How Do You Adjust a Client's Diet With Changes in Physical Activity Level?


    How Do You Adjust a Client's Diet With Changes in Physical Activity Level?

    When physical activity levels change, nutrition plans must evolve in tandem. We've gathered insights from six registered dietitians and nutritionists, covering cases from adjusting eating plans for exercise to ensuring caloric intake matches training volume. These professionals share their experiences in tailoring diets to support their clients' shifting fitness journeys.

    • Focus on ‘What’ and ‘When’
    • Tailor Diet to Exercise Intensity
    • Incorporate Protein-Rich Snacks into Diet
    • Adjust Calories for Daily Activity Level
    • Increase Protein, Carbs, and Fats with Excercise
    • Prioritize Nutrient Intake Strategically

    Focus on ‘What’ and ‘When’

    I work primarily in eating disorders, so in recovery, when a client wants to incorporate movement into their life, I always adjust their eating regimen. With a focus on intuitive eating, at first, it can be hard to rely solely on hunger and fullness to meet energy needs in eating disorder populations because right after exercise, there are blunted hunger cues despite the body being in a prime window for nourishment and nutrient utilization.

    When I adjust clients' eating plans to foster more exercise, we focus on both the 'what' and the 'when,' rebalancing meals and snacks and incorporating appropriate fueling before (maybe during) and after exercise. I need them to meet their energy demands while supporting recovery as well as overall health and function without them regressing into eating disorder behaviors. If the eating cannot consistently be used to balance out the exercise, then I do not recommend incorporating formal physical activity.

    Jay Patruno
    Jay PatrunoRegistered Dietitian, NourishRX

    Tailor Diet to Exercise Intensity

    One may need to adjust a client's diet due to a change in their physical activity level. Those who exercise more should increase their intake of high-quality protein, like salmon, grass-fed beef, and lentils, to maintain and build muscle and avoid catabolizing. It's also important to increase complex carbohydrates, such as broccoli, sweet potatoes, and quinoa. If exercising less than normal, one may need to decrease calories overall, especially refined carbohydrates like sweets and juices.

    Kim Ross, MS, RD, CDN
    Kim Ross, MS, RD, CDNIntegrative Nutritionist, Kim Ross Nutrition

    Incorporate Protein-Rich Snacks into Diet

    One client came to me after starting a new exercise regimen. He had recently taken up jogging five times a week, and noticed that the snacks he normally ate no longer kept him feeling full. I recommended he increase his protein intake at meals by adding a serving of lean meat or legumes. Protein helps provide lasting satiety to keep energy levels stable between meals.

    I also suggested he replace his usual snacks of chips and cookies with options higher in protein and fiber, like Greek yogurt, string cheese, or nuts. These changes in his daily diet worked well to fuel his new routine while preventing him from overeating to make up for the extra calories burned through exercise.

    Huma Shaikh
    Huma ShaikhFounder and Dietitian

    Adjust Calories for Daily Activity Level

    I worked with an athlete recently, and each time they changed their activity level, we adjusted their nutrition strategy. Even in their off-season, when they were not training for their sport but still stayed generally active, we had a nutrition plan. Less activity meant fewer daily calories needed. The easiest piece to adjust was to remove pre- and post-workout snacks. We still prioritized iron and protein, and more complex carbohydrates for them, regardless of caloric intake.

    Jenna Stedman
    Jenna StedmanCognitive Performance Dietitian, Master Nutrition Lab

    Increase Protein, Carbs, and Fats with Excercise

    This sort of adjustment is necessary when a client either exceeds the planned exercise volume or does not meet it. For example, if a client who was prescribed to train two times a week starts training four to six times a week, they will require a higher caloric intake, including more protein, carbohydrates, and fats. Similarly, if they decide to reduce their activity, the diet becomes less restrictive. The adjustments depend on the individual's goals, their exercise program, and, most importantly, their energy levels.

    Sergio PedemonteCEO - Certified Personal Trainer, Your House Fitness

    Prioritize Nutrient Intake Strategically

    As a sports dietitian, I help clients every day with adjusting their nutrition based on their activity level. When we increase our activity, we require more overall calories, especially from our body’s preferred fuel source, carbohydrates.

    Think of carbohydrates as the gas to our fuel tank. The more we exercise, the more we use up for energy, and the more we need to eat to refill the tank. For this reason, I recommend eating a carbohydrate-rich snack about 1 hour pre-workout to fill the tank (toast with banana and peanut butter, energy bites, fruit smoothie), and including carbohydrates with the post-workout meal or snack to replenish what we used up.

    At mealtimes, think of filling up about 1/4 of the plate with carbohydrates when sedentary or lightly active (<60 minutes of light activity daily), 1/3 of the plate when moderately active (60 minutes of moderate intensity or 30 minutes of high-intensity activity daily), and half the plate when highly active (more than 60 minutes of intense activity or double sessions).

    The other component that we need to prioritize in order to repair and build muscle fibers as we become more physically active is protein. Including protein ideally within an hour post-workout and at each meal and snack throughout the day will help to meet those increased demands.

    Alexis JonesRegistered Dietitian, Alexis Jones Nutrition, LLC