In a world of online nutrition and fitness coaches, ranging from educated professionals to MLM companies, we hear the word "Coach" more and more, but I'm not quite sure most people actually KNOW what an online coach is.
So here I am, and I'd love to dig into this.
For simplicity purposes, I'm going to stick to credentialed professionals, so I won't be touching on MLM coaches because very few of them have actual credentials, and if they do, they're typically Personal Training Certifications, which means their nutrition info is usually what is fed to them from up top.
Throw stones at me later, MLM people... I'm just speaking the truth.
What is a credentialed professional?
A credentialed professional is someone who has a formal education in the services they are coaching.
For example... I call myself a Nutritionist. This is a broad term but I use this term because individuals identify it with someone who is educated in Nutrition.
I could say "I have my Associates in Nutrition, Kinesiology, and Applied Health, I am an American Academy of Drugless Practitioners Certified Holistic Health Coach, Nutritional Therapist, Certified Hormone Health Specialist and Fitness Nutrition Specialist, AND I'm attending Kansas State university to become a Registered Dietitian," but that sure is a mouthful, eh?
So I use a title that is a little more general, while listing all of my credentials on my website.
The professional you're working with should have some type of credentials and should allow you access to look those over.
I feel the need to point out that just a Personal Training Certification is NOT ENOUGH to be giving Nutrition advice.
I am also a Certified Personal Trainer through one of the most nationally recognized companies, NASM, so I know the "nutrition training" that these personal trainers have received, and I promise you, it's not much.
Some of the craziest recommendations I have heard have come from Personal Trainers...
"Carbs cause weight gain..." Are you kidding me?
"You should only be doing fasted cardio." What in the world?!
"Eat these fat burning foods." Uhh those are Unicorns and don't ACTUALLY exist.
They tend to speak in specific terms, and Nutrition and Fitness is really not specific, and more subjective, meaning, each and every person is different and should have a plan reflecting that.
Now, not ALL Personal Trainers should be grouped together as unknowledgeable when it comes to nutrition. There are some out there who give stellar recommendations and absolutely know what they're talking about, but unless you know how to sort the bad from the good when it comes to this, tread lightly. If you need nutrition advice, going to someone credentialed in Nutrition is going to be the safest route. Remember, you're dealing with your health and that should never be taken lightly.
And please, please don't be fooled by a six-pack or ripped biceps.
These qualities can sometimes mean that this person knows what works for them, but may not have a freaking clue what works for you and might put you on 15g of fat per day even though you're a female who is just looking for some lifestyle coaching. I've actually seen this personally and it's terrifying to me as an educated professional.
Alright... now that we've touched on credentials, let's dig in to the Who, What, Where, When, and Why of Online Coaching.
An online coach is (hopefully) a credentialed professional who runs their Nutrition and/or Fitness business online. Again, they should have their credentials as public information or be willing to talk to you about them if asked.
The coach may also work at a gym or run one-on-one training locally, but sometimes they don't. As of right now, my business is run solely online due to my current location and schedule.
What is Online Coaching? This honestly looks different for EVERY coach, as we all run our programs either very similarly, or very different. I'll talk about the way I run my programs specifically and compare it to other programs I've heard about during my career.
My goal is to make everything as simple as possible for both myself and my clients. I am all about organization, simplicity, ease of use, and straight to the point.
I have a coaching application on my website. I want to make sure that I take on individuals who are serious about their goals and are willing to do the things that I recommend in order to get there, so on that application is a Behavior Assessment. This assessment helps me determine where you stand with your commitment to your goals and whether or not we will be a good fit together.
Once that application is filled out, it is sent to my Client Management System where everyone is organized and each Client's file is easily accessible on my end. If an applicant is accepted, they receive a Welcome Email and further forms that they need to fill out. This email also includes their Client Portal information where they have their own webpage that they can access the forms, as well as do their weekly check-ins. This page is password protected and can only be accessed by the client it is assigned to.
My forms include legally binding agreements that go over each and every aspect of our relationship including Program Requirements, what I expect from the Client and what they can expect from me as the coach, Liability agreements, Payment information including any late fees, Check-In Rules, and my boundaries as a Coach. They also must fill out a very detailed Health History so I know exactly where we are starting from.
Not every coach has this intake process. I used to email .docx forms to my clients, but so many had trouble filling out the forms that way. This intake system is much easier and provides an e-sign capability. It is also much sharper and has a more professional appearance.
I like to be a very personal coach, so I do video conferencing for an initial consult, which is 60 minutes, and then monthly follow ups, which are usually 15-30 minutes.
NOT EVERY COACH DOES THIS, and to be clear, this part of my coaching service is actually VERY rare. But again, I like to be as personal as online coaching can get while respecting boundaries, and really get to know my clients while letting them get to know me too.
Once we've done the initial consult, each client gets a tracking template for their weight, nutrition information, measurements and step counts that we BOTH have access to.
If they are also being trained by me, they receive access to my Training App (yes, I have an app) where they can access their programs through their phones, record all exercise related information that I monitor, export their programs to save, and have access to communication with me there as well.
I also REQUIRE weekly emailed check-ins. You miss these and you get the boot because it shows me that you can't do one of my expectations as a Coach, so I doubt your commitment to the program as a whole. Like I said, I want individuals who are serious about the work.
BUT I also allow my clients to text me if they require extra assistance between check-ins and follow-ups. This is also a VERY RARE trait as a coach. Most only allow you to contact them by email, which is totally fine, but again, I like to be as personal as possible with the services I provide.
I do have business hours though and will not reply to those texts if they are outside of those hours. Boundaries.
So, as a Coach, we set a plan for nutrition and training. I meet my clients where they're at and we build foundational habits that benefit their goals, knowing that these goals are going to change over time. I monitor progress through the Tracking Template and the Training App, while utilizing those weekly check-ins for overall monitoring as well. There is a ton of Accountability this way, which most people are looking for when they start a journey like this one.
I won't get into specific Nutrition or Training recommendations because again, this is subjective, and I paid tons of money for my education. You want those recs? You gotta pay for them ;)
Again, this is all done online.
If you are new to training, this may not be the best route for you, as in-person training can be invaluable for learning foundational movement patterns and getting you comfortable in the gym. Once you have confidence doing things on your own, moving to an online trainer may suit you better. It's often less expensive and you still have access to a Professional that you can send videos of exercises to for remote corrections.
I touched on expenses, but I want to dive into that a bit.
When I worked as a private contractor, I made $30/hr/session.
Let's say I have a client who came to me for four sessions per week.
4 session x $30/session = $120/week
4 weeks x $120/week = $480/month
The average online training program, monitored by a credentialed coach is anywhere from $50-$250/month, and this price is based on the coaches Target Market, credentials, cost of education, work hours, experience, etc.
You're saving anywhere from $230-450/month going the online coaching route, getting programs tailored to your individual needs and keeping your coach in your pocket, so to speak.
Now, this doesn't include the cost of a gym membership, which can run anywhere from $10-100/month, but even so, you're still saving money going the online route vs the in-person route, ONCE YOU'RE FUNDAMENTALLY READY TO GO THE ONLINE ROUTE.
Nutrition coaching is actually excellent online, since most of nutrition coaching requires a ton of biofeedback data from the client.
The average cost of Nutrition Coaching is actually a bit more expensive than training, with the average being $125 or more depending on where you're located and/or your goals within the coaching experience, as proper Nutrition education costs exponentially more and there are a lot of specialty Nutrition services out there. Planning and monitoring a nutrition program takes a lot more time throughout the month as well versus writing a 4-5 week training block for a client. It also takes more Coach commitment, as 9/10 times, the Nutrition aspect is the hardest area for a client to wrap their mind around and start developing concrete habits with. There are a lot of myths about nutrition out there and as a Coach, I think I spend the first month with almost every client dispelling said myths and assisting the client in really pulling in the reins on what they're fueling their body with. Nutrition has so much to do with our behaviors when it comes to food too, so we spend a substantial amount of time working on those as well.
The awesome thing about online coaching... you do it on YOUR schedule. My process with my clients when it comes to scheduling consults and follow-ups is utilizing a scheduler, blocking out any days on the calendar for the scheduling month that I might need for my own life, and then posting it in my online client Facebook group so my clients can schedule their appointments when it works best for them.
This is also true about their training. I post a suggested schedule on their calendars in my training app, but they are able to complete their programmed days when it works best for them, switching around my recommended days if they need to as well. The app also allows them to set reminders so they don't forget a workout!
The Tracking Template takes about 10-15 minutes to update each day and isn't overwhelming. It's plugging in information so my educated eyes can look it over and implement changes if needed.
They can reach out with questions Monday-Friday from 9AM-5PM (these are my business hours) in whatever method of contact works best for them with any questions that they might have pertaining to their nutrition and/or training program.
I also post lots of informative content on all of my social media platforms as well as in our Facebook group where I hold monthly challenges and we have built a community.
Why choose online coaching?
Let's start with why I CHOSE to online coach in the first place.
I am a military spouse, meaning, the location of my life is dependent on where the military decides to station my husband. The kicker? This location changes every 3-5 years and while I love this lifestyle due to us being able to see and live in different parts of the world, holding down a longterm job is basically impossible. With online coaching, I can do what I'm incredibly passionate about anywhere I have cell signal and/or a WiFi connection!
I am also the mother of a school aged child while being a military spouse, which means 75% of her care falls solely on me. I don't resent this as I have the best husband in the world who is fully present and incredibly helpful despite the demands of his job, but it means my job has to fit in her school hours unless I want to pay hundreds of dollars a month for after school care. Some mom's choose this route, and that's totally fine, but I prefer to do things differently in our household.
Because of the demands of my husband's job, I can not train people in the early morning hours or late evening hours because I would need to find childcare for that as well. While I could do it while my daughter is at school, a lot of commercial gyms frown upon their trainers owning businesses outside of being private contractors for the establishment and typically won't hire you. Getting a job on a military installation as a private contractor is also a lengthy process, at the end of which, they take a percentage of your wages. As small businesses owners know all too well, the government takes a nice percentage of your wages in taxes, so getting that double whammy just isn't as appealing.
My dream is to open my own facility where I can offer a full spectrum of services, but all dreams need foundational roots, and I am setting my foundation in Online Coaching. While I miss the invaluable experience of in-person training, I am fortunate to still be able to do what I love and grow in my trade utilizing technology to it's fullest.
Why do individuals utilize online coaching?
Preference has a ton to do with it. Like I said before, in-person training can be very costly. What I made per session at my previous job was on the low end of the average. Online coaching can still help you reach your goals while being on the more affordable side of things.
Some individuals are intimidated by the gym and don't exercise because they aren't sure what to do at home. A coach can make an individualized training program for clients based on their needs. I have quite a few clients who want at-home workouts so I design and program those accordingly. This gets activity in their life while building their confidence.
Some individuals love the gym, but don't know where to begin with their own programming. They walk in the gym and do some sort of swipe workout they saw on Instagram or whatever exercises they feel like doing that day, and wonder why they aren't seeing progress. Structured programs are everything and SO important. Coaches can write these structured programs and results will follow if clients are consistent.
As for nutrition coaching, nutrition isn't taught in high school, but it should be. The general population literally has no idea about the sheer basics of food and nutrition when eating is literally a necessity of life. The foods we put into our body have a great impact on our overall health. Proper nutrition can reduce the risks of chronic disease and health conditions while improving the quality of life. Knowing how to eat to promote weight loss, make physique changes, or reduce symptoms of a health condition (partnered with appropriate medical care) can literally change someones life, but most individuals want to get their information from Netflix documentaries with their own agenda, articles with no scientific basis, random Instagram accounts because the woman posting has developed glutes, what their neighbor Karen did, or other fads floating around, rather then putting in the work and finding what works best for them.
Choosing to work with a nutrition coach, and a credentialed one at that, will help you learn what works best for you.
My ultimate success as a coach is not when my client has successfully lost "X" amount of pounds.
My ultimate success as a coach is when my clients entire mindset around nutrition has changed. They no longer feel guilt when they decide to have a donut or can't get a workout in for that day. They have the necessary knowledge to move forward without me and to maintain the weight loss or physique changes. They know the benefits of fueling their body appropriately for their own personal lifestyle and know where to find scientific-based nutrition information instead of walking blindly.
So to summarize and other specifics I want to touch on...
Online coaching is not for everyone, but it is beneficial for a large population of people.
Make sure you are working with someone CREDENTIALED and that they are open to showing you, or talking about, those credentials
Coaches should not be chosen based on looks
Make sure expectations and boundaries are established and understood before the coaching relationship begins
Communicate with your coach and find out their communication protocols. This varies coach to coach. It is not their job to hold your hand. That usually comes with an increased price ;)
Don't ask for or take a meal plan from anyone other than a Registered Dietitian. It is ILLEGAL for any one other than those with the RD credential to write meals plans
Don't hire a coach unless you're willing to put in the work. Seriously. They can't and won't do the work for you and if that's what you're expecting from the relationship, don't even get started with it.
Coaching is an investment. It's an investment in yourself, in your health, in your goals, in your future. Treat it as such and remember when you look at prices for individualized coaching, credentialed professionals have paid a lot of money for the education they've received in order to teach and help other people.
Treat your Coach with respect and they will give it right back to you. Your Coach is not "the help." They are human too and have a life outside of coaching. Remember the expectations and boundaries set at the beginning of the relationship, and you will do famously!
Don't make the relationship work if it's just not working. Some people don't do well together. I require a 3-month commitment and a 30-day cancellation notice from my clients. This means that we can both probably tell after month 2 that it's just not working out, so they can give me their 30-day notice and we can move on from the relationship with no hard feelings.
Be a good client. Do your check-ins on time, communicate effectively, be on time to follow-ups, and always be 100% honest with your coach.
And for goodness sakes, TAG YOUR COACH OR THEIR BUSINESS on your social media posts that have to do with nutrition or training ;)
If there are any coaches out there reading this that have anything to add, please feel free to post in the comments section and I'll add it to the post with your Instagram handle!
Thank you so much for taking the time to read this. I hope it was informative and helpful to everyone out there wondering what an online coach is and if it's right for them.
Founder: Arrow Nutrition and Training, LLC