Functional Training Zones

The Future of Nutrition and Body Transformation

by John Berardi, PhD

Last year, Chris Poirier asked me to present at the Perform Better Meeting of the Minds seminar. This event, for elite fitness and strength professionals, was all about the future of the fitness industry. And since nutrition coaching is my area of specialty, that was my topic.

In the months since the event, I've thought a lot more about this area – The Future of Nutrition and Body Transformation – and would like to share a few key insights with you today.

From Movement Coaches to Life-Changers

Based on my conversations with industry leaders, the consensus seems to be this: the future will bring us from an exercise or movement based focus – which I know has dominated most trainers' professional experience to date – to a client or person centered approach.

A place where the client's comprehensive needs are considered, not just their movement needs. A place where clients aren't just told to exercise but guided in their movement choices, nutrition choices, and, in many cases, how they organize their lives.

In essence, as fitness professionals, the future will bring a movement from teaching exercise as our core competency to changing lives as our higher calling. Because our clients don't actually hire us to learn how to move. They hire us to help them feel better about their lives; about the way they look, about the way they feel, about the way they perform.

Yes, exercise can help with this. But exercise alone isn't sufficient. We all know this. 

With this in mind, let's talk about 6 important paradigm shifts that will change the face of the industry in the next 5-10 years.

Paradigm Shift #1: The Use of Change Psychology

Here's the reality most fitness pros don't want to face. We don't work with physiological machines. Instead we work with human people. People whose limiting factors almost always extend beyond physiology into the psychological realm. So it's only when we start paying close attention to change psychology that we're able to make a really meaningful difference in someone's life.
Now, a review of the field of change psychology goes beyond the scope of this article. However, to learn more about the field, I recommend the following 6 books, which have been instrumental in the development of my personal thoughts, and in the development of our coaching programs.

The Power of Less, by Leo Babauta
Truly an outstanding little book describing the author's analysis of his own growth and change. If you want to understand how change happens and how new habits are actually formed in the real world, there isn't a better book than this one.

Motivational Interviewing, by William R Miller & Stephen Rollnick
Motivational Interviewing is a very specific style of dialog designed to provide clients with a safe place to contemplate change — and all coaching, whether with elite athletes or with rank beginners, is about facilitating change.

Switch, by Chip and Dan Heath
When the two sides of our brains act in harmony, change can be effortless. Of course, there are specific steps that must be taken. And in this book you learn an exact blueprint for helping others change anything about themselves.

Crucial Conversations, by Kerry Patterson et al.
In this book, the authors describe a step-by-step process, from recognizing when a discussion is getting critical, to being honest without being hurtful, to settling an issue and moving forward in agreement. Putting even just one or two of their techniques into practice with your clients will make you a far better coach.

The Blackmail Diet, by John Bear
This book describes all kinds of weight loss experiments involving legally binding pledges to either lose weight or face an unpalatable consequence. It's a fascinating read for any coach and emphasizes how leverage and commitment are important in any change effort.

Influence, by Robert Cialdini
A collection of psychology experiments and anecdotes examining how influence works. Cialdini weaves a solid argument that people are hard-wired to look for specific cues before they are convinced of something. Of course, your clients will be examining everything about you, even in ways you might not have anticipated.

Of course, I'm obviously biased.  But I'd be remiss if I didn't mention one more book.

The Essentials of Sport and Exercise Nutrition, by John Berardi & Ryan Andrews
If I do say so myself, this is the only book on nutrition you will ever need. A completely new 600-page academic textbook that Ryan Andrews and I wrote from the ground up, because frankly nothing like it existed. We've spent the lion's share of our academic and professional careers pulling pieces from the dozen or so different fields of study involved in body transformation.  From molecular biology, to food science, to behavioral psychology, just to name a few. And it's all here in this text and coaching program.

In the end, these books have influenced my team and me in some very important ways. If you read through each of them over the next year, and put what you learn into practice, I promise you'll be a completely different kind of fitness professional a year from today. But don't rush out and get them all at once. As we'll discuss in a minute, change has to be done slowly, one habit at a time...

Paradigm Shift #2: Working on One Habit at a Time

Taken altogether, the exercise and nutrition strategies we often ask our clients to do can seem overwhelming. That's because trying to do all of them at once is too much to take on at any one time. Despite our misconception that humans are good multitaskers, most folks can only focus on and properly do one thing at a time.

So, if you want to improve as a coach, do less. (With the caveat that you should be doing only the really important things while ignoring anything that's not important – at least for now.)

The best practical application of this advice? Adopt only one new coaching action for a month or so. Only add in another action once you've mastered the previous step.

Your goal for each client should be the same: to lead them progressively towards the desired change. Just like you'd teach a complex movement skill progressively, instead of all at once, lifestyle skills have to be learned the same way.

Truly, it's far too easy to give clients too much information and too many tasks in the beginning. After all, good nutrition and fitness habits are seamlessly integrated into your life. It's easy to forget that clients will take many self-conscious, hesitant, difficult steps in the beginning.

As Leo Babauta argues in his book The Power of Less, give out one clear task, and 85% of clients can stick to it. Add a second task, and adherence drops to less than 35%. Three tasks – pffft. Now you've got less than 10% success.

So start with one habit; ideally a habit that's small, manageable, and as practical as possible. When in doubt, simply take your one assigned task and reduce the difficulty by half. If you want clients to eat 2 vegetables a day as their first task, start with 1 vegetable instead.

Any tasks you assign must also be clear and specific. "Eat better" is no help at all. Even "eat more fruits and veggies" is too nebulous. So put a number on it. For example:

• Instead of "Work out more", say, "Do 5 minutes of interval exercise today".
• Instead of "Eat more vegetables", say, "Eat 1/2 cup of veggies with each meal today".
• Instead of "Improve your posture", say, "Get up from your chair every hour today."

In addition to asking too much of our clients, another reason we don't always have the type of success with clients we should is that we often don't ask – we tell:

Take two of these a day.
Eat 2 servings of this every day.
Exercise 5 hours this week.

How well do you respond to being told what to do? (I'm guessing not well.) Usually, our clients aren't ignoring our suggestions out of spite. Most simply don't think these actions are possible for them.

Truly, a diehard carnivore might find "eat 5 vegetables a day" as momentous a task as climbing Everest.

So, why not ask for your client's feedback before dishing out advice? Really, when's the last time you asked:

On a scale of 1 to 10, how confident are you that you can do what I have asked?

In our practice, we ask this of each client. Not only does it help us shape our advice. It also enlists the client in the change process. For example, if their answer is less than a 9 or 10, we know they won't be able to do what we're asking. So we make the task easier.

In fact, we keep simplifying, clarifying, and reducing the difficulty until they can give us a heartfelt 9 or 10 on the confidence scale. This almost always leads to positive momentum and eventual success.

In the end, one of the key principles of change psychology is this one: do less.

Ask your clients to adopt only one new habit at a time. Make sure the habit is small, something they can do daily, and is easy to understand/measure. Finally, make sure your clients can answer 9 or 10 on the confidence scale. (If not, make the habit easier).

And don't forget to practice what you preach. When trying to make changes in your own life, do the same. Less. One habit at a time. Find the minimum effective dose...

Paradigm Shift #3: Finding the Minimum Effective Dose

Keeping in line with doing less theme, there's a concept in the pharmaceutical industry known as the minimum effective dose and it specifies the dose of a drug required to produce a therapeutic response. (By extension, the minimum effective dose concept represents the minimum dose required to produce the desired response).

Of course, all physiological responses have a minimum effective dose. And, typically, for best results, the minimum effective dose should be observed.

Take sun exposure, for example. If the minimum effective dose for a suntan was 20 minutes of sun exposure every other day, if you want to get tan, you should spend time in the sun for at least 20 minutes every other day.

But let's say you want to get really tan. Should you then up the dose to 60 minutes every other day? Would that lead to 3x the tan? No way. Instead, you'd probably get burnt on the first day and need to stay out of the sun for a full week or two. And that's not an effective way to improve your tan.

The lesson here?

Although this is counter-intuitive for a lot of people, exceeding the minimum effective usually slows down your progress, rather than speeding it up. In other words, more is not better. This is true in pharmaceutical prescription (too much will likely make you sick), sun tanning (you'll get burnt), exercise training (you'll damage too much muscle tissue), dieting (you'll likely create too much of an energy deficit) and more.

While this makes sense, in the fitness industry I'm pretty confident we don't know what the minimum effective dose is for many of the things we recommend. For example, what's the minimum effective dose of:

• exercise volume for fat loss?
• hypertrophy work for muscle gain?
• strength work for power lifting totals?
• plyometric work for power development?
• endurance exercise for increased AT?
• energy deficit for fat loss?
• nutrition habits for compliance?

We don't know because many of us have never been incentivized to find the minimum effective dose. After all, most fitness and strength professionals got into this field because we love to exercise ourselves. So, the idea of finding the minimum amount of exercise doesn't fit. Heck, many of us would like to find ways to do more exercise, not less.

Yet every legitimate field of study looks for efficiency points in their area. These are the points where you get the most output for the lowest input. The biggest bang for your buck, as they say. If we hope to further the fitness industry, we'll need to begin to discover these efficiency points in our field.

Here's one example.

I recently worked with a client named Marsha. She's a 28 year old woman who was 5'6" and 150lbs when we met. She played co-ed sport 2x per week, either volleyball or soccer. But had never intentionally trained. Her goal was weight loss.

Because Marsha was working 2 jobs, was heavily involved in a host of volunteer experiences, was planning a wedding, and admitted to not enjoying "gym exercise" very much, I built her program with the minimum effective dose in mind. Here's what her program looked like.

• Day 1 – 10 minutes Close-grip push-ups x 10 Inverted rows x 10 Kettlebell swings x 20 Rest 1 minute Repeat 5 times
• Day 2 – 6 minutes 2 minute walk 15 second treadmill sprint at 8mph and 12% incline 15 seconds rest Repeat 5 times 2 minute walk
• Day 3 – 10 minutes Close-grip push-ups x 10 Swiss ball crunches x 10 Air squats x 20 Rest 1 minute Repeat 5 times
• Day 4 – 6 minutes 2 minute walk 15 second treadmill sprint at 8mph and 12% incline 15 seconds rest Repeat 5 times 2 minute walk

She did this program for 16 weeks. And at the end of the 16 weeks, Marsha had lost 20lbs of body fat and dramatically shifted her body composition. She did this with a shockingly low exercise volume. If you do the math, in 4 months she exercised for a grand total of 8 hours. 30 minutes a week.

Of course, if you're savvy you're probably wondering if we made any nutrition changes? Yes, of course we did. But, in the spirit of keeping this simple, I gave her the following nutrition suggestions:

• Weeks 1 and 2: I asked her to simply eat each meal slowly and have about 4 meals each day. No other changes.
• Weeks 3 and 4: I asked her to also begin eating lean protein, legumes, and lots of veggies w/each meal.
• Weeks 5 and 6: I asked her to also start avoiding white, starchy carbs, fruit, and calorie-containing drinks. In addition, I added one day each week where she could eat whatever she wanted.

That's it. No calorie calculations. No complicated rules. Just simple nutritional steps and 30 minutes of exercise per week. You can get much more efficient than that.
Now, I'm not suggesting this plan would work for everyone. However, it should make you think.

Maybe you've been making some invalid assumptions about what's required of your fat loss clients to make progress? Maybe you've even been asking too much of your clients? Maybe by asking less of your clients, their compliance will increase and you'll see better long-term results?

In the end, finding the minimum effective dose means going in the opposite direction most of us are inclined to go. It means doing less, rather than more. It means figuring out the most important inputs and going hard on those critical things. It also means figuring out the least important inputs and eliminating them altogether. On the training side, on the nutrition side, and on the lifestyle side.

But to do that, it means becoming more than a personal trainer, it means...

Paradigm Shift #4: Grasping the Concept of Training+

Despite what it says on our business cards, we are not "personal trainers." No, you and I transform bodies. We use things like exercise and nutrition to change lives. And that truth is much more powerful.

So, as we enter the future of this industry, we're going to need to embrace the concept of training+. In other words, yes, we'll still do training. But we'll also be expected to do other things like:

• Use physical therapy techniques to do movement screening, prehab, and rehab activities.
• Use manual therapy techniques to help clients with mobility, flexibility, and tissue quality.
• Use nutrition and lifestyle coaching to help clients eat better, sleep better, distress, etc.
• Use exercise science metrics for screening clients and measuring progress.

In fact, even some of the big club chains like Equinox and Lifetime Fitness are beating us to the punch, offering all these things in-house, in the personal training environment.

And while many independent personal trainers like to hate on the "big box" clubs, these chains are setting a standard that we can learn from. (Make no mistake, with big clubs like these already using the concept of training+; it's just a matter of time before you're expected to start including it in your practice too).

Since physical therapy and manual therapy techniques are already here, the next big area is going to be the inclusion of nutrition in the personal training environment.

We all know that training and nutrition belong together. So, why have we kept them separate? Maybe it's that nutritionists have always felt like food was "their domain." Trainers always felt like training was "their domain." And neither group felt like they had the power to integrate the two.

But, guess what...once upon a time, physical therapists and trainers felt the same way. Trainers never used any physical therapy techniques like functional movement screening, or dynamic mobility drills, or prehab exercises. And physical therapists never used training techniques. But about 5-10 years ago that all changed.

Physical therapy techniques started being incorporated in the personal training environment. So we embraced things like movement screens and corrective exercise. Now, in the gym, we screen our clients, help them with muscle imbalances, and help them avoid injuries.
Nutrition is shaping up the same way. Nutrition is going to follow the same path as physical therapy. In the next 5-10 years, using basic nutrition techniques in the training environment will be an expectation. And if you're not using them you'll be left in the dust.

However, as your build out your gym or fitness center-based model, be careful not to ignore this next trend...

Paradigm Shift #5: Embracing Mobile Training

Why are people so enamored with mobile devices like iPhones and iPads? It's not just because they look cool. In reality, it's because they are allowing us to take a traditionally fixed activity (computing) and bring it out into the world with us.

Literally, we now have supercomputers in our pockets with voice communication, written communication, navigation, and entertainment capabilities. Not to mention access to the entire web. Ahh, the freedom. Who wants to sit at a computer all night after being stuck at one all day?

So, for all of you who scratch your heads over the success of a mobile exercise device like the TRX suspension system – and I know lots of you wonder how the hell those little straps and handles are generating nearly 100 million dollars annually for the TRX company – wonder no more. The TRX is like the iPhone of fitness. It's mobile exercise. It's a gym you can carry in your pocket. You can now work out in the park if you want. At the beach. In your hotel room. Wherever.

Of course, gyms will never be obsolete.

However, mobile training is catching on because people like the freedom of working out – even if it's occasionally – in different places other than their gym. I see people doing conditioning with "battle ropes" on the beach. I see people pushing prowlers in their neighborhoods. I see people with kettlebells and med balls at the park. And outside of CrossFit gyms all over the world, they're doing Olympic lifts in parking lots and alleyways.

So puzzle no more over the success of suspensions systems or kettlebells or battle ropes. These devices simply tap into a bigger cultural phenomenon. The same one that's caused you to fall in love with your iPhone. And more devices like this are coming. Be ready.

And speaking of new devices...

Paradigm Shift #6: Employing New Technology

The personal training field is behind the times in scary ways when it comes to technology, in particular digital technology. However, this isn't going to continue for long. New mobile phone apps and web sites are springing up every day to help us organize our fitness and health

Here are just a few examples of emerging technologies that you can include in your practice today.

Meal Snap
A mobile app that lets you take pictures of the meal you're about to eat. Then it tells you what food was in your meal and estimates how many calories you ate.

Jawbone Wristband
This wristband tracks your daily activity, sleep patterns, and meals – also allowing you to create fun personal and social challenges.

Body Media Fit
This armband also allows you to track daily activity, sleep patterns, and calorie intake. It works with both an online and a mobile phone interface.

An online interface that allows you to turn fitness into a social game. Earn points for workouts, unlock achievements, and tackle special challenges.

An online interface that allows you to create "commitment contracts" which bind you into achieving a personal goal. You select your goal, set the "stakes", get a referee, then add friends for support. It's kinda like the Blackmail Diet.

The Habit Factor
A mobile app that allows you to create, monitor, and track habits on a daily basis. It's super simple but very effective.

An online and mobile client management system that automates many of the administrative features most fitness pros. This allows you to spend more time coaching and less time administrating.

A mobile phone app that is used in conjunction with a heart rate monitor for tracking heart rate variability.

Sleep Cycle
A mobile phone app that uses your phone's built-in accelerometer for tracking sleep patterns based on night-time movement.

Zeo Sleep Manager
A sleep tracking device that measures EEG activity to determine sleep quality, including duration and time spent in REM, light, and deep sleep.

23 and Me
An online web interface that provides information on your ancestry, disease risk, carrier status, drug response, and unique traits, all based on your genetic profile, which is collected through a saliva sample.

These are just a few of the cool technologies emerging in the health and fitness space.

Of course, technology can never replace the insight of a trained, empathetic coach. And it never well. However, what it can do is help good coaches do more coaching and less administrative and tracking activity. And that's a huge advantage.


In the end, these are just a few trends I think will influence the next 5 years of the fitness industry.

If we carefully and thoughtfully start shaping them in the right way, we can elevate our field from a hobby to a legitimate profession in which the best practices exercise science, nutrition, and change psychology are consistently used in the best interest of our clients.

Remember, we're not here to tell people how to exercise or eat. We're here to create a safe place for our clients to consider change. And the change they're looking for has little to do with sets, reps, and calories. Instead they want to feel better. About their bodies, about their relationships, and about their lives.

Free 5-Day Course For Fitness and Strength Professionals

If you're looking for ways to build your training practice into the future, check out this free 5-day video course from Precision Nutrition: "The Essentials of Nutrition Coaching".  It's designed exclusively for fitness and strength professionals and it's full of strategies that will make you a better professional for today and for the future.