Building Solid Programs from the Ground, Up.

Scott Littlefield MS, CN, CISSN

Part I: Priorities and the Spiral

It can be easy to get thrust into a program with a ton of athletes and responsibilities or take over where someone else left off and feel like you need to continually act fast and pump out content to add value. But, there’s a ton of room to profoundly revolutionize the health and performance of athletes if you take a breath, establish priorities, and work over weeks and months to see them out.

Building or improving on a strong program starts with a general flow of questions to establish priorities. What is the current status of athlete knowledge, behavior, and intake? How do intakes compare to optimal? What changes will have the largest impacts on athlete health and performance? How can those changes be achieved? How can I monitor and evaluate progress to determine/modify impacts on athlete health and performance? What challenges and obstacles need to be overcome to answer these questions thoroughly?

One of the biggest complaints in organizational dietetics is an overwhelming feeling of too much to do with too little time and resources. The reaction is to intervene fast and frequently and do what others do. ADIME becomes adIIIIIIIIme.

If you’ve had extensive experience in private practice you know this doesn’t work for individuals or groups of individuals. Before long, you’re overwhelmed. Athletes are either overwhelmed or disenchanted. And you can’t answer basic questions about the status or progress of your program… but here comes another post and poster on beetroot or tart cherry juice that will influence the behavior of 1% of athletes and impact the performance of less, all while they continue to miss more fundamental targets. I mean, heck, why distract them with a supplement that doesn’t even crack the top 5 in almost all cases?

In these high-responsibility situations, do you spiral out of control or into control? Spiraling into control (conversely to above), is a helpful tactic to act efficiently on your priorities. Peace of mind comes from a prioritized plan: what can you do today, this week, this season to have the greatest impact on your athletes’ goals?

Improving athlete knowledge, behavior, and intake to meet energy needs, for example, may involve a variety of topics: calories and calorie balance, macronutrient contribution and effects, translation to individualized meals or snacks, monitoring skills, goal setting, hunger cues, impacts of and reconciliations with nutrient timing, body composition and alterations, body image, impact (or lack thereof) of supplements, etc. You don’t have to do everything completely and perfectly right away – you can’t. You can return to, review, refine, and build on this concept over time, like a spiral. What are the central concepts that athletes need to hear, internalize, and act on now to meet energy needs for health and performance before the next concept will provide greater value? Consistently tie communications back to these concepts. Avoid being distracted with less impactful messages – if you get distracted, your athletes will, too. They’re not nutrition professionals. One thing at a time.

Use established priorities to guide a controlled spiral of action that inevitably leads athletes to performance- and health-powering nutrition.

Do your current tasks and time allocations reflect athlete priorities for health and performance? How can you bring your actions into better alignment with those priorities? Building or re-building a solid nutrition program for optimal health and performance starts here.

Fuelogics helps programs with more than just a tool that supports these priorities: we are devoted to working behind the scenes to help all of our nutrition professionals develop stronger programs.

But, wait! There’s more…

Repetition (and the spiral) is important for learning, but in my experience when programs are constantly looking for “fresh ways to say the same thing,” it’s time to stop and ask: if you are having to say the same thing over and over, are you spiraling toward athlete goals – helping them build the necessary knowledge, behavior, and intakes over time – or are you spiraling out of control?

Scott Littlefield MS, CN, CISSN

Scott co-owns a private practice - ViTL Nutrition - where he works one-on-one with athletes as well as with programs from high school to professional levels across the country. He is a founding member of Fuelogics. These days you'll likely find him testing the boundaries of strength, size, and the mile-run or the limits of human taco consumption.

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