One Size Fits All

In exercise and fitness training, a “one-size fits all” approach does not work.

This is one of my favorite aspects of being a personal trainer and health coach.

Every single day, I encounter something new. Whether it’s a client’s specific goal, preference, injury, or condition, everyone has different wants and needs. This requires alterations, to say nothing of completely different programming.

My oldest client is 91. My youngest is 13. I have middle-aged clients trying to lose weight. I have young men playing soccer at division 1 colleges. I have new mothers that want to return to their favorite sports. I have seniors reversing rheumatoid arthritis and regaining balance and energy. Some of my clients want to get off a long list of medications. Others just want a fun and challenging workout a few days a week.

These differences between individuals contribute to my hesitation to recommend routines based entirely around weight machines.

Machines allow you to adjust the height of the seat, and sometimes make an adjustment for leg length, but beyond that, you’re pushing or pulling in a pre-determined range of motion. Different people will need to move differently based on their build and body mechanics. And, just as importantly, these types of actions won’t transfer as effectively to real life.

When you pick something up, push a heavy object, or take a very high step up, there is nothing guiding your body through space. Your muscles and joints will be working on their own, free of outside influence.

Machines are useful to isolate a muscle group, and help an individual develop a mind-body connection with that muscle, but they should not be where you spend the majority of your time.

I start most my clients with a series of assessments, performing different movements that are common in everyday life. Their ability to execute these actions, along with the goals they have stated, will specify exactly what we must do together.

These assessments usually consist of a gait analysis, squatting down into a chair and back up, bringing the arms overhead, and holding a plank or pushup position. But, as previously mentioned, I may omit some of these, use alternatives, or do something completely different based on the client.

The same mistake of using a “one-size fits all” approach is apparent in our nations nutritional recommendations. The USDA recommends that everyone consume 45-65% of their calories from carbs, 10 to 30% from protein, and 25 to 35% from fat.

This is akin to recommending that 15% of all calories come from dairy…or that 5% of calories come from peanuts. What if an individual is lactose intolerant or allergic to peanuts?

As evidenced by our current diabetes and obesity rates, most Americans cannot tolerate upwards of 50% of their calories coming from carbs. Through years of trial and error, I’ve learned that if I average more than 40% carbs, more than 4 days a week, I start to gain fat, even in a calorie deficit.

Remember, carbs are fuel for high intensity activity, while dietary fat is truly essential for optimal health. After a lifetime of consuming more carbs than the body can safely store and burn, it loses its “insulin sensitivity”. This means that the sugars last too long in the blood (causing inflammation and cardiovascular disease) and are eventually forced into fat storage.

I work with my clients to find the most sustainable and healthy nutritional path for them. I base my nutritional recommendations not only on their dietary restrictions, activity level, and current conditions, but also their preferences and lifestyle.

I personally cook a few big meals on weekends so I have leftovers available on weekdays. However, I may have to suggest a different approach for clients that don’t have the time to, or interest in, trying this. Some of my clients are vegans or vegetarians that require more vitamin supplementation and creative protein options. If a client has sugar or chocolate cravings, we’ll work to find the healthiest options and optimal timing for indulgences.

Some foods are healthier than others, but I’ve never insisted that a client consume a certain food or avoid another. I merely work within their parameters, to find out what will guarantee them success in the long term.

These examples show the importance of individual personalization. Personal trainers, and health professionals of all kinds, must be able to tailor the theories learned through education, to best serve each client.

No two people are the same, so why should their exercise and diet be the same?

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A Calorie Is NOT A Calorie!

This is something health coaches, nutritionists, and scientists (trained in biology, chemistry, or endocrinology, as opposed to conventional medicine) have said for decades.

The notion that all calories are the same; that calories-in (consumed) compared to calories-out (burned) is the end-all-be-all in terms of bodyweight; is archaic and damaging to our public’s health.

Just last week, a study was published showing the results of consuming a high-protein diet. However, fat and carb intake was held constant between the two groups, meaning the high-protein group was consuming over 500 extra calories a day.

After 8 weeks, there was no difference between the two groups, in terms of bodyweight or body composition.

This suggests:

1.) Excess calories coming from protein may not lead to weight gain. This may be invaluable for individuals trying to lose weight considering that protein is the most satiating macronutrient.

2.) It is not necessary to consume extra protein to gain muscle. This is most useful for individuals trying to put on muscle, since protein can be the most expensive macronutrient.

I’ve always suggested my clients try to consume one gram of protein per pound of bodyweight. This has been the standard for athletes and performance-oriented individuals for decades. Unfortunately, the general public has been convinced that protein is bad for the kidneys or the body as a whole.

There are many studies showing that individuals with kidney impairment have issues with high-protein diets…but these results have never been replicated with healthy populations.

The way major food companies produce and prepare meat will make it harmful to our body (and the environment). Feeding corn to cows literally becomes a race against the clock to see if the cow can grow fat enough to slaughter, before it dies of indigestion and infection. At the same time, grain-feeding will skew the omega-3 / omega-6 ratio, increasing the amount of inflammatory omega-6 found in the animals fat.

However, if cows, or any animal for that matter, are given enough land to wander about, and a natural diet for them to freely consume, their meat will not only be healthy for us, but may be the most beneficial food we can consume.

So, if your goal is to reduce body-fat, and you plan to achieve weight-loss using calorie restriction, make sure you are not reducing your protein intake. And keep in mind, if you are hungry or have trouble staying full, have a few extra bites of protein.

Alternatively, if you are trying to increase muscle mass, consume 1g protein per 1lb bodyweight, but, after that save your money and get extra calories from natural carbs or healthy fats. Scoops of expensive protein powder or additional pounds of chicken breast may not make a significant difference.

This study is just one more step towards correcting our understanding of food and the human body. Nothing that comes from nature, meant to give us sustenance, is automatically bad for us. It is only when we tinker with nature, maximizing production while minimizing cost, that problems arise.