What We Should Teach About Fitness And Nutrition In Schools

Over the past 21 months, all new clients have completed an initial consultation form that includes a questions about barriers to exercise. Over that period of time, only two people have mentioned 'time' to be a barrier to exercise, which is a lot less than I would have anticipated. Granted, most people who complete that form are about to received personalised training and nutrition advice, which they will pay for. You wouldn't get that advice if you didn't have time to implement.

The most common listed barrier to exercise or nutrition is the lack of knowledge or confidence to develop a plan. The right strategy involves an assessment of goals, experience and lifestyle, which many people are feeling uncomfortable doing themselves. Most 

You might laugh and say that losing weight is as simple as 'eat less, move more' but that's like saying the way to becoming a millionaire is to 'spend less, save more.' The basic logic is OK, but you can't live a life without spending (eating) and there is a big difference between a good saving strategy (training) and a dud scheme. I often (reluctantly) draw the comparison between a good coach and an accountant - sure you can get results without them, but they usually know the best approach to get you there easier/quicker/more efficiently/all of these. 

Upon reviewing this information, it got me thinking what would be the most important pieces of information to help people improve their training and nutrition IQ. Not everyone needs to know about the Krebs cycle or the sliding filament theory, but there are some important concepts that an by understanding, would make it a lot easier to develop your own training and nutrition plans for maintaining a healthy weight.

1. The Basics of Macronutrients - CPF

A dot-point understanding of what each macronutrient is important for and where it can be found would be the best place to start. While it seems obvious to some that potatoes are predominantly carbohydrate-containing and that fish is a great protein source, not everyone has this understanding of macronutrients.

Here are a few dot points we could include:


  • Important for fuel
  • Found in fruits, starchy foods and sugary-items


  • Important for tissue regeneration + development
  • Found in meat, eggs, dairy


  • Important for energy storage, heating and protection.
  • Found in nuts, oils and meat.


2. Energy Balance

Energy balance is the most important component of body composition alterations. Energy balance (either surplus or deficit) is the sum of energy in and energy out.

Energy in - Energy out = Energy balance

2500kcal - 2000kcal = +500kcal (surplus)

There two variables for manipulating energy balance are food intake (energy in) and physical activity (energy out). You can break physical activity down further to exercise, because movement at work and incidental exercise can rarely be varied when trying to alter body composition.

I'm not going to go through achieving different body composition goals, but you can read Training for Fat Loss  or Nutrition for Muscle Building if you want to see examples of specific strategies for different goals. 


3. Fluid Intake

Most people know they should be drinking more water. These issues doesn't tend to be knowledge, but the fact that people fill up on other drinks such as a coffee and tea. These caffeine containing beverages provide an added kick that water doesn't provide, 

How many people do you know who 'can't function in the morning without coffee?' Now that's cool, but you can't function AT ALL without water. 

You might have heard that caffeine is a diuretic (true) and this causes coffee to dehydrate you (not true). Caffeine is a mild diuretic, but coffee contains more than caffeine (such water and milk) which has a positive impact on hydration. However, too much caffeine has plenty of negative side-effects such as jitters, headaches and the like. Coffee can be hydrating but don't let it displace water intake.


4. Alcohol + Soft drinks

The problem with alcohol and body composition isn't necessarily the energy content of alcohol, which contains 8kcal per gram, but it's the impact on normal metabolic function. Most of the 8kcal per gram is actually lost in the process of converting ethanol (alcohol) to acetyl-coA, where it becomes a usable form of energy. 

The problem with alcohol intake what comes with it - mixers and poor nutrition intake. Now this is all covered in the the Alcohol and Body Composition article (linked above). Essentially, energy intake is drastically increased through food and drink intake while enjoying a few alcohols. Combine this with little or no exercise the next day and we have an energy surplus that is primed for weight gain.

Most people knows that soft-drinks are sugar-laden energy bombs, yet they consume them for two reasons - caffeine and pleasure. As a Nutritionist you can bang on about how soft-drinks contain "empty calories" but the reality is that if people gain pleasure from drinking them, which make them hard to displace.

In my experience, reducing soft drink intake is best achieved by replacing soft-drinks with meals. People who drink large amounts of soft drink often consume a modest energy intake through food over the course of the day. By increasing the frequency of food intake, cravings for soft drinks have been avoided. Maybe this is due to better regulation of blood sugar - but that is just speculation!


5. How to Structure a Basic Diet

This is putting all of the above together, to develop a strategy that will support the individual's goals and lifestyle. Understanding the goal of the diet is an important place to start. If the goal is weight loss, the aim should be to create an energy deficit, via either increased exercise or decreased energy intake (or both). However, the deficit should be small (no more than 15-20% of maintenance energy intake) and a range of foods should be incorporated to maintain a balanced nutrient intake.

Muscle gain and body recomposition goals become more complicated (of course I would say that) as we begin to consider more intricate details such as types of exercise, composition of macronutrients and managing/preventing adaptation.


6. Different types of exercise - cardio, resistance, sports, 

If you were to only run, you probably lack upper body strength.

If you were to only lift weights, you probably lack aerobic fitness.

If you were to only play sports, your fitness is likely quite specific to your sports demands. 

A balance of different types of exercise is important for health and maintaining enjoyment. Many people can't stand the idea of steady-state cardio, but love playing sport, so touch football or social netball can be an ideal form of condition. 

On that note, touch football is a great way to get ex-rugby players back into conditioning. They tend to be very strong, but don't enjoy steady-state exercise and therefore getting back into a variant of a sport they enjoy is a great way to get some conditioning in without copping an abusive email the next day!


7. The Importance of Resistance Training

The benefits of lifting weights go beyond looking good on the beach and being invited to help everyone move house (is that even a benefit?) and many health benefits, including increased functional strength and bone mineral density.

Increased functional strength can decrease the likelihood of falls and improved bone mineral density delays the onset of osteoporosis in later life. These two considerations are vital early on, because the they both trend downwards from around 30 years of age, meaning that you should try and accumulate sufficient levels by this age, and then focus on maintenance past that point.

Lift weights to look good and be strong now, but keep in the mind the fact you are looking after your older self. This assumes you are using good technique - otherwise you might be arthritic and getting yourself a fused vertebrae in the next few years. 

Many people are hesitant to resistance train due to bad previous experiences, lack of knowledge and potential self consciousness. If resistance training and its benefits were better promoted, this could be avoided.


8. How to Structure a Basic Training Plan

We should all be able to develop a basic training program. Granted, most people might not know exactly what they need to know, but they can certainly develop a plan that is better than what they are currently doing (particularly if they are currently doing nothing).

The plan - whether it be running, resistance training or anything else - should start off at your current level. Each week, increase the speed/weight/duration or decrease the rest/recovery to promote continual development. If you can complete the increased intensity, progress again next week.

This concept is the training principle of progressive overload, which entails a continuing increase of intensity to continually challenge the body and make adaptation. It should be noted that progress is not linear. New trainees often progress rapidly while more experienced trainees require more intensity and time to progress.


9. The Interaction Between Exercise and Nutrition

The more you exercise, the more you can eat while maintaining the same energy balance. However, the more glycogen (stored carbohydrates) you burn during exercise, the more more that needs to be replaced to ensure adequate stores for your next effort. This goes the other way, during periods of low exercise volume or intensity, a reduction in energy intake may be necessary to maintain energy balance. 

A simple strategy to get energy balance on point is to consume a post-workout meal on exercise days, to replenish lost energy. The rest of the day's intake can remain the same a lower exercise day. This is a great strategy for beginning to alter nutrition intake in accordance to energy expenditure.



This is far from a completed curriculum, but it does highlight the important components of exercise and nutrition that allow people to control their weight using basic strategies. This information (with greater explanation and specific learning outcomes) could be very beneficial for helping individuals to manage their own training and nutrition strategies for basic body recomposition.