prepare
  3. Shape
  4. Focus
  5. Systemize
  6. Review


Help athletes discover their goals and motivation for improving their nutritional habits. If coaches don’t take the time to clarify what’s important to an athlete the process is going to hit major road blocks. How is this important to their identity, why do they value this change and what is their goal? If we’re not assessing, we’re just guessing. Discover what’s important to them and how coaches can make nutrition important.


Are they ready for this change? We must get them ready, willing and able to succeed. Gauge readiness by having them asses on a scale of 1 – 10 (“Yeah, let’s do this!”) readiness score. If they aren’t at a 9 or higher they won’t be able to see it till the end. Willingness is a sign of confidence. Are they confident? Ask yourself, what could we change about the task to improve their willingness? Measure on a scale of 1-10 (“I’m dying to do this”). Are they able? Do they have the knowledge, environment and support to be successful? Establish their ability, measure from 1-10 whether they have the tools they need to be successful.


Build on the habits athletes are already doing really well and stack habits on top of each other. What can you do on top of brushing your teeth? Can you drink a shake while you drive to class? Script and structure the habits, to clearly outline the progression. Point athletes to their desired destination and then bring them back to focus on each of the steps and not the success (or failure) of the whole goal.

Build their confidence by shrinking the change and be interested in their progress and shape the path by improving their environment. What is their living situation like, what is their ability? Build nutritional plans to their environment. Then rally the herd. Find a way to get the team together to motivate each other.


When you only change one thing athletes have an 80% chance of success. The more changes you add the lower their chance of success becomes. So, make it easy for them and don’t throw a bunch of changes at them at once. Coaches must take time and slow down to change habits. Figure out what’s one thing you can do right now to get to the next goal and build upon the success of each habit.


What type of systems can we build to streamline the process? Apps that manage your nutrition, training systems like Volt Athletics and performance management systems like Athlete Intelligence will offer easy ways to track progress. These systems build a constant awareness of the athletes’ behaviors which can be later reviewed for opportunities.


Now it’s time to review the data and what it’s showing you. Look for trends, readiness scores, and behavior alignment. Did habits change for the better, did it improve performance or did it cause more injuries, less success rates?

Coaches can use tools like the Athlete Intelligence system to understand how athletes are performing and how are the changes leading to success of the player. The actionable insights, or Coachable Moments, Athlete Intelligence provides is an easy-to-use review of the data that’s been collected and follow-up recommendations to become even more successful.

See how Athlete Intelligence can help you build a better, safer team. Download our Info Booklet or schedule a demotoday, and have one of our awesome sales ninjas walk you through the system.

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