The Future of Body Transformation seminar: Part 4 | Precision Nutrition

The Future of Body Transformation seminar: Part 4

By John Berardi, Ph.D.


Five big ideas that are changing fitness, nutrition, weight loss, and body transformation.

The personal training and the strength and conditioning fields are very young. That’s exciting. It means there’s plenty of room for growth and progress.

It also means that the way we teach fitness, nutrition, weight loss, and body transformation will change dramatically in the next few years.

Changes are coming fast.  If you blink, you might miss them.  Worse yet, you might get left behind.

That’s why we’re sharing this 5-part video series, filmed live at the 2012 Fit Pro Convention in Loughborough, England.

In this video series we’ll discuss the 5 biggest changes happening in fitness.

By the end of the series, you’ll know how to stay ahead of the curve… instead of struggling to catch up.

To learn more, click the play button below to get started with Part 4 of The Future of Body Transformation.  (Click here for part 1, part 2,  part 3, and part 5).  The video is about 9 minutes long.

To download an audio or a video version of this file, click here.
Please be patient as downloads may take a few minutes.

Observe the minimum effective dose

In line with our “doing less” theme from last time, there’s a concept in the pharmaceutical industry known as the minimum effective dose — the smallest 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, the math is simple.  If you want to get tanned, 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, really fast. Should you then increase the dose to 60 minutes every other day? Would that lead to 3 times the tan?

Not really. Instead, you’d probably get burnt on the first day.  Then you’d 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 many other areas of life.

Why the fitness industry ignores this concept

If we’re honest with ourselves in the fitness industry, we have to admit that we don’t really 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 efficient fat loss?
  • hypertrophy work for efficient muscle gain?
  • strength work for maximum power lifting totals?
  • plyometric work for maximal power development?
  • endurance exercise for increased anaerobic threshold?
  • energy deficit for nutritionally driven fat loss?
  • nutrition habits for high compliance?

We don’t know.  Why not?  I think we’ve never been pushed to find the minimum effective dose.

After all, as fitness and strength professionals we got into this field because we love this stuff.  Nutrition, exercise, supplementation.  It’s “our thing”.  So, the idea of finding the minimum amount of it isn’t something we’re paying attention to. Heck, many of us would like to find ways to do more, not less.

As a side note, this is why I think a lot of us get mad when we see research studies comparing things like 1 set of exercise to 3 sets of exercise. We think the 1 set comparison is the lazy person’s approach. The shortcut. The magic pill that we know doesn’t exist.

And maybe it is. But maybe not.

That’s why we shouldn’t get mad at researchers for trying to discover minimum effective doses in different areas of our field.

After all, every legitimate field of study looks for more “efficiency points” in their area, 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.

The minimum effective dose in action

I recently worked with a client named Marsha. At 28 years old and 5’6”, she was 150 lbs when we met. She played co-ed sport twice a week, either volleyball or soccer. But she had never intentionally exercised in the gym. She wanted to lose weight.

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 followed this program for 16 weeks. And, at the end of the 16 weeks, Marsha had lost 20 lbs of body fat and dramatically shifted her body composition.

Notice the 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 with each meal.

Weeks 5 and 6 (and beyond)
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’t get much more efficient than that.

Rethink your assumptions

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 your fat loss clients must do to make progress? Maybe you’ve 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?

Finding the minimum effective dose often 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 — in training, nutrition, and lifestyle — and eliminating them altogether.

But to do that, it means becoming more than an exercise coach.  It means doing something I call “training plus”.  And we’ll talk about how to do that in part 5 of this series.

Wrap-up and today’s takeaways

That’s it for part 4 of The Future of Body Transformation.

For now, here are a few key points to remember.

  • Almost all physiological responses have a minimum effective dose.  The minimum effective dose represents the lowest input necessary for an effective and significant output.
  • Most fitness enthusiasts (and professionals) ignore this concept.  Their love of exercise prevents them from looking for efficiency points. They often recommend more than is necessary.  Usually, this is more than most people can handle.
  • By experimenting with more efficient protocols, based on the minimum effective dose, you can still deliver great results.  But because these results won’t require herculean effort and spartan sacrifice, they’ll be more accessible to everyone.  In part 5 we’ll talk more about this.
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