5 Tips for Coaching Vegan & Vegetarian Clients

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Coaching vegan and vegetarian clients as a nutrition coach may seem overwhelming at first. This demographic presents a few challenges in terms of what they can and can’t eat to hit their protein target.

With a foundation-based perspective and these five simple tips for coaching vegan and vegetarian clients, you’ll feel confident providing your plant-based clients with actionable steps to feel their best.

Before we dive into our plant-based eating tips and tricks, let’s define and look at the differences between vegan, vegetarian, and plant-based eating styles.

What is the Difference Between Vegans, Vegetarians, and “Plant-Based” Clients?

Great question and these are important distinctions. Knowing exactly which camp your client falls into will help you build trust and provide them with appropriate nutritional strategies.

What is a Vegan?

Vegans don’t eat any food derived from animals. This can be as obvious as skipping meat and as nuanced as avoiding honey.

Vegan nutrition clients are often some of the most restricted clients in terms of what they can and can’t put on their plate and it will be essential to make sure you fully understand what foods are (or are not) vegan. 

Here’s a quick example: Did you know that Jello is not vegan? It is made from gelatin which is an animal byproduct! 

What is a Vegetarian?

Vegetarian nutrition clients generally have more flexibility with food choices than vegans. They still have to get creative when finding protein-rich foods since they do not eat meat. But, it is a tad easier as vegetarians can eat dairy, eggs, and/or other foods derived from animals (like honey!). 

As with veganism, it is important to ask your vegetarian clients if there are any nuances to their style of eating.

What is a “Plant-based” Diet?

Clients eating plant-based diets eat mainly fruit, vegetables, nuts, seeds, legumes, and little to no animal products. The main difference here is that meat is allowed but is generally eaten in small amounts and infrequently.

Once you are clear on your client’s dietary classification, the next step is to understand their why

Questions for Vegan, Vegetarian, and Plant-Based Clients

Most clients don’t choose a vegan, vegetarian, or plant-based diet on a whim; they generally have a reason for their choice. This reason can be anything from religious beliefs to allergies to texture preference. 

An interest in your clients’ uniqueness will go a long way to building trust. Here are a few questions you can ask to start your relationship strong:

  • When did you start eating this way? 
  • Was there a pivotal moment that changed your mind about food? 
  • Do you have other guidelines when choosing your foods?
  • What are your feelings about meat substitutes?
  • How has your health changed since eating this way?
  • Who or what inspired you to become a vegan?
  • Do you have the support of your friends and family when it comes to your food choices?

When coaching a vegan or vegetarian client, it is vitally important to build trust and demonstrate support. If your client has been eating this way for ten-plus years, they likely have experienced judgment from others regarding their choices. In a “meat and potato” society, a vegan can receive harsh words and even ridicule.

Top Tips to Support Vegan and Vegetarian Clients

Now that we have defined vegan, vegetarian, and plant-based eating styles and covered a few foundation topics, let’s talk tips.

Keep Your Coaching Hat On

Coaching strategies are the same with a few added restrictions. The moral of the story is to treat your plant-based client just like any other client when it comes to the basics

This is where your coach training comes in handy and it’s ok to be firm about the “rules”. Protein is essential, fresh is still ideal and no foods are “good” or “bad”.

The WAG Nutrition Guide is a great place to start a conversation about improving nutrition habits for all clients!

Support and Validate

Be proactive about offering support and validation. Vegans and vegetarians often receive many opinions and scorn for their choices, especially if they have eaten this way for a while. 

So, when you make suggestions about getting in more protein, it may be helpful to include phrases such as “I support and respect your choice and would like to help you reach your goals within the confines of veganism.”

Keep Their Why Top Of Mind

The client who chooses this lifestyle for ethical reasons will likely have the most robust attachment to being vegetarian or vegan. In these cases, it is unlikely that there will be any wiggle room on meat products. 

However, you may find that you have a plant-based client who considers eating meat to reach their protein goals. It is best to allow the client to broach the subject of adding meat into their diet. Advising meat products at the wrong time can damage the trust you have built with your client.

Know your meat alternatives

Your client may have eaten a limited diet for years due to a lack of vegan and vegetarian options. 

More plant-based options are becoming available; however, this has not always been the case. For example, while tofu has been around for years, many meat substitute products have only become widely available recently. Take Beyond Meat, for example, this is a non-GMO plant-based meat substitute that is now available in grocery stores and restaurants.

If your client seems stuck in a rut, encourage them to take advantage of the new meatless options available. You can use this infographic for inspiration (feel free to send it their way!)

Coach Pro Tip: Make sure that the protein powders that you may suggest are actually vegan or vegetarian. For example, whey protein is vegetarian but not vegan as whey is a milk byproduct. Knowing your meat alternatives and protein powders will continue to build trust with your client. 

Check out this article for more information about Vegan Protein Sources.

Focus on Protein

Because most clients won’t get enough without your guidance. Here is a great infographic with tons of examples. Feel free to share it with your clients!

A plant-based diet can sometimes be synonymous with a high grain diet and meat alternative products have a higher carb density. This means that there are more carbs per serving size than a different food of the same weight or volume. For example, rice is more carb-dense than broccoli.

Use the infographic below to work with your client and find a balance that fits into their macros.

In some cases, you’ll find that you need to adjust your client’s protein macros down and carb macros up to help them build confidence. But, we recommend working within your standard macro calculations first.

The WAG Coach Certification helps you develop skills to learn how to meet your client where they’re at, confidently read a questionnaire or intake form, and build trust with your starting program right from the get-go.

There are vegan elite athletes out there, so we know your client can be successful! The trick is to find the right combination for their lifestyle!

The Time is Now!

It is a great time to be coaching plant-based clients. More and more meat alternatives are coming out, they taste better than ever and the internet has a seemingly endless supply of vegan and vegetarian recipes.

On that note, if you’re looking for suggestions for your plant-based clients or you’re just interested in seeing what all the buzz is about? Start here for delicious recipes!

There is also more and more support for coaches via online certifications and new ways for your plant-based clients to connect with others in their community (Facebook groups or Instagram hashtags, anyone?).

Trust yourself! Vegan, vegetarian, and plant-based clients will benefit from your knowledge just as much as meat-eaters. They will have many of the same concerns and blindspots and you are their guide to healthy eating!

Want to know what it’s like to be vegan? Try it for a day or go vegetarian for a week. Do your research and try new recipes. Then, when you see the potential in yourself as a coach, you will see the potential in your clients.

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Erin lives and works in California. She has spent her adult life working in Physical Therapy and has a passion for adapting CrossFit and weightlifting for all clients. She is dedicated to making exercise and nutrition accessible to all.

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