If you’re new to health, fitness, or nutrition coaching you’ve probably worried — at least a little — about how you’re going to get clients. Especially in this age of paid search, Facebook ads, and more. Well, worry no longer. These simple, fast, and free client acquisition strategies will help you get your first few clients. Or, if you already have a few, they’ll help you get a few more.


After coaching over 50,000 health, fitness, and wellness professionals through the Precision Nutrition Certification program, I’ve learned that new coaches (or coaches going out on their own for the first time) struggle most with one thing:

Getting new clients.

That’s totally understandable.

Beyond the early discomfort many new pros feel around learning “sales” and “marketing”, it’s also easy to get a little intimidated when looking at established brands and seeing the big audiences they’ve built, the content they’re creating, or the ads they’re running.

“JB, how can I compete?”

“I don’t even know the first thing about marketing funnels.”

“And who’s got that kind of money to invest in ads?”

While I can totally empathize with these feelings, I’ve got some good news:

You don’t have to compete!

Instead, you have to start at the beginning, just like those companies did. You start by going from zero to a few clients. Then you go from a few clients to a few more.

Even better news?

Getting your first few (or your next few) clients is cheap and easy.

You don’t need to master SEO, or spend money that you don’t yet have on Facebook ads, or build a big Instagram following.

Yes, those are the things getting attention today. But, for someone just starting out, they’re a distraction from the real work, which I’ll share below.

Indeed, use any of the three strategies I’m about to share and you’ll be shocked and amazed at how cheap and easy it is to attract your first few clients.

But, before the strategies, do you even know what you’re selling?

If I pressed, you’d probably give me a bunch of really smart answers:

“JB, of course I know what I’m selling!”

“I’m selling evidence-based nutrition coaching!”

“I’m selling my thousand years of education and master-level expertise!”

“I’m selling my slick, efficient online coaching platform!”

And I’ll say:

No you’re not.

Here’s something that might sound confusing at first, but will change the way you view your business, and how powerfully you attract clients.

No one wants nutrition, exercise, or lifestyle coaching.

No one wants daily practices, new habits, or lessons and thought exercises. No one wants custom workouts. No one wants diets, meal plans, or menus.

No one wants the product or service you’re selling.

What people want is to become a better version of themselves.

This image (from this excellent post) says it all:

You see, people don’t buy a university degree or certification, they buy the promise of ending up more knowledgeable, smarter, and (maybe) more employable.

People don’t buy canvas shoes or fancy sunglasses, they buy the idea of looking cooler, having special things, and making a fashion statement.

Likewise, people don’t buy nutrition coaching, they buy a hopeful vision of their future, one where they are healthier, stronger, and happier.

In other words, you’re not the subject of sales pitch, your client is.

Make them the hero of the story.

In essence, it’s your job to show them how working with you will turn them into an “Awesome person who can do rad stuff!”

(For more on this, with lots of examples, check out: How to sell sustainable coaching in a world of ‘overnight abs’. 6 strategies for better client buy-in and a stronger coaching business.)

For now, onto your “get a few new clients” strategies.

Strategy #1:
Survey Selling

Survey selling is something we do extensively, and very effectively, at Precision Nutrition. But we do it in a more complex, “scaled-up” kinda way.

You probably don’t need all that.

Which is why I love sharing this simpler way of doing survey selling from my friend Jon Goodman, of the Personal Trainer Development Centre and OnlineTrainer.com.

Jon’s strategy involves creating a simple survey (using Google Forms) that you can post on social media to attract the exact kind of client you’re after.

Here’s how to do it.

First, think about the type of person you want to serve.

Write down your ideal client’s:

  • Age range
  • Gender
  • Specific goal
  • Potential limitations

Here are two examples of what you might come up with:

My ideal clients are 20-30-year-old guys who want to lose a bit of fat and put on 5-10 lbs of muscle and have no serious injuries.

My ideal clients are 45-55-year-old females who want to lose no more than 10 lbs of fat but feel like they’ve tried everything and nothing seems to work.

Next, create a Google Form.

(If you don’t know how to make a Google form, click here for a tutorial.)

When starting a new survey, according to Jon’s method, you’ll need to create:

  • a title
  • a compelling description,
  • a few demographic + contact info questions

Here’s an example of what you might come up with:

Feel free to copy the exact format above, adjusting the title and description to match what you’re offering.

When it comes to the description, here’s the formula:

“I’m looking for {number of people}  {gender} ages {age range} who live in {your location} and are looking to {goal}. If this is you, please fill out the form below.

All eligible applications will be contacted by phone.”

Once you’re happy with the form, click “Send” at the top right and select the link icon in the pop-up window. This will give you a direct link to your form.

Be sure to save that link somewhere.

Finally, enable notifications so that you’ll be emailed every time a prospective client submits a completed form. To do this, go to your Google Drive, select your form, and click on the header titled “Responses”.

Then click the “Create spreadsheet” icon, which will redirect you to a Google spreadsheet.

In the spreadsheet page, click “Tools” at the top and select “Notification rules”.

A window will pop up with an option to have the system email you whenever users submit, either immediately, or collected into a daily digest. Select your preference.

Finally, share your survey on Facebook, Instagram, wherever.

For example, on Instagram change your description link to your survey link and upload a pic saying that you’re taking on clients (specific to the type) and use the script below, which directs people to click the link.

And, on Facebook you’ll share a status update with the same script (below) that links to your form. Here’s your script:

***I’m looking for {number of people} {gender} ages {age range} looking to {goal} that live in {location}.***

I am looking for {gender} who want to:

-{benefit 1}

-{benefit 2}

-{benefit 3}

Spots are extremely limited and I’m only looking for {number of people} who are ready to make a change today. To apply, fill out the quick survey below and I’ll be in touch if you meet the requirements:

===> {link to your Google form}

The benefits you include will vary but they should speak to the hopeful future I described earlier. In other words, list things that help them envision becoming an “Awesome person who can do rad stuff!”

Again, for lots of examples of this, check out my new article: How to sell sustainable coaching in a world of ‘overnight abs’. 6 strategies for better client buy-in and a stronger coaching business.

Note: You can use this method on any platform, via email, whatever. Just get the message out there and send people to your survey.

Be sure to call them right away.

Ideally you’ll call people within 20 minutes of them filling out your survey. I don’t care what you’re doing. Strike while it’s hot.

Go through the same process that you would on any other sales call.

(If you’re not sure how sales calls should go, check out Jon’s article: Selling Personal Training in 5 Steps).

Keep following up.

If they answer, it’s a great call, and you sell/book them in for an appointment, and they show up… go ahead and dance your happy dance.

If they don’t answer, if they answer but don’t book an appointment, or if they answer and book an appointment but don’t show up… keep following up once a week for the first month. And once a month after that until they become a client or ask you to stop calling.

And, folks, that’s pretty much it.

If you decide to try this method, you’ll be up and running with your first post, for free, inside of 30 minutes. And, most people who try it, report getting 1-3 new clients within a day or two.

No joke.

Even if you think this is too simple, or couldn’t possibly work, try it anyway. People constantly tell me that they would have never expected something like this to help them… but that it did, big-time.

Strategy #2:
The “Tell People What You Do” Challenge

In our ProCoach Facebook group we recently did a 2-week challenge. Coaches were encouraged to do something incredibly simple (yet radical in 2018, it seems).

They were asked to talk to people.

You know, like, real people. In real life.

Specifically, we asked them to tell one person a day what they do. That person could be anyone: the barista that frothed the milk on their latte, the cashier at the grocery store, or the lady sitting next to them on their commuter train.

The goal was to develop a “script” about what they do, get comfortable talking about it, and maybe even get a new client or a referral.

Our coaches went nuts. It kinda blew everyone’s minds.

Some of our coaches felt that icky stretch feeling you get when growth is happening. ProCoach Melissa Dow found she had to override her usual instinct to wait for people to come to her. “It was uncomfortable, but that’s where learning begins, right?” she says.

Many found they got better at it along the way, like ProCoach Beth Balcezak Daugherty who found that although she often felt hesitant before reaching out, most people thanked her afterwards. “It got easier!” she reassures us.

ProCoach Jen Kates also found it got easier: “IT DOESN’T SUCK, AND IT’S ACTUALLY A LOT OF FUN ONCE YOU GET OVER THE HURDLE!!!”  (Note: The caps and exclamation points are hers.)

At the conclusion of the challenge, many coaches remarked on the tremendous potential of this simple act.

“The biggest takeaway from this process for me was just how many opportunities there are hidden in plain view.” said ProCoach Simon Dannapfel.

Interested in trying this challenge yourself?

Here’s how to do it:

Build your elevator pitch.

Begin by making sure you can actually describe what you do without rambling and without boring listeners with irrelevant details.

A simple way to do this is to fill in the following blanks.

“I help {kind of person}

to {action/benefit}

so that they can {brighter future/more inspiring benefit}.”

Here are some examples of what you might come up with:

“I help {new moms}, to {get active and eat better}, so that they can {drop their baby weight and feel more energy}.”

“I help {busy executives}, to {find time in their schedule for healthy habits}, so they can {finally get their health under control}.”

“I help {young athletes}, to {improve their movement quality}, so that they can {dominate on the playing field & injury-proof themselves}.”

“I help {people in their 60s and 70s}, to {begin a new movement practice}, so they can {walk, jump, run, & play with their grandkids}.”

Next, pick a person (any person) every day to talk to.

Approach folks however you like to get the conversation started.

If you’re not sure how to do that without coming off creepy, break the ice with something like this:


I’m doing this 2 week challenge where I have to tell someone about what I do, and you’re who I chose today!”

“Is that cool?”

Then lay the elevator pitch — or something like it — on them.

And, if they seem interested, expand on it.

If you make a genuine connection, ask if you can follow up.

The conversation could end pleasantly but without any real interest on their part. That’s totally fine. You will still benefit from the practice.

However, should they express real interest, keep the conversation going with something like:

“Hey, thanks for listening today. Mission accomplished on the contest!

Before I roll, you seemed kinda interested in {some aspect of what you talked about} and a really cool resource just popped into my head that I’d love to share.

Could you write down your email address so I can send it over?
(Alternatively you can get their cell number, FB page, or whatever).

Just so you know, “no” is a fine answer here. After all, we just met. However, I do think you’ll dig it. And I promise not to bug you beyond that.”

Then give them something awesome!

If they share their email address, wait a day and follow up with a cool article, some recipes, an infographic, an inspiring YouTube video, whatever you think will be helpful and is in line with what you talked about.

It doesn’t have to be your own content. Just something that’s high quality and will be genuinely helpful.


It’s {your name], we met yesterday at {place} and we talked about {topic}.

Wanted to follow up with {the thing I promised}, which I think you’ll like.

Here’s the link:

{link to the thing here}

No obligation to {watch it, read it, etc}. I just thought it might help.”

If they respond, remind them about your services.

If they follow up, reply with a casual reference to your services.

“Thanks for the note!

I’m so glad you liked {the thing you sent}!

I don’t know if you, or anyone you know, would be interested in this… but I’m running this program that starts in two weeks.

I’ll be working with {number of people} {gender} ages {age range} looking to {goal} that live in {location}.

Spots are extremely limited and I’m only looking for {number of people}.

Let me know if you’re interested by filling out this super-quick survey below.

===> {link to your Google form}

Again, no pressure. Just sharing this in case you, or a friend, might be interested.”

So there you have it.

A step-by-step guide on how to talk to people, and how to follow-up in a non-creepy, not-overly-pushy kind of way.

The point of this exercise is to show you that there are potential clients everywhere.

You just need to speak up so they know you’re there.

Strategy #3:
Leverage Your Existing Communities

Many of us belong to one group, or a host of them, either online or in-person.

These are often unrelated to health and fitness, which — in this case — is a good thing as it gives you the opportunity to share what you do with a novel audience.

For example, you might be part of:

  • A Facebook group for new moms, because hey! You have spit-up on your shirt too!
  • A Saturday morning bring-your-dog-and-hike group. People who love dogs and all-terrain boots??! Your tail is wagging.
  • An online forum for people who dig classic cars. Mustang Fastback? I’m all in.
  • A faith community where you worship once a week plus participate in community service activities together.
  • A weekly online mastermind group of career-change-entrepreneurs. You all have great stories about the day you broke free from corporate shackles.

If you do it right, these groups can be an amazing source of new clients.

ProCoach Carolina Belmares has a great story of how she used this method.

Carolina is from Mexico, but currently lives just outside of Toronto, Canada. She joined a Facebook group for Mexican women living abroad.

Carolina was genuinely excited to connect to this group of women and took her time getting to know them. She responded to people’s posts, and posted her own successes and woes living abroad as a Mexican woman.

She took note of the tone and “vibe” of this group, and generally just tried to be kind, helpful, and supportive to the other members without talking much about what she does for a living.

After a while, she posted about her coaching work.

It was more of a “this is my life story” kind of post, but she also happened to mention that she was an online nutrition coach and dropped some information about a program she was running that was starting soon.

In Carolina’s words, “The response was beyond insane.”

Not long after she posted, her tally was:

714 reactions to the original post

181 comments asking for more information

259 new “Likes” on her personal coaching Facebook page

83 brand new subscriptions to her mailing list

Too many private messages to count

Not bad for a free group that you were interested in hanging out with anyway.

To try this method yourself:

Consider the groups you’re currently a member of (online or in person).

If you’re not a member of any, consider whether there are any groups you’d like to be a part of and would be good candidates for your coaching. (Remember, it’s better if they’re not fitness or nutrition groups).

Engage with the group in an authentic, helpful, supportive way.

Don’t just go joining groups to make your elevator pitch as “pitching” in groups is universally frowned upon. Instead, become a real part of the community and only talk about what you do if it’s relevant to the conversations already going on.

If a fitness or nutrition topic comes up, bingo!

Be the biggest keener in the room. Help answer questions. Offer support. Send people helpful links, articles, videos, and other resources. But, still, hold back a little on mentioning your services.

After you’ve built some trust and genuine connections, mention your services.

Have your information easily available if people want it, but don’t be pushy about it. If you need a ratio to work with, then let’s say for every 10 genuine, non-work related comments, you can slide in something about your coaching.

In the end, joining a group is one of the most mutually beneficial methods for building your practice. You’ll have access to a wide audience to which you can extend help and support, but you’ll also get connect with “your people”.

What to do next:
Some tips from Precision Nutrition

In this article we’ve outlined a few highly effective strategies for getting a few new clients, or the next few after that. Begin with…

Knowing the “why” of what you’re selling, not just the “what”.

Spend time thinking about what prospective clients want their lives to be like. And how you can start connecting your coaching to those outcomes.

Again, you’re not selling your superstar nutrition knowledge, your sleek online program, or even health coaching.

You’re selling possibility to your clients: the possibility to feel, look, and move better; to gain more confidence, strength, and resilience; to have a better life.

Refine your elevator pitch.

Come up with a concise way of describing how you help people.

“I help {kind of person}

to {action/benefit}

so that they can {brighter future/more inspiring benefit}.”

Pick a challenge, any challenge.

The above strategies only work if you practice them. Not just once, but consistently. (Remember, they get easier the more you do them!)

So pick one of the client-attracting methods above. Any one will do.

And get started today.

I mean, like, right now.

Even if you don’t know how to do it perfectly yet, start anyway. Because perfection is often the enemy of action.

Stay consistent.

Once you deploy one, or more, of the methods above, challenge yourself to stick with it for at least a month.

For extra points, use a calendar to track your consistency and your results. At the end of the period, evaluate your progress. Did it work? If not, was there something about the way you executed it that could be refined?

Practicing these methods will show you precisely where you need to grow.

Does your voice shake every time you talk to a new person? No sweat, that just means you need more practice talking to strangers.

Did your Google Form get zero clicks? Maybe you need to work on your written communication.

Did someone call you a know-it-all jerk on your Facebook group? Maybe you need to practice coming off as less judgmental and more compassionate.

Failure isn’t possible here. Everything you get back from this practice is simply feedback to inform future growth.

Learn to follow up.

In all of these methods, following up is key.

Remember that when people are considering change, they often start out with ambivalence. They’re kinda interested in taking the leap, but also kinda scared and inclined to stay safe under the covers.

Following up with people can gently move them towards ready-to-take-a-leap.

But selling without looking sleazy is an art. If you push too hard with people, it can have the opposite effect.

In your early follow-ups with someone, aim simply to be useful and offer support. Send them cool content, ask them about their challenges, and encourage them.

When you sense some interest, subtly mention your services, in a “no pressure” kind of way. Let them know you’re available when they’re ready.

Ready to build a thriving coaching practice?

Tested with nearly 100,000 clients now, Precision Nutrition’s ProCoach makes it easy to deliver the sustainable, research-proven nutrition and lifestyle coaching discussed in this article to anyone who needs it… from paying clients and patients, to family, to co-workers, to loved ones.

Want to coach in-person? Online? A combination of the two? Whatever fits your ideal lifestyle, it’s all possible with ProCoach.

With the ProCoach curriculum, coaching tools, and software, you’ll be able to turn what you learned in the Precision Nutrition Certification into a thriving practice, getting better results with dozens, even hundreds, of people while working less and living life on your own terms.

Interested? Add your name to the presale list. You’ll save 30% and secure your spot 24 hours before everyone else.

On Wednesday, June 6th, 2018, ProCoach becomes available to all Precision Nutrition Certification students and graduates.

If you’re interested and want to find out more, I’d encourage you to join our presale list. Being on the presale list gives you two special advantages.

  • You’ll pay less than everyone else. At Precision Nutrition, we like to reward the most interested and motivated professionals, because they always make the best students and clients. Join the presale list and we’ll give you 30% off the monthly cost of Precision Nutrition’s ProCoach.
  • You’re more likely to get a spot. Remember, last time we sold out within hours. But by joining the presale list you’ll get the opportunity to register 24 hours before everyone else, increasing your chances of getting in.

If you’re ready to help more people live their healthiest lives, grow your business, and worry less about time and money… ProCoach is your chance.

The post 3 simple, fast, free strategies for getting coaching clients without an advertising budget or big network. appeared first on Precision Nutrition.

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Gene Simmons Onstage with Kiss
Frederick M. Brown / Getty

Just Say No

I’ve never willingly been high or drunk in my life. Now, when I’m under a doctor’s care, they take me out. But when I’m awake and alive, I’ve never even had a joint in my hand, much less in my mouth. No coke, no nothing. When somebody toasts some­body, I don’t want to insult anybody, so I may have a drop or two of champagne or whatever they have. I find it vile and disgusting, but that’s just me. I think everybody should live their life any way they want.

Walk Hard

These days I hike. It’s all about cardio and keeping your heart pumping. I go on five­-mile hikes up hills in the Santa Monica Mountains. No cellphone, no music. I just go. I’ve also got a decent­-size house with three floors and no elevators. Anytime you want to get a cup of coffee, you’re forced to go up and down the stairs. Over the course of a year, I’m sure that’s miles.

In the Vault

When I hike, it’s a time for me to think­-tank. My latest idea is the Vault Experience. It’s literally the largest box set of all time. It contains 150 unreleased tracks from 1966 to 2016. It’s about 38 pounds and three feet high. There are 10 CDs. There’s a Gene Simmons action figure. There are Kiss demos. It goes for $2,000. Now, here’s the crazy part: I’m going to hand­-deliver the box sets to whoever buys them—at a party in their area. Nobody’s ever done this before, because it’s nuts.


Pumping Iron

Did I used to lift weights? Oh, yeah. We used to go to Gold’s Gym in Hollywood. I also used to do Tae Bo with Billy Blanks. All of it physically knocks you out. At different points in your life, it’s good to do different things. The younger you are, I’d recommend more weightlifting. As you get older, cardio is the main thing. Get out there and walk. And if you can jog a mile in six minutes, you’re doing great at any age.


I was just born with a big one. I don’t know how else to say it. I was always the tallest in class. I remember in sixth grade, when­ ever we’d line up to do anything in school, I was always in the back of the line. There were these two girls in front of me, Stella and Irene. They’d go, “Hey, Gene, do that thing with your tongue.” I’d stick it out and wiggle it, and they’d giggle like turkeys about to get their heads chopped off. [Makes gobble sounds] Have I ever done exercises for my tongue? Well, sure. Every time. You can fill in the blanks.

Motivational Speaker

When I co­-owned the LA Kiss, the Arena Football League team, I gave the players pep talks. I told them the tortoise won the race, not the hare. And that there’s no substitute for willpower and never giving up. There are smaller guys who beat the shit out of bigger guys because they’re more incentivized. I mean, if you said something about my mother, I don’t care if you hurt me, I’m going to take you out, bitch.

Rock On

At 68, I get up onstage with Kiss, the hardest­-working band in show business, period. I carry 45 to 50 pounds of armor and studs and wear eight-­inch platform heels. I love Jagger and McCartney, but if they got into my outfits, they’d pass out in the first song.



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‘Avengers: Infinity War’ Demolishes Global Box Office Record With Epic Opening Weekend
Marvel Studios/Avengers: Infinity War

The dust has barely settled after Black Panther’s historic box office run, but Disney and Marvel Studios have already smashed records once again with Avengers: Infinity War.

In its opening weekend, Infinity War raked in an estimated $630 million worldwide. That makes it the biggest worldwide opening of all time, according to CNN. The Fate of the Furious held the previous record, bringing in $541 million globally last April.


The record figure undeniably impressive—especially considering the film has yet to open in China, the world’s second-largest movie market by box office revenue.

In addition to its global achievements, Infinity War broke records on the home front. It made an estimated $250 million domestically, sneaking past the $248 million that Star Wars: The Force Awakens earned back in 2015.


Longtime fans likely aren’t surprised by Infinity War’s box-office success, or its popularity with critics. (At the time of publishing, it’s earned an impressive 84% among critics on Rotten Tomatoes.) Since the first trailer, it’s been clear that Infinity War would deliver the explosive matchup between the Avengers and Thanos, played by Josh Brolin, that Marvel fans anticipated since the inaugural Avengers film.

Infinity War assembles more Marvel heroes than any other film, gathering the original Avengers, the Guardians of the Galaxy, Dr. Strange, Spider-Man, and more. The stacked cast and the long-awaited showdown were a recipe for box office success—and damn, did they deliver.

Catch Avengers: Infinity War in theaters now.



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Dear_Mark_Inline_PhotoFor today’s edition of Dear Mark, I’m answering questions from last week’s post on coffee and fasting. First, is cortisol a bad guy all the time? Next, what about non-dairy powdered creamers? Good, bad, breaking the fast? How does thyroid hormone replacement therapy affect the fast? Is a “tiny amount” of protein disastrous to a fast? Can you take BCAAs during a fast and maintain the benefits? Can I still drink Frappucinos? And what do I think of Dr. Panda’s take on coffee triggering the digestive system and thus negating the effects of a fast?

Let’s go:

So coffee increases cortisol. Is increasing cortisol a beneficial or detrimental thing to do during a fast? I speculate that it would add to stresses in the body but I suppose it matters how well a person manages cortisol.

Cortisol relays messages about the outside world to the cells, tissues, and organs inside you. If cortisol is high, your body receives an “alert” message. Things are happening. It’s dangerous out there. It’s dire. You need to move. You need to act. You need to be alert. You need all systems trained on getting you safely through the storm. Cortisol helps with that.

When cortisol spikes, you actually release more fat from body fat stores and, in concert with adrenaline, burn it. This is helpful during exercise or any other situation that demands extra fuel.

These effects are flipped in the presence of chronic levels of cortisol activation. Chronic cortisol leads to fat gain (especially belly fat), lower energy levels, depressed cognitive function. You can’t run at top speed forever. The wheels fall off.

It’s the classic acute vs chronic dichotomy we see in everything. 

Laid atop an established pattern of chronic stress and cortisol activation, coffee during a fast could makes things worse. But if you’re chronically stressed, you probably should take care of that before you get deep into intermittent fasting.

If you’re fasting on purpose, if you’ve decided to incorporate fasting into your healthy lifestyle and you’re sleeping well, you’re eating well (when you’re not fasting), you’re training regularly, the effects change. A little cortisol isn’t anything to worry about.

Can someone explain how non-dairy powdered creamers play into this?

I assume because it’s processed it must be bad, but what impact does it have in our diets and especially with fasting?

Many non-dairy powdered creamers are awful, made from hydrogenated vegetable oil. Avoid those.

I’m a big fan of powdered MCT oil. You can whisk that into some milk or directly in your coffee for a great “cream” effect. The brand I use just has some soluble corn fiber, sunflower lecithin (choline source), sodium caseinate, and sodium dioxide to enhance the creaminess.

In case you’re unaware, MCTs are medium chain triglycerides, a class of fatty acids that convert more readily into ketone bodies than other fats. They can really help beginners extend and tolerate the fast.

They do “break” the fast, however.

What about prescription medications and autophagy? I take daily thyroid meds in the morning on an empty stomach. Since I fast til lunch, I can push this forward until 9 or 10 am, keeping it within an overall 10 hour window (eating in just 6 hours). Sometimes I think it would be good to fast 36-72 hours to really amp up autophagy, but is that a waste of time if I still take the meds?

I can’t speak to meds in general, but thyroid hormone is actually a major player in the regulation of autophagy, particularly in the liver, where it upregulates autophagy and preserves mitochondrial function, enhances mitochondrial turnover and protects against carcinogenesis.

Meanwhile, low levels of thyroid hormone increase thyroid stimulating hormone, which leads to depressed autophagy and increased cell death.

This is endogenous thyroid hormone, not prescription. The effects may differ when you’re taking it in a pill, but since those pills are meant to emulate our natural production of thyroid hormone, I don’t think it’ll differ very much.

In the tea post, would you please clarify effects of mixing even tiny amounts of protein with green tea? I read that it reduces the beneficial effects of fat burning.

Adding tiny amounts of protein will likely inhibit autophagy (cellular cleanup and maintenance) but won’t affect fat burning much at all.

Hi Mark, what about taking some BCAA’s during the fast to spare muscles? I’m trying to gain muscle and do my fasted workouts with some BCAA’s in my water bottle. Does this limit the fast? Thanks!

Depends how you’re scheduling your fasts.

If you’re doing a full-on 24 hour+ fast once a week or so, skip the BCAAs. You’re eating plenty of protein the rest of the week and a day without any coming in will be fine. Might even be optimal.

If you’re doing more of a Leangains-style compressed eating window every day, BCAAs aren’t as much of a big deal. They’ll still “break the fast,” but since you’re going to be working out right after and eating shortly, it’s mostly a wash. Martin Berkhan was a big fan of BCAAs before fasted workouts.

Frappuccino? would that break a fast?

Those things have enough sugar and calories to break several fasts.

I’m glad you mentioned Dr. Panda. I was wondering the same thing. From what I understand, anything beyond water triggers the enzymes that would prevent a autophagy. Is that incorrect?

My understanding is that anything beyond water triggers the digestive enzymes and starts the “digestive day.” Digestion, like everything else, has a circadian rhythm. Whenever you eat your first meal of the day, your body gears up for a solid 8-10 hours of eating. By the time you’re breaking your fast, the digestive day is winding down and your body isn’t as efficient at handling food.

I don’t think it has anything to do with autophagy.

If you don’t seem to tolerate food very well after a fast, try skipping the coffee.

That’s it for today, folks. Thanks for reading and be sure to help out down below with any further questions, answers, or clarifications.

Take care!


The post Dear Mark: Coffee Questions appeared first on Mark’s Daily Apple.

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You guys know our FAVORITE personal trainer and fellow coach in the 10 in 4 Challenge, Dave Smith, right? Well, today he’s sharing some fascinating info on workout intensity and doing workouts that get results. It might be quite different than what you’ve heard before … and he’s even got a workout for you to try! Why Are Your Workouts Not Working? When it comes to exercise, a lot of people fall into one of two groups: Group #1: I don’t like it. These people dislike working out. They don’t like going to the gym, they don’t like sweating, and …

The post If Your Workouts Aren’t Working, Try This appeared first on Fit Bottomed Girls.

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“Will decades of dieting mean a broken metabolism?” It’s a common anxiety. Case in point: The Biggest Loser, whose contestants are famous for dramatic weight loss — and for the devastating regain that sometimes follows. In this article, we break down a study examining exactly what happened to their metabolisms — and what this means for everyone else who wants to lose weight and keep it off.


“I lost a bunch of weight, and then I regained it…

..Did I screw up my metabolism? Will I ever be lean again?”

We hear this all the time from new Precision Nutrition Coaching clients. And, in a culture where weight loss is not only a personal goal, but a big TV moneymaker, it’s no wonder that folks feel anxious: We watch folks on the public stage slim down, then blow up again, all the time.

Take The Biggest Loser — perhaps the most famous example of this type of made-for-TV metabolic drama.

Competitors running on treadmills with tears streaming down their faces. Trainers screaming. How-this-happened-to-you montages set to emotive music. “Before” jeans juxtaposed with new, slim bodies.

And then…a devastating return to their old bodies in the months that followed.

So is it possible to lose a lot of weight, and keep the weight off? What can The Biggest Loser teach us?

In this article, we’ll look at an academic study that examined exactly what happened to their bodies, and what this means for you.

Here’s the media narrative of what happened:

  • The Biggest Loser contestants regain most (or all) of the weight once cameras get turned off.
  • This is caused by and/or leads to damaged metabolisms, psychological trauma, and shame.
  • Trying to lose weight and keep it off is hopeless.

But is this story true?

What does the study prove?

And is it really impossible to sustain weight loss?

Let’s dig a little deeper.

Research questions:

What happens to the body weights and metabolisms of The Biggest Loser contestants in the years after they appear on the show? Why? What does this mean for regular folks who want to lose weight and keep it off?

Fothergill E, Guo J, Howard L, Kerns JC, Knuth ND, Brychta R, Chen KY, Skarulis MC, Walter M, Walter PJ, Hall KD. Persistent metabolic adaptation 6 years after “The Biggest Loser” competition. Obesity (Silver Spring). 2016 May 2. doi: 10.1002/oby.21538.

To explore these questions, this study looked at three key indicators in 14 men and women who participated in season 8 of The Biggest Loser (2009):

  • Body composition is someone’s ratio of fat mass to lean mass (muscle, bone, etc.). For good health and physical function, we want less fat mass and more lean mass in general.
  • Resting metabolic rate (RMR) is the number of calories a resting body burns in a day, without activity. Weight loss aside, smaller bodies require less energy to maintain and should have lower RMRs. Bigger bodies require more energy and should have higher RMRs.
  • Leptin levels: Leptin is a hormone that, among other things, gets released after we eat, suppressing our appetite and increasing energy expenditure to help keep our calories in / calories out balanced and our weight stable. In general, the more fat cells in your body, the higher your leptin. Since leptin helps regulate RMR, the two should rise and fall together.

Now, in case you’re not caught up on your reality TV watching, here are a few important things to know.

  • When the filming starts, The Biggest Loser participants are morbidly obese (exceeding their ideal weight by 100 pounds or more).
  • Over the course of 30 weeks, they’re supervised and coached by the show’s trainers and doctors.
  • Contestants eat a diet restricted to about 1200 calories per day.
  • Contestants do at least of 90 minutes of intense exercise per day, 6 days a week.
  • After filming the show, contestants return to “real life” without continued supervision or guidance as to how to maintain their nutrition and exercise regimen.


Initial assessment

Before their first appearance on the show in 2009, contestants went through a battery of tests that assessed things like:

  • RMR (in other words, basic metabolic activity of being alive)
  • physical activity expenditure (in other words, exercise)
  • total energy expenditure (how much energy people were expending in a day through metabolism and physical activity together); and
  • blood chemistry.

Follow up

In 2015, six years after their run on the show, subjects returned to the laboratory for a complete follow-up.

Two weeks before the study officially started, participants weighed themselves on a special digital scale that transmitted their data to the researchers.

This early start helped ensure that people didn’t try to change their weight before the study began, which would skew the results.

Once in the lab, researchers again measured the subjects’ RMR, total energy expenditure, and physical activity expenditure. They also performed bloodwork.

They then compared the results of their 2015 testing and their 2009 testing. Here are the results…



Average weight before filming The Biggest Loser: 328 lb.

Average weight after 30 weeks on The Biggest Loser: 199 lb.

Average weight six years after final on camera weigh-in: 290 lb.

This means that, on average, participants regained 70 percent of the weight they’d lost. (Although they did keep off 30 percent of it.)

Resting metabolic rate

Average RMR before filming: 2,607 kcal burned / day.

Average RMR after 30 weeks on the show: 1,996 kcal burned / day.

Average RMR six years after final weigh-in: 1,903 kcal burned / day.

Surprisingly, despite their weight regain, participants were burning 700 fewer calories per day at rest vs. when they started the show. This is about 500 fewer calories than we’d expect them to burn based on predictive equations that take into account their body weight.

Lean body mass (an indication of muscle mass)

Average lean body mass before filming: 167 lb.

Average lean body mass after 30 weeks on the show: 142 lb.

Average lean body mass six years after final weigh-in: 155 lb.

Participants lost 25 lbs of lean mass during the filming of the show. They did end up gaining about 13 lbs of it back. However, that didn’t help to elevate their RMR, as we might have expected. 


Average leptin before filming: 41.14 ng/mL

Average leptin after 30 weeks on the show: 2.56 ng/mL

Average leptin six years after final weigh-in: 27.68 ng/mL

As you’d expect, participants’ leptin levels went down when fat decreased, and went up again when fat came back.

So, why did they regain the weight?

That’s a complicated question. But the study’s findings give us big clues, and new discoveries for our understanding of metabolism.

Many people assume that weight loss — and sustaining weight loss — is purely psychological.

If you don’t have the mental strength and willpower to pass on the chili cheese fries, then you’re essentially choosing to gain back the weight, right?

But the Biggest Loser data illuminate the important physiological roadblocks contestants face.

Metabolic adaptation

We already know that when you lose weight, your metabolism slowsThis is called metabolic adaptation, and it’s normal.

Metabolic adaptation is a natural defense mechanism against starvation. When you’re dieting, at a certain point, your body will send up a red flag.

Starvation alert!
There’s not enough food to go around!
Hold onto the fat reserves!

At that point, your RMR slows.

Metabolic adaptation can make things more complicated (and frustrating) for dieters who hope to continue or maintain their weight loss.

Once their body’s red flag goes up, calorie restriction no longer has the same effect it did at the beginning of their diet.

Suddenly, they need to cut more calories just to maintain the same weight.

While this is sometimes framed as metabolic damage, it’s really just your body’s way of trying to keep you alive and well.

What was interesting about this study? It showed that participants’ RMR stayed low despite:

  • Weight regain: Even though participants were larger six years later, they weren’t burning more calories at rest.
  • Muscle maintenance: Theoretically, the more muscle you have, the more calories you burn at rest. But it’s not helping these participants’ RMR.
  • Time passing: We used to think that metabolic adaptation may reverse with time, and it might. But here we see that even six years isn’t enough.

In the end, as you can see in the following graph, participants’ metabolisms were just as low after six years (and after regaining almost 100 pounds) vs. the end of the show, when they were their lightest.Body-weight-graph-2-01


As expected, The Biggest Loser participants experienced a huge drop in leptin when they lost weight in 2009. When they regained weight, leptin rose accordingly. But there are two sticking points here:

  • “Normal” leptin doesn’t mean it’s easy to control your appetite. Pre-Biggest Loser, these folks were used to eating a certain amount; now they need less to stay smaller. Of course, if they (unconsciously) went back to those same amounts, rather than following their natural physical satiety signals, it’s easy to understand why they gained weight.
  • The participants’ leptin and RMR are no longer linked. If the two usually rise and fall together, why didn’t RMR go back up — as leptin did — when the weight was regained? This could also lead to weight regain. Even if participants followed hunger cues and stopped eating when satisfied, they’d be eating more than needed considering their low RMR.

Putting all this together, in order to sustain their weight loss, The Biggest Loser participants would have to:

  • Eat 500 fewer calories per day than their bodies are telling them to eat. That’s 25 percent less than a person who always weighed 199 pounds or never experienced significant weight loss.


  • Expend 500 more calories a day than their bodies tell them they should. That’s an intense workout — like running fast for an hour.

All while

  • Feeling hungrier than they should. Again, the participants’ leptin levels may be normal — but since their metabolic rate didn’t rise with it, eating with their physical hunger cues may actually cause them to consume more calories than they’re burning.

Yea, that sucks. No wonder these folks have trouble keeping the weight off.

Does this mean it’s impossible to sustain weight loss?

It’s clear that, when you lose a lot of weight, you’re up against a lot of very real physiological changes if you want to maintain the weight loss.

But there’s a lot of important information we don’t have about The Biggest Loser contestants.

What goes on behind the scenes?

The Biggest Loser is a television program. It’s not itself a controlled research group or scientific experiment. With this study, researchers are trying to make sense of what happened after the fact.

The initial conditions themselves are mostly a mystery. That means all kinds of factors could have influenced the outcomes.

  • What kinds of foods were they eating?
  • Were they eating whole foods or processed “diet” foods?
  • Did they take any supplements or drugs?
  • Could psychological stress have played a role?

We just don’t know. But all of these factors could affect the contestants’ ability to sustain weight loss.

What are the participants’ lives like?

The participants reported maintaining the Biggest Loser-approved nutrition regimen and exercise level over the six-year period. But: Self-reported data are notoriously unreliable. It’s not a flaw of these particular people, it’s just how humans work.

Some of the participants were able to keep weight off for years before it returned. So questions arise like:

  • Is the weight regain the result of unfortunate physiology, exclusively?
  • Are they eating more and exercising less than they think they are?
  • Is psychological stress from weight regain in a public setting playing a role?

Here again, we don’t have answers, and all of this can affect a person’s ability to maintain their weight.

Did they regain the weight because they lost it so quickly?

The Biggest Loser program helps contestants lose weight at a rate you rarely see elsewhere. Many people are speculating that this is the reason for the participants’ persistent metabolic adaptation and weight regain.

That’s a convenient explanation, but not necessarily an accurate one.

Another study compared The Biggest Loser participants’ weight loss with gastric bypass (Roux-en-Y) patients about six months after surgery and found something surprising.

  • The two groups lost a comparable amount of weight in half a year, but the gastric bypass patients experienced half the metabolic adaptation.
  • After a full 12 months, and after losing even more weight, the gastric bypass group had a very slightly higher metabolism than predicted (+8 calories per day).
  • What’s more, the gastric bypass group didn’t lose any more muscle (lean mass) than The Biggest Loser group, despite not having structured exercise program.

Obviously, gastric bypass is about as fast as it gets. So how fast you lose the weight isn’t likely the determining factor.

But even if The Biggest Loser study suggested that rapid weight loss is not effective, there’s no reliable data indicating that slow weight loss is more effective.

Nevertheless, it’s not impossible to sustain weight loss.

Some people found this study — and its media interpretations — really disappointing. If the body fights back against weight loss, does that mean there’s no hope for folks who have a lot to lose?

Others found the results somewhat reassuring. It relieved some of the sense of failure or shame around re-gaining weight. It acknowledged the difficulty and proved that it’s not all mind over matter.

But, while this study does reinforce the importance of compassion, it doesn’t indicate that long-term weight loss is impossible.

The study suggests that extreme dieting comes with consequences. Reduce your calories to an extreme and your body will likely fight back. Maybe for years. Maybe forever.

But you can sustain weight loss for the long term by effectively controlling your energy intake during (and after) whatever nutrition program you choose.

Five strategies to sustain weight loss.

1. Use a habit-based approach.

A more sustainable, habit-based approach that doesn’t include a drastic calorie deficit could give you a better chance at adapting — physiologically and psychologically — to a healthier lifestyle, without your metabolism coming to a screeching halt.

This point of view is consistent with The Biggest Loser paper, which closes with recommendations to focus on health markers like insulin and triglyceride levels rather than weight loss, and to take a more moderate approach with exercise and calorie reduction.

In Precision Nutrition Coaching, we use a habit-based approach to gradually — over the course of a full year — introduce our clients to small, manageable daily practices that support healthy eating and movement.

We keep in touch with past clients, and in the overwhelming majority of cases we’re hearing that the habits continue working to help them regulate their energy intake after the 12-month coaching program.

We’re working on a follow-up study to quantify clients’ weight maintenance; early data are promising.

2. Eat slowly.

This is a foundational habit in Precision Nutrition Coaching.

Many studies show that people who eat faster are heavier than people who eat slowly, and that people who train themselves to eat more slowly eat less, and lose weight as a result.

There’s a 20-minute delay in satiety hormone signaling when you eat, so if you plow through a huge plate of food in 10 minutes, you’re liable to eat it all before you realized you’re actually stuffed.

In fact, it’s proven that simply reducing the number of bites you take per minute by half is effective at reducing your energy intake by 40 percent, particularly in big eaters.

That’s why we coach our clients to eat slowly.

Play a game with yourself: Try to be the last one eating — even after your slow-as-molasses toddler). Tune into hunger and satiety cues, which tell you how much food you really need.

3. At meals, eat until you’re satisfied, not stuffed.

If you’re saying, “I’m stuffed!” after your meals, you’re probably overeating and/or eating for the wrong reasons, which will make it very challenging to control your energy intake.

Another keystone from Precision Nutrition Coaching: Eat until 80 percent full. This helps ensure that you’re not eating more than you need by:

  • Helping you connect with your physical hunger cues (good old leptin!)
  • Decoupling eating from emotions
  • Breaking the deprivation/binge pattern and mindset
  • Regulating your appetite

Feeling full, anxious, lethargic, foggy-headed, heavy, or extremely thirsty are signs of overeating that warrant an 80-percent experiment.

Next time you eat lunch, eat slowly, take a good break after each bite, and ask yourself, “Am I still truly, physically hungry?”

If the answer is yes, take another bite, chew slowly, and repeat. If the answer is no, end the meal and start monitoring fullness/hunger cues until dinner.

4. Reduce stress.

The Biggest Loser study authors didn’t look at the stress hormone cortisol, which is a shame.

When you experience psychological stress, cortisol shoots upward.

Research has linked increased cortisol with weight gain, likely due to poorer food choices and physiological changes.

It’s conceivable the Biggest Loser participants experience considerable psychological stress: Undergoing an intense weight-loss program on national TV; airing their traumas to the world; regaining the weight when everyone knew they’d appeared on the show; feeling the shame of “failure”.

Every day, take steps to reduce your stress level and recover from all the hard work you do — physical and otherwise.

Some ideas:

  • Sit and read a book
  • Go for a walk
  • Play with your cat
  • Get a massage
  • Take a warm bath
  • Meditate
  • Do yoga

Of course, what you find rejuvenating might be unique to you. Just be honest with yourself: Some activities that have the reputation for being relaxing — say, watching TV or throwing back shots at the bar — may be more escapism than true stress reducers.

5. Put your environment to work.

Change is hard for most people, and it’s partly due to our hardwiring. Research shows that most of the decisions we make are automatic, based on patterns and brain shortcuts as opposed to rational thought.

We react to what’s in front of us, and our actions are often impulsive and/or the result of motivations we’re not fully conscious of.

That means our environment powerfully shapes our decisions — including food decisions — more than we realize.

We eat whatever’s in front of us, finish all the food regardless of portion size, consume more when we’re multitasking… and more.

Tough to change your eating habits when those habits are based on thoughts you didn’t know you were having, huh?

But you can use this hardwiring to your advantage by putting your environment to work to control your energy intake:

  • Keep fresh fruits and vegetables within view
  • Park far from the office so you have to walk
  • Don’t keep junk food at home
  • Get a dog that needs walking

Precision Nutrition coaches are full of environment changing tips — they’re truly ingenious.

What to do next.

Shifting your mindset from “this is impossible” to “I can do this” will take time. But there are steps you can take today to get on the path to achieving — and sustaining — a healthy weight.

Let it be.

So you’ve struggled to lose weight, or you’ve struggled to keep it off.

So what?

For many people, a sense of shame, failure and fault is caught up in weight gain. When we can remove these from the equation, we can have a better experience, and possibly better results.

Don’t beat yourself up. Losing weight and keeping it off is challenging and complicated — especially in the context of real human life.

Precision Nutrition Coaching clients hear this over and over: Each day is a clean slate. It’s yours for the taking.

Aim for healthy, not ripped.

The Biggest Loser participants lose enough weight to appear on the cover of People.

For the vast majority of people, getting magazine-cover ready is a goal neither realistic nor worthwhile — and luckily, you don’t have to turn yourself into a reality TV marketing machine.

More realistic expectations usually mean better long-term adherence to healthy eating and movement and help mitigate your stress response to a weight loss program.

Telling yourself yet again that “today is the day” you’re going to start eating and looking like Jessica Biel / Brad Pitt / whoever?

Dial it back.

Pick one, simple health-supporting habit you want to concentrate on and put your effort towards that for 2-3 weeks before adding anything else to your list.

Talk to your people.

What we do know about The Biggest Loser participants’ lives? They went from 30 weeks of intensive support to… zilch.

Research shows that a supportive social environment makes weight loss and maintenance more likely.

Of course, as you probably already know, getting family, friends, coworkers, and others “on board” with any new lifestyle habits comes with its own challenges and doesn’t happen overnight.

A great place to start? Connect with them. Talk to them about what you’re trying to do with your focused nutrition and exercise practices. Listen to what’s going on it their lives.

Understanding and compassion with yourself and the people around you will become the foundation of a healthy lifestyle that lasts.

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 (including how to manage energy balance) — in a way that supports long-term progress — 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.

What’s it all about?

The Precision Nutrition Level 1 Certification is the world’s most respected nutrition education program. It gives you the knowledge, systems, and tools you need to really understand how food influences a person’s health and fitness. Plus the ability to turn that knowledge into a thriving coaching practice.

Developed over 15 years, and proven with nearly 100,000 clients and patients, the Level 1 curriculum stands alone as the authority on the science of nutrition and the art of coaching.

Whether you’re already mid-career, or just starting out, the Level 1 Certification is your springboard to a deeper understanding of nutrition, the authority to coach it, and the ability to turn what you know into results.

[Of course, if you’re already a student or graduate of the Level 1 Certification, check out our Level 2 Certification Master Class. It’s an exclusive, year-long mentorship designed for elite professionals looking to master the art of coaching and be part of the top 1% of health and fitness coaches in the world.]

Interested? Add your name to the presale list. You’ll save up to 33% and secure your spot 24 hours before everyone else.

We’ll be opening up spots in our next Precision Nutrition Level 1 Certification on Wednesday, October 3rd, 2018.

If you want to find out more, we’ve set up the following presale list, which gives you two advantages.

  • Pay less than everyone else. We like to reward people who are eager to boost their credentials and are ready to commit to getting the education they need. So we’re offering a discount of up to 33% off the general price when you sign up for the presale list.
  • Sign up 24 hours before the general public and increase your chances of getting a spot. We only open the certification program twice per year. Due to high demand, spots in the program are limited and have historically sold out in a matter of hours. But when you sign up for the presale list, we’ll give you the opportunity to register a full 24 hours before anyone else.

If you’re ready for a deeper understanding of nutrition, the authority to coach it, and the ability to turn what you know into results… this is your chance to see what the world’s top professional nutrition coaching system can do for you.


Click here to view the information sources referenced in this article.

The post Case study: The Biggest Loser. Is it impossible to sustain weight loss in the long term? appeared first on Precision Nutrition.

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There’s a lot of discussion in the fitness industry about whether crash dieting can cause metabolic damage. In this article, we’ll take on this interesting topic and separate fact from fiction. We’ll also teach you exactly why crash diets might be linked to struggling to maintain your weight in the future.


Despite working out consistently and intensely, plus eating carefully, you’re not losing weight (or not losing it as fast as you’d like or expect).

Or you were losing weight consistently… until recently. Now you’re stuck — even though you’re working as hard as ever.

Or when you were younger, you were super fit. Maybe you did fitness competitions. Maybe you did some crash diets. But now, even when you put in the same effort, you just can’t seem to get as lean.

“Is my metabolism damaged?”

Precision Nutrition Coaching clients ask us this question all the time.

(If you’re a health, fitness or wellness professional, you’ve probably heard it from your clients or patients too.)

Can months or years of dieting do some kind of long-term harm to the way the human body processes food?

Not exactly.

But gaining and losing fat can change the way your brain regulates your body weight.

To understand this answer let’s explore how human metabolism actually works. Then we’ll talk about whether the metabolism can actually be damaged.

Note: This post delves into the science of energy balance, thermodynamics, and metabolic regulation. If you love learning this stuff, feel free to dig in.

If, on the other hand, you’re simply looking for solid, research-backed advice on how to lose fat and break weight-loss plateaus, feel free to skip to the summary at the end

Energy balance: The laws of physics still apply.

You need a certain amount of energy (in the form of calories) to stay alive, as well as to move around. You can get this energy from food, or you can retrieve it from stored energy (e.g. your fat tissue).

In theory:

  • If you eat less energy than you expend, you should lose weight.
  • If you do the opposite (i.e. eat more energy than you expend), you should gain weight.

In other words:
*We use the term “body stores” deliberately as it represents the tissues available for breakdown (fat, muscle, organ, bone, etc) and excludes water (which can change body weight independently of energy balance).

This relationship between ‘energy in’ and ‘energy out’ is called the Energy Balance Equation, and it’s the most commonly accepted model for calculating a person’s energy balance and how much weight they’ll lose or gain over time.

While the Energy Balance Equation determines body weight, it doesn’t tell us much about body composition, which is influenced by things like sex hormone levels, macronutrient intake (especially protein), exercise style / frequency / intensity, age, medication use, genetic predisposition, and more.

Understandably, people get really frustrated and confused with the Energy Balance Equation when the numbers don’t seem to add up, or their results don’t match their expectations. (This is a good lesson, by the way, about the importance of adjusting your expectations to match observable reality.)

And it’s a fair frustration. Most of the time, the numbers don’t add up.


This mismatch between expectations versus reality is not because the Energy Balance Equation is wrong, or a myth. Nobody’s body defies the laws of physics, even though it seems like that sometimes.

It’s because the equation is more complicated than it sounds.

Many factors affect the Energy Balance Equation; they aren’t mutually exclusive. What you do to ‘energy in’ affects what happens to ‘energy out’. And vice versa.

“Eat less, move more” is a good start. (Most of us could probably benefit from eating a little less and getting a little more daily activity.)

But that advice alone isn’t enough. It doesn’t take all of the complex, intersecting factors into account.

Let’s take a look at some of these factors, starting with the ‘energy in’ part of the equation.

‘Energy in’ is trickier than you think.

Reason 1: The number of calories in a meal likely doesn’t match the number of calories on the labels or menu.

This might sound hard to believe, but it’s true… the way companies (and even the government) come up with calorie and nutrient estimates is incredibly complex, rather imprecise, and centuries-old. As a result, food labels can be off by as much as 20-25 percent.

And even if those food labels were correct:

Reason 2: The amount of energy a food contains in the form of calories is not necessarily the amount of energy we absorb, store, and/or use.

Remember that the food we eat has to be digested and processed by our unique bodies. The innumerable steps involved in digestion, processing, absorption, storage, and use — as well as our own individual physiological makeup — can all change the energy balance game.

So, for instance:

  • We absorb less energy from minimally processed carbohydrates, and fats, because they’re harder to digest.
  • We absorb more energy from highly processed carbohydrates and fats, because they’re easier to digest. (Think of it this way: The more “processed” a food is, the more digestion work is already done for you.)

For example, research has shown that we absorb more fat from peanut butter than from whole peanuts. The researchers found that almost 38 percent of the fat in peanuts was excreted in the stool, rather than absorbed by the body. Whereas seemingly all of the fat in the peanut butter was absorbed.

In addition:

When eating raw starchy foods (like sweet potatoes), we absorb very few of the calories. After cooking, however, the starches are much more available to us, tripling the number of calories absorbed.

Interestingly, allowing starchy foods to then cool before eating them decreases the amount of calories we can extract from them again. (This is mostly due to the formation of resistant starches).


  • We may absorb more or less energy depending on the types of bacteria in our gut.

Some people have larger populations of a Bacteroidetes (a species of bacteria), which are better at extracting calories from tough plant cell walls than other bacteria species.

Here’s an interesting example of this whole process at work. Recently, USDA researchers asked test subjects to consume 45 grams (about 1 ½ servings) of walnuts daily for three weeks.

What they found was that, on average, people only absorbed 146 of the 185 calories in the nuts. That’s 79 percent of the calorie content on the label.

In similar research, people also absorbed only 80 percent of the calories in almonds, and 95 percent of the calories in pistachios.

Beyond the average, there were individual differences: Some people absorbed more of the energy in the nuts, while some absorbed less (likely due to the differing populations of bacteria in their large intestines).

In the end, by eating a diet rich in whole, minimally processed foods, the number of calories you absorb can be significantly less than what you expect. Plus they require more calories to digest.

Conversely, you will absorb more calories by eating lots of highly processed foods, plus burn fewer calories in the digestive process. (In addition, highly processed foods are less filling, more energy dense, and more likely to cause overeating.)

Since the number of calories someone thinks they’re consuming could be off by 25 percent (or more), their carefully curated daily intake of 1,600 calories could really be 1,200… or 2,000.

This means:
As you can see, there’s a big margin of error for energy input, even if you’re a conscientious calorie counter. This doesn’t invalidate the Energy Balance Equation. It just means that if you want an accurate calculation, you probably have to live in a fancy metabolic lab.

For most people, it’s not worth the effort (that’s why Precision Nutrition moved to a hand-based measuring model for portions).

‘Energy out’ varies a lot from person to person.

‘Energy out’ — again, energy burned through daily metabolism and moving you around —  is a dynamic, always-changing variable.

There are four key parts to this complex system:

1. Resting metabolic rate (RMR)

RMR is the number of calories you burn each day at rest, just to breathe, think, and live. This represents roughly 60 percent of your ‘energy out’ and depends on weight, body composition, sex, age, genetic predisposition, and possibly (again) the bacterial population of your gut.

A bigger body, in general, has a higher RMR.

For instance:

  • A 150-pound man might have an RMR of 1583 calories a day.
  • A 200-pound man might have an RMR of 1905 calories.
  • A 250-pound man might have an RMR of 2164 calories.

Crucially, RMR varies up to 15 percent from person to person. If you’re that 200-pound guy with an RMR of 1905 calories, another guy just like you on the next treadmill might burn 286 more (or fewer) calories each day with no more (or less) effort.

2. Thermic effect of eating (TEE)

This may surprise you, but it takes energy to digest food. Digestion is an active metabolic process. (Ever had the “meat sweats” or felt hot after a big meal, especially one with lots of protein? That’s TEE.)

TEE is the number of calories you burn by eating, digesting, and processing your food. This represents roughly 5-10 percent of your ‘energy out’.

In general, you’ll burn more calories in your effort to digest and absorb protein (20-30 percent of its calories) and carbs (5-6 percent) than you do fats (3 percent).

And as noted before, you’ll burn more calories digesting minimally processed whole foods compared to highly processed foods.

3. Physical activity (PA)

PA is the calories you burn from purposeful exercise, such as walking, running, going to the gym, gardening, riding a bike, etc.

Obviously, how much energy you expend through PA will change depending on how much you intentionally move around.

4. Non-exercise activity thermogenesis (NEAT)

NEAT is the calories you burn through fidgeting, staying upright, and all other physical activities except purposeful exercise. This, too, varies from person to person and day to day.

This means:
Each of these is highly variable. Which means the ‘energy out’ side of the equation may be just as hard to pin down as the “energy in” side.

So, while the Energy Balance Equation sounds simple in principle, all these variables make it hard to know or control exactly how much energy you’re taking in, absorbing, burning, and storing.

Here’s the entire equation:
metabolism_4 corrected

When you try to outsmart your body and it outsmarts you back.

Even if all the variables in the final equation above were static, the Energy Balance Equation would be complicated enough. But things get crazy when you consider that altering any one of the variables causes adjustments in other, seemingly unrelated variables.

This is a good thing, of course. Our human metabolisms evolved to keep us alive and functioning when food was scarce. One consequence:

When ‘energy in’ goes down, ‘energy out’ goes down to match it. (You burn fewer calories in response to eating less).

Not in everybody. And not perfectly. But that’s how the system is supposed to work. That’s how our bodies avoid unwanted weight loss and starvation. It’s how humans have survived for 2 million years. The body fights to maintain homeostasis.

Likewise, when ‘energy in’ goes up, ‘energy out’ tends to go up too. (You burn more calories in response to eating more).

To illustrate this point, here’s how your body tries to keep your weight steady when you take in less energy and start to lose weight*.

  • Thermic effect of eating goes down because you’re eating less.
  • Resting metabolic rate goes down because you weigh less.
  • Calories burned through Physical activity go down since you weigh less.
  • Non-exercise activity thermogenesis goes down as you eat less.
  • Calories not absorbed goes down and you absorb more of what you eat.

*This response is particularly modest at first. But the adaptation really ramps up as you lose more weight. (Or if you’re starting out lean and trying to get super-lean).

Check out what this looks like:
metabolism_graph_1 corrected In addition to these tangible effects on the equation, reducing actual calories eaten also causes hunger signals to increase, causing us to crave (and maybe eat) more.

The net effect leads to a much lower rate of weight loss than you might expect. In some cases, it could even lead to weight re-gain.

To add insult to injury, a rise in cortisol from the stress of dieting can cause our bodies to hold onto more water, making us feel “softer” and “less lean” than we actually are.

Interestingly, this is just one example of the amazing and robust response to trying to manipulate one variable (in this case, actual calories eaten). There are similar responses when trying to manipulate each of the other variables in the equation.

For example, research suggests that increasing physical activity above a certain threshold (by exercising more) can trigger:

  • Increased appetite and more actual calories eaten
  • Decreased calories not absorbed as we absorb more of what we eat
  • Decreased RMR
  • Decreased NEAT

In this case, here’s what the equation would look like:
metabolism_graph_2 correctedIn the end, these are just two of the many examples we could share. The point is that metabolism is much more complicated (and interdependent) than most people realize.

Therefore, trying “what used to work” for you, or relying on calorie counting, often won’t get you the results you want. As your energy balance evolves, so must your strategies for losing fat or maintaining your weight.

Understanding energy balance means setting better expectations about body change.

It’s important to note that if you have lots of body fat to lose, many of these adaptations (i.e. lowered RMR, PA, NEAT, etc) don’t happen right away. But, as you become leaner, this “adaptive thermogenesis” kicks in.

It’s also important to know that how your metabolism reacts to changes in energy balance will be unique to you.

How much you can lose or gain will depend on your age, your genetic makeup, your biological sex, if you’ve had relatively more or less body fat and for how long, what medications you’re taking, the makeup of your microbiome… and probably a whole lot of factors we don’t even know about yet.

But let’s try to simulate how this could work.

Scientists at the National Institutes of Health have studied the data from people who have lost weight, and created a mathematical model that represents how weight and fat loss actually happens in the real world.

We can play with it, using the Precision Nutrition Weight Loss Calculator.

Let’s start with a 40-year-old male, with a starting weight of 235 lbs and a height of 5’10”. We’ll call him Frank.

Frank works a desk job, and is only lightly active outside of work. This calculates that he needs 2,976 calories of energy per day to maintain his current weight.

By knocking off 500 calories per day, his intake drops to 2,476 calories daily. And he doesn’t plan on changing his physical activity.

Now, you’ve probably heard somewhere that a pound is equivalent to 3,500 calories, which means that if we take away those 500 calories from Frank every day, he should lose 1 pound per week (500 x 7 days = 3500 calories).

He should end up at 183 lbs after one year of consistently eating 500 fewer calories every day. (According to this math, then, he would weigh 0 lbs within 5 years, which should raise some red flags.)

But we know it doesn’t exactly work this way in real life.

At the end of a year, Frank gets on the scale. He’s 205 lbs.

What the hell?

That’s 22 pounds more than I should be!

Frank rages to his wife Maria, who smiles knowingly. She’s 40 too, and has been trying to lose weight since having two kids in her mid-30s.

Tell me about it, she says. I’ve lost and gained the same 10 pounds over and over, even though I’ve been exercising and eating pretty healthy.

Then they both think:

Maybe I should try that juice cleanse after all. My body is obviously broken.

Nope, nobody is broken. Don’t hit that juice cleanse just yet.

Instead, Frank and Maria could both benefit from a clear understanding of how weight loss actually works. Then they can set appropriate behavior goals, and have realistic expectations for their progress.

(Postscript: Frank and Maria decide against the juice fast and enroll in Precision Nutrition Coaching. At the end of a year, Maria’s “only” lost a total of 7 lbs, but has gained 5 lbs of muscle [which means she’s lost 12 lbs of fat]. Her firm arms and glowing skin are the envy of the other moms. Frank is down to a fit 185 lbs and trying to figure out how to convince Maria that he should buy a mountain bike.)

So, does dieting damage the metabolism?

Despite what you may have heard:

No, losing weight doesn’t “damage” your metabolism.

But because of the adaptations your body undergoes in response to fat loss (to prevent that fat loss, in fact), ‘energy out’ for those who have lost significant weight will always be lower than for people who were always lean.


Losing weight, and keeping it off, is accompanied by adaptive metabolic, neuroendocrine, autonomic, and other changes.

These changes mean that we expend less energy — around 5-10 percent less (or up to 15 percent less at extreme levels) than what would be predicted based on just weighing less.

Unfortunately, because of this adaptive response, someone who has dieted down will often require 5-15 percent fewer calories per day to maintain the weight and physical activity level than someone who has always been that weight.

(Or even less, potentially, because as we learned in the very beginning, the RMR of people of the exact same age/weight/etc. can still vary by up to another 15 percent.)

This means someone who was never overweight might need 2,500 calories to maintain their weight, while someone who had to diet down to that weight may need only 2,125-2,375 calories to hold steady.

We don’t know how long this lowered energy expenditure lasts. Studies have shown that it can hang around for up to 7 years after weight loss (or more; 7 years is as far as it’s been studied). This likely means it’s permanent, or at least persistent.

This is extra relevant for people who have repeatedly dieted, or for fitness competitors who may repeatedly fluctuate between being extremely lean and being overweight in the off-season.

I don’t have data to back this up (to my knowledge no one has studied it), but adaptive thermogenesis seems to react more strongly or more rapidly with each successive yo-yo of extreme body fat fluctuations.

All of this explains why some people can feel like they’ve “damaged” their metabolism through repeated dieting. (And why some experts suggest “metabolic damage” is a real thing.)

But nothing really has been “damaged”.

Instead, their bodies have just become predictably more sensitive to various hormones and neurotransmitters. Their metabolic rates are understandably lower than predicted by various laboratory equations.

So, where does this leave us?

Even folks whose bodies resist fat loss or muscle gain can accomplish these goals.

All physiological changes — including weight loss or gain, fat loss or gain, and muscle loss or gain — require different efforts and amounts of time for different people.

But even if your body does resist weight loss, you can still lose fat, gain muscle, and dramatically change your body.

Our Precision Nutrition Coaching men’s and women’s Finalist Halls of Fame are clear evidence of that.

What to do next:
Some tips from Precision Nutrition.

The physiology of weight loss is complicated, but the best strategies for losing fat and keeping it off don’t have to be.

1. Eat plenty of protein.

Protein is essential when trying to losing weight / fat for a few reasons.

  • Protein helps you keep that all-important lean body mass (which includes connective tissues, organs, and bone as well as muscle).
  • Protein significantly increases satiety, which means you feel fuller despite eating less. (And eating more protein often causes people to eat less overall.)
  • Just by eating more protein you burn more calories, because of the increased thermic effect of eating.

For example, if you’re eating 2,500 calories daily, 15 percent from protein, 50 percent from carbs, and 35 percent from fats (roughly average for US adults), you’re burning approximately 185 calories per day through digestion.

Maintain your total calorie intake but increase protein to 30 percent, drop carbs to 40 percent, and whittle fat to 30 percent, and your TEE goes up to roughly 265 calories per day.

  • For most active men: 6-8 palm-sized servings of protein per day.
  • For most active women: 4-6 palm-sized servings per day.

For a complete guide to using your hand to measure portions, check out our Calorie Control Guide infographic.

2. Eat a wide variety of fruits, vegetables, quality carbs, and healthy fats.

Vegetables are loaded with vitamins, minerals, phytonutrients, water, and fiber to help you fill up during meals, stay full between meals, keep you healthy, and recover from your workouts.

  • We recommend 6-8 fist-sized servings per day for most active men.
  • And 4-6 fist-sized servings per day for most active women.

The carbs will fuel training, boost leptin (a super important hormone), keep up sex hormones, and prevent feelings of deprivation.

And the fats also keep up sex hormones, boost the immune system, suppress excess inflammation, and make food taste really good.

  • For most active men, this would be 6-8 handfuls of quality carbs, and 6-8 thumbs of healthy fats per day.
  • For most active women, 4-6 handfuls of quality carbs and 4-6 thumbs of healthy fats per day.

For a complete guide to using your hand to measure portions, check out our Calorie Control Guide infographic.

3. Adjust your intake as you plateau, or to prevent plateaus.

As your weight loss progresses, you will need to lower your calorie intake further to continue to progress, as your smaller body will burn fewer calories, and your body is adapting to your diet.

Be ready, willing, and able to adjust portion amounts by removing 1-2 handfuls of carbs and/or 1-2 thumbs of fats from your daily intake. Then reassess and continue to adjust as needed.

However, one study found that weight loss plateaus have less to do with metabolic adaptations and more to do with “an intermittent lack of diet adherence”. In other words, not actually sticking to a nutrition plan consistently.

Research shows that we usually think we’re eating less and exercising more than we truly are. So do an objective review of your actual energy in and out before assuming your body is blocking your efforts.

4. Understand that this is complex.

So many things influence what, why, and when we choose to eat.

Too often, eating and body size / fatness are blamed on lack of knowledge, lack of willpower/discipline, or laziness. In reality, food intake and body composition are governed by a mix of physiological, biological, psychological, social, economical, and lifestyle influences, along with individual knowledge or beliefs.

One of the simplest ways to make your decision processes easier is to create an environment that encourages good food choices and discourages poor ones. This can mean making changes to your daily routine, who you spend time with, where you spend time, and what food is readily available to you.

But remember that weight loss can and should be relatively slow, so aim to lose about 0.5-1 percent of your body weight per week.

This helps to maintain muscle mass and minimize the adaptive metabolic responses to a lower calorie intake and resulting weight loss. Faster weight loss tends to result in more muscle loss without extra fat loss, as well as a larger adaptive response.

5. Cycle calories and carbs.*

For folks who are trying to get quite lean, at some point you can’t just rely on linear dieting to get you there. By strategically cycling calories and carbs, you can help to limit how much the metabolism-regulating hormone leptin drops (or temporarily boost it back up) – attenuating the adaptive and hunger response.

*Note: This is a higher-level strategy for fitness competitors and elite athletes who need to get very lean (i.e. ~6-9 percent body fat for men, and ~16-19 percent for women). It’s not something for the average person.

6. Refeed periodically.**

When getting to extreme levels of leanness, even strategic calorie and carb cycling might not be enough. So take out the big guns, and employ some periodic re-feeds to temporarily boost leptin and insulin and keep fat loss going.

**Note: This is a higher-level strategy for fitness competitors and elite athletes who need to get very lean (i.e. <6 percent body fat for men, and <16 percent for women).

7. Do a mixture of resistance, cardiovascular, and recovery activity.

Resistance training helps you maintain vital muscle mass, burn calories, and improve glucose tolerance. Cardiovascular exercise improves the health of your cardiovascular system, helps you expend energy, and can improve recovery.

But don’t overdo either one.

Recovery work (e.g. foam rolling, walking, yoga) helps you maintain consistency and intensity with resistance and cardio training, making them more effective. And it helps to decrease stress (lowering cortisol), which also helps you lose body fat and keep it off.

Aim for 3-5 hours per week of purposeful activity.

8. Find ways to increase NEAT.

Even small increases in activity can account for hundreds of daily calories, and therefore make a big difference in fat loss efforts.

Some ideas: Get a stand-up desk or a treadmill desk; fidget; pace while on the phone; take the stairs; park your car farther away from where you’re going.

9. Develop a solid nightly sleep routine and manage your stress.

Sleep is just as important to your success as nutrition and activity levels. Don’t pretend that you can get by with less. It simply isn’t true.

Often, when people lower their stress, they lose a lot of body water. Then they also notice that they may have lost fat too. (Plus, they may discover that chronic inflammation goes down — another win.)

This includes mental and emotional stress. Research on cognitive dietary restraint (i.e. worrying and stressing out about food) shows that constantly and negatively fixating on what you eat (or don’t) can have the same unhealthy effect as actually dieting stringently.

Yet we need some stress to actually help with progress and growth, so find your stress sweet spot.

10. Have some self-compassion.

There are going to be meals or days where you don’t eat as you “should”. It’s OK. It happens to everyone. Recognize it, accept it, forgive yourself, and then get back on track.

Research actually shows that self-compassion and flexible eating is associated with lower BMI and a healthier body weight, lower self-reported calorie intake, less anxiety and stress, and a better relationship with food.

Passionate about nutrition and health?

If so, and you’d like to learn more about it, consider the Precision Nutrition Level 1 Certification. Our next group kicks off shortly.

What’s it all about?

The Precision Nutrition Level 1 Certification is the world’s most respected nutrition education program. It gives you the knowledge, systems, and tools to really understand how food influences a person’s health and fitness. Plus the ability to turn that knowledge into a thriving coaching practice.

Developed over 15 years, and proven with nearly 100,000 clients, the Level 1 curriculum stands alone as the authority on the science of nutrition and the art of coaching.

Whether you’re already mid-career, or just starting out, the Level 1 Certification is your springboard to a deeper understanding of nutrition, the authority to coach it, and the ability to turn what you know into results.

[Of course, if you’re already a student or graduate of the Level 1 Certification, check out our Level 2 Certification Master Class. It’s an exclusive, year-long mentorship designed for elite professionals looking to master the art of coaching and be part of the top 1% of health and fitness coaches in the world.]

Interested? Add your name to the presale list. You’ll save up to 33% and secure your spot 24 hours before everyone else.

We’ll be opening up spots in our next Precision Nutrition Level 1 Certification on Wednesday, October 3rd, 2018.

If you want to find out more, we’ve set up the following presale list, which gives you two advantages.

  • Pay less than everyone else. We like to reward people who are eager to boost their credentials and are ready to commit to getting the education they need. So we’re offering a discount of up to 33% off the general price when you sign up for the presale list.
  • Sign up 24 hours before the general public and increase your chances of getting a spot. We only open the certification program twice per year. Due to high demand, spots in the program are limited and have historically sold out in a matter of hours. But when you sign up for the presale list, we’ll give you the opportunity to register a full 24 hours before anyone else.

If you’re ready for a deeper understanding of nutrition, the authority to coach it, and the ability to turn what you know into results… this is your chance to see what the world’s top professional nutrition coaching system can do for you.


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