Best Practices for Weight Loss for Personal Training Clients – Research Review


Sep 4, 2020

By Tim Saye

How often do you read research papers so you can stay updated with latest science-backed advice and better help your clients? When most people research how to become a personal trainer they probably don't realise how much of a trainer's job and success depends on science and the results they publish regularly.
If you've been in the fitness industry for some time, you probably already know that what we thought was true 10-20-30 years ago may not be good advice now. Here we'll take a look at what the latest research suggests are best practices to help clients get over weight loss plateaus.

Weight Loss 101

When the goal is to lose excess weight, the energy balance equation is the primary driver of that weight loss. Provided your clients eat fewer calories than they need to sustain their current weight, their bodies will use body fat for fuel resulting in weight loss. This equation is simple and has been shown that 
calorie restriction also has ageing-related benefits

However, as all trainers know - that doesn't mean it's easy. Especially when a client has unrealistic expectations or is not able to mentally cope with roadblocks, like a plateau. How do you usually proceed when that happens? Do you reduce calories, and keep reducing them until the client is at their goal weight? Or do you aim to burn more calories by increasing the client's activity levels?

Slowing Rate Of Weight Loss

Your clients may feel worried that after long periods of yo-yo dieting, perhaps relying on fads to lose weight, that they have somehow damaged their metabolism. Some worry that after long term dieting that they'll have to sustain very low calories for the rest of their lives to maintain the figure they've achieved with hard work. 

While metabolic adaptation is real, science indicates there are many ways to protect your metabolism and lose weight. There are five good options before deciding on decreasing calories or increasing exercise.

Option 1. Increase NEAT

Your client will have been on a diet for a while and will be experiencing a slowing down of the rate of their weight loss. Their body is adapting to the lower number of calories they are giving it. Low-calorie diets make people feel tired, and they are less likely to move around in the way they used to, opting to fidget, walk and move less because they have less energy. 

These metabolic adaptations all impact the client's NEAT (non-exercise activity thermogenesis) - even if their training is consistent. So shifting the focus towards their activity levels throughout the day and encouraging them to opt for more active ways to get things done at work and home.

You can introduce a step count goal for your client. This increases energy expenditure without feeling too much like a lot more exercise. It also has the benefit of giving your client an objective black and white target to hit each day which suits some clients' training preferences. 

Option 2. Protein and Feelings of Fullness

You could consider increasing the amount of protein in your client's diet. Research shows that a significant increase in protein had on average a 441 calorie per day reduction in overweight females - even when they didn't receive any instruction to reduce food intake, they felt fuller and more satisfied.

Stats show that high protein diets can protect muscle mass when losing weight.

When your clients are in a calorie deficit, the weight they lose will be a combination of fat and muscle tissue. According to the linked chart, a high protein diet results in the least lean mass loss which will in turn mean their metabolic rate is protected.

Option 3. Tweak the Training Plan

When your client hits a plateau and otherwise follows the devised plan, you may want to consider tweaking their programme to include both strength and cardio training.

Most research suggests a mix of resistance training and cardio provides the best weight loss results and helps to burn calories while keeping the metabolism elevated.

So, if your client's focus has been endurance and cardio workouts, explain how introducing strength training will benefit their weight loss progress.

On the other hand, if a client has preferred strength training only up to this point, talk about what cardio can bring to the table for their fat loss success. There are also significant benefits of aerobic exercise that go beyond weight loss.

Option 4. Consider a Diet Break

Diet breaks are useful for clients that have been on a low-calorie diet for a long time. It involves eating to maintenance calories for a few days (from as little as a weekend to as much as a fortnight) and then returning to the calorie deficit. 

If clients have been dieting for a long time though, and they are not yet at their goal weight, they might be resistant to the idea, but you can evidence that one-off calorie indulgences are managed by our bodies exceptionally well. The emphasis is on the one-off or limited period, and it's more about being comfortable than indulging before they return to a calorie deficit. 

Option 5. Sleep and Stress Management

The last decade has been significant in sleep science and stress research and how it affects all areas of life. Weight loss is not an exception.

Research shows that insufficient sleep undermines diet changes to fat loss efforts. Not to mention that sleep deprivation and poor quality of night-time sleep may increase the stress levels in the body whether your clients realise it or not. All that stress added to their work, family and emotional anxieties can become a time-bomb waiting to explode. Their training and restrictive diet only add fuel to that. So, introducing a stress management protocol to help them be more consistent in their diet and training will pay off in the long term.


Long-term weight loss success is not as black or white as increasing exercise levels and decreasing food intake. It's a fundamental principle, but a successful weight loss plan eventually will need to include other considerations. The macronutrient ratio in the clients' diet, the type of training and NEAT activity they complete, their sleep quality and quantity and how they manage their stress levels will all play a part in their success.