When COVID hit and her gym closed in the spring of 2020, Christina Relke initially thought she’d just been given a vacation. She happily reacquainted herself with her couch, the remote, and everything Netflix had to offer.
“I thought I’d just go home, figure things out, and then go back to work,” says Relke, BA, CPTN, PN2, FMS, a Mississauga, Ontario-based personal trainer and nutrition coach.
But two weeks became four, then six.
With her savings dwindling and the virus proving anything but predictable, Relke pivoted—to launching an online coaching business.
She faced a series of obstacles.
Fear nagged at her.
The increased foot traffic of the gym had brought clients to Relke, somewhat effortlessly. Outside of the gym, how would she get the word out?
Could she even train people online? How would she correct someone’s form or pick up on a clients’ nonverbal cues… through a computer screen?
And could she teach herself a range of new skills—say video production or social media marketing—in mere weeks?
Despite those challenges, over the course of just a few months, Relke built a solid business.
Given that so many nutrition coaches and personal trainers are facing the same challenges, we wanted to know more. So we asked Relke:
If you’re exploring nutrition coaching as a career, her answers might help you determine if a nutrition certification is right for you. And if you’re already coaching, Relke’s experiences and advice could give you lots of ideas for growing your business.
Why did you become a certified nutrition coach?
As a certified personal trainer at a gym, one problem kept dogging Relke.
“People had the perception that I was a one-stop shop,” she says.
Sure, they posed questions one might expect:
- What’s the best training program for weight loss?
- How can I do squats without hurting my knees?
- What’s more important: weights or cardio?
But they also voiced lots of other concerns, especially about food.
“I felt uncomfortable answering their nutrition questions,” Relke says. “I realized I was out of my scope.”
Initially, Relke thought the only solution was to go back to school, study nutrition, and complete the internship, exams, and licensure to become a registered dietitian.
But then she connected with a former classmate who suggested she look into a nutrition coaching certification.
Why did you choose Precision Nutrition as your nutrition certification program?
The former classmate that we mentioned above? He was Jeremy Fernandes, PN2, a coach at Precision Nutrition.
“He’s someone I respect,” says Relke.
Fernandes explained that, as a nutrition coach, Relke wouldn’t be able to offer medical nutrition therapy or give people meal plans, as registered dietitians did. But she would be able to have the conversations she wanted to have with her clients. (For more about what nutrition coaches can and can’t say, read “Can coaches give nutrition advice?”)
Plus, back in university, Relke’s focus was psychology. “The PN Certification will help you to apply what you learned for your degree,” Fernandes pointed out.
“I’m a sucker for figuring out why people do the things they do,” says Relke.
As soon as Fernandes explained Precision Nutrition’s heavy emphasis on change psychology, she was sold.
How did getting the nutrition certification impact your career and life? How did your income change?
“Not only did those certifications improve my confidence, they added credibility to everything I said between sets, especially in relation to food and nutrition,” she says.
The two certifications also helped her do something powerful: Explain complicated nutrition and exercise topics in a way folks could quickly grasp.
As a result, more clients requested her and told other people about her, allowing her roster to grow. And grow. And grow.
Her ability to explain complex topics eventually earned her a promotion at the gym where she worked—to metabolic specialist, a managerial position that came with a team to oversee and a pay bump.
(To learn how much of a pay boost tends to come with a new nutrition certification, read: How much should you charge?)
“I don’t think I would have gotten the position had it not been for the nutrition certification—and I can say that confidently,” Relke says. “Not only could I administer metabolic testing, but I could explain the results to clients in a way they could understand.”
Then March 2020 came—along with COVID.
Her gym closed, and Relke was furloughed.
How did your nutrition coaching certification help you rebuild your career after COVID?
Relke now faced a daunting goal: Build on online business from zero clients to somewhere between 25 to 30 regulars.
Thankfully, she had access to a huge group of helpers: Her Precision Nutrition Certification gave her lifetime access to a Facebook community of more than 45,000 nutrition coaches (and counting), many of whom have experience with online coaching.
Based on what she learned, she decided to build her business using the following steps, which you could try to.
Step 1: Understand your superpower.
Remember earlier when Relke mentioned she was “a sucker for figuring out why people do the things that they do”?
That deep curiosity drove her to lean into her background in psychology and behavior change. She decided to create a coaching business focused on individually-tailored programs—paying as much attention to clients’ emotions and behaviors as to their form, reps, and sets.
“That’s my biggest strength,” she says.
Step 2: Define your ideal client.
Rather than throwing a big net and working with anyone who surfaced, Relke decided to specifically zero in on people with simple goals, such as feeling and looking better.
At Precision Nutrition, we call these Level 1 clients. They’re people who need support with the fundamentals, such as eating without distractions, getting enough sleep, or consuming more veggies and other whole foods consistently. (To learn more, check out Food Secrets That Change Lives, our essential guide to helping anyone eat better.)
If you’re thinking that describes just about everyone, you’re right. Level 1 clients make up about 90 percent of the population.
Step 3: Plan and build the business.
Relke found software that allowed her to host video chats, on-demand workouts, and more. Then she nailed down the services she would offer, how she would offer them, what she thought they were worth, and how she would market them.
Step 4: Learn from others.
At the gym, Relke had mostly trained, coached, and mentored staff.
Now, she suddenly felt like she needed to become an expert in a wide range of topics: marketing, business development, and the list goes on. So she studied successful companies (including Precision Nutrition), connected with top online coaches, and signed up for a number of virtual workshops and seminars.
You can study the “PN business formula,” too, with our FREE 5-day course: How to Succeed in Health and Fitness. (It was created by our co-founder, Dr. John Berardi.)
Step 5: Tell the world.
In August 2020, with her business plan, website, and social profiles in place, Relke started advertising online.
After about eight weeks, she’d already racked up 20 clients—two thirds of the way to her goal.
What kind of health and fitness work are you doing now, as an online coach?
Relke offers virtual nutrition coaching and personal training, working with clients one-on-one as well as in groups.
She occasionally partners with chefs, registered dietitians, and other professionals to offer group seminars and challenges.
Her clients include a wide range of people, such as:
- a new mom who’s trying to get back to her pre-pregnancy body
- a single dad who wants help pushing the intensity of his workouts
- a nurse who runs triathlons for fun
- a busy small business owner who needs help squeezing in fitness
- a young professional who started drinking soda during the pandemic—and wants to get back to water
Though her clients vary in age, profession, and surrounding circumstances, one thing links them all together:
They’re learning to adjust—to home workouts, 24-7 parenting, home schooling, uncertainty, upheaval, and a slew of other new stressors.
How does online nutrition coaching compare to coaching in a gym setting?
In the gym, Relke loved working closely with clients.
“I like getting in there, poking and prodding,” she says.
Not only did the close, personal interaction help Relke correct form, it also allowed her pick up on subtle body language cues. A blank expression might reveal that a client wasn’t into high-intensity workouts, for example.
Another plus: She didn’t have to put much effort into marketing. It seemed like every time she taught a Pilates class, her personal training roster grew.
Relke saw as many as 10 clients a day, taught classes, and ran nutrition seminars. On top of that, in a typical week, she spent up to 7 hours in meetings or organizing professional development opportunities for her staff.
“I often found myself scheduled back-to-back, so finding half an hour to catch my breath was rare,” she says.
Like many gym-based fitness professionals, Relke worked a range of hours—some shifts starting at 7 a.m. and lasting until 9 p.m., with a several hour break in the afternoon. During that break, she went home to walk her dog, answer work emails, or nap.
“You would think that I’d want to work out during that time but I was averaging three to five hours of sleep at night,” she says. “I was just so tired that I wanted to sleep.” (If you’re feeling the same way, read: How to transform your sleep.)
The pace left her drained, something she didn’t fully comprehend until after the gym closed.
With online coaching, Relke’s in control of her schedule. By keeping her client roster below 30, she’s able to cap sessions at 4 to 6 per day. This opens up time for other tasks, such as continuing education as well as dog walking, reading, and exercise.
“I was nervous about switching from in-person training to an online business,” Relke says. “I worried my quality of work would suffer. I thought I needed to be next to people as they were working out. Now I’m seeing that they don’t need me to hold their hands. That allows me to have lengthier discussions and to maintain personalized programming.”
A Typical Day of Online Coaching
7 a.m. to 9 a.m.
Relke schedules this time for herself.
She takes her husky, Jenney, for a long walk, has breakfast, reads or watches videos, meditates, and stretches.
9 a.m. to 11 a.m.
Relke reserves this time for backend business tasks, which include:
- Responding to client messages.
- Creating short marketing videos
- Taking classes in business development, video production, SEO, and more
- Crafting content for social media
- Prepping for seminars
11 a.m. to Noon
She has a leisurely lunch and takes Jenney for walk #2.
1 p.m. to 4 p.m.
During the afternoon, Relke meets with clients virtually, either one-on-one or as a group.
Though each client meeting lasts 30 minutes, Relke books clients an hour apart. That gives her a cushion, so it’s no biggie if a client meeting runs long. The 30 minutes of unscheduled time also allows her to complete any needed post-session tasks, like sending follow-up materials or tinkering with client programs. Plus she can take a breather, if needed, as well as prepare for the next session.
4 p.m. to 5 p.m.
Now it’s time for walk #3 with Jenney, which serves as Relke’s warm up for her own strength training or mat Pilates session.
5 p.m. to 7 p.m.
Relke spends this time following up with clients, building her social media presence, reading and filing intake forms, answering messages, and building client programs.
7 p.m. to 10 p.m.
If she’s not running a virtual seminar or group workout, it’s dinner and relaxation time with her boyfriend and Jenney.
What’s your favorite part?
In a word: autonomy.
“There’s a freedom to running my own business,” she says. “I love being an entrepreneur and being able to assert myself and coach in a way that resonates with my values.”
A big part of those values: coaching holistically.
Holistic coaching involves taking the whole person into account, homing in on the decisions behind their food and lifestyle choices, and tailoring practices to their individual needs.
In addition to talking to clients about food and recipes, for example, Relke highlights other topics, ranging from sleep to stress to relationships and more.
This whole-person approach allows Relke to blend her undergraduate degree in psychology with her post-college certification studies in nutrition and fitness.
“Holistic thinking is part of who I am as a professional,” she says.
What’s your advice for folks hoping to get certified and break into online nutrition coaching?
Earlier in this story, Relke outlined the five steps she followed to go from zero online clients to 20 in just a couple of months. Beyond that five-step formula, however, Relke has, time and time again, based her business decisions on one driving force: What gets her out of bed in the morning.
For Relke, excitement comes from understanding her clients and helping them achieve real, lasting change.
For you, meaning might come from somewhere else—and that’s okay.
The point: Know what drives you, and use that knowledge to figure out whether a coaching program is a good fit as well as how to set up your business once you’re certified.
Relke’s second piece of advice: Clients need much more than a program to follow, especially right now.
Many are homeschooling their kids—but don’t want to. They’re working at home, with lots of distractions. They’re exercising at home, with minimal equipment, and often with children and pets interrupting their every move. Cookies, chips, and other highly palatable convenience foods have crept back into their lives. (Learn more: How to deal with problem foods.)
They’re often stressed, tired, and frustrated.
“Try to understand why they make the choices they do,” she says. “People want someone who is real, who can address what is specifically challenging about these times,” she says.
In the beginning, Relke’s jump to online coaching was an act of self preservation, a temporary stopgap. But now she sees it differently.
When the pandemic ends and life returns to normal, Relke now has options.
With a thriving virtual business, she doesn’t have to go back to a full-time gym atmosphere. She could keep doing what she’s doing right now.
“Even if I were to go back, I could continue to coach people outside of my district or who aren’t comfortable returning to a gym setting,” Relke says. “I’ve created something that I can sustain.”
If you’re a coach, or you want to be…
Learning how to coach clients, patients, friends, or family members through healthy eating and lifestyle changes—in a way that’s personalized for their unique body, preferences, and circumstances—is both an art and a science.
If you’d like to learn more about both, consider the Precision Nutrition Level 1 Certification. The next group kicks off shortly.
It’s easy to get confused when it comes to health and nutrition. Even qualified experts often seem to hold opposing opinions. Yet, despite all the disagreements, a number of wellness tips are well supported by research. Here are 27 health and alimentation tips that are actually based on good technique.
These 8 practical tips cover the basics of healthy eating and can help you make healthier choices.
The key to a healthy diet is to eat the right amount of calories for how réactive you are so you balance the energy you consume with the energy you use.
If you eat or drink more than your body needs, you’ll put on weight because the energy you do not use is stored as fat. If you eat and drink too little, you’ll lose weight.
You should also eat a wide range of foods to make sure you’re getting a balanced diet and your body is receiving all the nutrients it needs.
It’s recommended that men have around 2, 500 calories a day ( 10, 500 kilojoules ). Women should have around 2, 000 kcal a day ( 8, 400 kilojoules ). Most adults in the UK are eating more kcal than they need and should eat fewer calories.
Starchy carbohydrates should make up just over a third of the food you eat. They include potatoes, bread, rice, pasta and cereals. Choose higher fibre or wholegrain varieties, such as wholewheat pasta, brown rice or potatoes with their skins on.
They contain more fibre than white or refined starchy carbohydrates and can help you feel full for longer. Try to include at least 1 starchy food with each main meal. Some people think starchy foods are fattening, but gram for gram the carbohydrate they contain provides fewer than half the calories of fat.
Keep an eye on the fats you add when you’re cooking or serving these variétés of foods because that’s what increases the calorie content – for example, oil on chips, butter on bread and creamy sauces on pasta.
It’s recommended that you eat at least 5 portions of a variety of fruit and veg every day. They can be fresh, frozen, canned, dried or juiced. Getting your 5 A Day is easier than it sounds. Why not chop a banana over your breakfast cereal, or swap your usual mid-morning snack for a piece of fresh fruit ?
A portion of fresh, canned or frozen fruit and vegetables is 80g. A portion of dried fruit ( which should be kept to mealtimes ) is 30g. A 150ml glass of fruit juice, vegetable juice or smoothie also counts as 1 portion, but limit the amount you have to no more than 1 glass a day as these drinks are sugary and can damage your teeth.
You can choose from fresh, frozen and canned, but remember that canned and smoked fish can be high in salt. Most people should be eating more fish, but there are recommended limits for some types of fish.
You need some fat in your diet, but it’s important to pay attention to the amount and type of fat you’re eating. There are 2 main genres of fat : saturated and unsaturated. Too much saturated fat can increase the amount of cholesterol in the blood, which increases your risk of developing heart disease.
On average, men should have no more than 30g of saturated fat a day. On average, women should have no more than 20g of saturated fat a day. Children under the age of 11 should have less saturated fat than adults, but a low-fat diet is not suitable for children under 5.
Try to cut down on your saturated fat intake and choose foods that contain unsaturated fats instead, such as vegetable oils and spreads, oily fish and avocados. For a healthier choice, use a small amount of vegetable or olive oil, or reduced-fat spread instead of butter, lard or ghee.
When you’re having meat, choose lean cuts and cut off any visible fat. All genres of fat are high in energy, so they should only be eaten in small amounts.
Regularly consuming foods and drinks high in sugar increases your risk of obesity and tooth decay. Sugary foods and drinks are often high in energy ( measured in kilojoules or calories ), and if consumed too often can contribute to weight gain. They can also cause tooth decay, especially if eaten between meals.
Free sugars are any sugars added to foods or drinks, or found naturally in honey, syrups and unsweetened fruit juices and smoothies. This is the type of sugar you should be cutting down on, rather than the sugar found in fruit and milk.
Many packaged foods and drinks contain surprisingly high amounts of free sugars.
More than 22. 5g of total sugars per 100g means the food is high in sugar, while 5g of total sugars or less per 100g means the food is low in sugar.
Eating too much salt can raise your blood pressure. People with high blood pressure are more likely to develop heart disease or have a stroke. Even if you do not add salt to your food, you may still be eating too much.
About three-quarters of the salt you eat is already in the food when you buy it, such as breakfast cereals, soups, breads and sauces. Use food labels to help you cut down. More than 1. 5g of salt per 100g means the food is high in salt.
Adults and children aged 11 and over should eat no more than 6g of salt ( about a teaspoonful ) a day. Younger children should have even less.
As well as eating healthily, regular exercise may help reduce your risk of getting serious health conditions. It’s also important for your overall health and wellbeing.
Read more about the benefits of exercise and physical activity guidelines for adults. Being overweight or obese can lead to health conditions, such as type 2 diabetes, certain cancers, heart disease and stroke. Being underweight could also affect your health.
Most adults need to lose weight by eating fewer calories. If you’re trying to lose weight, aim to eat less and be more active. Eating a healthy, balanced diet can help you maintain a saine weight.
Check whether you’re a healthy weight by using the BMI saine weight calculator. Start the NHS weight loss plan, a 12-week weight loss guide that combines advice on healthier eating and physical activity. If you’re underweight, see underweight adults. If you’re worried about your weight, ask your GP or a dietitian for advice.
You need to drink plenty of fluids to stop you getting dehydrated. The government recommends drinking 6 to 8 glasses every day. This is in addition to the fluid you get from the food you eat. All non-alcoholic drinks count, but water, lower fat milk and lower sugar drinks, including tea and coffee, are healthier choices. Try to avoid sugary soft and fizzy drinks, as they’re high in kcal. They’re also bad for your teeth.
Even unsweetened fruit juice and smoothies are high in free sugar. Your combined total of drinks from fruit juice, vegetable juice and smoothies should not be more than 150ml a day, which is a small glass. Remember to drink more fluids during hot weather or while exercising.
Some people skip breakfast because they think it’ll help them lose weight. But a healthy breakfast high in fibre and low in fat, sugar and salt can form part of a balanced diet, and can help you get the nutrients you need for good health.
A wholegrain lower sugar cereal with semi-skimmed milk and fruit sliced over the top is a tasty and healthier breakfast. Further informationThe Eatwell Guide can help you get the right balance of the 5 main food groups. The guide shows you how much of what you eat should come from each food group. Read more about eating a balanced diet and understanding kcal.