competing fat loss nutrition

What To Look for in a Diet Coach: The Best in the Biz Sound Off About Contest Prep

What to Look for in a Diet Coach: The Best in the Biz Sound Off About Contest Prep

“Cod and asparagus”

“Okay. What else?”

“That’s it. I’m only allowed to eat cod and asparagus for all of my meals leading up to my show.”

“But… you’re 3 weeks out.”

“Yeah. It sucks. I’m doing cardio twice a day, too. I’m kinda scared what is going to happen after the show.”

This is a conversation I had about a month ago with a woman that was preparing for her first Figure show, and had reached out to me with concern. For five meals a day, she was only allowed to eat cod and asparagus. She is part of a “team”, which in this case means (and sadly, such is the case with many of these prep teams) she is following a cookie-cutter diet program, and participating in one-size-fits-all group training sessions, regardless of individual needs. 

Getting back to her diet, let’s crunch the numbers. At 4oz of cod per serving, and let’s say 10 spears of asparagus per meal, five times a day, breaks down to about:
100g of protein
12g of fat
30g of carbohydrate 
628 calories per day
Plus two-a-day cardio, and strength training four days a week. 
There are multiple problems here. 
There is the glaringly obvious, which is that she is totally miserable. Personally, I love asparagus, but force me to eat it for 140 meals in a row and I may hang myself. 

Next, she is starving, and not in that facetious “I’m so starving I may die”  type of way that I claim each time I leave the gym, but she is actually, genuinely starving. 

Less than 650 calories a day? Are you kidding me? 
Hell, even less than 1,000 calories a day. Are you kidding me?? 
Also, her concern about what happens after the show is completely valid. Can you imagine how difficult it would be to re-enter a world of ‘normal eating’ when all you are used to consuming is fish and asparagus? 
Unfortunately, I predict serious binging accompanied by a ton of remorse, followed by extreme restriction. Rinse, and repeat. That is a scary, scary path to be on, especially when you are fresh off of a competition, when most people struggle with a depressing case of the “What now?”s as it is. 

Bad Coaches

Horrible diet coaches, and more specifically to this article, contest prep coaches, absolutely pervade the industry. These reckless individuals are recommending cookie-cutter starvation diets and obscene amounts of cardio, driving their client (and the client’s health and sanity) into the ground. 

Subsisting off of nothing except for protein and vegetables, drinking only distilled water, cutting out all sodium for the course of the entire prep, using an arsenal of stimulants and fat burners, two-a-day workouts, fat coming only from fish oil…. the list of ridiculous tactics employed to get these women to the stage goes on and on. 
These women then turn to myself and my colleagues to help them sort through this metabolic nightmare once the show is over. It is heartbreaking, and it is rarely a snap to fix.

Make No Mistake – It’s Not Easy

Interestingly enough, every time I write about irresponsible diet coaches, I always have a few people rebuke me (and not surprisingly, it’s always the people that have to resort to hairball tactics to get their clients leaner). Their rebuttal is always “competition prep is hard, and there is no way around that”, and I agree with that to a point. 
Contest prep will rarely be a walk in the park. 
Let’s get that straight right now. 
Of course, there will always be the outliers that breeze through their prep. (We want to strangle those people. Kidding. Sort of.)
For most of us, though, contest prep is certain to be challenging and uncomfortable. You will likely be hungry, have cravings, and struggle a bit with dips in energy. You may suffer from lowered libido, irritability, and some strength loss. There will be days that you are prepared to do really desperate things for 30 more grams of carbohydrate. You may accidentally eat half of a carrot cake in the middle of the grocery store before you realize what you’re doing. I get it. This is normal for many people preparing for a show. 
However, as a responsible coach, it is up to us to decide just how difficult we will let a prep be, and it’s imperative that we take into consideration possible repercussions the client is going to have to deal with during the prep, and once the show is over. 
The coach that I mentioned in the beginning that has the client eating nothing but the same two foods every day, all day, is obviously not concerned about the client’s re-entry into post-competition life, and this is an aspect that must be taken into consideration. 

Professionalism and integrity aside, a coach is dealing with another human being, their health, and happiness. I certainly hope that your coach wants to see you succeed long after you’ve worked with them – because they should. 

Good Coaches vs Irresponsible Coaches

An irresponsible coach is one that takes on a client to prep for a show, knowing that there is not enough time to get the client contest ready in a somewhat healthy manner. 

As a nutrition coach myself, I am not afraid to turn down clients. If somebody comes to me, and wants to step on stage in 12 weeks (or 14, or 18, or whatever) and I know it’s not possible without employing extremely aggressive and dangerous tactics, I do the following:
  • I shoot straight. I simply tell them that they need more prep time in order to do things in a somewhat healthy manner, and still bring their best package to the stage. 
  • If they aren’t okay with finding a later show date, I will not take them on as a client. Period. I refuse to compromise their health or my integrity for a self-imposed deadline.
If a coach tells you that they can’t get you ready in a safe way for the show date that you have set, and that you require more time, it doesn’t make them a bad coach; it makes them a responsible one. 

I take my client’s health – both physical and mental – very, very seriously. Sure, I could recommend some idiotic diet, such as the cod and asparagus one above, coupled with obscene amounts of energy expenditure work, but I refuse to do that. No way, no how. 

I’d rather see somebody take 5-6 months to come in slow and steady, rather than make a big sweeping transformation in 10 – 12 weeks. The latter may look impressive on social media, but you have to ask: 

At what cost did this change come at? 
What price did this person pay – and will they pay in the future – because of this transformation?

In an effort to help you, or someone you know, find out how to hire the right contest prep coach, I asked the best diet coaches in the biz what you need to be aware of when hiring. 
I can personally attest for the knowledge, integrity, professionalism, and results that each of these coaches bring to the table.
My question to them:
“What should people look for when hiring a nutrition coach, for dieting or contest prep purposes?”

“The number one thing I tell people to be wary of when hiring a coach is when someone never is willing to say the three magic words: I DON’T KNOW.  

No one has all the answers and coaches who do not have the humility to admit when they do not know something or a topic is beyond their scope are very dangerous. Many coaches will make up nonsense when they do not really understand a topic or they will use the ever popular line ‘because I said so.’  You deserve better than that.  You paid this person, they should either be able to accurately tell you why they want you doing something or they should admit that they simply are not sure.  BS or ‘because I said so’ is not an acceptable response.”

“Be an informed athlete.
One key point that I cannot stress enough is individual specificity within nutrition. You are an individual and not a programmed machine thus your nutrition recommendations should be tailored to you, and changes should be made based off of your feedback and response, not ignored with responses like, “Oh, that is normal, this is just part of the plan.” if you personally feel off or as if things are not going well. 

Make informed decisions prior to hiring a coach, a coach can sell you anything he or she wants but I encourage you to speak to the athletes of that coach and get an idea as to how that coach assesses and makes changes to nutrition with his current cliental. Reach out to several as well this will give you a good amount of data to review as to whether or not that coach is utilizing an individualistic approach or one that is more so one size fits all. 

If current athletes are all with different starting points, body fat set points, and possessing different amounts of lean body mass are all on a similar plan this is a sign that the coach is not the best option for you the individual.” 

Twitter and Instagram: @INOV8ElitePerformance
YouTube: INOV8EP
Matt Jansen
INOV8 Elite Performance

“In my opinion the number one most important thing to look out for is a coach who is handing out meal plans. 
People must understand that every single person, even of the same height and weight, is going to require a different caloric intake to accomplish their goals. 

A meal plan is a generalized layout which can lead to metabolic issues, eating disorders and many other detrimental issues. A good coach is going to give you a customized caloric intake- hopefully based around macronutrients that are optimal for reaching your goals.”

Kelsea Koenreich
NGA Figure Pro
IG: teamproscience
“When hiring an online prep coach, take notice how much background information they collect on you before officially hiring them. 

If they are a good coach, they will take many factors into consideration. If they don’t get background info, and just hand you a diet and cardio plan, chances are it’s a stock diet that may or may not work for YOU.

Also, reach out to their former and current clients, and not just the ones that are listed front and center on the testimonial page. Ask them how their experiences were and what they liked/disliked about working with that coach.”

Twitter: @JuliaLadewski
Instagram: @JuliaLadewski
“Aside from obvious things to look out for like education/credentials, experience, client successes/testimonials, etc., I think the biggest thing that women face when seeking online diet coaches is the pressure to be part of a ‘team’.

There are MANY teams of competitors, made up of mostly women, who have fabulous sounding names, logos, team clothing/uniforms, social media pages, group support, etc. Many of these teams give out things like cookie cutter diets, dangerous or gimmicky exercise prescription, push drug usage, offer no or minimal contact with the coach, provide no or minimal weekly assessments or updates, and promote antiquated nutrition information (all fish diets, no sodium, distilled water, etc.).

Some of the best coaches I’ve come across aren’t flashy, don’t have cool sounding team names, and don’t make competitors feel part of a sisterhood of sorts, yet they are educated, experienced, and incredibly dedicated to their clients’ health, goals, and success as an athlete.”
Ben Hartman, MS, CSCS

“Be wary of a coach who tries to give you too much too soon. Is he/she restricting you to a ten-item food list? 

Piling on the cardio, slowly but surely? Have your workouts become a part-time job? 

If something in your program looks suspicious, there’s probably a reason behind why. You always want to start out with the minimal effective dose when it comes to training and nutrition – that means spending as as little time in the gym as possible and eating as much as you can afford to while still making progress toward your goal.”

Sohee Lee, NSCA-CSCS 
When you are shopping for a nutrition coach, remember that you are hiring them to do a job, and you are trusting them with your health. This is a very big deal! 
The coach you are hiring should gather a ton of information about you prior to committing to helping you, including your goals, current and past nutrition, training, sleep cycles, stress levels, and health issues. 
If somebody shoots you over an invoice without gathering all of this information, that is a huge red flag.
Additionally, if a coach agrees to help you prep for a show without knowing your show date, and seeing pictures of where your physique is currently, along with obtaining the information listed above – yikes! You need to find somebody else. 
Remember – you are hiring somebody for a job. Ask them plenty of questions. Don’t be afraid to request references from both current and past clients! If they are anything less than enthusiastic about answering your questions, and providing you with the information you’re requested, immediately move on! 
If you are interested in my nutrition coaching services, please contact me at
Questions? Comments? 
Did my colleagues or I miss anything that you’d add like to add? 
If so, drop us a line below! 


  • Reply
    May 22, 2014 at 10:20 am

    What a great article and incredibly important topic. I have had such bad experiences in the past, this is such a great write up.

  • Reply
    Brittany Lesser
    May 22, 2014 at 10:20 am

    AMEN!!! Love this post.

  • Reply
    May 22, 2014 at 10:20 am

    Having had a terrible experience myself, I think it would also be pertinent to quiz a potential coach about metabolic damage or adaptation. Questions like, "Do you think metabolic damage is real?" "What are the signs of metabolic damage that you look for", AND "What steps would you take if you see a client exhibiting metabolic damage?"

    If they answer that metabolic damage isn't real, or if they can't give you some early signs of metabolic damage or late signs (like gaining weight on low calories and insane amounts of exercise)…. or, if they would simply stop training you once your progress stopped, with no assistance moving into normal eating…

    RUN RUN RUN!!!!!!

  • Reply
    May 22, 2014 at 10:21 am

    So Glad Alan Ali posted this. Can you recommend anyone in the South Florida 954/305 area code? My email is

  • Reply
    Jen Comas Keck
    May 22, 2014 at 10:23 am

    While I don't know anybody in person, I can absolutely recommend some great online coaches. Anybody listed above, or myself, of course.

    Feel free to email any of them, or me at

  • Reply
    Alba Cabral
    May 23, 2014 at 11:16 am

    Great article!! I had a coach prepping me with 5 meals a day cod and asparagus too being 6 weeks out. 50 min fasted cardio every day, training every day with no rest days and another 50 min cardio after training every day……
    I did think and felt like I was going to die!!! no joke! Anytime I said I was not feeling Well…his response was " take aspirin " Or "Good, The worse you feel the better you look" really?? Every Inch of My body was in pain, every joint was in pain, fatigue and I could not even finish My workouts but I did, I did everything he said. luckily after four weeks out when he said he had a concern with me losing My glutes and hamstrings is when I realized he had NO idea what he was doing. I was so frustrated and cried because he literally made me lose My gains….I got stringy, was turning grey and was so close to quiting because at that point there was no way I could Reverse the damage. I now have a new coach and now slowly getting My gains back! with rest days!!����

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