When it comes to fat loss and muscle gain, everyone wants Insta-worthy after photos… right now. But understanding what’s realistic can be the difference between achieving amazing results and giving up altogether. How fast can a client lose fat? What’s the upper limit of muscle gain? And how do you figure out a rate of progress that your client can not only achieve but sustain? We have the numbers—and your coaching game plan. 

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Imagine you have two new clients.

Courtney—a 34-year old female—wants to lose the extra 30 pounds she’s packed on since college.

Jose—a 27-year old male—wants to add 15 pounds of muscle to his frame.

Like many clients, they both say they’re ready to do whatever it takes.

Knowing all this, how long should it take each to achieve their goals?

A. 3 months
B. 6 months
C. 1 year

Answer: It depends.

Each option may be doable, but all three come with tradeoffs. And unless you help Courtney and Jose fully understand this—and set their expectations appropriately—they’re likely to end up disappointed.

Sound familiar?

When it comes to losing fat or gaining muscle, people are often frustrated by what they think are “poor” or “mediocre” results.  

Not due to lack of progress, but because:

  • They started with unrealistic expectations
  • They couldn’t sustain their initial rate of progress
  • All of the above

It doesn’t have to be this way.

In this article, we’ll share what realistic rates of both fat loss and muscle gain look like, based on a combination of clinical evidence and our work with over 100,000 clients.1, 2

More importantly, we’ll show you how to determine a rate of progress that’s right for your client (or even yourself). For results that meet expectations—every single time.

But… if you want to jump right to the numbers, click the links below:

Otherwise, keep reading (the details matter) for the complete story.

Results not typical… or are they?

Let’s say Courtney lost six pounds of body fat in your first four weeks together. Yet she was disappointed in her “lack” of progress.

From our standpoint, her progress was fantastic.

Over six months, maintaining that rate of progress would lead to a 40-pound fat loss. 

That could be life-changing for some. For others, it might be way more than they’d even want to lose. (In fact, it’s more than Courtney wanted to lose.)

Yet all too often, the client thinks they’re failing. Because six pounds in four weeks doesn’t feel like a lot.

This is likely because they expected extremely rapid results. Perhaps they hoped to quickly look like they did 15 years ago or have the body comp of a magazine cover model… by next month’s vacation.

Now, most people would readily admit that expecting to lose 15 pounds of fat or gain 10 pounds of muscle in two weeks is unrealistic. (The same goes for correcting serious blood lipid issues or knocking a half-second off their 40-yard dash time.)

But subconsciously, they still want to believe these results are not only possible but likely. After all, they’ve seen The Biggest Loser.

Your job: Set achievable expectations from day one. 

Understand the true goal and what success looks like.

This starts by finding out what your client ultimately hopes to achieve.

  • Do they want to lose a few pounds and get healthier?
  • Do they want to look fit in clothes?
  • Do they want to pack on 15 pounds of muscle?
  • Do they want to be “shredded,” with visible abs?

Make sure you have a shared understanding of what they’re envisioning. 

You want to be in complete agreement. So ask more questions and dig deeper.

If they say they want to lose 20 pounds, what do they picture? Many people underestimate how much fat they’d have to lose to achieve a certain body composition. They might think they need to drop 20 pounds, when in fact, it’s more like 40.

If they want to “get healthier,” how will they know when they arrive? Are they picturing better blood work, and if so, what specific measures are they concerned about?

If they want to gain muscle, are they okay gaining some fat, too? Do they see themselves as The Rock, or just a slightly bigger version of themselves?

If they want to “look muscular,” getting leaner might help them achieve that goal faster. As the saying goes, “Losing fat is the fastest way to look bigger.”

If they want a six-pack, are they prepared for all that entails? Achieving this type of physique often requires a greater amount of exercise, a more restrictive diet, and a less flexible lifestyle. What’s more, if they’ve been over-fat for a long time, it could come with some loose skin.

Walking clients through their desired scenario can help them better choose a path based on what’s most important to them.

Make sure the tradeoffs are crystal clear.

Simply put: You want your client to know what they’re getting into.

An effective way to do this: Put your client’s desired outcome on a continuum next to two (or more) other outcomes.

If you want to highlight how unlikely or difficult the goal will be, show what it’ll take to achieve two easier goals.

You could say: “Here are the tradeoffs that you’ll need to make to reach your goal, and for comparison, here’s what two other outcomes might require. Do those tradeoffs feel acceptable to you?”

On the other hand, if you want to give the client more confidence, you might sandwich their goal between one that’s easier and one that’s harder.

You could say: “There’s no doubt your goal will be a challenge, but at least you can eat dessert most days and still achieve it. What do you think about that?”

Here’s an example of how this might look. The illustrations that follow show the tradeoffs typically required to achieve three different levels of body fat.

As you can see, the lower your body fat percentage goal, the greater the commitment that’s required. (For a deeper dive on this topic, read: The Cost of Getting Lean.)

Fat loss for healthy body fat levels
Fat loss for 10 percent body fat.
Fat loss for low levels of body fat.

To ensure both you and your client understand what they want to achieve, and what they’re willing (and not willing) to do to achieve it, download and use the Want-Willing-Won’t Worksheet.

Now it’s time to talk timelines. We’ll cover realistic rates of fat loss first, followed by realistic rates of muscle loss.

Realistic rates of fat loss.

How fast you can lose body fat depends on how consistently you can, or want to, follow the guidelines you’re given.

Realistic rates of fat loss per week

Progress % Body Weight Men Women
Extreme 1-1.5% body weight ~2-3 lb ~1.65-2.5 lb
Reasonable 0.5-1% body weight ~1-2 lb ~0.8-1.65 lb
Comfortable <0.5% body weight ~<1 lb ~<0.8 lb

Here’s how to quantify each of these categories:

Extreme: Requires about 90 to 100 percent consistency.

Reasonable:  Requires about 70 to 85 percent consistency.

Comfortable: Requires about 50 to 65 percent consistency.

(Note: You could also create a comfortable rate of progress in which you’re highly consistent. Your initial action plan would simply require you to make fewer changes than what’d be necessary to achieve reasonable or extreme rates of progress.)

Clearly, the more consistent you are, the faster your progress, and the more fat you’ll lose.

It’s also important to realize that fat loss is rarely linear. It fluctuates from day to day and week to week. The goal is to see an overall trend downward over time.

Rate of fat loss

But… fat loss is often fastest when:

  • You’re first starting out
  • You have more body fat to lose

Why? Suppose you normally eat 3,500 calories per day and are maintaining your body weight. If you suddenly start eating 2,000 calories a day, you’ve created a massive deficit of 1,500 calories. That’ll lead to rapid weight loss.

Once you start to lose body weight, however, this deficit becomes smaller and smaller, slowing fat loss. (Because a smaller body requires fewer calories.)

As this process continues, your metabolism adapts, lowering your calorie needs even more than what you’d expect from the weight loss alone. You’ll also become more efficient at exercising, reducing the number of calories you burn through movement.

And if that’s not enough, you might even exercise less frequently and intensely because you now have less energy coming in. (To learn more, read: How your metabolism adapts as you lose weight.)

The upshot:

The leaner you become, the slower your rate of fat loss, and the more plateaus you experience.

This is normal. And helping clients understand this leads to better progress.

That’s because they’ll be less likely to throw in the towel when fat loss stalls for a week or two. Instead, they’ll understand it’s a normal part of the journey.

Encourage clients to think of fat loss like a long road trip. If they know going in that they’ll have to stop for food and bathroom breaks, and that they’ll probably experience some traffic jams and construction detours, they won’t be dismayed when those things happen. (Because they will. That’s life.)

It won’t always be smooth sailing. Coach them to expect disruptions ahead of time. This mental preparation will be valuable down the road.

Realistic rates of muscle gain.

The ability to gain muscle is dependent on age, biological sex, genetics, and consistency with food intake, along with resistance training experience, intensity, frequency, style, volume, and more.

Realistic rates of muscle gain per month

Fitness level Men Women
Beginner 1-1.5%
body weight
~1.5-2.5 lb 0.5-0.75%
body weight
~0.65-1 lb
Intermediate 0.5-0.75%
body weight
~0.75-1.25 lb 0.25-0.375%
body weight
~0.325-0.5 lb
Advanced 0.25-0.375%
body weight
~0.375-0.625 lb 0.125-0.1875%
body weight
~0.1625-0.25 lb

Much like fat loss, muscle gain is often not linear. Progress seems to come in fits and spurts, especially after the first year of dedicated training. 

It’s not uncommon to see young men gain 15 to 25 pounds of muscle in their first year of dedicated training (beginner), and another 10 to 15 pounds in their second year (intermediate).

Young women can see gains of 8 to 12 pounds of muscle in their first year of dedicated training (beginner), along with another 4 to 6 pounds in their second year (intermediate).

After the first three or so years of dedicated training (advanced), it often takes years of persistent effort to see incremental gains.

So over the course of a lifting career, men have the potential to gain about 40 to 50 pounds of muscle, and women have the potential to gain about 20 to 25 pounds of muscle. (Depending on height, bone structure, and genetics—and without the help of performance-enhancing drugs.)

For the realistic rates of muscle gain shown here, the emphasis is on “young” men and women under the age of 30. Testosterone and other sex hormones are higher during this time of life, as is cellular turnover and overall recovery capacity. All are key factors for muscle growth.

Older men and women usually add less muscle and/or at a slower rate, due to changes in these variables.

Can you still gain significant muscle after your 20s? Yes, but for the most part, this depends on whether or not you still have a fair amount of room to reach your 40 to 50 pound (men) or 20 to 25 pound (women) potential.

Identify a likely rate of fat loss or muscle gain for each individual.

Consider the realistic rates of fat loss and muscle gain the upper limit of what can be achieved in a given time frame. Now you have to adjust that number, based on the person and conditions you’re working with.

This is where the art of coaching really comes in.

The rate of body composition changes can be affected by the following factors.

Factors that make fat loss harder or easier

What makes fat loss harder What makes fat loss easier
Age Being older* Being younger
Sex Being female Being male
Current body size Being smaller Being heavier
Current body composition Being relatively lean Having more body fat
Current activity level Little to no activity High levels of activity
Current activity type Doing excessive cardio without other types of activity Having a well-rounded exercise regimen
Consistency Being inconsistent Being consistent (>80%)
Recovery Sleeping less than 7 hours most nights Sleeping at least 7-8 hours most nights
Stress Excessive stress or perception of excessive stress Appropriate stress levels or perception of appropriate stress
Hormones Leptin-resistance / low leptin
Insulin-resistance
Hormones in healthy ranges
Medication Birth control
Corticosteroids
Antidepressants
Xenical / Alli
Belviq
Qsymia
Contrave
Saxenda
PEDs
Health status Menopause
Hypothyroidism
PCOS
Cushing’s syndrome
Depression
Clean bill of health

*Fat loss can and does occur at any age. The reasons it can be harder for older folks may be more age-related (health status, medications, mobility) as opposed to age-dependent.

Factors that make muscle gain harder or easier

What makes muscle gain harder What makes muscle gain easier
Age Being older (>40) Being younger (<30)
Sex Being female Being male
Current body size Having a small frame / bone structure Having a large frame / bone structure
Current body composition Having more body fat Being relatively lean
Current activity level Little to no activity Moderate levels of activity
Current activity type Inadequate resistance training / excessive cardio Resistance training
Consistency Being inconsistent Being consistent (>80%)
Recovery Sleeping less than 7 hours most nights Sleeping at least 7-8 hours most nights
Stress Excessive stress or perception of excessive stress Appropriate stress levels or perception of appropriate stress
Hormones High cortisol Hormones in healthy ranges
Medication Thyroid drugs
ADHD drugs
Acne medication
PEDs
Health status IBD
Gastroparesis
Hyperthyroidism
Depression
Clean bill of health

These are by no means exhaustive lists, but are good examples of how additional factors can impact an individual’s rate of progress.

You also need to account for what else is happening in a person’s life.

Will your client improve at a consistent rate or might there be periods where progress slows?

For example, if they’re an accountant, you may need to adjust expectations during tax season. During the holidays, the goal might just be to maintain current progress, then aim to make further progress after the holidays have passed. And what about upcoming vacations or other planned breaks?

You can’t foresee every issue, but you can plan for what you know. 

For these periods, ask your client how little improvement they’re willing to accept and how long they expect these periods to last. Together, you can incorporate that information into the timeline.

Once you have a good idea of where they want to go and how fast they could get there,  it’s time to fully review what’s required. Is your client “ready, willing, and able” to do what it takes?

You can test this by using the Ready, Willing, and Able Worksheet.

This is where you find out how realistic the rates of progress truly are, based on the action plan you create with your client.

Now that the next steps are in front of them, how confident are they about following through? Remember: The key to success is consistency. (Learn more: How to create a plan clients can do consistently.)

If your client isn’t ready, willing, able to follow through consistently, that’s okay. You’ll simply need to adjust their action plan. And that also means adjusting their expectations.

But that’s good news: With this approach, you’ll both be on the same page from the get-go.

Revisit and re-calibrate expectations as data accumulate.

No one can perfectly predict a client’s rate of progress. This exercise simply gives you a way to measure if your client is moving in the right direction at their desired rate, or if their outcomes are falling short of expectations.

In general, you should monitor results for two weeks before recommending your client adjusts their food intake or action plan.

And as they become more advanced, or progress closer to their final goal, it may take a full four weeks to see if their intake is working. Give it an appropriate amount of time before considering further adjustments.

As you gather data, and choose next actions based on that data, continually review and revise your clients’ plans and expectations. (Click here to download a printable guide that lets you reference the information below at a glance.)

Not losing fat within realistic parameters?

Decrease your client’s intake by about 250 calories a day, by cutting out about 25 to 50 grams of carbs and/or 7 to 15 grams of fat. Or simply remove 1 to 2 cupped handfuls of carbs and/or 1 to 2 thumbs of fats from their daily intake. (That’s 2 to 3 total portions of carbs and fats, combined.)

Not gaining muscle within realistic parameters?

Increase your client’s intake by about 250 calories a day, by adding 25 to 50 grams of carbs and/or 7 to 15 grams of fats.  Or simply add 1 to 2 cupped handfuls of carbs and/or 1 to 2 thumbs of fats to your daily intake. (That’s 2 to 3 total portions of carbs and fats, combined.)

Losing too much lean mass when losing weight?

Increase your client’s daily protein intake by about 25 grams. Or simply add 1 extra palm of protein to your daily intake.

Gaining too much fat when adding muscle?

Increase your client’s daily protein intake by about 25 grams, and decrease their daily carb intake by about 25 to 50 grams and/or fat intake by about 7 to 15 grams.

Or simply add 1 extra palm of protein to your daily intake, and remove 1 to 2 cupped handfuls of carbs and/or 1 to 2 thumbs of fats from your daily intake. (That’s 2 to 3 total portions of carbs and fats, combined.)

Not recovering from tough workouts or competitions?

Use these four steps:

Step 1. Review your overall daily energy intake. If you’re cutting calories stringently to lose fat or weight, consider increasing energy intake by 100 to 200 calories so that you’re eating at just a slight deficit.

Step 2. Review your total daily protein intake. Just adding 25 more grams or 1 more palm of protein per day can make a difference.

Step 3. Review your total daily carbohydrate intake. You may need more than you’re getting, particularly right after training sessions or games/competitions. A good start: Add 25 to 50 grams (or 1 to 2 cupped handfuls of carbs) to your daily intake.

Step 4. Review your total daily fat intake, particularly your intake of essential fatty acids. If you’re noticing a lot of inflammation, you might benefit from increasing your intake of Eat More” fat sources, and decreasing your intake of “Eat Less” fat sources. (See a variety of both sources in the article: What Foods Should I Eat?)

Let the facts guide you.

Clients may progress faster or slower than you expected, or they may encounter unexpected challenges (such as an injury or illness).

This is absolutely okay. Base predictions and expectations on known data, not imagination, hopes, or assumptions.

As the great psychotherapist Carl Rogers once said, “The facts are friendly.” No matter what happens, consider this calibration an essential and valuable part of helping you become a more accurate and evidence-driven coach.

This type of outcome-based decision making is a powerful coaching tool for helping clients see how their actions lead to progress and results.

Remember, numbers aren’t the only way to measure progress.

It can be tempting to focus only on quantitative data: body fat percentage, inches lost, the number on the scale. But progress is just as much about subjective measures, such as:

  • Showing up and making any effort, no matter how small
  • Tiny actions that are just a little bit better than before
  • Feeling more at ease with food
  • Daily wins, like having breakfast on your busiest morning
  • Having more energy and vitality
  • Getting stronger and/or fitter
  • Feeling more confident in one’s body or sense of self
  • And more

Make sure your client understands how far they’ve come, no matter what the numbers show. Regularly pointing out the bright spots—especially in behaviors, actions, and mindset—gives the client positive feedback they can build on.

The Looking Back, Looking Ahead Worksheet is often super helpful in this regard. It’s a way for clients to see how far they’ve come, which can boost their confidence and keep them motivated. It can also help them proactively work around potential obstacles.

As we say here at Precision Nutrition:

It’s about progress, not perfection. 

And whether your clients want to lose fat or gain muscle, that may be the most important expectation you can set.

References

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

If you’re a coach, or you want to be…

Learning how to coach clients, patients, friends, or family members through healthy eating and lifestyle changes—in a way that sets realistic expectations and is personalized for their unique body, goals, and preferences—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 over 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 30% 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, April 8th, 2020.

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 30% 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.

The post Fat loss and muscle gain: What does realistic progress look like? appeared first on Precision Nutrition.

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As his weight climbed to nearly 300 pounds, Dominic Matteo thought he knew how to turn things around: Just stop eating chips, ice cream, and other highly processed foods.

“I’ll will myself through this,” he told himself.

Then he’d see the ice cream in the freezer and think, ‘Just one spoonful.’ Soon Matteo was staring at an empty container and wondering, ‘Why am I so weak?’

But Matteo’s willpower wasn’t the problem—his kitchen was. It was stocked with tempting junk foods, and it needed a serious overhaul.

Here’s the thing: Back then, Matteo didn’t believe a kitchen makeover would actually work. It sounded too easy.

He tried it anyway, though… and went on to lose over 100 pounds.

“If I hadn’t done that experiment, I probably wouldn’t have been successful,” says Matteo, who’s now a Precision Nutrition Level 2 Master Class coach. “It’s all about self-discovery and awareness.”

At Precision Nutrition, we often use experiments to help our clients discover important clues about what they really need (and don’t need) to reach their goals. Such experiments serve as powerful tools for uprooting the limiting and often false beliefs that tend to derail lasting habit change.

In this article, you’ll find three of our most transformative experiments. Try them yourself (or use with a client). What you learn may help you finally clear your biggest hurdles… even if the experiments sound too easy to work.

Limiting Belief #1: “If I had more willpower, I could stop eating so much junk food.”

Many of us assume, much like Matteo did, that willpower is something we’re either born with… or we’re not.

So when we find ourselves reaching for the second (or third … or fourth … or fifth) chocolate chip cookie, we beat ourselves up for being “weak.”

But portion control and healthful food choices are less about motivation and willpower and more about your environment. Give this experiment a try, and you’ll see what we mean.

The experiment: Do a kitchen makeover.

Use this two-step process to clean out your fridge, pantry, freezer, and other places you stash food. In the process, you’ll make some foods a lot harder to eat and other foods a lot easier to eat.

Step 1: Make a list

Determine your red, yellow, and green light foods.

But keep in mind: At Precision Nutrition, we don’t believe in universally good or bad foods. Everyone’s red, yellow, and green lists will be different. 

Here’s how to identify yours:

Red light foods = “no go” foods. These are foods that present such a difficult challenge for you that they just aren’t worth the struggle. Red light foods may not work for you because:

  • They don’t help you achieve your goals
  • You always overeat them
  • You’re allergic to them
  • You can’t easily digest them
  • You just don’t like them

Ultra-processed foods often fall into this category.

Yellow light foods = “slow down” foods. Maybe you can eat a little bit of these and stop, or you can eat them sanely at a restaurant with others, but not at home alone.

Green light foods = anytime foods. They’re nutritious and make your body and mind feel good. You can eat them normally, slowly, and in reasonable amounts. Whole foods usually make up most of this list.

Live with other people? Try these client-tested strategies.

So what if your partner or kids love the foods that you want to get out of the house?

Matteo confronted this exact predicament. Here’s what he suggests.

Talk about it. Explain that you want to make a change—and why. You might say, “I really need your help. I can’t do this alone.”

Take small steps. Focus on removing or reducing a couple of foods at a time rather than every single red light food at once.

Compromise. For example, rather than purchasing half-gallon containers of ice cream, Matteo’s family now buys eight single-serving cups—just enough for each family member to consume two single-serving desserts a week.

Stash it out of sight. If you must keep a red light food in the house, make it as difficult to access as you can. For example, you might keep chips on a shelf in the basement rather than in the kitchen. One of Matteo’s clients asked his wife to store desserts in a safe for which only she knew the combination.

Step 2: Get cleaning.

You’ll probably need a large garbage bag (maybe a few!) and a compost bin, if you have one.

First, get rid of the red light foods. If you struggle with the idea of wasting food, consider donating unopened, non-perishable, unexpired items to a charity. Compost what you can’t donate.

And remind yourself: Overeating is no less wasteful than trashing the food, given your body doesn’t actually need the calories. Plus, you just might find, as Matteo did, that your kitchen purge actually saves you money over time because you’ll stop buying certain foods.

Next, deal with the yellow light foods. You have a few options here. You can remove them, keep them in smaller quantities to prevent overeating, or put them somewhere hard to see and reach (on a high shelf in an opaque container, for example).

Lastly, stock up on your green light foods. Put these foods front and center and take steps to make them easy to grab and eat.

For example, maybe you make your own trail mix, storing it at the front of the pantry where you’re more likely to see it. Or, perhaps you peel a couple of oranges and keep them toward the front of the fridge, for easy snacking during your laziest moments. Or maybe you keep a half dozen hard-boiled eggs on the ready.

One note: Don’t overdo it when purchasing new green foods, especially produce, as they’re likely perishable (unlike most of the red and yellow foods you’re replacing). Remember, it’s okay to start small and build from there.

Step 3: Take notes.

The next time you get a craving for a red or yellow food, notice what happens. Do you reach for something on your green light list, since that’s what’s right in front of you? Or do you drive to the store to get food you crave? Or… do you decide not to eat anything at all because it requires way too much effort?

The lesson: Your environment makes it harder to practice healthy eating habits.

“Understanding that your environment guides your decisions can facilitate better actions,” Matteo says.

What he’s getting at is something we refer to as Berardi’s First Law (named after our co-founder, John Berardi, PhD):

If a food is in your house or possession, either you, someone you love, or someone you marginally tolerate, will eventually eat it.

There’s also a corollary to this law:

If a healthy food is in your house or possession, either you, someone you love, or someone you marginally tolerate, will eventually eat it.

This is why relying on willpower or motivation is a fundamentally flawed plan. No matter how much or how little willpower you actually have, you’ll eventually default to the easiest food options, especially when you’re tired. Or stressed. Or ravenous.

By removing red light foods, you make the choice to eat green foods so much easier—almost no willpower required.

Limiting Belief #2: “I hardly eat anything, and I still can’t lose weight.”

Feeling this way can be incredibly frustrating and confusing. Sometimes, it even stops people from trying to get healthier altogether.

But in every case, the principle of energy balance applies:

When you eat more calories (energy) than you expend, you gain weight. And when you eat fewer calories than you expend, you lose weight. (Which sounds way simpler than it is, of course.)

So what gives? Let’s find out.

The experiment: For one week, track everything you eat.

All you have to do: Write down what you eat every day for a week.

Yeah, yeah, yeah. You’ve heard this advice before—maybe hundreds of times.

But have you really done it? By actually writing it down (versus keeping a mental tally)?

For every single meal and snack?

Every day?

For a whole week?

If not, give it a try. It’s actually a lot easier than it sounds. You can write it down in a notebook, use a record-keeping app like MyFitnessPal, or even just snap a photo of everything you eat.

Make sure to include everything you eat and drink. Don’t forget to record the cream and sugar in your coffee, the dressing on your salad, and the lone fry (or was it eight?) you stole off your kid’s plate.

(Note: Unless you enjoy it, we’re not recommending you track this way regularly. This is just a short-term experiment.)

Treat these notes as if you were a scientist. This isn’t about judging your food choices. It’s merely about noticing them. Be kind, curious, and compassionate with yourself.

For the most accurate snapshot of your eating habits, try to do this during a typical week without any big events, and don’t change how you normally eat just because you’re keeping track.

At the end of the week, take a look at your log. Is it in line with how much you thought you were eating?

The lesson: It’s easy, and incredibly common, to underestimate how much you eat.

Research shows that, on average, people underestimate their food intake by around 47 percent—for all sorts of understandable reasons.

First, mindless nibbles can be even less memorable than the storage location of our car keys.

Second, though humans are great at a lot of things, estimating portion sizes just isn’t one of them. We don’t always recognize how caloric certain foods are (hi, peanut butter), and sometimes we deceive ourselves. (‘I had, like, five chips… not three-quarters of the bag… right?”)

Point is, this is a real thing. And it happens to a lot of people—even dietitians.

That’s why many people need nutritional guard rails—calorie counts, macros, or hand portions—to guide what and how much they eat… at least for a little while. Here at PN, we use hand portions to help clients make better food and portion judgments. (We’ve seen some incredible transformations using this method alone.)

If you haven’t already checked out our Nutrition Calculator, go ahead and plug in your goals and personal info. You’ll get a full report of how much to eat, along with the corresponding hand portions, and everything you need to know about how they work.

Using this approach, in combination with mindful eating practices like eating slowly and to 80 percent full, can help you eat in a way that makes weight loss feel more effortless. 

3 more experiments to try

Want to keep learning more about yourself? Try the following to keep gathering intel.

Experiment: Eat nothing but sugar packets (read: pure sugar) for a day. (Good luck!)

What it shows: Sugar itself may not really be a problem food for you. Read: Most people won’t stuff themselves with sugar alone. Instead, it’s more about what the sugar is mixed with. For example, you may be okay consuming it when it’s in fruit, yogurt, or even ketchup, but not when it’s inside your personal red light foods like cookies, chocolate, or ice cream.

Experiment: Eat slowly every day for a month, trying to make every meal last a little bit longer. (Start by taking a breath between bites.)

What it shows: You may discover that you feel more satisfied sooner, so you eat less automatically. You may also notice eating slowly brings up uncomfortable feelings—ones you’ve been quashing with food.

Experiment: Use this article to make breakfast a little bit healthier.

What it shows: You don’t have to do a complete 180 in order to see progress. Could you swap cold cereal for oatmeal? Could you have fruit instead of hashbrowns? Could you try eggs on a bed of greens instead of with a bagel? It’s not just about the substitutions; it’s about being thoughtful about what you eat… before you eat. Small changes, done consistently, pave the way to lasting habits.

Limiting Belief #3: “I seriously can’t handle being hungry.”

Hunger is a lot of things: annoying, uncomfortable, distracting…

One thing it’s not: such a big deal that you should do everything in your power to avoid ever experiencing it.

Problem is, hunger feels like a big deal. Some clients have even told us that hunger feels like an emergency. They worry that if they don’t eat right away, their hunger will continue to get worse and worse and worse until… they die.

Or wish they could.

For these reasons, many people eat as soon as they feel even the slightest pang—physical or mental. That often means they consume more than really needed, which leads to weight gain (or stalls fat loss). They also reach for whatever they find first (see experiment #1).

But what happens when you don’t immediately meet hunger with food? Let’s find out.

The experiment: Try fasting for a day.

We know it sounds scary. Nothing bad will happen—promise.

We include this experiment, lovingly called “fasting day,” in our year-long coaching program. Over the years, our coaching clients have told us this day is one of the most impactful experiences of the entire program.

Here’s how it works: Consume no calories for 24 hours.

Zero. Nada. None.

Enjoy calorie-free drinks such as water, flavored water, unsweetened tea, or plain coffee. But other than that, avoid all food and caloric beverages.

Obviously this isn’t something we recommend long-term. It’s just one day.

And it just might be the most challenging and insightful day you’ve had in a long time.

A couple of important caveats:

You can do this on a schedule that works for you. For example, you could fast from dinner to dinner, or lunch to lunch. If 24 hours feels like too much, consider just skipping a meal or two instead. This isn’t about getting it “perfect.” Also, it might go without saying, but you probably shouldn’t try this experiment on a day when you need to be 100% “on your game,” such as when you’re flying a plane or doing open-heart surgery.

Fasting isn’t right for everyone. Do not fast if you:

  • have a medical condition that requires you to eat
  • struggle with disordered eating and have been told never to fast
  • know that periods of food restriction—even if done carefully and consciously—can lead to bingeing later on

The lesson: Hunger isn’t an emergency.

It’s natural to worry that hunger will keep getting worse and worse—making us feel lousy and preventing us from getting anything useful done.

But hunger doesn’t work like that.

Hunger hormones are released in waves based on when our bodies are expecting food.

As you’ll probably experience while doing this experiment, hunger is strongest around the three- to four-hour mark of a fast. Then it subsides.

It’s an incredible feeling (and often a great relief) to learn that you can feel hungry—truly hungry—and choose not to do anything about it.

There are several benefits here:

  • Benefit #1: If the available food choices don’t make sense for you, you know you can wait until something better is available. No biggie.
  • Benefit #2: You learn what true hunger feels like. This awareness can help you distinguish psychological hunger (“I feel like eating something”) from physiological hunger (“My body is telling me it’s time to eat”).
  • Benefit #3: If it’s not “time to eat,” waiting until your next meal or snack won’t feel like a problem. This is not only convenient if hunger strikes somewhere food isn’t accessible (such as on your commute), but can also be extremely helpful if you’re trying to lose fat.

Keep experimenting, keep growing.

You can probably see why we’re such big fans of self-experimentation: It’s quite literally a win-win. You’ll either get a reaffirming boost of confidence and confirmation that you’re already on the right track, or you’ll get valuable information about how you can change things for the better.

By simply paying attention to how experiments make you feel, you empower and energize yourself to make better, more informed choices.

And remember: Self-experimentation isn’t about getting it perfect. It’s about finding out what works for you, and then putting it into practice—one small step at a time.

Want help becoming the healthiest, fittest, strongest version of you?

Most people know that regular movement, eating well, sleep, and stress management are important for looking and feeling better. Yet they need help applying that knowledge in the context of their busy, sometimes stressful lives.

Over the past 15 years, we’ve used the Precision Nutrition Coaching method to help over 100,000 clients lose fat, get stronger, and improve their health… for the long-term… no matter what challenges they’re dealing with.

It’s also why we work with health, fitness, and wellness professionals (through our Level 1 and Level 2 Certification programs) to teach them how to coach their own clients through the same challenges.

Interested in Precision Nutrition Coaching? Join the presale list; you’ll save up to 54% and secure a spot 24 hours early.

We’ll be opening up spots in our next Precision Nutrition Coaching on Wednesday, January 15th, 2020.

If you’re interested in coaching and want to find out more, I’d encourage you to join our presale list below. Being on the 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 people because they always make the best clients. Join the presale list and you’ll save up to 54% off the general public price, which is the lowest price we’ve ever offered.
  • You’re more likely to get a spot. To give clients the personal care and attention they deserve, we only open up the program twice a year. Last time we opened registration, we sold out within minutes. 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 change your body, and your life, with help from the world’s best coaches, this is your chance.

[Note: If your health and fitness are already sorted out, but you’re interested in helping others, check out our Precision Nutrition Level 1 Certification program].

The post 3 diet experiments that can change your eating habits—and transform your body (even if they seem way too easy to work). appeared first on Precision Nutrition.

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Tired of so-called “experts” telling you how to eat better and improve your fitness? If so, this article is your antidote. In it we share 35 tips, ideas, and strategies that actual clients—folks like you—have used to get into the best shape of their lives.

++++

Imagine a life where you…

…feel physically and mentally strong, capable of taking on any challenge without worrying that your energy levels or bodyweight will get in the way.

…can run around with your kids, or grandkids, without feeling pain, winded, or tired; and you can do it again the next day.

…excitedly book a beach vacation without wondering how you’ll look (or feel) in a swimsuit, walking along the beach.

…look forward to having your picture taken without wondering “who’s that person, and when did they start looking like that?”

It’s not a pipe dream.

Here at Precision Nutrition, we’ve worked with thousands of clients and heard their deepest reasons for wanting to change their bodies and their lives.

(You’ll read about some of them below, you’ll even see some of their photos).

Strange as it’ll seem, most of them didn’t believe change was really possible. Not within the context of their uniquely busy, often stressful lives.

When they started working with us, their goals seemed more like fantasies. Even the simple ones—like wanting to get up off the floor without having to say “umphhhh”—felt out of reach.

But notice what happened next.

They lost body weight and fat. They built strength. The reclaimed their health. And they took control of their fitness, some for the first time in their lives.

Nowadays they’re the women you see projecting confidence and walking tall. The men with flat stomachs and a totally clean bill of health.

So we decided to ask them:

How’d you do it?

Their real-world answers were so good we decided to share them today.

In this article you’ll learn:

  • The common obstacles many of our clients face.
  • The fears many of them felt when starting out.
  • How they overcame their fears, got past their obstacles.
  • And how you can do the same.

Before getting into it, though, I wanted to let you know that we’re soon opening spots in our Precision Nutrition Coaching program.

You see, twice a year we work with small groups of men and women interested in looking and feeling better. Over the course of 12 months we help them get into the best shape of their lives… and stay that way for good.

Just so you know, we’ve tested Precision Nutrition Coaching with close to over 100,000 clients over the past 15 years. Plus, several peer-reviewed research papers have documented the safety and effectiveness of our approach.

For a sneak peek at the amazing things we’ve helped them accomplish, check out this short video:

Meet some of the people whose bodies—and lives—have been changed by Precision Nutrition Coaching.

 

 

Wondering how you can experience these kinds of results for yourself?

Let’s turn it over to our Precision Nutrition Coaching graduates.

Having trouble getting started?

Don’t think, just do.

“If it’s your time, and you’re sitting on the fence—you want to do it, you’re thinking of doing it, you’re not sure if you should do it—jump off that fence,” says Patrick, 35, who lost 152 pounds with Precision Nutrition.

“Give it everything you’ve got; why sit out when you can be part of life?”

Patrick’s Transformation

Lost 152 lbs and 20% body fat!

Age: 35 years
Weight Lost: 152 lbs (from 417 lbs to 265 lbs)
% Body Fat Lost: 20% (from 39.1% to 19.1%)
Total Inches Lost: 73 inches (from 337 inches to 264 inches)

Turned off by every weight-loss program and tip you see?

Ignore mainstream advice.

Unrealistic (and, frankly, insulting) click bait like “Flatten Your Tummy in 5 Minutes a Day” and “Sculpt Your Butt While Sitting Still” are meant to drive ad sales, not get you in shape.

Most of our clients, once they see Precision Nutrition’s positive, practice-based approach, realize that the negative tone of health and fitness media was holding them back for years.

Find trustworthy friends or acquaintances who lost weight, and do what they did.

Why reinvent the wheel? When you see a true success story unfold before your eyes, copycat away. That’s how 46-year-old Sharon D’Arcy found Precision Nutrition, and she ended up losing more than 30 pounds.

(Click here for her story, which includes a bit of surprising inspiration.)

Sharon’s Transformation

Lost 33 lbs and 13% body fat!

Age: 46 years
Weight Lost: 33 lbs (from 151 lbs to 118 lbs)
% Body Fat Lost: 13% (from 28% to 15%)
Total Inches Lost: 18.5 inches (from 209.1 inches to 190.6 inches)

Make it about your journey.

Don’t assume you have to be “perfect” or “special” in order to be fit and healthy. 48-year-old Alicia had been on the diet-mobile for so long she started to think change just wasn’t possible for her.

Then one day, her mindset shifted. “Why not me?” she asked herself. She stuck that mantra to her mirror.

Every day, in a mindful, conscious way, she visualized her success. Forty-nine pounds later, Alicia went from a size 16 to a size 6 and became our $25,000 grand prize winner.

Alicia’s Transformation

Lost 49 lbs and 46 total inches!

Age: 48 years
Weight Lost: 49 lbs (from 181 lbs to 132 lbs)
Total Inches Lost: 46 inches (from 219 inches to 173 inches)

Struggling to get motivated and inspired?

Stop living in “coulda, woulda, shoulda”.

To make true progress, allow yourself to focus exclusively on what you can do now. Not in some hypothetical future where everything is perfect.

Just do the best you can with what you’ve got right now. It’s what allowed Sharon (above) to lose weight and fight cancer—all in the same year.

Have your reason.

Keep your specific motivation in mind, whether it’s getting fit enough to play sports with your kids or looking great on your wedding day. That last one is what helped 32-year-old Melissa lose 55 pounds.

“The whole time, I had this image of myself on my wedding day in my head,” Melissa says. “Walking tall, feeling amazing—feeling statuesque instead of soft around the edges.”

Melissa’s Transformation

Lost 55 lbs and 16% body fat!

Age: 32 years
Weight Lost: 55 lbs (from 231 lbs to 176 lbs)
% Body Fat Lost: 16% (from 34% to 18%)
Total Inches Lost: 38 inches (from 242 inches to 204 inches)

Feel more than you see.

Sure, wanting to look better is what motivates most clients to sign up for Precision Nutrition Coaching. But it’s not what gets them to oh-my-god-you-look-amazing transformations.

Healthy eating habits end up improving how they feel—how they move, think and generally enjoy life—which leads to continued healthy eating and dozens of pounds lost over time.

Focus on the joy of movement.

“Enjoy your body,” Sharon (above) says. “Take pleasure in movement. Take pride in what you can do.”

This deep appreciation for physical health is what allows many clients to maintain fitness regimens and weight loss over time.

Recognize true enjoyment.

Most Precision Nutrition clients come to realize that they’ve been eating mindlessly—packing in calories without really tasting the food—for a long time.

“There’s nothing inherently wrong with dessert,” explains Yano, 35, who lost 76 pounds with Precision Nutrition.

He still enjoys dessert occasionally, of course, and finds that having it only once in awhile is the key to really appreciating it.

Yano’s Transformation

Lost 76 lbs and 20.9% body fat!

Age: 35 years
Weight Lost: 76 lbs (from 256 lbs to 180 lbs)
% Body Fat Lost: 20.9% (from 34.1% to 13.2%)
Waist Inches Lost: 10 inches (from 43 inches to 33 inches)

Feel like the ‘real you’ has gotten lost somewhere along the way?

Pay attention to your environment.

Recognizing how their surroundings might have caused unhealthy habits to develop—like 29-year-old Sarah’s years of work in fast food restaurants—allows many Precision Nutrition clients to discover the why of who they are and start zeroing in on the power of how to change it.

Sarah’s Transformation

Lost 52 lbs and 14.2% body fat!

Age: 29 years
Weight Lost: 52 lbs (from 191 lbs to 139 lbs)
% Body Fat Lost: 14.2% (from 26.3% to 12.1%)
Total Inches Lost: 50 inches (from 239 inches to 189 inches)

Don’t fall to pack mentality.

“It turns out that a lot of people have health and weight issues, just like I used to have,” Yano (above) says.

“And often they don’t want to eat poorly; they just do it because everyone else—friends, family, the people around them—is doing it. That was my problem for a long time.”

Dive below the surface.

We can skim the top of our diet issues and see some small, fleeting changes on the scale… or we can really dig into our relationship with food, and make it better for the long run.

For Sarah (above), letting herself get vulnerable as she went through Precision Nutrition’s program turned into her greatest strength, opening her up to the process of self-questioning:

“How have trying times brought me to where I am now, and how have I coped?” Sarah asked herself. “What do I really care about? What gives me joy? How can I get more of that?”

Along the way, Sarah lost 52 pounds.

Say goodbye to the old you.

This isn’t some meaningless cliché. We’ve found that many people harbor an invisible fear of losing themselves if they lose a bunch of weight.

Consciously mourn your old self as you greet the healthier you. Lots of Precision Nutrition clients were able to recognize and minimize certain anxieties this way.

Stay connected to what you love about yourself.

“Just remember, you deserve all of the amazing insights, strength gains, friendships, learning—whatever you take from this program as you find and discover a new and best version of yourself,” Sarah (above) says.

“You are worthy.”

Exhausted just thinking about how much work you’ll have to do?

Know that everyone—everyone—has to work at it.

Fit, healthy people who look like they’ve got it all figured out have to put effort into eating right, too.

We know because Precision Nutrition coaches themselves talk about it a lot.

Clients say getting to know them is comforting, because you can see how they’re so focused on learning, growing, and becoming the best versions of themselves.

De-emphasize the “work” in “working out”.

So many Precision Nutrition clients say that one outcome of our program—and something that helps them maintain an optimal exercise schedule—is coming to see movement as play, as fun, as release.

Find the activities you love, and moving your body will become something you seek out, not dread.

Let it be easy.

Like many Precision Nutrition clients, 34-year-old Chrystalene used to beat herself up when she failed, and thought she should be able to get fit without a speck of help.

Luckily, through Precision Nutrition Coaching, she learned, “it doesn’t have to be hard all the time. And it’s okay to seek support. There’s probably a way to make your heavy thing lighter, and finding out how to do that is worth it.”

Her results—86 pounds lost and a $25,000 Grand Prize from Precision Nutrition—show what’s possible when you relax a little, and lean on the people around you.

Chrystalene’s Transformation

Lost 86 lbs and 55 total inches!

Age: 34 years
Weight Lost: 86 lbs (from 259 lbs to 173 lbs)
Total Inches Lost: 55 inches (from 269 inches to 214 inches)

Swap “comparison” for inspiration.

Forget envy and intimidation. Precision Nutrition clients notice that the program allows them to stop saying, “That could never be me” and start thinking of others’ success stories as inspiration.

Lots of Precision Nutrition clients come to the program with significant health issues to solve. Talk to them and let their energy fuel you.

Just take small steps every day

It’s easy to think you have to make all of the changes, all at once. But small steps really do add up.

That’s what 51-year-old Mark—who lost 42 pounds and won a $25,000 Grand Prize—learned from Precision Nutrition Coaching.

Says Mark, “Be patient. Just show up every day and focus on making small changes consistently”.

Mark’s Transformation

Lost 42 lbs and 32 total inches!

Age: 51 years
Weight Lost: 42 lbs (from 192 lbs to 150 lbs)
Total Inches Lost: 32 inches (from 237 inches to 205 inches)

Know a lot about health and nutrition, but can’t seem to change?

Redefine “knowing”.

“It’s about realizing that no matter how smart I am and how much I know about exercise, if I’m not living it, I don’t really know it,” says Kevin, 40, who lost 37 pounds on the Precision Nutrition program.

Kevin’s Transformation

Lost 37 lbs and 12.8% body fat!

Age: 40 years
Weight Lost: 37 lbs (from 177 lbs to 140 lbs)
% Body Fat Lost: 12.8% (from 20.1% to 7.3%)
Waist Inches Lost: 21 inches (from 226 inches to 205 inches)

Let others take the helm.

Many Precision Nutrition clients know a whole lot about health and nutrition coming into our program. In fact, a lot of them are fitness instructors and health professionals themselves. Why’s the weight still sticking to them?

Their lightbulb moment: Relinquishing control to coaches, who offer the practical lifestyle advice, daily habits, and—this is key—accountability that’s needed to create real change.

Find your route at the grocery store.

“Knowing” is not always the same as “doing”. So many people trying to “eat clean” get derailed by the mere sight of processed food.

Precision Nutrition clients learn how to navigate the supermarket (or restaurants or their workplaces) to avoid temptation.

The secret: Stay on the perimeter. Calorie-packed chips, cookies, pasta, sauces, and dressings are in the middle. The good stuff like vegetables, meats, eggs, and fruits are stocked on the outside, away from the aisles.

That’s what 46-year-old John learned, and he lost 106 pounds.

John’s Transformation

Lost 106 lbs and 13% body fat!

Age: 46 years
Weight Lost: 106 lbs (from 332 lbs to 226 lbs)
% Body Fat Lost: 13% (from 39% to 26%)
Waist Inches Lost: 12 inches (from 50 inches to 38 inches)

Find accountability.

“The truth is, I probably knew three-quarters of Precision Nutrition Coaching’s dietary recommendations before I started,” says Peter, 52, who dropped 33 pounds with Precision Nutrition.

“But the secret to losing weight and maintaining a healthy weight is consistency,” he says. Get someone to breathe down your neck, and you’ll make healthy choices your habit.

Peter’s Transformation

Lost 33 lbs and 11% body fat!

Age: 52 years
Weight Lost: 33 lbs (from 180 lbs to 147 lbs)
% Body Fat Lost: 11% (from 18% to 7%)
Waist Inches Lost: 5 inches (from 35 inches to 30 inches)

Can’t figure out how to work it into your busy life?

Realize there’s no such thing as “too busy”.

Precision Nutrition’s program is practically custom-designed for people who think they just “don’t have the time”. Oftentimes they’re our most successful clients.

Lisanne, 39, lost 38 pounds on the Precision Nutrition program while taking care of three small kids—including a nursing infant—and getting certified as a yoga instructor and doula.

Other clients work multiple jobs or have to travel five days a week and never know where they’ll be staying next. They tell us that Precision Nutrition coaching actually ends up easing their schedule by lending structure to their lives.

Lisanne’s Transformation

Lost 38 lbs and 14% body fat!

Age: 39 years
Weight Lost: 38 lbs (from 160 lbs to 122 lbs)
% Body Fat Lost: 14% (from 36% to 22%)
Total Inches Lost: 41 inches (from 229 inches to 188 inches)

Focus on what you can do right now.

Forget what you can’t do. Figure out what you’re capable of in this moment, and build from there.

“I had to find it within me to accept that it was okay to do things a bit differently, says Richard, 49, who dropped 103 pounds in our yearlong program.

“I had to accept that it was okay to do what I was capable of.”

Eventually, Precision Nutrition clients internalize this mantra: Start wherever you are. Use whatever you have. Do whatever you can.

Richard’s Transformation

Lost 103 lbs and 20% body fat!

Age: 49 years
Weight Lost: 103 lbs (from 318 lbs to 215 lbs)
% Body Fat Lost: 20% (from 40.9% to 20.9%)
Total Inches Lost: 30 inches (from 285 inches to 255 inches)

Picture the health role model you want for your kids.

Now be that.

“I want my kids to be healthy and happy and proud of the way they’re living their lives,” Lisanne (above) says. “It’s not enough for me to pay lip service to that idea—I have to be an example.”

Don’t confuse selfishness with self-love.

A lot of Precision Nutrition clients worry that prioritizing themselves will take them away from the people who need them, potentially damaging professional or personal relationships.

Then they discover that the opposite is true: Caring for themselves by addressing their diet and lifestyle makes them look and feel better—and that actually makes them more accessible and present for other people.

Stop thinking you have to dedicate your whole life to losing weight.

Sure, some of the changes you have to make to get healthy will be fundamental. But the truth is that you only need a few hours per week to build a great body.

By getting the right kind of help and following simple yet powerful daily practices, anyone can lose weight, get healthy, and feel better.

That’s what 34-year-old Kia realized, and she lost 61 pounds.

Kia’s Transformation

Lost 61 lbs and 19% body fat!

Age: 34 years
Weight Lost: 61 lbs (from 199 lbs to 138 lbs)
% Body Fat Lost: 19% (from 37% to 18%)
Total Inches Lost: 50 inches (from 252 inches to 202 inches)

Sometimes get frustrated and then quit?

Recognize that progress isn’t usually a straight line.

If you’re gauging success based on how much you weigh each morning, you’re bound to give up before you can establish healthy habits or see real change.

Almost as a rule, our clients’ progress graphs look like a crazy, twisted line of progress, regress, more progress, and lessons learned along the way (we know, because our software tracks it for them so they can follow along the whole time).

A year later, dozens of pounds lost—for good. Worth the roller coaster ride, for sure.

Stop blaming external factors.

“What I learned was that I had to take responsibility for my own decisions,” says Heather, 37, who lost 47 pounds on the Precision Nutrition program.

“I had to get real with myself. I learned the difference between thinking, ‘I have to do x,’ and ‘I choose to do x,’ and ‘I’m doing x.’”

Heather’s Transformation

Lost 47 lbs and 10% body fat!

Age: 37 years
Weight Lost: 47 lbs (from 219 lbs to 172 lbs)
% Body Fat Lost: 10% (from 38% to 28%)
Total Inches Lost: 43 inches (from 253 inches to 210 inches)

Make health programs bend to your needs.

Too often, people trying to get fit become discouraged because exercise and nutrition programs seem inflexible, not designed for their lives.

That’s what Precision Nutrition coaches help with. We help you build an “Owner’s Manual” of operating instructions for your life.

49-year-old Cheryl lost 68 pounds—despite the fact that she was diagnosed with degenerative disc disease partway through the Precision Nutrition program. No heavy lifting? No problem. We helped her modify the workouts.

“In some ways, the diagnosis was a relief,” Cheryl says. “At least it was okay for me to admit that I hadn’t been doing what others were doing in the gym.”

Cheryl’s Transformation

Lost 68 lbs and 20% body fat!

Age: 49 years
Weight Lost: 68 lbs (from 245 lbs to 177 lbs)
% Body Fat Lost: 20% (from 44% to 24%)
Total Inches Lost: 65 inches (from 280 inches to 215 inches)

Rewrite the basics.

“When I was in the middle of it, losing weight was at the forefront of my mind; now, everything is a habit,” says 36-year-old Katey, who despite having virtually no compliance with the Precision Nutrition program for the first 90 days went on to lose an impressive 116 pounds.

The key? Allowing herself to make truly fundamental lifestyle changes. “It feels a lot more like living,” she says.

Katey’s Transformation

Lost 116 lbs and 21% body fat!

Age: 36 years
Weight Lost: 116 lbs (from 255 lbs to 139 lbs)
% Body Fat Lost: 21% (from 39% to 18%)
Total Inches Lost: 65 inches (from 260 inches to 195 inches)

Don’t let one cookie derail you.

“I realized I could have a clean slate every time I ‘messed up’ because this was about my healthy lifestyle, and not just a diet,” says Patricia, 46, who lost 69 pounds with Precision Nutrition.

“Precision Nutrition Coaching taught me habits and changed the way I view my body and the food I put in it. It’s a life plan, and it’s something I know I can manage forever.”

Patricia’s Transformation

Lost 69 lbs and 25% body fat!

Age: 46 years
Weight Lost: 69 lbs (from 250 lbs to 181 lbs)
% Body Fat Lost: 25% (from 50% to 25%)
Total Inches Lost: 35 inches (from 250 inches to 215 inches)

Don’t expect unbroken enthusiasm.

Look, at times it’s a slog—and that’s true for everyone.

“I learned that sometimes you have to drag your ass to the gym, even if you don’t feel like going, and it was a huge burden that got lifted off me,” says Kim, 25, who lost 24 pounds with Precision Nutrition.

“And while the workout may be slow moving and uninspired at first, once you’re there it’s super easy to finish.”

Kim’s Transformation

Lost 24 lbs and 16.3% body fat!

Age: 25 years
Weight Lost: 24 lbs (from 160 lbs to 136 lbs)
% Body Fat Lost: 16.3% (from 29.5% to 13.2%)

Remember that change can catch you by surprise.

42-year-old Javier lost 60 pounds and took home a $25,000 grand prize at the end of his Precision Nutrition Coaching program.

Yet, until he saw his final photos, he did not fully recognize the change he had undergone.

In fact, just a few weeks before the photoshoot he was threatening to quit, and it was only the encouragement of his coach that kept him going.

Javier’s lesson: “remember that the road to success is paved with failures.”

Javier’s Transformation

Lost 60 lbs and 32 total inches!

Age: 42 years
Weight Lost: 60 lbs (from 245 lbs to 185 lbs)
Total Inches Lost: 32 inches (from 269 inches to 237 inches)

Want help becoming the healthiest, fittest, strongest version of you?

Most people know that regular movement, eating well, sleep, and stress management are important for looking and feeling better. Yet they need help applying that knowledge in the context of their busy, sometimes stressful lives.

Over the past 15 years, we’ve used the Precision Nutrition Coaching method to help over 100,000 clients lose fat, get stronger, and improve their health… for the long-term… no matter what challenges they’re dealing with.

It’s also why we work with health, fitness, and wellness professionals (through our Level 1 and Level 2 Certification programs) to teach them how to coach their own clients through the same challenges.

Interested in Precision Nutrition Coaching? Join the presale list; you’ll save up to 54% and secure a spot 24 hours early.

We’ll be opening up spots in our next Precision Nutrition Coaching on Wednesday, January 15th, 2020.

If you’re interested in coaching and want to find out more, I’d encourage you to join our presale list below. Being on the 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 people because they always make the best clients. Join the presale list and you’ll save up to 54% off the general public price, which is the lowest price we’ve ever offered.
  • You’re more likely to get a spot. To give clients the personal care and attention they deserve, we only open up the program twice a year. Last time we opened registration, we sold out within minutes. 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 change your body, and your life, with help from the world’s best coaches, this is your chance.

[Note: If your health and fitness are already sorted out, but you’re interested in helping others, check out our Precision Nutrition Level 1 Certification program].

The post Coaching: 35 lessons from Precision Nutrition’s most successful clients. Advice on how to get in your best shape from people who’ve done it. appeared first on Precision Nutrition.

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“What should I charge?”

At some point, every nutrition coach asks that question.

You could be just starting out and have no idea what’s fair. Maybe you have years of experience but wonder if your rates should be higher. Or perhaps you’ve heard what competitors charge and think, “Why not me?”

Trouble is, it’s hard to get a satisfying answer.

Even if you ask a coaching group on social media, the rates will often vary wildly among coaches, leaving you forever waffling between guilt (“Am I overcharging?”) and resentment (“I’m not getting paid enough!”).

How can you ever know the right amount for your services?

Through the power of data, thank you very much.

We asked more than 1,000 nutrition coaches: What do you charge? 

But we didn’t stop there: We also inquired about their coaching practice, experience, client base, certifications, and more—because, when you’re determining what to charge, it all matters.

Then we ran a statistical analysis to see how each of these factors related to one another. End result: a report that showcases real income data from real coaches, along with the most relevant, practical takeaways for maximizing what you make.

In this article, you’ll discover:

  • What most nutrition coaches typically charge per hour
  • How to increase your hourly rate—with confidence
  • The secret sauce behind the top-tier rates of “super earners”
  • Your roadmap to price setting: What to charge today, and how to set yourself up to charge more in the future

Let’s dive in.

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What do most nutrition coaches charge?

According to our survey, the median hourly rate for nutrition coaching is $65 per hour. Just in case it’s been a while since you took a math class, here’s a quick refresher on the word median. It represents the midpoint. In other words, half the coaches we surveyed make less than $65 per hour. Half make more. (Note: All rates are in US dollars.)

Of the coaches who make more, we noticed two distinct groups.

  • High earners who charge $10 to $15 an hour more than the median rate
  • Super earners who are absolutely crushing it—charging double the median rate

If you’re currently charging below the median rate, don’t worry. We’re going to tell you how to go from a lower rate to a higher one.

It doesn’t take much of an hourly jump to make a big difference. For example, a $15 per hour raise can really add up fast. If you work 20 hours per week, that’s $300 more a week—and $15,600 more per year.

That’s a pretty sweet income bump.

But making good money isn’t just about how much you charge—it can also be about how many clients you have. (You already knew that, didn’t you?)

Turns out, people who charge more tend to have more clients. The super earners in our survey were more likely to have 20+ clients than people who charged less than the median rate.

Why? We can’t say for sure, but we do know this: The secrets to higher rates (more experience and more education, for example) are also the secrets to netting more clients.

So keep reading to find out how to go from a regular earner to a high earner—and then from a high earner to a super earner.

It Pays to Diversify

When we broke down rates by coaching type, we learned that in-person coaches who work with people face-to-face (say, at a gym, in an office, or in the client’s home) make roughly the same as online coaches who work digitally, through a website and email ($65/hour vs. $64.50/hour). People who do hybrid coaching (a mix of in-person and online), however, are charging significantly more: $75/hour.

Five Secrets of High Earners

According to our research, high earners share several traits in common: experience, number of certifications, coaching hours, specialization, and confidence. Below, we explore each.

Secret #1: Set rates based on your experience.

Not surprisingly, more experienced coaches charge higher rates than less experienced coaches. They also have another income advantage: Coaches with more experience tend to have more clients.

In our survey, most coaches with just one to four clients had two or fewer years of experience. Coaches with 20 or more clients, on the other hand, were much more likely to have more than three years experience, and more than a quarter of these booked-solid coaches had six or more years experience.

This makes sense because with more experience comes word-of-mouth marketing, says Mike Doehla, a Precision Nutrition Level 1 certified coach.

Doehla started coaching a few years ago with just a few clients, charging $120 for 12 weeks of his services. It didn’t cover the bills, which is why he kept his day job as a human resources manager.

As they reached their goals, however, those initial clients gushed about Doehla to just about anyone who would listen. More and more clients came Doehla’s way, so he inched up the rate for his 12-week package: $165, $175, $185…

Eventually, he founded Stronger U, a coaching company that charges $399 for 12-week programs, employs 69 coaches, and rakes in millions a year.

“The value comes from clients having a good experience and then telling everyone they know about us,” Doehla says. “99 percent of our customers come from word of mouth.”

Secret #2: Keep learning.

Education and certifications can give you confidence in your abilities, so you feel like your services are worth more (see secret #5). They also give clients the assurance they need to feel you’re worth your rate. 

In our survey data, we found that coaches with one nutrition certification earned slightly more per hour than those with no certifications. (That’s no surprise, of course.)

We also found that coaches with a nutrition degree, two or more nutrition certifications, or one Precision Nutrition certification earned $12 more per hour than those with a single, non-Precision Nutrition certification.

In other words, the more certifications and education coaches have, the more coaches tend to earn.

But the programs you choose, and what you put into them, matter. Here’s why: The best certification and educational programs require you to invest more time and effort into mastering your craft.

If you’re just going through the motions and getting a certification for the piece of paper, you aren’t as likely to end up with that same level of confidence, which may prevent you from charging more. (Think of it as a mental barrier.) So, choose your certifications wisely, and embrace the learning process. It literally pays off.

In addition to a higher hourly rate, more certifications are also associated with more clients. In our survey, we saw that coaches with 20+ clients are also more likely to have two or more certifications.

To be clear: Clients don’t start lining up for your services on the day you earn a new certification. It’s more complex than that. Certifications help by giving you skills, knowledge, and confidence, which makes clients more likely to put their trust in you over someone else. Qualifications matter to clients. And what matters to clients needs to matter to you.

Secret #3: Make coaching your main hustle.

Sometimes it makes perfect sense to tack nutrition coaching onto an existing job, especially if you’re just starting out or thinking about a career change.

But if you really want to be a top-earner in this profession, consider dedicating yourself to nutrition coaching full-time. (Learn more: The real key to career success that almost no one is talking about.)

According to our survey, people who coach nutrition as a sole profession charge more than those who don’t, which begs the question: How do you know when it’s time to go all in?

For that answer, we sought Doehla’s advice once again. That’s because he spent 13 months working full-time in HR as he built his coaching business on the side. “Near the end, I was making more in a month from coaching than I was from my full-time job per year.”

To determine whether you’re ready to go all in, he says, “Figure out how much money you need to pay the bills and then double it.”

If you’re pulling that much, you’re definitely ready to coach full-time.

Secret #4: Consider specializing.

If you’re qualified to work with a special population, you might be able to charge more. For example, nutrition coaches who work with people with special health considerations told us they charge a median rate of $73 per hour. Coaches who work with seniors said they charge $70 per hour. That’s $5 to $7 above the median rate.

Now, your choice to specialize should come mainly from your passion to serve that specific population rather than your desire to pay your bills. Work with a niche group because you want to and are qualified to help them, and not just because you think it’s a ticket to higher rates.

And remember: Correlation doesn’t necessarily mean causation. Coaches who work with these populations may be able to charge more because of other factors (like years of experience, perhaps).

Finally, keep in mind that certain populations may also require you to charge less depending on what that population can afford. (For example, the median rate for coaches working with youth was just $60 per hour.)

Secret #5: Believe in your worth.

Coaches who feel “completely confident” in their coaching skills say they charge $75 per hour, while coaches who are only “somewhat confident,” or “a little confident or less” charge just $60 per hour.

That’s a significant difference: $15 more per hour based on confidence.

So, how exactly do you build it?

The answer: Practice secrets #1 and #2.

With experience (secret #1), each successful encounter helps you to feel ready for the next. And certifications (secret #2) help you feel secure in your knowledge and skills.

But you need both.

Some people make the mistake of leaning too heavily into their education at the expense of gaining experience. They go to workshop after workshop and gain certification after certification as they wait and wait for the “okay, now I’m ready to coach” feeling to materialize, says Precision Nutrition Coach Kate Solovieva, who frequently fields questions from coaches about what to charge.

“New coaches want to feel 100% confident before they coach a single person. They want to feel like they know ‘enough.’ In other words, they want to wait until they aren’t scared anymore. Unfortunately, that moment never arrives. The best advice I can give to coaches starting out is to just start coaching,” Solovieva says.

You may wonder, “Can I really deliver? Am I good enough?” Waiting won’t answer that question, though. At a certain point, you need to do one and only one thing: Start coaching.

To reduce your anxiety, consider: Would you refuse treatment from a resident doctor? Would you ask to have your child moved from a classroom with a first-year teacher? If not, is it possible that potential clients have more confidence in you than you currently have in yourself?

Secrets of Super Earners

We just told you the secrets used by high earners. Now suppose you want to go even bigger and achieve a top-tier price point. How do you get there? Our data revealed some interesting insights.

In our survey, the top 10% of earners are charging more than $120 per hour. That’s nearly double the typical (median) rate.

What makes them special? Here’s what we noticed.

Super earners were more likely to…

  • Have a nutrition degree or advanced certification such as Precision Nutrition Level 2 Master Class.
  • Have more than two certifications.
  • Have at least 3-5 years of experience.
  • Work in a more specialized environment, such as a medical practice or in corporate wellness.
  • Work with special populations.
  • Offer a mix of in-person and online coaching as well as nutrition seminars.
  • Work in nutrition coaching full-time.

Remember: super earners were statistically more likely to have those seven traits, but not every super earner had all seven. Just because you lack a nutrition degree, for example, doesn’t mean you can’t reach the super earner level. Rather than fixate on what you can’t do, focus on what you can.

If you can’t go back to school, for example, maybe you can set aside money and time each year to take new seminars or gather additional certifications. That’s what the most successful fit pros do. Take Alwyn Cosgrove, MS, co-founder of Results Fitness in California, and Michael Piercy, MS, owner of The LAB in New Jersey. They’ve taken courses from just about every health and fitness organization you can name.

Piercy, in fact, has earned a stunning 32 certifications (including Precision Nutrition Level 2). And you have to figure: It’s probably no coincidence he was also named the 2017 IDEA Global Personal Trainer of the Year, a TRX Master Instructor, and an ACE Master Trainer.

Okay, so what do I charge today?

Use the following chart, based on our data, to assess how much to charge based on where you’re at right now. And, if you want to increase your rate, this chart can also help you determine what you might need to do to get there.

(For all you fellow data nerds who want to know how we arrived at this: The following examples are based on what coaches are statistically more likely to have in common, according to our survey data.)

Once again, there are no hard and fast rules. Consider this a potential roadmap, not a rule book.

The above is based on what we’ve seen among our 1000+ survey respondents, so it provides a reasonable method to help you assess yourself and get started.

But please don’t let the categories constrain you. It’s up to you to define success for yourself.

For example, do you strive to be an expensive coach at the top of their game who always over delivers? Great! Go for it.

Or is your goal to simply go from “free” coach to “paid coach?” Awesome.

Perhaps your focus is on helping lower-income folks get healthier and you’re willing to work on a “pay what you can” model. Fantastic. More power to you.

Regardless of your goals, if you’re not where you want to be yet, that’s okay. Strive for progress, not perfection. Even the highest-earning coaches had to start somewhere.

Nutrition coaching is a highly customizable profession. You get to create it for yourself. Where you go from here is up to you.

What to do next…

Step 1: Practice your craft.

Get all the practice you can. Putting in the time is essential to gaining confidence, credibility, and ultimately a higher rate.

It’s also the secret to staying in the business long term. At Precision Nutrition, we’ve found that the people who get three to five clients right away are more likely to still be coaching a year later.

Go ahead and offer your services to family and friends, even if you don’t charge them initially. (You might think of it as your unpaid internship.) Be that person who generously gives incredibly helpful advice on social media. Eventually, as you help more and more people, you’ll grow into a more confident, more skilled coach—and the people you help will tell others about you.

Step 2: Give yourself a deadline.

Lots of coaches, especially those just starting out, don’t charge money for their services at first. They got into this line of work because they love nutrition, they love working out, and they just want to help people.

But eventually, you need to pay the electricity bill and feed the dog.

If you’re not charging for your services, ask yourself: “At what point will I start charging, and how will I know when I’m there?”

For example, perhaps you’ll start charging after a certain date or after coaching a certain number of people.

But whatever you choose, make sure you clearly define it. Otherwise, “the danger is that the bar is always moving,” says Solovieva.

“Many coaches believe they must be at a certain level before asking for money. They tell themselves, ‘I can’t charge people until I graduate from my cert, until I know enough, until I feel like I can answer any question, until I’ve arrived’, and so on,” she says.

It’s way too easy for “until” to populate your thought process continually.

At a certain point, in order to transition to a bonafide coach who gets paid for your services, you must set a price.

Sure, that leap can feel intimidating, or even scary, but waiting a little longer probably won’t help. “The truth is, you’ll always be afraid,” says Solovieva.

So pick a date and stick to it.

Step 3: Set your rate and feel confident about it.

When new coaches tell Kate Solovieva that they have “absolutely no idea” what to charge, she challenges that belief by taking them through an experiment.

Kate Solovieva: Okay, so how do you feel about charging $1/hour?

New Coach: Giggles.

Kate Solovieva: You’re giggling. Why?

New Coach: Because that’s way too low.

Kate Solovieva: Okay, well, how about $1,000/hour?

New Coach: Woah. That’s way too high.

Kate Solovieva: Hmm. So, already you have some idea in terms of what is too low and what is too high. Awesome. Let’s keep going. How do you feel about $500/hour?

New Coach: Still too high.

Kate Solovieva: $20 an hour?

New Coach: Too low.

And the conversation goes on until they arrive at a range that feels right.

Try it. You’ll come away with a baseline minimum rate for your services, along with your ceiling (even if that top rate is aspirational at the moment). From that range, go with the lowest number, based on your experience and education, you feel you could comfortably charge, Solovieva recommends.

Step 4: Consider whether you want to charge by the hour or by the package (or both).

For beginner coaches, hourly rates offer a great starting point. But as you gain experience—and especially if you coach online—monthly or package rates work better. Here’s why: Coaching involves a lot of work that doesn’t fit neatly into an hourly structure.

For example, let’s say a client texts you a picture of a brand of protein powder and asks for your opinion. You text back and forth for a few minutes. If you only charge by the hour, how do you invoice for those few minutes? And is it even worth your time to send an invoice for a few dollars?

Monthly or package rates can bake in those short interactions. They also simplify billing.

So how do you translate the median hourly rates mentioned earlier into package and monthly rates?

Do the following:

Define your package length.
Many coaches choose 12 weeks because it provides just enough time for clients to see meaningful results.

Consider what you’ll offer.
How many consultations will you include? Will you provide added services such as nutritional evaluations, menu development, or written resources? Once you decide on the scope of your package, consider the number of hours involved. How long will it take to develop materials? Meet with each client? Keep track of client data?

Create a pricing range that seems fair for the work involved.
Use Solovieva’s thought experiment from step 3. Does $1 for 12 weeks sound right? (Of course not!) How about $1000 a month?

Okay, let’s try $25 for 12 weeks? $750?

Keep upping the low number and reducing the high number until you have a range that feels fair, both to you and to potential clients.

And keep in mind that your package rate may not, at first, break down into an hourly rate that truly pays the bills. As you gather more clients and lean on existing resources, your hourly rate will climb, Solovieva promises.

In the meantime, consider reducing how much you offer (perhaps two monthly consultations rather than four) rather than boosting your rate, especially if you’re just starting out, says Solovieva. That way, you’ll keep your monthly rate low enough to attract new clients as you gain experience.

Step 5: As you gain education and experience, raise your rates.

It can be awkward to raise your rates when you have existing clients who are used to paying a certain amount. Some coaches even worry it’s a betrayal.

But coaching is a business like any other, and it’s perfectly reasonable to increase your profits over time.

A good rule of thumb: Bump up your prices by 3 percent once a year to cover inflation, plus additional increases to reflect new training or services.

And don’t worry. “When you have social proof that what you do works, you can raise prices,” says Doehla. “You’ll earn the confidence to keep going higher by seeing that people still purchase what you’re selling each time you increase your rate.”

Overall, most coaches find that their clients actually applaud small fee adjustments. If you’re doing a good job for them, then they’re in your corner as much as you’re in theirs. Just give them plenty of notice (four to six weeks is enough), and let them know in writing through your newsletter or a handout when price increases are coming.

Make sure to tell them about any courses you’ve taken, testimonials and proven results you’ve gathered, or new tools or equipment you’ve added, so they feel they’re getting better service than ever.

What’s next—for you?

So now you know how your rates compare to others—and, even more important, what to do to confidently nudge your rate upwards. Exactly how you put our results into practice will depend on where you are right now.

But our final piece of advice applies no matter whether you’re a super earner or you’ve yet to earn a dollar from coaching. It’s this: Never stop practicing, never stop learning, and never stop growing into the absolute best coach you can be. Keep doing those three things and higher rates will always follow.

(Download a PDF of this exclusive report.)

What if you could make a real difference in the lives of others—and never feel confused about nutrition again?

When it comes to better health and fitness, focusing on nutrition is the most important and effective step. But there’s a big problem: Most people don’t feel qualified to coach nutrition, especially in a way that leads to deep health and lasting change.

That’s where we come in. 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 over 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 30% 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, April 8th, 2020.

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 30% 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.

The post Level 1: Nutrition coaching: How much should you charge? This exclusive report shows what it really takes to earn top-tier rates. appeared first on Precision Nutrition.

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There are some things just about everyone knows. Take this one: To lose fat, you need to watch what you eat.

No one has to hire a coach for that advice.

But knowing how to monitor food intake? That’s something clients really need. Only it can be hard to know the best approach.

Some experts tell you to count calories or meticulously measure every macro. Others encourage you to estimate portions. Still others want you to “listen to your body.”

Sometimes it seems like the entire health and fitness industry is divided.

But guess what? Calorie counting works.

Measuring macros? Also works.

Tracking hand portions? Same.

Mindful eating? Intuitive eating? Yep, those work too.

You get the picture: Every method works. (If implemented well.)

The real question: What’ll work best for you (or your clients)right now?

In this article, we’ll help you determine the most effective way to manage food intake, based on personal preferences, lifestyle, and goals. You’ll discover the answers to these common food-monitoring questions:

  • Do you really need to count calories and macros? And if so, for how long?
  • Is tracking hand portions anywhere near as accurate as weighing and measuring your food?
  • Can strategies like mindful and intuitive eating really help you lose fat? Or are they overrated?

These answers can help you (or your clients) finally get the results you want. And along the way, gain even more: a healthy relationship with food and the skills that make nutritious eating seem effortless.  

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Most people don’t realize how much they’re eating.

Case in point: Research shows folks often under-estimate their food intake, sometimes by as much as 30 to 50 percent.1

Two likely reasons:

1. They don’t realize how calorically-dense many foods can be. Yes, they might know an overflowing plate is a sure way to pack on the pounds. But two slices of meat lover’s pizza before bed? How bad could that be? (Try 1,000 calories.) 

2. They often misjudge portions (around two-thirds of the time, in fact). Without a handy reference point, it’s easy to accidentally consume a lot more calories than intended.

As a result, many people struggle to recognize how many calories their meals have and fail to eat foods in appropriately-sized portions.

(You’re probably not shocked by this.)

There’s a well-known fix, of course: food tracking. Namely:

  • Calorie counting
  • Macro counting
  • Hand portion tracking

These methods act as “external guides” that can help you eat the right amounts of food for your body at the right intervals. Do that long enough and you’ll begin to retrain your body to better regulate the hormones that tell you when you’re hungry and full.

You’ll also be able to more easily adjust your calorie and macronutrient intake, which is key for changing your body weight and composition (or even keeping them the same).

Think of these food tracking methods as nutritional training wheels.

They give you the guidance and calibration you (or your clients) need to achieve balance on your own.

Some people need these training wheels for longer or shorter periods of time or require a combination of tracking strategies to find their balance.

But ultimately, the goal is to shed your training wheels—or external guides—and move towards knowing what, how much, and when to eat without militant tracking or monitoring.

Because let’s face it: Counting calories and grams is a lot of work. And though it can be very beneficial for short periods of time, most people don’t want to do it long term.

This is where “internal guides” come in. Specifically, mindful eating and intuitive eating.

These methods are critical for helping you tune into your body’s appetite signals. They help you better sense when you’re truly hungry and to stop eating once you’re satisfied. This is a skill known as self-regulation

Babies self-regulate naturally, stopping when they’re full, no matter how much milk or formula is left in a bottle. Most adults, however, have forgotten how to tap into this ability. 

Mindful and intuitive eating can help you regain this skill. These methods also enhance the results you get from food tracking. (And vice versa.)

All of which helps you more easily manage your food intake, based on a combination of:

  • hunger and fullness cues
  • nutritional knowledge
  • understanding what works for you individually

This is where most of us want to be. But no one accomplishes this overnight. It’s a skill that takes practice.

Our guide will show you (and your clients) how to get there. 

Choose the right method.

Determining the most appropriate method comes down to picking the right tool for the right job.

You can do this by asking:

“What problem does food monitoring help me solve?”

Think about why you want to manage your food intake. Maybe you want to…

  • Lose weight and get healthier
  • Better understand your eating habits
  • See how your diet affects athletic performance
  • Look better
  • Achieve a specific body fat percentage
  • Improve your relationship with food
  • Work on your eating behavior and food awareness

Depending on what you hope to accomplish, one approach may be more appropriate than another.

But it’s unlikely any single method will keep working long term.

In fact, you’ll get better results by combining approaches over time. Use the guide that follows to determine which method:

  • makes the most sense for your current goals
  • feels doable
  • fits your day-to-day routine

Method #1: Calorie and macro counting

With calorie counting, you have a set number of calories to eat each day based on your height, weight, age, activity level, and goals.

With macro counting, calories are divided between three main macronutrients: protein, carbohydrates, and fat. (Alcohol is also a macronutrient and could be tracked, if desired.) Rather than counting calories specifically, you keep track of how many grams of each macronutrient you’re eating. (This indirectly tracks calories too, since macronutrients make up the calories in food and drinks.)

Though calorie and macro counting are slightly different, they’re similar in the sense that they’re both pretty labor-intensive. With either method, you’d ideally use a food scale and/or measuring tools (cups, spoons) to weigh and measure your food at virtually every meal.

You’d also be searching a calorie database (such as MyFitness Pal or Cronometer) to find and log the nutritional value of what you’re eating. Or you might use nutrition labels to manually calculate your intake.

Why use calorie and macro counting?

Research shows it works. Tracking calories and macronutrients—even without any other dietary counseling—helps people lose up to five percent of their body weight, finds research.2 For someone who weighs 200 pounds, that’s a 10-pound weight loss.

It provides maximal precision. Calorie and macro tracking aren’t 100 percent accurate, but they’re the most precise methods available outside of a lab. Important note: If you decide to estimate serving sizes—instead of weighing and measuring your food—this method becomes less accurate.

You learn calorie counts. By tracking macros or calories, you become more aware of how many calories are in everything you eat and drink. Like that a typical 8-ounce margarita has 450 calories or that your favorite restaurant salad packs more calories than two Big Macs.

Calorie and macro counting work well for…

Short-term use. Tracking your calories or macros for a couple of weeks can help you learn more about your current eating habits. It also gives you a better understanding of appropriate portions. Once you have the hang of it, you can transition to hand portions and, eventually, self-regulation.

People with advanced needs. More precision is needed for more precise goals. For example, let’s say someone needs to weigh exactly 125 pounds to make their weight class, or be exactly 8% body fat for their profession. Tracking calories and/or macros is generally the most effective way to get there.

Numbers-oriented folks. Some people truly enjoy the process of collecting calorie and macronutrient data, and then monitoring changes in weight, body size, and health markers such as blood pressure and cholesterol. They’re also usually emotionally detached from the numbers—seeing them as information rather than assigning them “good” or “bad” values. For these people, tracking calories or macros can feel empowering.

Calorie and macro counting are less ideal for…

Most people. In our experience coaching over 100,000 clients, the average person just won’t stick to it for long. That goes for everyone from elite athletes to 60-year old grandparents. They don’t want to bother with calorie math or meticulously tracking everything they eat.

And research shows that even people who like this method tend to stop using it over time.3,4 One likely reason: It can take the joy out of eating. For example, you might be so worried about hitting your macros you struggle to find pleasure in the social aspects of eating. (Like sharing a good meal with family and friends.)

What’s more, for some people, this type of food tracking may actually be unhealthy. Preliminary evidence suggests associations between calorie and macro tracking apps and three types of disordered eating.5,6,7

  • Binge eating: the overwhelming urge to consume as much food as possible, as fast as possible
  • Cognitive dietary restraint: feeling like you’re constantly making an effort to limit what you eat
  • Moralizing food: labeling what you eat as “good” and “bad” and attaching your self-worth to your food choices

Those at highest risk: People who tend to be overly self-critical, are prone to disordered eating, or have had an eating disorder in the past.

This isn’t just a research finding; it corresponds to what many coaches, dietitians, and counselors observe in their practices. (Which is the reason it was studied in the first place.)

That’s why we usually recommend you count calories and macros for only short periods of time. Or to people who need to achieve very specific body composition goals for their profession.

Remember: A tool is only as good as the job it does. So, if:

  • macro counting truly works for you;
  • you genuinely enjoy it;
  • you find it empowering and interesting; and
  • you’re meeting your goals with it easily and productively…

…then, by all means, keep doing it.

If, on the other hand:

  • macro counting makes you feel confused, anxious, distracted, distressed, or any other negative emotion;
  • you find it onerous, time-consuming, and effortful;
  • you’re putting a lot of attention towards it, creating an imbalanced life;
  • you’re spending more time on it than actually doing the things that help you reach your goal… 

… then consider other options and tactics (like the ones that follow). 

Method #2: Hand portions

In this system—developed by Precision Nutrition—you use your hand as a personalized, portable portioning tool. You’re not actually measuring your food, but rather using your hand to gauge portion size. And because each hand portion correlates to a certain number of protein, carbs, or fat, this method counts calories and macros for you. 

  • Your palm determines your protein portions.
  • Your fist determines your vegetable portions.
  • Your cupped hand determines your carb portions.
  • Your thumb determines your fat portions.

The way it works is simple: Just enter your sex, body weight, goals, activity level, and eating preferences into the Precision Nutrition Calculator. The calculator then reveals the recommended calories and macros for reaching your goal.

Then it converts those numbers to the equivalent hand portions. So all you have to do is use your hands to get the recommended number of daily portions. (The Precision Nutrition Calculator also gives you a free personalized report and eating guide to help you get started.)

Why use hand portion tracking?

It’s convenient and easy to understand. Your hands are with you everywhere you go. They’re proportional to your body and always the same size. So they serve as a reliable reference point—without the need for measuring cups or a food scale.

Customization is simple. If you’re not seeing the results you want, all you have to do is adjust the number of portions you’re eating. For instance, you could remove one cupped hand of carbs and one thumb of fats from your daily intake, and see what happens.

It’s also easy to make adjustments based on your preferences. You can swap a handful of carbs for an extra thumb-sized serving of fats, or vice versa.

Plus, you can use this approach to follow any preferred eating style, whether it’s Paleo, keto, Mediterranean, or plant-based.

It’s precise enough. For most people—even those seeking body transformation—it’s not necessary to meticulously measure or weigh food.

Our internal research shows hand portions are 95 percent as accurate as carefully weighing, measuring, and tracking, but with substantially less effort and time involved. 

And since calorie databases—the tool most people use to track calories and macros—can be off by as much as 20 percent, the five percent difference here is negligible for most.8

Make no mistake: Hand portions aren’t as accurate as macro tracking. But they are accurate enough to help you consistently track your food intake, and reach your goals. And that’s what really matters.

Hand portion tracking works well for…

People with busy, messy, complex lives. So basically everyone. Compared to scales and tracking apps, hand portions make it far easier to consistently gauge how much you’re eating.

Most body composition goals. Unless you’re chasing extreme results against a non-negotiable deadline—for instance, you get paid for how your body looks or performs—hand portions can get you where you want to go.

Hand portions are less ideal for…

People with the most aggressive goals. Professional physique athletes and models may need a more precise strategy. It’s the same with athletes who need to cut weight or reach a specific body fat percentage—such as in preparation for a UFC fight. Keep in mind: These people are essentially being paid to eat this way. It’s part of their job. And that comes with tradeoffs.

Method #3: Mindful and intuitive eating

Mindful eating means paying attention to the experience, feelings, and sensations you have around eating. Practices like eating slowly and eating until 80 percent full are a part of mindful eating. Instead of focusing on eating certain types or amounts of food, mindful eating teaches you how to regulate your food intake by noticing how your body and mind feel when you eat.

Intuitive eating is a similar system, but it rejects “diet” messaging and culture. Intuitive eating wasn’t originally intended to achieve a specific body composition goal, but rather to improve your overall relationship with food.

Both approaches involve learning how to tell whether you’re hungry or not, know when you’ve had enough, and be at ease with food.

Why use mindful and intuitive eating?

These approaches foster a healthy relationship with food. By practicing mindful and intuitive eating, you can improve your ability to self-regulate. Over time, you’ll remove the training wheels of external guides—calorie counting, macro counting, and tracking hand portions—and enjoy more flexibility and freedom, while staying on track.

Mastering these self-regulatory skills has also been shown to strengthen self-efficacy—the belief you can reach your goals.9 This can work wonders for your confidence, motivation, and self-assuredness in pursuing your health goals. (It’s pretty valuable for everyday life, too.)

The principles can be applied anytime, anywhere. No matter what food options are available, you can always eat slowly and mindfully. Understanding what it feels like to be hungry, satiated, full, and/or overstuffed is a lifelong skill. These methods give you practice.

You learn that hunger isn’t an emergency. When you feel hungry, it’s common to panic and want to eat whatever you see. But when you start paying attention to your hunger cues, you learn that you’re absolutely going to feel hungry sometimes. And you discover that’s okay.

Nothing bad will happen if you don’t eat immediately. You might even find the feeling passes. Or that you actually aren’t all that hungry. It could be you were craving food to help you cope with pain, shame, guilt, or stress. (Sixty-three percent of our clients say emotional eating is their #1 nutritional challenge.)

You might also realize you are, in fact, really hungry. But by understanding that hunger isn’t an emergency, you’ll have the time and space to make more thoughtful food choices.

Our clients consistently report this is one of the most powerful things they learn in our coaching program. Want to learn more? Check out Conquer your cravings: Break the sinister cycle that makes you overeat.

Mindful and intuitive eating work well for…

Anyone whose main goal is to improve their relationship with food. These are folks who don’t have weight or body composition-related goals (at least not right now). Instead, they just want to feel more at peace with their food choices.

People using other food monitoring methods. (Or are ready to transition away from them.) Mindful and intuitive eating by themselves have a mixed track record for weight loss results.10,11,12,13 But since they help people build fundamental eating skills they can use forever, we highly recommend them.

When mindful or intuitive eating are combined with a method such as tracking hand portions, calories, or macros, it’s the best of both worlds: You get external guidelines to help you become more aware and make better choices. And you learn to better self-regulate your intake by paying attention to how food makes you feel.

What to do next…

Step 1: Start where you are

Determine the approach that best matches your (or your client’s) lifestyle, goals, and preferences. For most people, this means a combination of methods.

Use the nutritional training wheel approach—calorie counting, macro counting, hand portion tracking—to learn how to:

  • Better gauge portion sizes
  • Build quality meals
  • Optimize your progress

To track your food intake, you’ll need to determine your starting point.

You can do this by entering your details into the Precision Nutrition Calculator. This will provide the calories, macros, and hand portions to eat to achieve your desired goal—whether you want to lose weight, gain weight, or simply eat for better health.

Then use the targets that correspond to your chosen tracking method. This is your baseline. Follow this approach as consistently as possible for two weeks.

Ideally, combine your food tracking efforts with intuitive/mindful strategies: paying attention to your internal cues, eating slowly, and stopping when you’re about 80 percent full. (We recommend that, remember?)

Step 2: Monitor and adjust

When it comes to tracking your food, accuracy is an illusion.

All tracking options—even the most careful calorie counting—are inaccurate to some degree. (See why here.)

Fortunately, when it comes to food tracking, pinpoint accuracy isn’t what really drives results.

Consistency is what’s most important. 

Here’s why: When you track what you eat, regardless of which one you choose, you’re getting a consistent measurement of your food intake. So even though the calorie counts aren’t 100 percent accurate, you’ve still established a solid and repeatable baseline.

Then you monitor your progress:

Are you (or your client) losing weight, gaining weight, or maintaining? 

From here, you simply use your preferred tracking method to adjust your food intake, if needed, to achieve your desired outcome.

This process happens no matter how accurate your food tracking method. Because guess what?

There’s no way to precisely predict how many calories your body needs each day. Even the best calculators only provide an estimate to start from.

Think of it as an experiment. If you don’t get the results you want, make small tweaks until you see progress.

Let’s say you want to lose weight and the Precision Nutrition Calculator advises you eat:

  • 2,500 calories per day (if you’re counting calories)
  • 200 grams of protein, 200 grams of carbs, and 100 grams of fat per day (if you’re counting macros)
  • 7 palms of protein, 6 fists of vegetables, 6 handfuls of carbs, and 7 thumbs of fats per day (if you’re tracking hand portions)

But after two weeks, the scale hasn’t budged.

Your next move? You could reduce your intake by:

  • 250 calories per day (if you’re counting calories)
  • 30 grams of carbs and 15 grams of fat (if you’re counting macros)
  • 1 handful of carbs and 2 thumbs of fat (if you’re tracking hand portions)

(Or, if you’re trying to gain weight instead, you could increase your intake by those amounts.)

Monitor for another two to four weeks, and if needed, adjust again using the same process.

Now you’re making modifications using feedback from your progress, not on your initial calculations. This is how you optimize your food intake for your individual needs.

Step 3: Find your sweet spot

As you reach your goals, you can fully transition to self-regulation.

This doesn’t mean you have to forget about calories or macros or hand portions. In fact, you’ll continue to use the skills you’ve built to get to this point.

For example, you now:

  • Have a better sense of how many calories and macros you’re eating
  • Understand appropriate portion sizes
  • Have an increased awareness of food quality

You may still reference your palm when determining how much protein to put on your plate, but you won’t need to track it. In essence, you’ve now internalized these external guides.

So you’re now using what you know to mindfully build out meals (without moralizing food). But you’re only doing so when you’re physically hungry. (Unless you’re making a conscious choice to eat something when not hungry.) And then you’re eating these meals slowly, until satisfied.

But also know this: Whenever you want to make significant body changes, you may find it helpful—even necessary—to use external guides again. The methods are there for you, if the need arises.

And remember: Think beyond the food

Food is important, but it’s not the only thing that matters. That’s true even if weight loss is your goal. A well-rounded program will focus on not just nutrition, but also on:

  • getting more quality sleep
  • moving regularly
  • stress management
  • improving your outlook and mindset

So that you (or your clients) are thriving in all domains of health.

Because ultimately, isn’t that the kind of deep health you’re really after?

If you’re a coach, or you want to be…

Learning how to coach clients, patients, friends, or family members through healthy eating and lifestyle changes—in a way that matches their lifestyle, goals, and preferences—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 over 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 30% 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, April 8th, 2020.

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 30% 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.

References

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

The post Level 1: Macros vs calories vs portions vs intuitive eating: What’s the best way to ‘watch what you eat?’ appeared first on Precision Nutrition.

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Do you want to lose weight? Gain muscle? Improve health? Boost performance? This free calorie, portion, and macro calculator from Precision Nutrition can help you achieve the results you want… more easily than ever before.

Designed, developed, and tested in the Precision Nutrition research lab—and proven effective with thousands of clients—it’s the most comprehensive calorie, portion, and macro calculator available.

Here’s why: The Precision Nutrition Calculator first determines the appropriate daily calories for your body, based on the NIH Body Weight Planner (and adapted from research collected at the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Disease).

This estimate takes into account:

  • Your personal details (height, age, weight, sex)
  • Physical activity levels (both daily movement and purposeful exercise)
  • The date you want to reach your goal by (within reason!)
  • The changing and adaptive nature of human metabolism (a major benefit of this calculator)

It then calculates your daily macros, combining the above data with additional factors, including your:

  • Nutrition and fitness goals (weight loss, muscle gain, better health, peak performance)
  • Dietary preference (Paleo, keto, vegetarian, fully plant-based, Mediterranean, and of course, “anything”)
  • Macronutrient preference (balanced, low-fat, low-carb, or virtually any other macronutrient ratio you want)

But here’s the reason this calculator is truly revolutionary: Once it estimates your calorie and macronutrient needs, it automatically converts those numbers into food portions that are equivalent to parts of your hand. (Specifically, your palm, fist, cupped hand, and thumb.)

The result: If you choose, you can skip weighing and measuring your food—as well as logging the details of every meal into calorie and macro tracking apps. Instead, you can use our hand portion tracking system to achieve your calorie and macro targets.

This unique approach takes the hassle out of calorie and macro tracking, making it easier for you to lose weight, gain muscle, eat healthier, and improve your performance.

(Once we calculate your macros, we’ll send you a free, personalized guide to using our hand portion system for hitting your calorie and macro targets.)

The Precision Nutrition Calculator

Instantly calculate your calories, portions, and macros (for the results you want)

Nutrition Calculator

How much should you eat? Let’s find out.

The benefits of this calorie, portion, and macro calculator

Some people naturally eat the appropriate amount of food and calories for their individual needs. They’re able to maintain a stable body weight for years—even decades— without counting calories, or tracking macros, or ever measuring their portions.

Unfortunately, these “intuitive eaters” represent only a small segment of the human population. The rest of us typically need help with our eating, in the form of external structure and guidance, at least temporarily. This can help you:

  • Eat the right amount of calories and macros for your goals
  • Understand appropriate portion sizes
  • Improve your food choices and eating habits

That’s why we created this calorie, portion, and macro calculator. It gives you a nutrition blueprint for achieving your goals and, at the same time, helps you develop the skills you need to eat well for life.

(For optimal results, it’s best to combine this nutrition plan with intuitive eating and self-regulation skills.)

The problem with only tracking calories

Most people know calories matter. If you eat more calories than your body needs, you gain weight. If you eat fewer calories than your body needs, you lose weight.

(Yes, this certainly sounds simple, but as you’ve likely experienced, there are many factors that make managing your calorie intake… not so simple. Learn more here.)

By tracking your calories, you can better know if you’re eating the right amount of food for your goals. There are, however, disadvantages to only tracking the total number of calories you eat daily.

Most notably: This method doesn’t ensure you’re getting an appropriate amount of macronutrients for your body, goals, and preferences. Depending on what you’re trying to achieve, this can negatively affect your appetite, hormones, energy levels, and nutrient consumption.

And that can make it harder to lose weight, gain muscle, eat healthier, and improve athletic performance.

Why tracking your macros gives you an advantage

Just in case you’re not sure, let’s start by defining what macros, or macronutrients, actually are.

There are three major macronutrients: Protein, carbohydrates, and fat. (The fourth macronutrient is alcohol.)

Your body breaks down the macronutrients you eat into compounds used to help create energy, build body structures, create chemical reactions, and stimulate the release of hormones. Which means they can impact how you feel, perform, and even behave.

When you track macros, you don’t need to count calories directly. Instead, you log how many grams of each macronutrient you eat every day.

That’s because each macronutrient provides a certain number of calories:

  • 1 gram of protein = 4 calories
  • 1 gram of carbohydrate = 4 calories
  • 1 gram of fat = 9 calories
  • (1 gram of alcohol = 7 calories)

As a result, tracking macros means you’re automatically tracking calories. It’s just that you’re ensuring a certain number of those calories come from protein, carbohydrates, and fat, respectively. This is known as your macronutrient ratio.

For example, let’s say you eat:

  • 30% of your calories from protein
  • 40% of your calories from carbohydrate
  • 30% of your calories from fat

Your macronutrient ratio would then be: 30:40:30.

By adjusting your macronutrient ratio based on your age, sex, activity levels, goals, and preferences, you can optimize your eating plan.

If you’re trying to lose weight, you might eat a higher proportion of protein, since it can help you feel satisfied longer after meals. Or if you’re a very active athlete, you might want a higher ratio of carbohydrates to meet your greater energy demands.

The good news: Our calorie, portion, and macro calculator will figure all of this out for you.

Just enter your information and, within milliseconds, you’ll get a macro ratio that’s customized exactly for your body, goals, and preferences. (Plus, the Precision Nutrition Calculator gives you the option to further adjust these numbers, in case you want to try a different macronutrient ratio.)

Like calorie counting, though, conventional macro tracking has its downsides. Perhaps the biggest challenge: Because it requires careful food measuring and weighing, most people won’t stick to it for long.

Many say it feels cumbersome and even takes the joy out of eating. Which can limit its effectiveness to very short periods of time. That’s where the Precision Nutrition hand portion tracking system comes in.

Hand portions: The easiest way to track calories and macros

When we created this calorie, macro, and portion calculator, we asked:

How can we help people eat the right amount of food, but without the burden of having to weigh and measure every morsel?

Our solution: to give personalized targets not just for daily calories and macros, but also hand portions. That way, you can use whichever method you prefer.

This hand portion system—developed by Precision Nutrition—allows you to use your own hand as a personalized, portable portioning tool. You’re not actually measuring your food, but rather using your hand to gauge portion size. It’s highly effective for food tracking because your hand is proportionate to your body, its size never changes, and it’s always with you.

Here’s a snapshot of how it works:

  • Your palm determines your protein portions.
  • Your fist determines your vegetable portions.
  • Your cupped hand determines your carb portions.
  • Your thumb determines your fat portions.

Based on the calorie, portion, and macro calculator’s output, all you have to do is eat the recommended number of each hand portion daily. (Again, we’ll show you how to put this method fully into practice once you’ve put your information into the Precision Nutrition Calculator and received your free report and eating guide.)

How effective are hand portions for tracking macros?

Our research shows hand portions are 95 percent as accurate (or better) as carefully weighing, measuring, and tracking. With substantially less effort and time involved.

Plus, our hand portion tracking system allows you to easily adjust your intake to further optimize your results.

Ready to get started? Go ahead and enter your information into the calorie, portion, and macro calculator above, and we’ll do the rest, providing you with a free nutrition plan customized just for you.

If you have more questions right now, or want to understand the nutrition rules we used to design this calorie, portion, and macro calculator, see the Resources section for a full breakdown.

Resources

The calorie and macro math

Here, we outline the numbers used to determine the calories and macros delivered by the calculator.

Calorie math

This calculator uses the same baseline algorithm as the Precision Nutrition Weight Loss Calculator to calculate maintenance, weight loss, and weight gain calorie needs. It factors in the dynamic and adaptive nature of your metabolism to predict how long it’ll take you to reach your bodyweight goal.

This algorithm is a mathematically validated model based on the NIH Body Weight Planner and adapted from research collected at the National Institutes of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Disease.

Q: How do goals change the equation?
A:

For people looking to improve health, the calorie, portion, and macro calculator uses the weight maintenance calories determined by the validated mathematical model inherent to the NIH algorithm.

For people looking to lose body fat, the calorie, portion, and macro calculator uses the validated mathematical model inherent to the NIH algorithm. This takes into account a whole host of anthropometric data, time desired to reach goal, and the adaptive nature of human metabolism.

For people looking to gain muscle, the calorie, portion, and macro calculator uses the validated mathematical model inherent to the NIH algorithm. This takes into account a whole host of anthropometric data, time desired to reach goal, and the adaptive nature of human metabolism.

For people looking to improve athletic performance, the calorie, portion, and macro calculator adds an additional 10% more calories to the weight maintenance requirements calculated by the NIH algorithm. This supports the increased demands of athletic performance.

For people looking to change their body composition with minimal weight change, the calorie, portion, and macro calculator lowers calorie needs by 10% from the weight maintenance requirements calculated by the NIH algorithm. This’ll help facilitate simultaneous fat loss and muscle growth. It should be noted that this approach is most appropriate for individuals who don’t wish to change their body weight by more than 10 to 15 pounds, yet want to improve their body composition.

Macro math

The macronutrients are calculated by many rules.

  1. Protein is set on a grams per pound of bodyweight basis, at a range of 0.65-1.35 g/lb, depending upon sex, weight, goal, and activity level. (For very low-fat and very low-carb options, protein is set at 20% of calories, not on a bodyweight basis.)
  2. Protein needs are also set on a sliding scale since, on average, even within the same goal and activity level, heavier folks would generally have a greater body fat percentage than lighter folks. Therefore, they require a smaller amount of protein on a grams per pound basis (though still higher on an absolute basis).
  3. Then, dependent upon the Macronutrient Preference chosen, either fat or carbohydrates are set at a particular percent of calories (e.g. “Low-fat” is set at 20% calories from fat, and “Low-carb” is at 20% calories from carbs) to determine the allocation of the remaining non-protein calories.
  4. Finally, the rest of the calories are filled out by the remaining macronutrient (either fat or carbs). Note, if “Balanced” was chosen, the non-protein calories are split evenly between fats and carbs.

Custom macronutrient percentages

When custom macronutrient percentages are entered, those ratios are used to determine all macronutrient and hand-portion calculations. Overriding the macronutrient math outlined above. (Calories will not be changed.)

Calorie and macro FAQ

How do I make meals out of macros?

You can’t. At least not easily.

Instead, you often have to make your meals first, weigh and measure foods, and input those measurements into an app to find out the macronutrient and calorie amounts. Then see what “allotment” you have left as the day progresses.

However, the hand-portion system does make this much easier, which you can read about in your free personalized guide (as well as below).

Hand portion math

The hand portion amounts were determined based on the calorie and macronutrient calculations as outlined above.

Approximate portion sizes

Using the average hand size for the average-sized man and woman, and combining it with common portion sizes of foods, we approximate the hand-size portions as follows.

For Men
1 palm (protein) ~4 oz (115 g) cooked meat / tofu, 1 cup Greek yogurt / cottage cheese, 1 scoop protein powder, 2 whole eggs
1 fist (veggies) ~1 cup non-starchy vegetables (e.g. spinach, carrots, cauliflower, peppers, etc.)
1 cupped hand (carbs) ~⅔ cup (130 g) cooked grains / legumes (e.g. rice, lentils, oats), 1 medium fruit (e.g. banana), 1 medium tuber (e.g. potatoes)
1 thumb (fats) ~1 tablespoon (14 g) oils, nuts, seeds, nut butters, cheese, dark chocolate, etc.
For Women
1 palm (protein) ~3 oz (85 g) cooked meat / tofu, 1 cup Greek yogurt / cottage cheese, 1 scoop protein powder, 2 whole eggs
1 fist (veggies) ~1 cup non-starchy vegetables (e.g. spinach, carrots, cauliflower, peppers, etc.)
1 cupped hand (carbs) ~½ cup (100 g) cooked grains / legumes (e.g. rice, lentils, oats), 1 medium fruit (e.g. banana), 1 medium tuber (e.g. potatoes)
1 thumb (fat) ~1 tablespoon (14 g) oils, nuts, seeds, nut butters, cheese, dark chocolate, etc.

You’ll note we used one cup of Greek yogurt and cottage cheese as comparable to a palm. And we used a medium-sized tuber and medium-sized fruit as a cupped handful. These sizes were used as they represent common consumption patterns or pre-portioned amounts of these foods, which allows accounting for them to be as consistent and simple as possible.

Now remember, these are just approximates. Not exact measures. Actual portion sizes ultimately depend on the size of the individual hand, which is usually proportional to the size and needs of the individual. (That’s part of the beauty of the hand-portion approach.)

Approximate portion math

With the above approximate portions, we can create various meal scenarios and simulations, and calculate the approximate macros these portions provide. This helps number-oriented users see how weighing and measuring their food compares to using our hand-portion system.

Men’s portion macros
1 palm protein ~ 24 g protein, 2 g carbs, 4.5 g fat, 145 kcal
1 fist veggies ~ 1.5 g protein, 5 g carbs, 0 g fat, 25 kcal
1 cupped hand of carbs ~ 3 g protein, 25 g carbs, 1 g fat, 120 kcal
1 thumb fats ~ 2 g protein, 2 g carbs, 9 g fat, 100 kcal
Women’s portion macros
1 palm protein ~ 22 g protein, 2 g carbs, 4 g fat, 130 kcal
1 fist veggies ~ 1.5 g protein, 5 g carbs, 0 g fat, 25 kcal
1 cupped hand of carbs ~ 3 g protein, 22 g carbs, 1 g fat, 110 kcal
1 thumb fats ~ 2 g protein, 2 g carbs, 8 g fat, 90 kcal

It can’t be emphasized enough—these are approximations. Nothing will be exact, because all aspects of calorie and macronutrient calculations are based on averages with known error rates. (Yes, even the USDA nutrient database reports out averages. Actual foods always vary.) Regardless, this information can be helpful to know for the more mathematically inclined and/or individuals with highly specific and targeted goals.

Assumed variety of food choices

And as you can see, the hand-portion system assumes a mixed intake of protein, veggies, carbs, and fats. As of course, these food sources will have varying amounts of each macronutrient.

For example, let’s look at protein.

Perhaps you start the day with eggs (a high-fat protein source), have a mid-morning Super Shake (very lean protein powder), have a chicken breast for lunch (very lean protein source), and have salmon for dinner (moderately lean protein source).

The hand-portion recommendations are based on the assumption that, on average, you’ll get a moderate amount of fat and even a small amount of carbs from your protein sources.

Now, if you’re consistently eating lots of fat-rich protein sources, or lots of very lean protein sources, you may need to make adjustments. Based on your progress, use outcome-based decision-making to determine if you, or a client, should simultaneously increase or decrease your daily number of thumb-sized portions of fats.

These same assumptions are built in for carbohydrates and fats as well. The hand-portion recommendations assume you’ll have a mix of fruit, starchy tubers, beans, and whole grains for carb sources.

And it assumes you’ll have a mix of whole food fats (e.g. nuts, seeds, avocado), blended whole foods (e.g. nut and seed butters, guacamole, pesto), and pressed oils (e.g. olive oil, avocado oil, coconut oil) for fat sources.

If your intake is skewed towards oils, you may have to decrease the number of thumb-sized portions of fat you eat—since they contain more fat than the other sources. Or if you only eat berries for carbs, you may have to increase the number of cupped hands of carbs you eat—since they contain fewer carbs than the other sources. However, you should only decide that using outcome-based decision-making.

In essence, this means asking, “How’s that working for you?” If you (or your client) are achieving the desired results and are pleased with the overall outcome, there’s no reason to change what you’re doing. But if you’re not progressing the way you’d like, you could adjust your intake.

Testing the hand portion math

Let’s see how this system works in practice and in comparison to manually tracking macros and calories.

Example 1: High-level female athlete, 135 pounds with 18% body fat, who trains twice per day

  • Pre-Workout @ 6am: 16 oz black coffee, 1 cup plain low-fat Greek yogurt, 1 cup chopped pineapple, 2 tbsp chopped walnuts, 1 glass of water
  • Workout @ 7:15-8:30am: Sips on 16 oz water during training session
  • Post-Workout Shake @ 9:00am: 12 oz water, 2 scoops protein powder, 1 medium apple, 1/2 cup old-fashioned oats, 2 cups of spinach, 1 tbsp ground flax seed, 1 tbsp almond butter
  • Lunch @ 12pm: 3 oz salmon, 1 cup steamed mixed veggies, 1 medium sweet potato, 1 tbsp coconut oil, 2 glasses of water
  • Mid-Afternoon Snack @ 4pm: 1 banana, 2 tbsp natural peanut butter, 1-2 glasses of water
  • Workout @ 5:30-6pm: Sips on 16 oz water during training session
  • Post-Workout Dinner @ 7pm: 3 oz chopped chicken breast, 2 cups cooked whole grain pasta, plus 2 cups sautéed veggies with 2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil, minced garlic and white cooking wine, 2 glasses of water

If you calculate the calories and macronutrients of this person’s intake using the USDA nutrient database, you’ll get:

  • 2672 kcal
  • 170 g protein
  • 264 g carbs
  • 104 g fat

And if you put this person’s intake into hand-size portion terms, you’ll get:

  • Protein = 5 palms (Greek yogurt, protein powder x 2, salmon, chicken)
  • Veggies = 5 fists (spinach x 2, mixed veggies, sauteed veggies x 2)
  • Carbs = 10 cupped hands (pineapple x 2, apple, oats, sweet potato, banana, pasta x 4)
  • Fats = 9 thumbs (walnuts x 2, flax seed, almond butter, coconut oil, peanut butter x 2, olive oil x 2)

When you multiply those portion numbers using approximate hand-portion math for women (see above table), it would provide an estimated intake of:

  • 2672 kcal (exactly the same as calculating it with apps and spreadsheets)
  • 166 g protein (4 g fewer than calculating it with apps and spreadsheets)
  • 273 g carbs (9 g more than calculating it with apps and spreadsheets)
  • 102 g fat (2 g fewer than calculating it with apps and spreadsheets)

Example 2: Moderately active male, 210 pounds with 17% body fat

  • Wake @ 5:30am: 12 oz black coffee
  • Breakfast @ 7:00am: 4 whole eggs with a large bunch of peppers, scallions, and mushrooms cooked in a large pat of butter, placed on whole wheat wrap, with ~1 oz cheese, 1 cupped hand of black beans, and some pico de gallo, large glass of water, 12 oz black coffee
  • Super Shake @ 10:30am: ~10 oz water, 2 scoops chocolate protein powder, 2 cups of spinach, 2 cups frozen cherries, ~1 tablespoon cacao nibs, ~1 tablespoon of chia seeds
  • Lunch @ 2pm: 4 oz turkey breast, ~⅔ cup quinoa, 1 fist of mixed veggies, 1 apple, 2 thumbs of roasted almonds, 1-2 large glasses of water
  • 1-2 cups green tea @ 3-4pm
  • Dinner @ 6pm: 8 oz sirloin (lean), 2 cupped hands of roasted red potatoes with onions, 2 cups roasted rainbow carrots, 2 tbsp olive oil for roasting, 1 glass wine, 1-2 large glasses of water

If you calculate the calories and macronutrients of this person’s intake using the USDA nutrient database, you’ll get:

  • 3130 kcal
  • 212 g protein
  • 283 g carbs
  • 111 g fat

And if you put this person’s intake into hand-size portion terms, you’ll get:

  • Protein = 7 palms (eggs x 2, protein powder x 2, turkey, sirloin x 2)
  • Veggies = 6 fists (scallions / peppers / mushrooms / pico, spinach x 2, mixed veggies, rainbow carrots x 2)
  • Carbs = 9 cupped hands (wrap, beans, cherries x 3, quinoa, apple, potato x 2)
  • Fats = 8 thumbs (butter, guacamole, cacao nibs, chia seeds, almonds x 2, olive oil x 2)
  • Alcohol = 1 (wine)

When you multiply those portion numbers using approximate hand-portion math for men, it’d provide an estimated intake of:

  • 3183 kcal (53 kcal more than calculating it with apps and spreadsheets)
  • 220g protein (8 g more than calculating it with apps and spreadsheets)
  • 285g carbs (2 g more than calculating it with apps and spreadsheets)
  • 113g fat (2 g more than calculating it with apps and spreadsheets)

When looking at both examples, simply using your hands would be 96-100% as accurate as weighing, measuring, and logging all foods on apps or spreadsheets. Plus, with the known error rates of calories and macronutrients present on labels and in nutrient databases, this level of accuracy will likely suffice for all but the most advanced individuals (i.e. people being paid to look a certain way).

Hand portion FAQ

Do I gauge my portions before or after cooking?

One of the most common questions asked about using your hands to measure portions is whether the hand portions are for cooked or uncooked foods.

The answer is most certainly cooked. Hand portions are for plating your food, not cooking it. That way, they can be used at home, restaurants, buffets, conferences, Mom’s house, and the office.

Other helpful notes:

  • Dry carbs tend to double in size when cooked. For example:
    • 1/4 cup of dry oats (25g) = 1/2 cup cooked
    • 1/4 cup of dry rice (50g) = 1/2 cup cooked
    • 1/2 cup of dry whole wheat fusilli pasta (40g) = 1 cup cooked

This is helpful to know when it’s difficult to use your hand to measure a cooked food.

What to do with foods that don’t fit?

Some items don’t fit well into the hand-size portion system. It’s not perfect. No single system is. It’s meant to provide practical and actionable guidelines.

Most notably problematic are liquids.

Dairy

Cow’s milk and non-Greek yogurt are tricky as they’re a pretty even mix of all 3 macros or can vary depending on the fat level someone chooses (e.g. whole, low fat, skim, etc.).

Ultimately, we suggest making that decision based on the fat or carbohydrate content of the milk or yogurt you’re consuming.

Generally, consider 1 cup (8 oz) of whole milk products a “thumb” of fat. (Even though it’s larger than a thumb and also provides protein and carbs).

Anything lower in fat (e.g. 0-2%) is generally considered a cupped hand of carbs (while also providing fats and protein).

A cup of anything highly sweetened (e.g. chocolate milk, strawberry yogurt) is generally considered a cupped hand of carbs (while also providing fats and protein).

So what happens in this situation: You have a full-fat Greek yogurt or whole milk that’s highly sweetened? Is it a fat or carb? Think of it this way: If it’s already full-fat, you know it’s a thumb of fat. But if a lot of sugar is also added to it, then it’s also a cupped hand of carbs.

The key is to pick an approach, and apply it consistently. This is probably more important than the actual classification itself. (Remember, the system already has built-in buffers: It assumes your protein, fat, and carb sources contain smaller amounts of the other macros.)

Cookies, ice cream, chips (and other compound foods)

With naturally occurring or minimally processed foods, it’s usually best to assign only one hand portion to a food. But with these highly-processed “compound” foods, you’ll want to assign two (or more) hand portions. Because just like dairy products that are full-fat and highly sweetened, they count as both fat and carbs. An easy way to account for them: one handful is equal to one thumb of fat and one cupped hand of carbs.

Soda

Again, a serving of soda doesn’t really fit into a cupped hand. Instead, consider a 12-ounce can of soda as a cupped hand of carbs. Certainly, 8 ounces would be preferable from the standpoint of physical size (and carbohydrate total), but 12 ounces really simplifies the size and math, as these beverages come pre-packaged this way. (This is similar to how we account for bananas, apples, oranges, pears, and other fruits, since they’re “pre-packaged” by nature.)

Nut Milks

Nut milks are much like cow’s milk above. They tend to provide a mix of macros, depending on the source, and classification would also depend on whether or not they’re sweetened.

Generally, unsweetened versions (like almond milk) don’t count as anything, as they typically only have about 30 to 40 calories in a whole cup (8 ounces), and are often consumed in relatively small amounts. A sweetened version, however, would be considered a cupped hand of carbs.

Again, the key is to pick an approach and follow it consistently.

Alcohol

Alcohol generally should be its own category, as the majority of its calories are derived from its alcohol content (7 kcal / g), not its carb content. This applies to pretty much all alcohol, be it light beer, microbrew / craft beer, wine, and spirits (although some microbrews / craft beer and dessert wines can contain quite a few carbs).

However, many folks like to put alcohol in the carb category, which can work, too. Again, whatever method you prefer can work; just follow it consistently.

Note that most alcohol is about 100-150 calories per serving. If it has a sweetened additive (think margarita, or alcohol + tonic), then it’s adding a whole lot more sugar. So count that as a serving (or more) of alcohol and one (or more) cupped hands of carbs too.

How do I account for mixed-food meals?

It gets tricky with mixed-food meals, like soups and chilis. You simply have to eyeball it, and make your best guess, especially if you didn’t make it yourself.

Ultimately, the general goal is to get a protein, veggie, quality carb, and/or healthy fat in each portion. This is relatively easy to do when making it yourself. When made by others, simply guesstimate as well as you can. Most importantly, if the goal is anything other than weight gain, eat slowly and mindfully, until satisfied.

Often, meals like this are a mix of protein, carbs, and fats, but are a bit lower in veggies. Adding a vegetable on the side can be very helpful. And adding additional protein can also be helpful if the meal seems to have a greater proportion of carbs and fats.

Legumes and lentils: protein or carb?

Legumes and lentils both contain protein and carbs, so where should they be counted?

Answer: It depends on the meal itself and/or the eating style of the individual. If someone is fully plant-based/vegan, then it’s likely the legumes or lentils will count as their protein source, since those are probably the most protein-dense foods they’re consuming. But they can also count as both… under certain conditions.

Our suggestion: Choose the most protein-rich food (assuming there is one) as your protein source, and slot the other items from there.

Examples:

  1. Chicken with beans, broccoli and olive oil.
  2. Beans with rice, broccoli and olive oil.
  3. Beans x 2 with broccoli and olive oil.
  4. Rice with broccoli and olive oil
  5. Beans with broccoli and olive oil

In example 1, chicken is the protein (the most protein-rich part of the dish), beans are the carbs, broccoli is the vegetable, and olive oil is the fat.

In example 2, beans are the protein (the most protein-rich part of the dish), rice is the carbs, broccoli is the vegetable, and olive oil is the fat.

In example 3, one serving of beans would count as protein, and the other serving would count as carbs. In this scenario, it gets more difficult because it’s less clear-cut than the first two examples.

In example 4, there isn’t a protein-rich food, just a carb, vegetable, and fat.

In example 5, it would depend on the eater. Omnivore? Then we’d count the beans as a carb. Plant-based? Then we’d count the beans as a protein.

How do I quantify my exercise?

In using the calorie, portion, and macro calculator above, you’ll see the terms gentle, moderate, and strenuous. These describe the intensity of your activity.

Use the guide below to gauge your activity levels. When in doubt, it’s better to underestimate your activity rather than overestimate it.

Moderate to Strenuous Activity

  • Resistance training
  • Interval or Circuit training
  • Crossfit
  • Running or jogging
  • Rowing
  • Cycling
  • Swimming
  • Team sports (e.g. basketball, hockey, soccer, tennis, etc.)
  • Hiking
  • Jump Rope
  • Group classes (spin, dance, etc.) and bootcamps
  • Yoga (power, bikram)

Gentle Activity

  • Walking
  • Yoga (hatha, vinyasa, ashtanga, etc.)
  • Pilates
  • Golfing
  • Biking, swimming or cycling at a leisurely pace or for pleasure

Example 1: Let’s say your week includes:

  • Walking for 20 minutes, 2 times
  • Vinyasa yoga for 30 minutes, 2 times
  • Resistance training for 45 minutes, 2 times
  • Running for 30 minutes, 3 times

That’d count as:

  • 4 gentle activities (vinyasa yoga x 2; walking x 2) for a total of 100 minutes (1.66 hours)
  • 5 moderate to strenuous activities (resistance training x 2, running x 3) for a total of 180 minutes (3 hours)

Which means you’d select your activity level as “Moderate” under the purposeful exercise question. (Defined as moderate to strenuous activity 3 to 4 hours per week.) The gentle activities are fantastic, but don’t bump up your calorie needs like higher-intensity activity does. So that is what you would be counting.

Example 2: Suppose your week includes…

    • Swimming leisurely for 30 minutes, 3 times
    • Resistance training for 30 minutes, 2 times
    • Group exercise class for 60 minutes, 1 time

That’d count as:

  • 3 gentle activities (leisurely swimming x 3) for a total of 90 minutes (1.5 hours)
  • 3 moderate-strenuous activities (resistance training x 2, group exercise x 1) for a total of 120 minutes (2 hours)

Which means you’d select your activity level as “Light” under the purposeful exercise question. (Defined as gentle to moderate activity 1 to 3 hours per week.)

Example 3: Suppose your week includes…

  • Golfing for 2 hours, 1 time
  • Resistance training for 60 minutes, 2 times
  • Mountain biking for 90 minutes, 4 times

That’d count as:

  • 1 gentle activity (golfing) for a total of 120 minutes (2 hours)
  • 6 moderate-strenuous activities (resistance training x 2, mountain biking x 4) for a total of 480 minutes (8 hours)

Which means you’d select your activity level as “Very Intense” under the purposeful exercise question. (Defined as moderate to strenuous activity 7+ hours per week.)

Calculator development notes and FAQs

If you’re a coach, or you want to be…

Learning how to coach clients, patients, friends, or family members through healthy eating and lifestyle changes—in a way that’s personalized for their unique body, goals, and preferences—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 over 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 30% 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, April 8th, 2020.

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 30% 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.

The post The Ultimate Calorie, Portion, and Macro Calculator appeared first on Precision Nutrition.

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Great information is valuable.

But knowing exactly what to do with it? That can be priceless.

Which is why our first-ever nutrition and fitness trends report doesn’t just cover the trends. It also provides actionable takeaways you can use with your clients. Not just in 2020, but right now.

To create this report, we analyzed data from nearly 15,000 Precision Nutrition clients and used it to identify the most interesting (and useful) trends.

You’ll not only learn what people really want to achieve through nutrition, fitness, and health change, but also what they’re struggling with the most.

Even more important, we’re sharing our insights: The proven strategies we’ve developed to help people overcome their most frustrating challenges—and speed their progress—based on our work with over 100,000 clients.

With this in-depth report, you’ll learn:

  • The top 10 nutrition challenges clients face (these may not be what you think they are)
  • The eating struggle that affects 70% of women (and is the fastest growing problem for men)
  • The secret problem with modern foods (it’s not just their calorie counts)
  • The average person’s #1 health and fitness goal (and how to help your clients achieve it)
  • Why most weight loss diets will continue to fail (and what to do instead)
  • The top 3 barriers to exercise (with strategies to overcome them)
  • The key foods people aren’t eating enough of (fixing this can speed your clients’ progress)
  • How to help clients eat better at restaurants (even if they won’t stop dining out every day)
  • And much more, taken from our extensive client research and deep professional experience.

All to help you get ahead of the curve for 2020—for better client results… and greater success as a coach.

While we won’t suggest this special report is literally “priceless,” we’re pretty sure it’s worth way more than we’re charging. Which is… absolutely nothing.

To access this FREE report, click here to download.

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—and helping them achieve the lasting results they really want—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 over 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 30% 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, April 8th, 2020.

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 30% 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.

The post Special report: The top nutrition, fitness, and health trends and insights for 2020. Key findings and proven solutions for better client results. appeared first on Precision Nutrition.

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ProCoach is world-class software that helps you coach more people, in less time, with better results. In one simple, easy-to-use platform, you get the industry’s leading nutrition and lifestyle coaching curriculum—complete with daily lessons, habits, progress updates, and more—ready to be delivered to your clients, with you showcased as the coach. 

Developed over 15 years and proven with over 100,000 clients, ProCoach is built on Precision Nutrition’s continually evolving curriculum—which is based on the latest scientific research, practice-based change techniques, our own clients’ transformative results, and feedback from over 12,000 ProCoaches to date. 

ProCoach gives you everything you need to roll out best-in-class nutrition coaching, effortlessly. Allowing you to turn what you learned in the Precision Nutrition Certification into a thriving coaching practice, get better results with every single client you work with, and add a highly profitable, scalable income stream to your business immediately. 

For more, check out this short video; it provides an overview of exactly how the ProCoach software works:

See how other health and fitness pros are using ProCoach with their clients.

On Wednesday, December 4th, 2019, ProCoach becomes available to all Precision Nutrition Certification students and graduates. 

ProCoach is software that provides health and fitness professionals all the tools they need to start coaching nutrition with confidence—helping clients achieve better, longer-lasting results.

Plus, you can lock in a one-time special discount—and save 30%! (More details below.)

The most reliable and effective system for coaching nutrition.

When your job is to help people get in better shape, focusing on nutrition is the most important and effective step. But there’s a big problem: Piecing together all the details and getting the right systems in place to roll out a fully-functioning nutrition coaching service can be overwhelming.

As one of our ProCoaches put it: “Nutrition coaching felt SO complicated. When it came to offering it to my clients, I didn’t even know where to start.”

At best, most coaches are working with a clumsy combination of spreadsheets, Word docs, texting, email, and maybe a cheap calorie-counting app. They can already tell that as soon as they have more than 5 or 10 clients, it’s going to be chaos.

Despite their best intentions, these coaches struggle to keep their clients on track… which leads to negative feelings of self-doubt, stress, and frustration.

But it doesn’t have to be that way. Adding nutrition coaching to your existing services doesn’t have to be so confusing, complicated, or difficult.

With ProCoach, you can seamlessly integrate nutrition into your business—while focusing on what you enjoy and do best: Coaching. Our software will handle all the details, from daily nutrition and lifestyle programming, to built in accountability, progress tracking, and more.

Now, instead of second-guessing yourself, feeling unsure about whether you know “enough” to offer nutrition advice, or worrying about figuring out all the details…

You can have total confidence—feeling energized, optimistic, and excited to integrate nutrition coaching into your business. Knowing you’ve got the world’s most effective and reliable system backing you up.

This means better results for every single client you work with. A stronger business for you. And the ability to help more people. 

With ProCoach, it’s all possible. 

Katie Wygant - testimonial card

Grow your business and work less.

Whether you want to start a new coaching business, or add nutrition coaching to your existing services, ProCoach will help you:

  • Market and sell your services to the people who need it.
  • Coach more people while delivering exceptional results.
  • Connect more deeply with your clients.
  • Spend less time on the admin things that drive you crazy.
  • Spend more time on the coaching things you enjoy.
  • Build a stronger business.

A proven curriculum, created/organized for you.

ProCoach automatically delivers—to your clients, on your behalf—an online nutrition coaching curriculum that helps them:

  • practice new eating habits,
  • troubleshoot their biggest challenges,
  • stay consistent, motivated, and accountable, and
  • radically improve their nutrition, lifestyle, and health.

With you as their coach—answering questions, offering encouragement, and tracking progress through a special dashboard—ProCoach helps you get more people to their goals, reliably and effectively every time.

Develop your coaching expertise.

ProCoach will also help you:

  • Assess clients quickly and efficiently.
  • Deliver daily habits, lessons, assignments from our curriculum.
  • Review client consistency and habit adherence at any time.
  • Track clients’ physical, mental, and behavior changes every week.
  • Communicate clearly and expertly when clients are stuck.
  • Attract new clients with photos, data, testimonials, and straight-up, irrefutable, hard-data evidence of your success as a coach.

ProCoach provides all the tools you need to start coaching nutrition—with confidence.

ProCoach is getting better every single day.

Through our exclusive ProCoach Facebook group, and the regular interviews and surveys we do with ProCoaches, we’re listening closely, responding dynamically, and creating new features every day.

As one ProCoach said: “I’m amazed at how closely you’re listening to feedback and shaping ProCoach in response. You’re saving us time, helping make both our experience and our clients’ experiences better, and much more.”

Indeed, since we opened ProCoach in June of 2016 we’ve released dozens of new features, including the following game changers.

Customized mini-site for every ProCoach

By answering a few simple questions within your ProCoach dashboard we’ll generate a customized mini website for your business, complete with a custom web address.

It’ll lay out your services, including the features, benefits, and hopeful future you’re promising.

Not only will this “do the selling for you,” it’ll also position you as the skilled, experienced, and educated coach that clients need to finally reach their goals.

ProCoach generates your own custom sales page and mini-site.

Done-For-You marketing

Attracting new clients is always a challenge. That’s why, with the help of Pat Rigsby, we created a host of online and offline marketing campaigns for you.

We built these to help you save time and make more money. They come complete with design assets, copy, and deployment instructions.

Now you can easily spread the word about your business and attract the right kind of clients without needing to be a marketing guru to do it.

Done-For-You Marketing is now built into ProCoach.

Quick-Start guides

Whenever onboarding new clients, it’s useful to share something tangible. Both so they feel like they’re getting something amazing for their money and so they can feel like they’re making progress on day one.

That’s why we’ve created these custom Quick-Start Guides. They’ll help set clients up for early success by giving them advice around portion control, workout nutrition, grocery shopping, and meal prep starting on Day 1.

Personalized Quick Start Guides are also built into ProCoach.

Comprehensive Learning Center

Since we first launched ProCoach in June 2016 we’ve made major improvements to our Learning Center.

With articles on every imaginable topic, and an awesome search feature, the Learning Center will teach you everything you need to be successful with ProCoach.

The comprehensive Learning Center included in ProCoach.

ProCoach Workouts (optional)

After working with thousands of ProCoaches to deliver comprehensive nutrition and lifestyle coaching, many began asking us to unlock our vault of expert-designed exercise programs so they can deliver a more holistic, single-platform experience.

As Precision Nutrition’s own coaching programs have offered integrated exercise, nutrition, lifestyle advice for years, we decided to make available our 28 client-proven exercise tracks for you to use with selected clients.

You now have 3 options when using ProCoach. For each client, you can:

  1. Use ProCoach for nutrition coaching only
  2. Use ProCoach for both nutrition and exercise coaching
  3. Use ProCoach for exercise coaching only

The choice is yours.

ProCoach Workouts is now an option you can use with selected clients.

Community of like-minded people + top experts

With our ProCoach Facebook group, you can now work alongside an extremely supportive group of more than 2,500 ProCoaches—including trainers, nutritionists, sport coaches, researchers, therapists, and other healthcare professionals from all over the world.

With case studies, lessons, daily tips, and more, being part of this community will help you expand your network, grow your business, and strengthen your coaching skills.

You’ll also get daily access to our experts and coaches, such as Dr. Krista Scott-Dixon, Kate Solovieva, Craig Weller, Adam Feit, and more. Ask questions, get feedback and advice, and nerd out on all things fitness and nutrition.

A story from our co-founder, Dr. John Berardi: “Once, I wanted to help more people. But I couldn’t.”

Enter JB:

I started coaching clients about 25 years ago. Back then, there was no such thing as “automated” or “online” coaching.

It was old-school: You met clients in person, you carried a clipboard, and after sessions you’d store handwritten programs on card stock paper in an organizer off to the side of the gym.

I have so many fond memories of my time training clients. But when I think back, there’s one frustration that always jumps out.

I consistently had between 15 and 20 full-time clients. No matter what I tried, I couldn’t find time to add more.

On top of working 45-60 hours every week on the gym floor training these clients, I needed to write programs, organize nutrition habits, do record keeping, manage billing, and nurture new leads.

I needed some time back, but I felt stuck.

I was working my butt off, but not making much money once the gym took their 50% cut of my coaching fees.

I realized that to make even a little more money, I’d have to find more time… which meant sacrificing my own workouts (and health) or the few hours I had left for socializing and sleeping.

After a few years on this merry-go-round, I finally came up with a solution:

I started supplementing my in-person training with online coaching.

It began really well. But whenever my roster reached 25-35 clients, I bumped up against new problems.

Problem 1:

With online clients, I didn’t have much time left for in-person coaching. I ended up doing a ton of administrative work for my online clients: program writing, record keeping, email responses, phone calls, and other routine client management tasks.

I was surprised; online coaching wasn’t the time-saver I had imagined.

Problem 2:

I started losing track of my clients.

Because I had more clients than ever, I started forgetting who was on what program, who had what goals… I sometimes felt like an idiot, asking people “So what program are you on again?” during a session.

The interesting part? Lots of other fitness and health coaches were experiencing the same things. They felt the same frustrations.

I wasn’t a lazy, disorganized, “bad” coach.

I just needed a system.

We all did.

We needed to find ways to do the “human” work of creating programs, listening, connecting with, and motivating our clients.

But we were constantly bogged down by administrative work, like paperwork, scheduling, and receipts.

So I got to thinking:

Couldn’t technology handle much of the repetitive “busywork” of day-to-day administration?

Couldn’t it keep us organized and on track? Monitor clients, even when we were sleeping or doing other things? Send us reminders and alerts?

I started asking: Could I “outsource” all these annoying and time-wasting administrative tasks so that I can take on more clients and do what I do best… coach?

So we built a dream solution to make coaching easier.

One of my best friends, Phil Caravaggio, had an answer.

Trained in systems design engineering, Phil showed me real-life examples of how IBM, Dell, and Apple were using software to simplify and amplify their businesses.

At that moment, I knew exactly what we had to do.

We set out to build a coaching platform that would allow coaches—starting with me—to deliver the highest quality coaching experience to larger numbers of clients.

One year later: Success!

We built a beta version of ProCoach and started testing it with a new batch of clients. Immediately I was able to go from coaching 25-35 clients to 100-150 clients at a time.

All while working the same number of hours—or even less—in a given week.

Chris Poese - testimonial card

15 years later, Dr. Berardi’s early prototype has become Precision Nutrition’s ProCoach.

Since then, the Precision Nutrition team has consistently and relentlessly refined the technology, the software, and the curriculum.

We’ve tested its max limits. We’ve broken it on purpose and rebuilt it so it’s stronger. We’ve found all the sweet spots.

For example:

Since we built the beta version of ProCoach, our in-house coaches at Precision Nutrition have coached an average of 5,000 clients per year with the software.

Today we’re able to coach these clients with 20 full-time Precision Nutrition supercoaches (and a group of part-time interns and mentors) who work wherever they want in the world, living life on their own terms.

You’ll notice that’s an average of about 250 clients per coach—and they get amazing results.

What kind of results are we talking about here? Check this out.

See what 365 days of ProCoach can do.

And this video shares some amazing behind-the-scenes client stories.

Bodies, and lives, are changed with ProCoach’s habit-based nutrition coaching.

As you can see, our clients are a diverse bunch. They come in all ages, shapes, and sizes. In fact, they’re probably a lot like your clients.

Which means:

The results you see in the videos above are the exact same results your clients can expect when you start using Precision Nutrition’s ProCoach.

Want to see more? Check these out:

  • Precision Nutrition Coaching – Men’s Hall of Fame
  • (225+ men’s before and after photos. Ages 21-70)
  • Precision Nutrition Coaching – Women’s Hall of Fame
  • (375+ women’s before and after photos. Ages 21-74)

Daniel Hennessey - testimonial card

The ProCoach reviews have been stellar.

In June of 2016, we opened ProCoach up to our Certification students and graduates. We wanted to let them test drive the program in their own businesses.

The response has been amazing.

We sold out all available ProCoach spots in a matter of hours—and the same thing has happened each time we’ve opened up new spots, ever since.

To date, our ProCoaches have:

  • enrolled over 100,000 new clients,
  • helped them lose over 965,000 pounds (and counting), and
  • collected nearly $57 million in revenue.

Yep, that’s all within just the first two years!

If you want to try this research-proven, client-tested, reliable system for coaching nutrition with your own clients—join us on Wednesday, December 4th, 2019.

Erika Volk Gilliland - testimonial card

Deliver nutrition coaching with confidence—and help your clients achieve better, longer-lasting results.

By incorporating ProCoach into your business, and coaching practice, you’ll:

  • Add practice-based nutrition coaching to your existing services, easily.
  • Add a highly profitable revenue stream, immediately.
  • Deliver habits, lessons, assignments from our proven curriculum.
  • Review and track your clients’ consistency and progress every week.
  • Set clients up for long-term, sustainable success.
  • Attract even more new clients with photos, data, testimonials, and straight-up, irrefutable, hard-data evidence of success.

You’ll save time while making more money.

Your clients will get world-class results.

You’ll look like a rockstar coach.

And you’ll feel more in control of your time (and your work) than ever before.

Nikki Strong - testimonial card

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

On Wednesday, December 4th, 2019, ProCoach becomes available to all Precision Nutrition Certification students and graduates.

If you’re interested and want to find out more, we’ve set up the following presale list, which gives you two 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 minutes. 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 become a confident nutrition coach, help more people live their healthiest lives, and grow your business… ProCoach is your chance.

The post Opening December 2019: Precision Nutrition’s ProCoach. Where expert coaching, world-class curriculum, and innovative software meet. appeared first on Precision Nutrition.

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Worried you’re eating too much sugar? Wondering how much is safe to eat? Or whether it’s bad for you… no matter what? It’s time we took a clear-headed look at this topic. It’s time you heard the truth about sugar.

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Is sugar “good”?

Is sugar “bad”?

It’s hard to know for sure these days.

Which is interesting because…

Sugar is a fundamental molecule in biology.

Human bodies need sugar.

Sugar makes up the backbone of our DNA. Helps power our cells. Helps store energy for later. Plants convert sunlight into sugar. We convert sugar into fuel.

Molecules like glucose and fructose (just two of the many types of sugar) are so basic to our biological needs, even bacteria love them.

Indeed, sugar’s the breakfast of champions, chemically speaking.

Yet, somewhere along the way, sugar became the bad guy.

Why did we start hating on sugar?

When did we start wanting to purge it from our bodies?

Why do some of us fear it so much?

At this point… do we just need a little relationship counseling?

Or is it a toxic relationship?

Is it time to part ways?

The truth is, this is a difficult conversation to have because…

Almost all of us are emotionally invested in our position on sugar.

Talking about it brings up a lot of controversy and intense debate, even among scientists who are supposed to be “objective”.

So why not step back and take a fresh look?

In this article, we’ll explore five key questions about sugar:

  • Does sugar cause obesity?
  • Does sugar cause us to gain weight / fat?
  • Does sugar cause diabetes?
  • Does sugar cause cardiovascular disease?
  • How much sugar is OK to eat?

Yes, we’re biased too.

At Precision Nutrition, we generally consider ourselves ‘nutritional agnostics’. (Case in point: our view on the absolute best diet.)

We help people become their healthiest, fittest, strongest selves—in a way that works for their unique lives and bodies.

In our work with over 100,000 clients clients, we’ve learned a few things…

… that one size doesn’t fit all,

… that an all-or-nothing approach doesn’t work for most people,

… that fitness and health habits should be doable on your worst day, not just your best.

So here’s our bias in this article.

We follow the complexities of nutrition evidence as best we can, always interpreting them through the lens of:

  • How does practice X or Y work for us, for the clients we coach, and for the fitness professionals we certify?
  • Does said practice help us make our food choices wiser, saner, and simpler?
  • Does it address individual differences between people?
  • (And if not, how can we help adapt each person’s diet to match their unique needs?)

You can ask yourself these same questions as you go through the article. And, of course, feel free to come to your own conclusions.

But first, let’s get to know our sugars.

What is sugar?

Most of us think of “sugar” as the white stuff we put in coffee, or maybe what makes up 90% of those colored marshmallow cereals.

However, “sugar” is actually a group of molecules that share a similar structure. So we might actually call them “sugars”, plural.

This group includes lots of members such as:

  • glucose
  • fructose
  • sucrose, aka table sugar (which is glucose + fructose)
  • maltose (which is glucose + glucose)
  • galactose
  • lactose (galactose + glucose, found in dairy)

And so on.

Sugars naturally occur in biology and in most foods (even if just in trace amounts). For example, here’s what the breakdown of sugars looks like in a banana:

This is what the breakdown of sugars looks like in a banana.

There is, of course, much more sugar in processed and refined foods than in less-processed and unrefined foods.

(We’ll come back to this important point in a moment.)

Sugars live under the larger umbrella of “carbohydrates”.

Along with the sweet stuff, this macronutrient group also includes:

  • starches (like in potatoes or rice),
  • fiber (like the husks of whole grains), and
  • structural building blocks like chitin (which makes up the shells of crustaceans) or cellulose (which makes up things like the trunks of trees).

The more complex the molecule, the slower it digests.

  • Sugars, which are simpler, digest more quickly.
  • Starches and fiber, which are bigger, more complicated molecules, digest more slowly, if at all. (This is why eating more fiber can help us feel fuller, longer.)

Most carbohydrates are actually broken down into simpler sugars once they’re digested.

Other carbohydrates (such as insoluble fiber) don’t really get broken down nor absorbed fully, although our intestinal bacteria often love munching on them.

So: Sugars are a type of carbohydrate, but not all carbohydrates are sugars. And some carbohydrates break down quickly/easily into sugars. Others don’t.

This point is important to understand, because it tells us that not all carbohydrates do exactly the same things in our bodies.

Evolution has helpfully given us the ability to “taste” sugar.

Sugar-type molecules react with receptors on our tongue, which then tell our brain “OM NOM NOM DELICIOUS!”

Sugar tastes good to us, because in nature, sweet foods like fruits are often full of good stuff like vitamins, minerals, and energy.

But we differ in our physiology and behavior.

In all things, humans are diverse and variable.

Some of us like and seek out sugar more than others. This may be genetic. Or we may have learned it as we grew up. Or both.

For example, some of us like sugar in small doses; we can only eat a little before pushing the dessert plate away. While others like it a lot; the more we eat the more we want. The idea of “too much sugar” doesn’t compute.

Likewise, some of our bodies seem better suited to sugar than others.

For example, some of us can eat sugar all day long and feel fine. While others can only tolerate a little bit before our pancreas (which secretes insulin, a hormone that helps sugar get into the cells) tells us to knock it off.

In general, most of us like at least some sweetness.

When we’re young, we tend to like sweetness more and avoid bitter foods more. Yet each person’s response to sugar and sweet taste is unique.

With that said, let’s get back to the questions at hand. Starting with…

Question #1:
Does sugar cause obesity?

The term “obese” (or “overweight”) is, like sugar, a contentious thing. In this article we’ll use it just for the purpose of discussion, so bear with us.

The World Health Organization defines “obese” as having a Body Mass Index higher than 30. Of course, some fit athletes (like heavyweight boxers or rugby players) might have a higher BMI but still have a low body fat percentage.

However, for most folks, having a BMI higher than 30 signifies that they have a higher-than-average level of body fat. 

(Indeed, some studies that correlate BMI with body fat testing suggest that BMI may even under-estimate how much body fat a person has.)

When it comes to obesity, there have always been people who are heavier, and/or who have more body fat, than most other folks like them.

However, over the last several decades, “average people” in industrialized countries have gotten heavier, bigger, and gained more body fat fairly rapidly.

It’s now statistically “normal”.

Although this shift is happening worldwide, and there are differences by ethnic group and socioeconomic class, it’s particularly noticeable as a general trend in the United States.

Obesity rates in the United States

Along with body weights, we can look at changes in body fat percentage and overall fitness levels. Here, we also see that over time, body fat percentage has gone up, and fitness levels have gone down.

Currently in the United States, the average body fat percentage for men is around 28%, and the average for women is around 40%.

For comparison:

  • In general, 11-22% for men, and between 22-33% body fat for women, is considered a “healthy” range.
  • Lower than that is still “healthy” (to a point), but generally considered “athletic” or “lean”.

The percentage of body fats in U.S. adults

Does increased sugar consumption explain body weight trends?

Could sugar be responsible for changing body weights and body compositions in industrialized countries?

By reviewing data from the USDA Economic Research Service, National Health and Nutrition Examination Surveys (NHANES), as well as Food Frequency Questionnaires from the long-running Framingham Heart Study, we can track food intake from multiple angles. These varying streams of data all show fairly consistent trends.

They tell us that, since 1980, Americans:

  • Continued to eat the same total amount of fat.
    (Though they generally ate less naturally-occurring fats, like in whole fat dairy, and ate more added fats, like oils.)
  • Ate more carbohydrates.
    (Especially refined ones that included added sugars.)

So, as a percent of total calories consumed, fat dropped. But we didn’t end up eating less fat. We just added more sugar and other carbs on top of the fat we were already eating.

This added up to approximately 200-400 extra calories per day.

In terms of calories, that’s like eating an extra McDonald’s hamburger or a double cheeseburger, on top of your existing meals, every day.

Whether those calories came from sugar is probably irrelevant.

This increased energy intake alone, combined with decreasing rates of daily physical activity, is probably enough to explain people getting heavier.

Yes, but how might sugar play a role?

We can’t say that sugar specifically was the culprit behind the obesity surge for everyone. (Remember, humans vary.)

But our increased sugar consumption does seem to correlate with continued obesity levels… up until recently.

For about four hundred years, human beings have been enjoying more and more sugar.

Once Europeans discovered tropical trading routes and set up cheap slave labor economies to raise sugar cane, sugar became more and more available to the average person.

Indeed, sugar quickly became the food of the poor.

(It was said that the entire working class of the British Isles lived on jam and sugared tea during the Industrial Revolution.)

As a prime colonial power, the British once claimed the title of biggest sugar consumers. Per year, the average Brit consumed:

  • 4 lbs (1.8 kg) in 1704.
  • 18 lbs (8.2 kg) in 1800.
  • 90 lbs (40.8 kg) in 1901.

However, once they got rolling as a country, Americans weren’t far behind. Per year, the average American consumed:

  • 6 lbs (2.7 kg) of sugar in 1822.
  • 40 lbs (18.1 kg) in 1900.
  • 90 lbs (40.8 kg) by the 1920s.
  • There was a subsequent drop due to the Great Depression & World War II.
  • 90 lbs per person again by the 1980s.

Then they really took off: By 1999, the US reached peak sugar consumption of nearly 108 lbs (49 kg) of sugar per person per year.

Between 1980-1999 Americans ate more sugar. And obesity rates got higher.

But then something changed: Our sugar consumption actually started to decrease.

Interestingly, since 1999 through 2013 (most recent data available) intake of added sugar has actually declined by 18% (or as much as 22%, depending on the data).

This drop has brought Americans’ current added sugar intake back down to 1987 levels.

And during this time, total carbohydrate intake has dropped as well. (Makes sense, as this was the dawn of the low-carb phenomenon.)

Nevertheless, though sugar and carb intake have declined over those 14 years, adult obesity has continued to climb—from 31% of the American population in 1999 to 38% as of 2013.

(Diabetes diagnoses have continued to climb as well, which we’ll address in a moment.)

US Sugar Intake vs Obesity Prevalence - 1980-2013

So, despite lowering sugar intake by nearly 20% over a 14 year period, obesity (and diabetes) rates have continued to climb.

Along with sex, ethnic, and socioeconomic differences in obesity rates, this suggests that changing body sizes and compositions is probably a complex, multi-factored phenomenon.

Bottom line here: No single thing—including sugar—causes obesity.

Many factors work together to contribute to a consistent energy (calorie) surplus, which ultimately leads to fat gain. One of those things is often sugar, but not always, and not alone.

Question #2:
Does sugar cause us to gain weight / fat?

So, we can’t unequivocally blame sugar for increased obesity rates.

But many of us are still wondering whether sugar is a gateway to fat gain.

It seems logical. Carb and sugar consumption are the main drivers of insulin release. Insulin’s job is to help store nutrients, including fat.

Therefore, it seems obvious. Carbs and sugar cause fat gain, right?

Once again, our scientist friends reveal that it’s a bit more complicated than that. Let’s take a look at a couple of studies that explore this question.

Study 1: How do carbs, sugar, and/or insulin release affect body fat?

In 2015, a small pilot study was conducted by Dr. Kevin Hall to investigate the carb/sugar/insulin model of obesity.

What happens if we keep calories and protein the same, but play with dietary sugar and fat levels?

Here’s how the study worked.

  • 19 participants had to live in a metabolic ward, where the researchers controlled virtually everything about how they lived, what they ate, etc.
  • The participants tried both lower carbohydrate (LC) and lower fat (LF) diets.
  • They followed each diet for two weeks, separated by a 2-4 week period during which they returned to normal eating.
  • All participants spent the first five days of either the low-carb or low-fat diets following a baseline plan of 50% carbs, 35% fat, and 15% protein. This was done so that all participants started on an even playing field with an intake that virtually matches what the average American eats.
  • Each participant had to exercise on a treadmill for one hour every day for the full two weeks, to make sure physical activity levels were consistent and equal.
  • After the first five days, both groups had their calories reduced by 30% from the baseline diet (1918 calories vs 2740 calories). They then ate the lower calorie diet for six days.
  • With both diets, energy intake (i.e. calories) and protein were kept the same. Only carbs and fat went up or down.

Lower carbohydrate:

  • 101 g protein (21% of cals).
  • 108 g fat (50% of cals).
  • 140 g carbohydrate (29% of cals).

Lower fat:

  • 105 g protein (21% of calories).
  • 17 g of fat (8% of calories).
  • 352 g carbohydrate (71% of calories).

Lower carbohydrate and lower fat diets - comparison

Let’s take a closer look at how much the study participants actually ate.

On the lower carbohydrate diet:

  • Of their carbohydrates, 37 g was sugar. This means that 8% of all calories were coming from sugar.
  • This is much less than the average American eats.

On the lower fat diet:

  • Of their carbohydrates, 170 g was sugar. This means that 35% of all their calories were coming from sugar. That is a lot of sugar.

Chart showing the sugar intake compared to typical American consumption (based on a study)

So what happened?

Insulin production:

  • On the Lower Carbohydrate diet, people produced 22% less insulin throughout the day.
  • The Lower Fat diet didn’t change insulin output at all, since it had the same total carbs, and even slightly more sugar than the baseline diet.

Body weight:

  • People on the Lower Carbohydrate diet lost 4 lbs (1.81 kg) of body weight, and 1.16 lbs (0.53 kg) of body fat.
  • People on the Lower Fat diet lost 3 lbs (1.36 kg) of body weight, which included 1.29 lbs (0.59 kg) of body fat.

Note that body weight loss doesn’t necessarily equal body fat loss.

We can also lose body weight from losing glycogen, water, and/or body protein—and that’s exactly what happened to the people on the Lower Carb diet.

They lost more overall body weight, but actually lost less fat. (Though a difference of 0.13 lbs is irrelevant in the big picture. Who would notice that?)

Meanwhile, the folks on the Lower Fat diet lost more body fat but less total weight because their body was busy burning fat (rather than glycogen or lean body mass) to meet its calorie needs.

After these results were in, the researchers then ran validated mathematical models that showed over longer periods of time (say, longer than 6 months), the fat loss between the two groups would be roughly equal.

In other words, there was no particular physiological advantage to either diet in terms of body weight, nor body fat loss, over the longer term.

Study 2: Fine, let’s go lower.

For this second study, the game got hardcore: Drop the carbs and sugar much lower for the Lower Carbohydrate group, just to make sure the minimal differences found in the first study hadn’t been because the carbs and sugar weren’t low enough.

Here’s how this second study worked:

  • 17 overweight or obese people participated.
  • First, they followed a high-carb but calorically-restricted baseline diet for 4 weeks (with 25% of calories from sugar).
  • Then, they spent 4 weeks on a very-low-carb ketogenic diet (with 2% of calories from sugar), with equal calories to the baseline diet.

So what happened?

The researchers found that everyone lost weight and fat throughout the study.

However, when subjects switched from the high-carb, 25%-sugar baseline diet to the ketogenic, 2%-sugar diet, fat loss actually slowed down for the first few weeks.

Much like the previous study, this happened because as people’s bodies adapted to the ketogenic diet, they were more likely to break down fat-free mass and protein stores (e.g. muscle).

Thus:

  • Weight loss went faster during the ketogenic phase, thanks to losing glycogen and water.
  • But body fat loss was actually less during this phase (though not tremendously so, and it likely wouldn’t make any significant difference over time).

Overall, the researchers stated that based on the current evidence, as well as their validated mathematical models, long-term body fat loss would likely be very similar between the high sugar (high-carb) diet and the low sugar (low-carb) diet.

In other words, the amount of sugar didn’t seem to influence the results.

In the end, these, plus other studies, seem to support the idea that:

Sugar, carbohydrate intake, and/or insulin alone probably aren’t the main drivers of weight gain.

Other research comparing low-carb diets to low-fat diets has found similar results. The same results have also been found with:

  • Meta-analyses: Big reviews of other studies. These types of data are considered among the most robust as they explore a lot of experiments from a much broader perspective, pulling in evidence from dozens or even hundreds of studies to try to draw conclusions.
  • Systematic reviews: Methodologically rigorous comparisons and critical analyses of other studies. These type of reviews are also considered useful, because they take a skeptical perspective, looking for errors.

There have been at least 20 controlled in-patient feeding studies where protein and calories are kept equal, but carbs are varied from 20% to 75% of total calories (and sugar intakes ranged significantly as well).

Of all these studies, none of them found any truly significant differences in body fat levels when people were eating either high carb (and high sugar) or low carb (and low sugar) diets.

In other words, as long as protein and calories were equal, the amount of sugar people ate didn’t make a difference.

There have been at least 12 other systematic reviews and meta-analyses published over the past 10+ years on long-term low-carb diets (which are invariably also low-sugar diets).

Of these 12 reviews:

  • 3 were in favor of low-carb
  • 3 were in favor of non-low-carb comparisons (e.g. low fat, Mediterranean, vegan, low glycemic index, etc.)
  • 6 were neutral, meaning they concluded that various approaches can be equally valid and effective.

Yes, but how might sugar play a role?

Sweet foods may increase energy intake.

In 2013, a review commissioned by the World Health Organization investigated how sugar affected fat gain.

It found that increasing sugar intake can increase body weight, and lowering sugar intake can decrease body weight… but only by changing energy balance, not by any physiological or metabolic effect of sugar itself.

In other words, if we eat more sugary foods, we might be eating more energy (i.e. calories) overall.

Sweet foods are often processed and highly palatable.

This is especially true because most high-sugar foods are refined, tasty, and hard to stop eating. We digest and absorb the energy they contain quickly and easily, they overstimulate the reward/pleasure centers in our brain, and we tend to overeat them.

Plus, hidden sugars in processed foods (like yogurt, granola, juice) or even so-called “health foods” / “fitness foods” can add up fast without us even realizing.

These foods and our brain’s response to them, not the sugar by itself, can often lead to overconsumption.

So the sugar itself may be less of a culprit than the fact that many of us just can’t quit at just one gummi bear or sip of soda.

What else is going on, besides sugar consumption?

Most of our clients who struggle with their weight, body fat, eating habits, and health tell us: It’s not just about the food. There are many factors involved: stress, sleep, metabolic health, lifestyle, social environment, and so forth.

Sugar alone does not explain the complexity of our bodies’ health, function, fat percentage, nor weight. Metabolism is complicated.

And, as always, remember that people vary in response to particular diets.

Some people do better with higher carbohydrates and lower fats. Some do better the other way round.

This is likely due to genetic differences, individual satiety differences from fats vs carbs, personal preferences, and possibly even differences in the bacterial populations in our GI tracts.

The above studies don’t provide hard and fast rules that will always apply to everyone.

This is especially true given that many study populations were small and probably similar in terms of age, sex, ethnicity, and other important factors that can affect our physiological response to a given diet.

But they do indicate that sugar is not some kind of unusually evil substance that causes weight gain or prevents fat loss.

Question #3:
Does sugar cause diabetes?

Diabetes is a disease where we can’t properly regulate the sugar in our blood.

It seems logical, then, that eating more sugar might increase our risk for diabetes, particularly Type 2 diabetes, also known as adult-onset diabetes.

Unlike Type 1 diabetes, which typically starts in childhood and is considered an autoimmune disease (in which our own bodies attack healthy cells of our pancreas, which normally produces insulin), Type 2 diabetes typically starts later in life and (among other factors) is linked to long-term food and exercise behaviors.

Type 2 diabetes generally starts with insulin resistance, or impaired glucose control.

This means that over time, insulin is less and less able to do its job of moving glucose into our cells for safe storage. Your doctor might test this with various blood tests, such as an A1c test, which measures how much sugar is being carried around on hemoglobin, a blood protein.

Type 2 diabetes (as well as other metabolic diseases) are also related to how much fat we have in our livers and in or around other organs (such as our hearts and kidneys).

There does seem to be a link between how much refined sugar we eat and insulin resistance. Eating too much sugar can also increase fat accumulation in the liver.

For example, a recent study found that for every 150 calorie increase in daily sugar intake (essentially a 12 oz soda, or ~37 g) corresponded with a 1.1% increased risk for diabetes.

Other factors shape our disease risk, too.

That risk above might sound scary, but it’s important to keep it in perspective.

Other research has shown that losing 7% body weight and doing about 20 minutes of daily physical activity decreased diabetes risk by 58%.

And many other studies have corroborated those findings, telling us that losing a little weight / fat and doing a little more exercise, consistently, will significantly lower our diabetes risk.

In fact, a recent meta-analysis provided some compelling information on diabetes risk:

  • ~60-90% of Type 2 diabetes is related to obesity or weight gain, not sugar intake.
  • Having a significant amount of excess body fat / weight can increase diabetes risk by 90 times.
  • If people who are in the obese category lose about 10% of their initial body weight, they dramatically improve their blood glucose control.
  • Weight management (not sugar reduction) appears to be the most important therapeutic target for most individuals with Type 2 diabetes.

This makes sense if we understand how adipose (fat) tissue works: It’s a biologically active tissue that secretes hormones and other cell signals.

If we have too much of it, adipose tissue can disrupt metabolic health, including how we regulate and store blood sugar.

Does fructose contribute?

Some researchers have suggested that fructose, a particular type of simple sugar (aka monosaccharide) found in fruit as well as many processed foods, might play a special role in diabetes.

We know that fructose is digested, absorbed, and used in specific ways in our bodies.

Does that mean that fructose might have unique properties that could increase our diabetes risk?

Let’s take a look.

One meta-analysis looked at 64 substitution trials (in which fructose replaced another carbohydrate with no change in total calories), and 16 addition trials (where fructose was added to normal intake).

  • In the trials where fructose was substituted for another carbohydrate, the average fructose intake was 102 g per day.
  • In the trials where fructose was added on top of the participants’ normal intake, the average fructose intake was 187 g per day.

Compared to the average American fructose consumption of ~49 g per day, these are extraordinary intakes. To achieve those kinds of intakes would require up to 13 cups of ice cream, or consumption of 10 cans of soda.

Possible? Yes.

Daily norm? Sure hope not.

Diagram showing the comparison of experimental fructose intake in grams per day

A recent review paper summed up the state of the evidence on fructose nicely, essentially stating:

The best-quality evidence to date does not support the theory that fructose intake directly causes cardiometabolic diseases.

The review added that fructose-containing sugars can lead to weight gain, along with increases in cardiometabolic risk factors and disease, but only if those fructose-laden foods provide excess calories.

Overall, research does suggest that a high intake of all sugar (including fructose) might slightly increase the risk of diabetes development by itself.

However, this research also indicates that most of this risk is due to the high sugar intake leading to excess calorie intake, and therefore increased body fat (which leads to inflammation, and ultimately insulin resistance).

An absolutely immense amount of research consistently and strongly indicates that the main causes of diabetes are:

  • excess body fat,
  • inadequate physical activity, and
  • genetic predisposition.

On that last point, we know that diabetes risk, as well as risk of metabolic diseases and propensity to gain body fat, differs significantly by ethnic group or genetic subgroup. For instance, many groups of indigenous people are vastly more likely to struggle with these issues, as are people of African ancestry living in North America, or people of South Asian ancestry.

So your personal risk of these diseases also depends on where your ancestors came from, what genetic makeup they gave you, and/or how that genetic makeup interacts with your environment.

The bottom line here: Managing your sugar intake is just one small tool in your diabetes-fightin’ toolbox. However, far and away, the most useful tool is weight (and body fat) management, however you manage to accomplish it.

Question #4:
Does sugar cause cardiovascular disease?

The term “cardiometabolic disease” refers to a broad group of related diseases, like the Type 2 diabetes we mention above, along with other diseases related to the complex phenomenon of:

  • metabolic disruption,
  • changes in hormonal and cell signaling,
  • inflammation, and
  • an inability to regulate normal physiological processes (like DNA repair).

These diseases can appear in many organs or organ systems. When they hit the heart and/or circulatory system of blood vessels, we call them “cardiovascular disease”. They show up as things like heart attacks, strokes, clogged arteries, and so forth.

A heart attack, or heart disease, used to be a death sentence. With better treatment and new medications, people are surviving longer and living better with cardiovascular disease.

Over the past 50 years or so, deaths from heart disease have declined by over 60% despite sugar intake increasing by about 20 lbs per person per year over that time (and by more than 30 lbs per person per year at the 1999 peak intake).

Researchers estimate that about half of that 60% decrease might be from better medical care. The other half likely comes from reducing the risk factors, such as:

  • lowering blood pressure
  • smoking less
  • lowering blood cholesterol levels

Of course, as we’ve seen, consuming more energy in the form of sugar can increase body fat. And, because of its chemically active nature, more body fat definitely increases cardiovascular disease risk.

So eating a lot of sugar can certainly play a role.

But cardiovascular disease, as with other metabolic diseases, is complex.

It’s not just one thing.

It’s all the things.

It’s how we live, how we work, how active we are, how stressed we are, what’s in our environment, and the various other factors that influence our health.

There are other factors besides sugar in metabolic disease.

Indeed, if we look at factors that we know for sure are related to the risk of metabolic disease, only about 3% of Americans uphold four essential healthy lifestyle behaviors consistently:

  • Not smoking.
  • Maintaining a healthy body weight.
  • Eating 5 or more servings of fruits and vegetables per day.
  • Being physically active at least 30 minutes a day 5 times a week at a moderate intensity.

On top of that, let’s consider two other known preventative methods for metabolic disease…

  • Keeping stress levels moderate.
  • Sleeping well, 7-9 hours per night, consistently.

…now we’re probably at 1% of Americans.

Once again, sugar intake is probably one piece of the puzzle. But it’s just one piece—and probably a very small one.

Question #5:
How much sugar is OK to eat?

Let’s get real here.

Sugar is not a health food.

It doesn’t nourish us.

It doesn’t add a lot of nutrient value: It doesn’t give us any vitamins, minerals, phytonutrients, antioxidants, fiber, or water.

Eating a lot of sugar doesn’t make our bodies better, stronger, healthier, or more functional.

Sugar doesn’t add value, certainly not when compared to other foods or macronutrients like protein or omega-3 fatty acids.

But biology is complex.

Diseases are complex too.

We can’t blame one chemical for all the health problems we have.

Good health is neither created nor destroyed by a single food.

Again, human beings are diverse.

We vary widely in all kinds of ways, including:

  • How much carbohydrates we need to thrive or perform well.
  • How well we digest, absorb, and use sugars, as well as how effectively and safely we store or dispose of the excess.
  • How sugar affects our appetite, hunger, fullness, ability to stop eating it.
  • How we feel about and behave around sugar.
  • How sugar “spins our brain dials” and gives us a sense of reward.

So we can’t say that “X amount of sugar is always best for everyone, all the time” or that “People should never eat any sugar.” It just doesn’t work that way.

  • Some people might choose to cut out sugar completely.
  • Some people might try to micromanage their intake down to the gram.
  • Some people can just roll with a general “eat less-processed foods” guideline, and be fine.
  • Some people do find that a low-sugar, low-carb or even a ketogenic diet works for them. While others thrive on high-carb diets.

That said, being aware of your sugar intake is probably a good idea.

The 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommends limiting sugar to 10% of your intake. So, for example, if you’re consuming 2000 calories per day, that would be approximately 200 calories from sugar, or 50 grams.

What does this all mean?

Let’s sum up what the science suggests:

  • Sugars are basic biological molecules that our bodies use in many ways.
  • Each person’s response to sugar (whether physiological or behavioral) will be a little different. This goes for carbohydrates in general too.
  • Sugar is not a health food. But sugar alone doesn’t necessarily cause most chronic health problems like diabetes or cardiovascular diseases, which are multifactorial.
  • Sugar is energy dense. If eaten in excess (like most foods), sugar can contribute to weight / fat gain.
  • This weight / fat gain is probably mostly from the extra calories, not some special properties of sugars (or carbohydrates in general, or insulin).
  • Some people find it hard to stop eating sugar / sweet foods. This may also contribute to weight / fat gain—again, because of the extra energy intake.
  • We likely eat more sugar than we realize, since it’s hidden in so many food products.

Yet, after working with thousands of clients:

For most people, cutting out sugar completely, trying to abide by rigid rules, or basing dietary decisions on fear, probably isn’t sustainable or realistic.

That’s why, at Precision Nutrition, we prefer a more balanced approach.

What to do next:
Some tips from Precision Nutrition.

1. Recognize that health concerns are more complex than a single smoking gun.

The fitness and nutrition industry loves to say that one factor is responsible for everything (or that one magical food / workout / mantra will cure everything). It also loves to over-simplify and moralize (e.g. this is “bad”, this is “good”).

You don’t have to understand physiology to grasp the idea that things are complex.

There are many factors that go into good health, athletic performance, physical function, and wellbeing.

This means you should…

2. Begin with fundamental behaviors.

Sugar is one part in a much bigger puzzle.

Review this checklist and see how many of these fundamental behaviors you do well and consistently. That means every day, or most days:

  • Don’t smoke.
  • Keep your alcohol intake moderate.
  • Eat slowly and mindfully.
  • Eat enough lean protein.
  • Eat 5+ servings of fruit and/or veggies per day, ideally colorful ones.
  • Eat some healthy fats.
  • Get some movement for at least 20-30 minutes a day.
  • Get 7-9 hours of good-quality sleep every night.
  • Reduce stress.
  • Spend time with people you love, and/or who support you.
  • Do things that are meaningful and purposeful to you.

These are all behaviors that we know for sure are health-promoting and disease-preventing.

3. Become aware of your overall energy balance.

Take a clear-headed look at how much food you’re eating for your body’s needs, and how much activity you’re doing.

Are you eating the right amount for your physiological requirements?

If you’re heavier or carrying more body fat than you’d prefer, you may need to adjust how much you are eating and/or exercising.

This may mean lowering your sugar intake, and/or it may mean eating a little less of other foods overall.

4. Become aware of what’s in your food.

Read labels. Sugar lives in processed foods, even foods you wouldn’t expect (like salad dressings or frozen dinners).

Better than reading labels, ask how you can eat more foods without labels. (Like fruits and veggies, beans and legumes, nuts and seeds, meats and seafood, etc.)

Transitioning to less-processed and less-sweetened versions of various foods is a simple way to lower your sugar intake and get the benefits of a better nutrient intake. Double win!

5. Maintain a healthy weight.

There is no single “healthy” weight. Your weight may be higher than average, or it may be within a “normal” range.

What is most important is that this weight is healthy for you (which you’ll know because all your indicators like blood work or athletic performance and recovery look good).

If you think you need to lose a little weight/fat to look, feel, and/or perform better, the good news is that you often don’t need to lose very much to see metabolic benefits.

You don’t have to be super-lean… and in fact, many people won’t benefit from trying to do that anyway.

6. Be mindful of your overall eating patterns, habits, and perspectives.

Consider…

  • Are you eating slowly and mindfully? Can you stop when you’re satisfied?
  • Are you using sugar-rich foods as a “treat”? How often?
  • Do you feel “deprived” if you don’t “get” to have sugar?
  • If you have a sugary food, can you stop eating it when you’ve had “enough”? Is there an “enough” with some foods?
  • How does sugar fit into your life and overall habits? Is that working for you?

7. Keep it in perspective. Add “treats” in moderation.

Around here, we keep it real.

We like “treats”, “junk food” and tasty stuff just as much as anyone else, whether that’s a glass of wine, a bowl of ice cream, or a hot dog at the ball game.

We just keep the portions moderate and don’t have “treats” for breakfast, lunch, and dinner every day.

For most people, a little bit of sugar fits just fine into an overall healthy diet pattern.

If you’re looking for numbers, we suggest you shoot for including “treats” or other discretionary indulgences at 10-20% of your meals. If you eat 3 meals a day for a week, that means about 2-4 of those 21 meals might include something fun or “less nutritious”.

8. Ask yourself what works for you and what doesn’t.

If you struggle with sugar (for instance, if it makes you feel ill, or you feel like you can’t eat sweet foods in appropriate amounts), then it’s probably not a good food for YOU.

Try experimenting with lowering your sugar intake gradually (for instance, by making simple substitutions like drinking water or seltzer instead of soda), and see what happens.

Look for foods that you love, and that love you back—that make you feel good and perform well, that give you sustained and long-lasting energy, that keep your moods level, and that keep you feeling “normal” as an eater.

9. If you’re a coach, keep it real and positive.

Don’t scare your clients. Don’t lecture them. Don’t moralize.

Help them. Learn about them. Understand them.

Although research may say that on average low-carb is no more effective than other dietary strategies long-term, or that sugar by itself is not addictive, or any other innumerable statistics, your clients are real people. They are not averages.

Each individual’s preferred approach, unique circumstances, and personal experiences have to be carefully considered and taken into account when working together.

Go slowly, step by step. Make sure your client can actually do what needs to be done.

Fit the dietary strategy to the client, not the client to the dietary strategy.

10. Use data.

Track your health and physical performance indicators.

Schedule regular medical checkups.

Look at stuff like how you feel, how your mood is, how you sleep, how your bloodwork looks, how well you recover from workouts (and life in general), etc.

Follow the evidence. If everything looks stellar, keep doing whatever you’re doing.

If you’re a coach, or you want to be…

Learning how to coach clients, patients, friends, or family members through healthy eating and lifestyle changes—in a way that’s evidence-based, practical, and individualized for each person’s lifestyle, preferences, and goals—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 over 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 44% 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 2nd, 2019.

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 44% 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.

References

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

The post Level 1: The surprising truth about sugar. Here’s everything you need to know about what it does to your body. appeared first on Precision Nutrition.

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If you believe the buzz, ketosis—whether via the almost-zero-carb ketogenic diet or via ketone supplements—can curb appetite, enhance performance, and cure nearly any health problem that ails you. Sound too good to be true? It probably is.

++++

Wouldn’t it be awesome if butter and bacon were “health foods”?

Maybe with a side of guacamole and some shredded cheese on top?

“I’m doing this for my health,” you could purr virtuously, as you topped your delectably marbled, medium-rare steak with a fried egg.

Well, many advocates of the ketogenic diet argue exactly that: By eating a lot of fat and close to zero carbohydrates you too can enjoy enhanced health, quality of life, performance, brain function, and abs you can grate that cheese on.

So, in this article, we’ll explore:

  • What are ketones, and what is ketosis?
  • What, exactly, is a ketogenic diet?
  • What evidence and scientific research supports the ketogenic diet?
  • Do ketone supplements work?
  • Is the ketogenic diet or ketone supplementation right for me?

How to read this article

If you’re just curious about ketogenic diets:

  • Feel free to skim and learn whatever you like.

If you want to change your body and/or health:

  • You don’t need to know every detail. Just get the general idea.
  • Check out our advice at the end.

If you’re an athlete interested in performance:

  • Pay special attention to the section on athletic performance.
  • Check out our advice for athletes at the end.

If you’re a fitness pro, or interested in geeking out with nutritional science:

  • We’ve given you some “extra credit” material in sidebars throughout.
  • Check out our advice for fitness pros at the end.

It all started with the brain.

If you’ve called Client Care at Precision Nutrition, you might have spoken to Lindsay.

Aside from being an incredibly helpful and friendly voice on the other end of the phone, Lindsay is also a tireless advocate for a health condition that has shaped her life in many ways: epilepsy.

Epilepsy is an ancient brain phenomenon, known to medicine thousands of years ago. To manage it, our Neolithic ancestors drilled holes in one another’s skulls, perhaps trying to let the bad stuff out—a practice known as trepanation.

Around 400 BCE, the ancient Greek doctor Hippocrates observed a man who had seizures for five days. On the sixth day, he noted, as the patient “abstained from everything, both gruel and drink, there were no further seizures.”

About 1,400 years later, in 1000 CE, the famous Persian physician Avicenna—who coined the term “epilepsy”, from the ancient Greek verb epilambanein (to seize or attack, as the neurological condition caused seizures), speculated that “overfeeding” might be a risk factor for epilepsy.

By 1911, a pair of Parisian doctors were trying fasting as a treatment for children with epilepsy, and in the United States, physical culturist Bernarr McFadden was claiming that fasting for three days to three weeks could cure anything.

Despite not having the tools and insight of modern neuroscience, these and other people who explored fasting and dietary prescriptions for neurological disorders were on to something.

We now know that there may be a dietary connection
—not just between epilepsy and what we eat (or don’t), but also with many other brain disorders.

Unfortunately, fasting isn’t fun. We evolved with a pretty strong aversion to starvation, and our brains and GI tracts have lots of ways to make sure we eat enough.

Which raises the question:

Could we get the health benefits of fasting another way?

In other words:

Could there be “fasting without fasting”?

In 1921, two things happened.

One: Endocrinology researcher Rollin Woodyatt noted that the same chemical environment happened with both starvation and a diet that was very low in carbohydrates and very high in fat.

Two: Dr. Russell Wilder wondered:

Could a person get the health benefits of fasting without actually fasting?

He and other doctors at the Mayo Clinic experimented with what Wilder called the “ketogenic diet” during the early 1920s. Not only did children with epilepsy seem to improve overall with this type of diet, they seemed to think and behave better as well.

Proven by several notable medical authorities, a ketogenic diet as a treatment for childhood epilepsy found its way into medical textbooks by around 1940, and stayed there throughout the 20th century.

Nowadays, aging, contact sports, and modern warfare present us with new populations of people whose brains might benefit from a ketogenic diet:

  • people with neurodegenerative disorders (such as multiple sclerosis, Parkinson’s, and Alzheimer’s); and
  • people with traumatic brain injury (TBI) from events such as explosions or concussions.

First the brain, then the body.

There was another group of people who became curious about ketogenic diets some time in the 1980s and 1990s: bodybuilders and physique athletes.

These folks weren’t too concerned about brain health or longevity. They wanted to be ripped.

The ketogenic diet seemed like a magic bullet: a way to eat butter, bacon and cream, and still get abs.

Today, what’s old is new again.

Physique- and performance-conscious people, as well as people looking to maximize lifespan and life quality, have rediscovered this old-school dietary paradigm and are wondering:

  • Could a ketogenic diet help me perform better?
  • Could a ketogenic diet help me live longer?
  • Could a ketogenic diet help me look great on the beach?

The answer?

It depends. (Don’t you hate that? But it’s true.)

To understand why, we’ll look at:

  • the science of ketosis;
  • what a ketogenic diet looks like in “real life”;
  • who it might work for (and might not work for); and
  • what this means for you.

Let’s start by clarifying just what a ketogenic diet is.

What does a ketogenic diet look like?

It might be hard to translate “low carb, high fat” into everyday foods.

To give you a better idea of the ketogenic diet in real life, here’s a comparison:

Protein Carb Fat
PN Mixed Meal  ~30% ~40% ~30%
Paleo Meal ~40% ~20% ~40%
Low-Carb Meal ~40% ~10% ~50%
Ketogenic Meal ~20% ~5% ~75%

And here’s what that might look like translated into meals.

2016.08-Composition-of-the-ketogenic-diet-1.3

Notice a few things.

Protein

For the first three meals, protein is more or less the same, with a little variation.

Ketogenic diets, on the other hand, include less protein—usually closer to 10 or 20 percent of total daily intake.

Extremely low in carbohydrates

The Precision Nutrition plate suggests high-fiber, slow-digesting carbohydrates, such as whole grains, beans and legumes, fruits, and starchy vegetables.

The Paleo plate may contain slightly fewer carbohydrates (early human diets often had plenty of them), but eliminates the grains and beans / legumes.

The “low carb” plate will have fewer carbohydrates than the first two, but still have a small amount, likely from vegetables.

The ketogenic meal shoots for near-zero carbs. Most estimates suggest around 10-15 grams of carbs a day. To give you an idea of what this looks like, that’s about one fist-sized portion of cooked carrots, or about 10-15 grapes. For the whole day.

Very high in fat

The Precision Nutrition plate suggests about 1-2 thumb-sized portions of fat-dense foods (like nuts, cheese, avocado, olive oil, etc.) per meal, depending on body size, activity level, and goals.

The Paleo and low-carb plates may be roughly similar, with a little variation.

We might call all three of these “moderate fat”. Indeed, some indigenous diets (aka variations on the “Paleo” concept) are often quite low in fat, especially saturated fat.

The ketogenic meal, on the other hand, is high fat—even up to 90 percent of total energy intake. That means if you’re eating a 500-calorie spinach and mushroom salad, you get about 2 thumb-sized pieces of chicken breast on top, and then pour about 3-4 glugs of olive oil on top… Yum yum!

Highly restrictive

A ketogenic diet is the most restrictive and limited of all four of these styles of eating. Here’s what you can eat on a ketogenic diet:

A small amount of protein, such as:

  • meat
  • poultry
  • fish
  • seafood
  • eggs

A large amount of high-fat foods, such as:

  • avocado
  • coconut and coconut milk or oil
  • olive oil and any other oil
  • nuts and nut butters
  • bacon
  • egg yolks
  • butter
  • cheese

A very small amount of very-low-carbohydrate vegetables, such as:

  • leafy greens
  • brassicas: broccoli, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, cabbage
  • asparagus
  • cucumber
  • celery
  • tomatoes
  • peppers
  • mushrooms
  • zucchini

Here’s what you can’t eat on a ketogenic diet:

  • Most dairy (except high-fat items like butter and certain cheeses)
  • Fruit
  • Grains
  • Beans and legumes
  • Starchy vegetables (such as sweet potatoes)
  • Slightly-sweet vegetables such as winter squash, beets, or carrots
  • Most processed foods (with the notable exception of pork rinds)

So, let’s recap:

Ketogenic menus:

  • Vary in the proportion of protein but are generally low.
  • Stay as close to no-carb as possible.
  • Are very high in fat.
  • Are very limited in food choices.

So why go to all this effort?

Well, for particular groups of people, ketosis may indeed be helpful.

(For other people, of course, it may not be helpful… and it may be actively harmful. We’ll talk more about that in a moment.)

To understand why this is true, let’s look at how ketosis actually works.

What is ketosis?

The role of ketones

Ketones are a group of organic compounds with a specific structure.

The term “ketone” was actually coined around 1850 by German chemist Leopold Gmelin, along with the term “ester”. (See? Not as new as you’d think!)

We can use two types of ketones as energy sources, acetoacetate and D-β-hydroxybutyrate. (The β sign means “beta”.)

Our body can make ketones through a complex biochemical pathway.

The pathway to ketosis

Put very simply, when the conditions are right (for instance, during starvation or fasting, or when our carb intake is very low):

  • Our body releases fatty acids from our stored body fat.
  • These fatty acids enter other cells.
  • Fatty acids are combined with co-enzyme A to form acetyl-CoA chains.
  • These chains move into the mitochondria (our cells’ energy factories).
  • The chains are broken down into acetyl-CoA units by a sequence of reactions known as β-oxidation.
  • Chemical magic happens.
  • Acetyl-CoA forms your friends the ketones: acetoacetate and β-hydroxybutyrate, along with acetone (the same smelly stuff in your nail polish remover).
  • Ketones are released by the liver into the blood.
  • Almost any cell that needs energy can grab it from these circulating ketones. Again, our brain will be the greediest for these nummy little molecules.
Let’s take an even deeper look

The shape and orientation of molecules is important.

Stereoisomers are molecules with the same chemical makeup, but different shapes and configurations. You can imagine your right hand as a “stereoisomer” of your left: they both share the same components, just arranged differently.

Shape and orientation matter to molecules and their actions, just like having right-handed and left-handed gloves or shoes matters.

The ketone D-β-hydroxybutyrate is not the same as its stereoisomer L-β-hydroxybutyrate.

This difference in molecular configuration matters for several parts of the conversion process.

For instance, when D-β-hydroxybutyrate is converted back to acetyl-CoA, its intermediate form D-β-hydroxybutyrate-CoA isn’t the same thing as L-β-hydroxybutyrate-CoA (an intermediate of β- oxidation).

Each stereoisomer uses different enzymes for conversion, much like each lock has its own unique key.

This difference also matters for ketone supplementation (see below).

You want to supplement the right stereoisomer, rather than a random pile of ketone types. Usually in test tube chemistry, you get a mix of stereoisomers (often around half one type, and half another type), unlike our body, which only uses and makes one version. 

Ketosis happens when blood ketones are higher than normal either through dietary changes (which lead to very low blood glucose) or through supplementation (independent of blood glucose concentrations).

Some people like to think of ketone bodies as the fourth energy source for humans (in addition to carbohydrates, fats and proteins).

That’s technically true, but the alcohol in booze (aka ethanol) can also be used for energy. Just because we can metabolize something doesn’t always mean we should.

Let’s take an even deeper look

Ketosis, which just means having more ketone bodies than normal, should not be confused with ketoacidosis, which is a potentially dangerous metabolic situation of uncontrolled ketosis.

Normally, our body is very good at self-regulating.

If it senses acid levels rising (as happens in ketosis), it responds by buffering with more alkaline molecules (such as bicarbonate), changing blood levels of CO2, absorbing hydrogen ions, or telling the kidneys to excrete more dihydrogen phosphate and ammonium ions.

However, if for some reason our body can’t compensate, and blood pH drops below about 7.35 (in other words, becoming more acidic), we’re in trouble.

This usually happens in diabetics and alcoholics, since their normal metabolic mechanisms may not work properly.

For the average healthy person, dietary ketosis or even brief fasting is generally safe

How do we get into ketosis?

Method 1: Ketogenesis

We can make our own ketone bodies naturally, through the process of ketogenesis.

Our ancestors kicked off ketogenesis the good old fashioned way: by starving. About 72 hours into starvation, ketogenesis is happening and you’re in ketosis. Congratulations!

Ketosis is essentially an effect of fasting. This means that many of the health effects of fasting may be due to ketosis itself, rather than something like energy restriction.

Let’s take an even deeper look

Interestingly, how quickly ketosis happens varies by age and species.

Other mammals don’t seem to go into ketosis nearly as quickly as humans (your friendly neighborhood hibernating bear or squirrel who doesn’t eat for weeks to months at a time? No ketosis.)

Babies, on the other hand, go into ketosis within a few hours of not eating.

This may have to do with our energy-hungry human brains. About 20 percent of our overall energy intake is devoted to feeding our brains. Although bears and squirrels are clever enough to get into the garbage, they don’t have brains as large as we do.

It seems that ketogenesis is a human backup system that provides enough energy (via ketone bodies) to the ol’ noggin in times of starvation.

And it may be this particular evolutionary adaptation—which perhaps began as a way to keep the thinking factory upstairs working when food was scarce—that also enables the brain-benefiting effects of the ketogenic diet. 

Stored glucose (our sugar-based fuel) is actually rather heavy. We don’t carry around much of it. Our body prefers to store most of our excess energy as body fat.

When we eat normally, our brain gets enough energy from glucose that can easily pass the blood-brain barrier.

When we stop eating, we run out of stored glucose (as glycogen) within 2-3 days (faster if we’re active), and have to find some other fuel source.

By the way, the relative heaviness of stored glycogen is why many people report fast weight loss on a ketogenic or low-carb diet: their body has dumped a little extra weight in the form of glycogen and water (which tags along with glycogen in a 3 parts water to 1 part glycogen ratio). Unfortunately, this water and glycogen comes right back once we start eating normally again.

Method 2: A ketogenic diet

Most people frown on starving children with epilepsy, so a ketogenic diet is the next best thing.

By cutting off the body’s carbohydrate (aka glucose) supply, but providing energy and nutrients in the form of fat (plus a little protein), we can get the same effects as straight-up starvation: ketosis.

As with starvation, it usually takes some time to get into ketosis once we stop eating carbs.

Let’s take an even deeper look

Many people like to measure their ketosis with Ketostix, which test for ketones in the urine. This is not always a reliable indicator, since all it tells you is whether you’re excreting excess ketones, not whether you’re actually in ketosis per se.

In addition, Ketostix only measure the presence of excreted acetoacetate, not the presence of D-β-hydroxybutyrate.

Over time, our body’s excretion of ketones can change, even if we’re still in ketosis. Therefore, you may see different readings on the Ketostix, regardless of what is actually happening in your body. 

Method 3: Supplement with ketones

If ketones are what we want, why not just take them instead of making our own by fasting or cutting out carbohydrates?

Great idea, and totally new… except it isn’t.

As early as 1953, there were studies looking into whether we could “artificially” produce ketosis by supplementation.

Today, we know that by supplementing with ketone bodies (usually D-β-hydroxybutyrate or certain esters) you can raise the level of ketone bodies in the blood without being in ketogenesis.

This has a lot of cool possibilities. If ketone supplementation can give us the health benefits of ketosis without us having to fast / starve or follow a very restrictive diet, that could be a win-win.

Unfortunately, we still don’t have conclusive human studies on this that would give us clear direction. Check back in 10 years.

Is ketone supplementation effective?

The buzz is that ketone supplements can make you thin and cure whatever ails you. But what you read about in the media or on the interwebs isn’t always what scientists actually found in the lab.

If you didn’t know better, you’d think ketone supplementation just started. Actually, research on this topic goes back to the 1950s. All of it has been conducted using rats. Here are the findings.

Weight loss

D-β-hydroxybutyrate supplementation made some types of rats eat less and lose weight, but not other types of rats.

Some evidence kinda sorta indicates that D-β-hydroxybutyrate supplementation might activate brown fat (a metabolically active fat that is, in part, responsible for thermogenic adaptations) via the sympathetic nervous system, but there was no follow-up.

Blood glucose regulation

Another showed that ketone supplementation with either 1, 3-butanediol acetoacetate diester or sodium/potassium β-hydroxybutyrate decreased blood glucose with no changes in cholesterol or blood triglycerides (the not-so-great side effects of the ketogenic diet).

Traumatic brain injury

In one study, infusing D-β-hydroxybutryate into adult rats after traumatic brain injuries showed improved energy (ATP) levels.

In another study, D-β-hydroxybutryate didn’t improve things and actually caused damage to the blood-brain barrier, even in healthy rats.

Epilepsy

New evidence suggests that it may not be D-β-hydroxybutryate or acetoacetate preventing seizures; rather, it might be the relatively short-chain fatty acids (nanoeic and decanoic acids) in the diets when on a ketogenic diet crossing the blood-brain barrier, inhibiting seizures.

But in another study that exposed rats to high-pressure oxygen containing ketone esters such as R,S-1,3-butanediol acetoacetate diester, the rodents saw increased blood β-hydroxybutryate and decreased seizures.

Cancer

A recent study found that ketone supplementation extended survival in mice with metastatic cancer. But while it’s true that most cancers have a highly anaerobic metabolism, this in not universal. If proven to be effective, it’s likely that ketone supplementation would be an additional treatment rather than a stand alone treatment for cancer, because of its robust nature.

For now, almost no studies on ketone supplementation have used human clinical trials. So if anyone tells you that ketone supplementation is a miracle cure, ask if you can get some for your pet rat… if it’s the right kind of rat. 

Will ketosis help me?

Ketogenesis and ketosis are easy to study.

All you have to do is starve people, or feed them a high-fat/low-carb diet, and wait. Then you see if it changes whatever you’re interested in fixing.

Since we’ve known about fasting and ketosis for quite a long time, and it’s relatively easy to research, there are probably good reasons why it’s not yet considered a miracle cure.

And it’s not because Big Pharma or Carbohydrate Corporation or The Cancer Conspiracy have vested interests. (Trust me, we scientists can barely keep the grad students from contaminating the super-purified water by leaving the lid off the jug, never mind organize an evil cabal of ketosis deniers.)

To be fair, the introduction of anti-epileptic drugs in the late 1930s onward did lead to less interest in dietary ketosis as a treatment for epileptic children.

But we don’t yet use ketosis (or ketone supplementation) to fix everything from muffin tops to hangnails because:

  • For many populations, ketosis has little or no effect.
  • It may only work for particular types of people, with particular needs and health conditions.
  • It may take too long to see a measurable effect.
  • For many people, a ketogenic diet is too hard to consistently follow.

That being said, here are some interesting and promising new avenues for ketosis… as well as some “don’t bother” examples.

Probable benefit: Metabolic diseases

We know that fasting is often an effective short-term treatment for metabolic dysfunction such as poor glucose control / early Type 2 diabetes, chronic inflammation, or hypertension.

We don’t know for sure yet whether this is because of ketosis or some other mechanism (such as programmed cell death, aka apoptosis).

However, research suggests that in some cases, such as type 2 diabetes, ketosis may be useful as a short-term treatment or a “boost” that helps return metabolic processes back to a more normal and well-regulated state.

In these specific situations, a ketogenic diet or a structured intermittent fasting program done under close medical supervision for a specific objective, may be a useful as part of a multi-pronged treatment program that probably should include other therapeutic tools such as medication or other well-established health procedures.

Notice all our italics here. What we mean is:

  • Don’t use ketosis or fasting alone to try to cure stuff.
  • Don’t use ketosis or fasting just to randomly “get healthy”.
  • “Medical supervision” does not mean Dr. Google.

Verdict: Could help in some cases, but should be done with a clear purpose and carefully monitored. Not a long-term “cure-all” for most people.

Let’s take an even deeper look

Why does ketosis seem to help some types of metabolic dysfunction?

Ketones may help, in part, because they decrease oxidative stress, boost antioxidants and scavenge free radicals.

Oxidation is a natural part of cellular metabolism, but too much oxidation, too fast, without the balance of antioxidants, contributes to many metabolic and other diseases.

Many metabolic disorders are related to this process of oxidation, in which our cells essentially “rust” from the inside. If we can slow and regulate oxidation, it may improve our health and longevity. 

Probable benefit: Neurodegeneration and brain injuries

We know ketosis for epilepsy is a win—can ketosis help other types of brain illnesses and injuries?

Recent research suggests that many brain disorders (such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s, among other neurodegenerative diseases) are related to other metabolic disorders such as diabetes, obesity, non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD).

These metabolic and neourodegenerative diseases show common features, such as oxidative stress, mitochondrial dysfunction, and inflammation. In fact, Alzheimer’s is now often described as “diabetes of the brain”, or “Type 3 diabetes”.

The presence of ketones also seems to improve outcomes from traumatic brain injury (TBI). However, right now, most of these studies have been done on rats.

Still, based on what we’ve seen with epilepsy and rat studies, chances are good that ketones may be a low-risk treatment—and perhaps even a preventive strategy—to improve brain health. See above about getting medical supervision from someone other than Dr. Google.

Verdict: Probably can’t hurt, might help people with neurodegeneration and/or mild to moderate brain injury.

Unclear benefit: Longevity

We know that caloric restriction (CR) improves longevity in most organisms studied. We know that intermittent fasting seems to have some of the same benefits, sometimes.

But right now, we don’t know if ketosis works the same way.

The real question here is: Who’s willing to find out?

Would you stick to a ketogenic diet in the name of advancing knowledge, achieving scientific glory as a “ketonaut”? Most of us wouldn’t.

Plus, without a control group (say, your identical twin who lives exactly the same lifestyle as you, in the exact same environment, with only your diets being different), it’s hard to know for sure whether your 100th birthday was due to ketosis or something else.

For now, any longevity benefits would be mostly speculative. And your 100th birthday cake would have to be a block of butter.

Verdict: You could try this one and get your next of kin to report back… but most people wouldn’t want to.

Interesting, but probably no advantage for most people: Athletic performance

Athletes need fuel to perform.

Could we possibly enable people to tap into their stored body fat more effectively, and require less re-fueling from stuff like sugary energy gels?

Ketosis lets you avoid glycogen depletion (aka bonking, hitting the wall), because you aren’t using glycogen as your energy source, so you don’t need to take in carbs as you compete. Instead you’re using fat and ketone bodies. You increase fat oxidation, spare glycogen, produce less lactate and use less oxygen at submaximal rates.

All this sounds great, but the exercise physiologists’ consensus is that while all these adaptations are true, the problem is that with fat and ketone bodies as fuel, you’re not going to go as fast as you can when using with glucose and carbohydrates.

The bottom line for athletes is performance, and so far there is only one very new study showing a small improvement in cyclist’s performance with ketone supplementation combined with carbohydrate supplementation (compared to just carbohydrate supplementation alone).

It seems that combining ketones with carbs, rather than exclusively using one or the other, might offer some benefit.

Cutting Edge Research: Carb + Ketone Supplementation Improve Aerobic Performance

A recent study compared the effect of drinking just carbs to drinking carbs + ketones in male and female elite cyclists.

After not eating overnight (about 16 hours) the cyclists came to the lab and drank either a carb drink or a carb + ketone (c + k) drink.

Carb drink:

  • 40% dextrose
  • 40% fructose
  • 20% maltodextrin

C + k drink

  • 60% dextrose
  • 40% ketone ((R)-hydroxybutyl (R) -3-hydroxybutyrate ketone ester).

Total amount of substrate in both drinks were 573 mg/kg body weight.

The cyclists drank half of their drink, rode for 1 hour at 75% of their max power output. Then they drank the other half of their drink and biked as far as they could in 30 minutes.

After a week, the cyclist repeated the experiment with the opposite drink.

Results

When drinking the c + k drink the cyclists biked, on average, 2 percent (400 meters) farther longer over the 30 minutes.

There were some metabolic differences to note in with the c+k drink:

  • less lactate
  • more fatty acids in the blood
  • more D- β- hydroxybutyrate

Bottom line: Supplementing with a combination of carbohydrates and ketones may improve performance in aerobic competitions. 

Verdict: Some intriguing possibilities, particularly for aerobic performance, but to date there very little evidence to improve overall athletic performance.

No real advantage: Losing fat

Oh, insulin, you naughty monkey! You have been getting yourself in so much trouble lately!

Low-carb advocates in the late 1990s and early 2000s thought maybe they had stumbled on the key to fighting flab: insulin. Insulin is mainly a storage hormone: Its job is basically to help nutrients get into cells.

The low-carb / insulin hypothesis, dramatically oversimplified, went like this:

  • Insulin makes stuff go into cells.
  • Stuff that goes into fat cells makes us fat.
  • If we don’t help stuff go into cells, then we won’t get fat. We might even lose fat.
  • Carbs (in their digested form of glucose) stimulate insulin release.
  • Therefore eating fewer carbs = less body fat.

Now, this theory did have some merits.

For one thing, it got some of us unhooked from processed sugary and starchy treats, and thinking more about fiber content and healthy fats.

Unfortunately, insulin is not the only player. There’s never only one player in the team sport and complex system that is your body.

Nor does insulin act alone. Energy storage is governed largely by our brain, not a single hormone.

The other upside to the low-carb approach was that people often ate more protein and more fat. When we eat protein and fat, we release satiety hormones, particularly CCK, which is one of the main hormones that tells us we’re full.

More protein and fat means we’re often less hungry. Which means we eat less. Which means we lose fat. It’s the “eating less” part (not the insulin part) that actually matters.

On top of this, if you’ll recall, carbohydrates are relatively heavy to store. Lower the carb intake, and our body will eventually release some water and glycogen.

Result: Weight loss. Magic!

Yet being in ketosis doesn’t seem to have any special advantage for losing body fat (rather than just weight), especially if we consider the lifestyle and behavior aspect to this.

You may find it easy to eat less when all you can eat is protein and fat. But after a while, you may grow tired of bringing your own whole salmon to parties, and wonder what the other 95% of the grocery store is up to. You may start to have fantasies about a threesome: you, Oreos, and chocolate sauce. Not only that, you may be getting some serious scurvy and other nutrient deficiencies.

For women in particular, lowering carbohydrate intake seems to have negative effects.

Women’s bodies go on high alert faster when they sense less energy and fewer nutrients coming in. Many women have found that the low-carb diet that worked great for their husband not only didn’t work for them, but it knocked out their menstrual cycle on the way out the door.

Verdict: We don’t recommend the ketogenic diet for sustainable fat loss.

Let’s take an even deeper look

As part of the carb-insulin hypothesis, people thought that maybe metabolism would also increase during ketosis.

A recent study looked at whether or not there was a significant increase in metabolic rate when going from a high-carbohydrate diet (48% carbohydrate) to a ketogenic diet (6% carbohydrate), with protein being the same (around 16-17%).

With this dietary change, insulin went down while fatty acids and ketone bodies went up. Basal metabolism (energy expenditure) went up by about 100 kcal per day.

Seems obviously good—but not so fast.

Figuring out what this actually means is complicated.

Researchers had to correct metabolism based on body weight, which as you’ve read, tends to drop when water is lost on low-carb diets.

The authors concluded that while there was a small increase in metabolism initially, that disappeared over the four weeks while insulin levels were still low.

So their study didn’t support the insulin-carb hypothesis.

Is protein actually the key factor?

The authors of the study think that differences found in other studies comparing high and low-carb diets are because of differences in protein intake rather than carbohydrate intake in those studies.

Protein promotes satiety and takes the most energy to digest and absorb, so differences in weight loss may be net calories absorbed, rather than decreases in insulin or increases in metabolism.

Definitely no advantage: Gaining lean mass

As you may have read above, insulin is mainly a storage hormone. It’s also considered an anabolic hormone. As in building things. As in getting swole.

For the most part, we need insulin—along with other hormones, such as growth hormone and testosterone—to create an anabolic, muscle-building environment. Trying to build muscle while in ketosis is like stepping on the gas and the brake at the same time.

However, as with athletic performance, we may discover that there is some benefit to supplementary ketones while building muscle. We don’t know yet.

Verdict: Build muscle with a more appropriately anabolic diet that includes carbohydrates (particularly around training), and supplement with ketones if you want to experiment.

What this means for you

If you’re a “regular person” who just wants to be healthy and fit:

  • Enjoy reading about ketosis if you like. Try it, if you’re curious. But you can be perfectly fit, lean, and healthy without it.
  • Don’t believe everything you read on the internet. (Except this article, of course.) Remember that the plural of “personal anecdote” is not “scientific data”. Be a critical reader and consumer.

If you’re an athlete:

  • Know your body and the demands of your sport. Unless you’re an ultra-endurance athlete, becoming fat-adapted or adopting a ketogenic diet probably won’t improve your performance.
  • Don’t add stress. Training is a good stress, but still a stressor. Fasting and restricting energy (i.e. calories) or a particular nutrient are also stressors. Stress adds up. Don’t add nutritional stress from a stringent diet to the mix, particularly if you’re female.
  • Make meeting your nutritional needs your priority. If you’re active, you need more fuel and nutrients than the average person. Rather than taking stuff out of your diet, look for where you can add good stuff in: protein, vitamins, minerals, fiber, fatty acids, phytonutrients, water, etc. from whole, minimally processed foods.

If you’re a fitness professional / nutrition coach:

  • Understand the basics of ketosis, ketogenic diets, and ketone supplementation. Know when, how, and for whom ketosis might be appropriate. If in doubt, learn more from trusted medical and research sources—which, again, does not include random people of the Internets.
  • Help people understand as much as they need to understand in order to make an informed choice, with your guidance. Your clients will likely have questions. Prepare your answers in advance.
  • Refer out: If you think a client might benefit from a ketogenic diet or ketone supplementation for a health condition, work with their doctor to support things like meal planning and keeping a food journal that looks for correlations between diet and how they feel.

If you have a specific health problem that a ketogenic diet (or ketone supplementation) may help with:

  • Consult your doctor first. Discuss any research findings or potential dietary modifications with someone who actually went to med school. If you’re on any medications, make sure nothing you do will interfere with their effect.
  • Carefully monitor and track any dietary modifications. First, you want to stay safe; second, you want to know if what you’re doing is having any effect. So decide how you’ll know if your dietary changes are “working”, and track those indicators closely.

More to this than you realized?

After reading this article, you might feel like nutrition is more complex than you thought. We get it. In the age of 24/7 health news and fitness-celeb podcasts, it’s tough to get the real story.

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

What’s it all about?

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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.

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.

References

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The post The Ketogenic Diet: Does it live up to the hype? The pros, the cons, and the facts about this not-so-new diet craze. appeared first on Precision Nutrition.

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