Expert Tip: Act your nutritional age


You probably know your chronological age. You may even know your RealAge. Or your age in dog years.

But do you know your nutritional age?

What the heck is a nutritional age?

Nutritional age is a combination of three things:

  1. What you know
  2. What you do
  3. How good you are at both knowing and doing on a regular basis

These three things combine with three levels of goals:

  1. Moderate changes in health, body composition and performance. Level 1 is wanting to feel just a little better.
  2. Significant changes in health, body composition and performance. Level 2 goals are about getting really good.
  3. Major, drastic changes OR very precise, targeted adjustments to health, body composition, and performance. Level 3 goals are elite athletic performances or professional body composition results (in other words, preparing to get on stage as a pro bodybuilder).

The more knowledgeable, skilled, accurate, and adherent you are, and the more precise or dramatic your body transformation, the higher your nutritional age.

Why is this important?

Do you find yourself lying awake at night, worrying about the precise ratio of carbohydrate to protein in your postworkout drink after reading about high-level bodybuilding diets… but you don’t eat vegetables?

Do you feel overwhelmed by nutritional details? Is it OK to wait 32 min after a workout to consume your precise ratio of carbs-to-protein? What about 38 min? What kind of protein? Should you drink it fast to get the nutrition in there, or slowly to allow the protein to be gradually digested? Should it be in liquid form at all? Gah!!

Is one of your kitchen cupboards full of the latest-and-greatest supplements… and another cupboard full of junk food?

If this is you, then you might not be acting your nutritional age.

Finding your nutritional age will help you determine what you should be doing and why.

How do I know my nutritional age?

I never ask clients explicitly what they believe their nutritional age to be. Why not? Well, because they usually have no idea since nutritional age, nutritional experience, nutritional level, are all subjective and based on some reference points.

For example, if you eat better than everyone you know, you may think your nutritional level is “advanced.” Yet compared to a different standard, it may be very much “beginner.”

Likewise, if you hang out with a bunch of “nutrition nuts” who seem to have it all together, you may believe yourself to be “beginner” while maybe you’re really more “intermediate” or “advanced.”

Of course, you can read a nutrition book every week and still be a beginner as your practice of this information might still be immature. On the other hand, you could never read a single nutrition book or text yet have a high level nutritional intake.

This is why Precision Nutrition V3 contains some tools for helping people categorize themselves according to 3 different nutritional levels: Level 1, Level 2, and Level 3.

You can call this your “nutritional age,” your “nutritional level,” etc. Whatever you call it, this categorization is based on how your body looks and performs as well as your specific nutritional habits.

Further, not only does your nutritional level describe you, it also describes how you should approach improving your intake.

3 levels of nutritional age


We view nutritional age as broken down into 3 broad categories. Unlike actual aging, it’s possible to stay a baby forever. And you don’t have to advance to “old age” if it doesn’t suit you. Most folks are pretty happy and healthy somewhere in Levels 1 and 2, provided that they’re reasonably compliant with the types of tasks that Level 1s and 2s are assigned.

Just bear in mind that your nutritional age has to be tailored to your own goals and aptitudes. If you need to get on a professional stage, hope to heck that you or your coach has Level 3 down pretty well. If you just want to lose a little squish or feel a little better, relax into Level 1 for now.

Level 1

Level 1 individuals should concern themselves with the the nutritional programming taught in the PN Diet Guide, using Gourmet Nutrition meals and the PN nutrient timing templates or Super Foods Checklist.

We always teach Level 1 clients that their primary focus should be on making better food choices and controlling energy balance (without counting calories, etc.). By focusing on these two things, Level 1 clients improve at a steady pace or maintain a decent level of health without being overwhelmed.

Level 2

Once a client graduates from Level 1, they have to progress to the next level in terms of their nutritional habits if they hope to continue to improve. This is where we focus on more individualized nutrition: nutrition based on activity levels, goals, body type, and more.

Level 2 individuals should concern themselves with using the activity and goal-based calorie calculations, body type specific macronutrient breakdowns, and nutrient-sensitivity based nutrient timing strategies — all outlined in detail in the Individualization Guide of PN V3.

This is ideal for recreational exercisers and high-performance athletes who already have a great diet and want to pursue very specific performance and/or body transformation goals.

It’s also good for those who really want and need to know the details of their intake. (You know who you are: You love Excel spreadsheets, you carry around a pocket calculator and you don’t like things being out of your control.)

Level 3

Level 3 is for people who have elite aims and the means to make them happen. It’s for people who want to accomplish pro-level physique and performance goals and have the discipline to follow 95% adherence or higher, rigorously track intake, count calories, vary macronutrients systematically, and basically be ninjas of nutrition. (In other words, it’s not enough to just want to be elite. The idea of being a ninja is pretty cool, but you have to work night shifts and practise your swordfighting 18 hours a day in order to earn that stylish black uniform.)

Level 3 individuals should concern themselves with high level individualization like calorie cycling, periodic very low carb diets, periodic very high carb diets, etc. — all outlined in detail in the Individualization Guide of PN V3.

Work with your nutritional age

Should you take up cliff diving if you’ve just learned the belly flop? Should college students dress like 80-year old French dudes?

Well, probably not. Nutritionally speaking, don’t try to pogo stick jump a marathon before you’ve mastered crawling.

The nutritional strategies you choose should be based on your current level/nutritional age.

They should not be based on some general ideal, some general program, or on what works for someone who’s had success but is at a different level than you.

Of course, if you’re looking for more information about how to determine your nutritional level as well as how to eat for your level and your body type, make sure you get yourself a copy of Precision Nutrition V3.

Learn more

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