The last big concept that I learned as a personal trainer took me a LONG time to learn. It was also the most paradigm shattering, impactful “understanding” that I had experienced. When I first became a trainer, I focused heavily on learning biomechanics, exercise technique, exercise programming, macro nutrients and calories. I would read books on each subject and I would dive deep into the latest studies in regards to diet and exercise. This took me far into my career but it also made my approach rigid. It took me a while to realize that this rigidity made me less effective than I could have been.
About 5 years into my career this rigid understanding of fitness and diet was challenged by a client and it forever changed my approach. Mike was a very intelligent, educated surgeon. He had a background in competitive volleyball at high levels, so he wasn’t ignorant when it came to workouts and training. He hired me to help him become stronger and leaner while balancing his crazy work schedule. He was the PERFECT client. He literally did everything I told him. If I told him to eat 2 cups of broccoli twice a day he would not only follow my instructions, he would track everything and keep a journal. He was a high performer and this is how he approached everything in his life, which is probably why he was such a successful man. I thought to myself…”finally I have a client who will do everything I tell them!” Now I could see what proper exercise and diet could do in real time. I could apply all the scientific knowledge I had learned from all the studies and books I had read.
His training consisted of working with me 3 days a week in the gym and of him doing extra cardio 2 days a week. Diet wise I had him eat a high protein paleo style diet. We tracked calories and macros religiously. His body progressed…but not as well as I thought it should. He would complain of fatigue, lethargy and of stomach bloat. I blamed it on his work schedule. About 6 months into our training he took some time off to volunteer his medical expertise in a third world country. He was gone for 3 weeks.
When he came back he was excited to tell me that his lethargy and stomach bloat had disappeared. “You must have been getting good sleep and had less stress” I said. “No” he answered, ”I slept maybe 5 hours a night and we lived in very tough conditions. Every morning I would hike miles to treat other villagers. It was brutal.” He then proceeded to tell me about the diet he ate.
The villagers were vegetarians!! He ate a MUCH lower protein vegan diet and felt amazing!! This was COUNTER to what I had learned. Vegan diets didn’t have enough protein and were sub optimal for fat loss and muscle gain, yet here is my client who is obviously thriving.
As rigid as I am, I also value open-mindedness. We constructed a vegan diet, he followed it, and along with my training, his body responded REMARKABLY. Now, I want to be clear, this is NOT an article advocating vegan diets. In fact, in my experience vegan diets don’t work well for most people. However, some people actually do quite well on them. And that, in itself, is the lesson. Although there are general truths in health and fitness, these truths can break down when we look at the INDIVIDUAL.
Once I understood this, I became a far more successful and effective trainer. I learned to help my clients listen to the best and most accurate coach for them IN THE WORLD…their body.
Here is the bottom line: although scientific study can be very helpful in helping you figure out how to eat right or exercise right NOTHING will direct you better than how you feel, and how your body responds. I don’t care how awesome a workout or diet plan is purported to be; If you don’t feel good or if your body isn’t reacting in a favorable way ITS NOT WORKING FOR YOU.
Listen to your body and over time you will figure out what works best. Here are some things to take note of when you are embarking on a fitness and health journey:
Take note of each of those and pay attention to how they react and change through your diet or exercise plan. The diet and workout that brings forth the MOST favorable results in each of those categories will tell you a lot more about what works for you than any article or scientific study will. This takes time, but over a matter of months your body will change faster and in more permanent ways because you will be working with your body rather than against it.