To Individualize what you do, is not only the most optimal way to see results; I believe it’s the future of fitness and nutrition. I think it’s why coaches like myself, Jason Phillips, Dr. John Rusin, Christian Thibaudeau, and many other great friends (coaches) of mine in the industry are growing at an exponential rate.
It’s also why things like the FitBit, Apple Watch, HRV Technologies, and so many other wearable tracking devices are exploding in the tech industry. It allows us to track metrics and individualize them, to our body, goals, timeline, etc.
And it’s exactly why the Evidence Based Community is becoming more and more dominant in the industry; because it gives us what science is saying and studies are proving. Which is the exact information we need in order to completely customize someone’s nutrition or training plan.
This applies to training AND nutrition, heavily.
But today we’re going to focus on nutrition alone and call this Part 1. And I promise to drop a Part 2 solely dedicated to training, very soon!
Before we get into how, let’s talk about what.
– Tailor (something) to suit the individual.
“An individualized learning program”
– The process of providing or obtaining the food necessary for health and growth.
“A guide to good nutrition”
Now… let’s combine these two things.
– Tailoring (customizing) a food plan (diet) in order to create desired change (fat loss, muscle gain, performance, health), in such a way that builds consistency (adherence) for that specific individual.
I think now it’s clear why this is so powerful… it’s a nutrition plan, which produces results, designed for YOU to be able to more easily follow it.
Now for the million-dollar question – How do we achieve this?
Keep reading, because I’m going to lay down the 8 main principles to individualize your nutrition plan.
1. Caloric Periodization
One thing we know without a doubt in mind is that calories matter. If you’re over consuming calories (caloric surplus) you will gain weight/fat. If you’re under consuming calories (caloric deficit) you will lose weight/fat.
The caveat with a caloric deficit is that if you stay there chronically, your body will adapt and lower it’s maintenance or metabolic rate and that will lead to stalls or complete halts in weight loss despite being in a caloric deficit. But that’s a different category; check out my reverse dieting video to learn more on that.
So we know calories need to be measured and set in order to achieve a body composition goal, that’s obvious and I’m not going to spend much time breaking that down any further. That’s beating a dead horse at this point.
What I want to talk about is individualizing that process. What does THAT look like?
That is where Caloric Periodization comes into play – or in other words, how you’re distributing your calories throughout the week or week to week.
Calorie Cycling – This is an easy, simple to do, and very well known topic made popular over the last decade+. It’s more commonly known as carb cycling. During days of hard strength training, you have a higher carb (calorie) intake and on days you’re resting and/or performing just cardio, you have a lower carb (calorie) intake. Science shows that the biggest benefits here are that it may increase recovery and performance during those harder sessions due to having more carbs readily available, which is the body’s preferred fuel source, and that it may help people create a caloric deficit more easily – compared to having low calories all week.
5 | 2 Calorie Loading – This is far less common but something we tend to lean towards in anyone who may possibly be experiencing hormonal compensation and people who have a weekend warrior mentality. The way this strategy works is having 5 days a week where you’re in a solid deficit, to create fat loss. How big of a deficit depends on the person and how stubborn there body is or is not – so it could be anywhere from a 5-30% deficit of their maintenance calories. Then 2 days a week, on back-to-back days, you will increase calories to a maintenance or slight surplus level. This gives a good psychological break, but also helps maintain hormonal and metabolic capacity, as well as keeping muscle glycogen stores full.
6 | 1 Deficit + Refeed– This is a very common way of going into a diet, something we use on a high majority of the clients we coach here at Boom Boom Performance. It’s 6 days of a normal deficit, followed by one refeed day. The refeed day is a day where we bring calories up to around maintenance level, solely via carbohydrates as they have the best physiological response. This is something that’s very individualized when coaching someone because we can do these every 4 days, 7 days, 10 days, or 14 days. It all depends how frequently that individual needs the refeeds and what their individual timeline for the fat loss actually is.
Weekly Alternating Calories – This is where we alternate low calorie weeks with maintenance level weeks, every other or every 2 weeks. Meaning you may alternate deficit/maintenance week after week or you may run it as a 2|1 ratio of maintenance to deficit, again depending on the individual situation. This is fairly new, based on the recent Matador Study, and not many coaches are implementing this yet. I’ve personally seen very good results with any client I’ve taken through this, especially anyone who has experienced hormonal compensation from dieting in the past – this is a great strategy to implement after a reverse diet. The way it’s performed is simple, hit a low week using a solid deficit and follow it up with a maintenance week. It may take longer to hit your fat loss goals, but this variation of caloric cycling is going to maintain hormonal balance MUCH better and make sustaining not only the diet but also your physique, much easier (check out my video on this, here).
Linear Caloric Intake – The most common and obvious… you create a deficit or surplus 7 days a week. Linear basically means straight line, which implies that we’re not cycling or adjusting your calories at all throughout the week – you just follow your daily caloric intake. This is far less individualized, but it’s proven to work and keep things simple. It’s extremely straightforward and because of that, in any average situation it’s a great approach.
Wrapping up the caloric periodization – calories in vs. out matter most, but making it individualized is KEY for sustainability and adherence. Which we know is the number 1 priority because without consistency, nothing really works.
2. Caloric Composition (AKA Macros)
The next way of making your nutrition individualized may be obvious to most, especially those who truly follow my work or directly work with us. It’s macros.
Macros are somewhat the pinnacle of all things nutrition. What I mean by that is that it’s something everyone should try to work towards being more aware of, because it’s what leads to the biggest body composition and performance changes when it comes to nutrition.
Yes, calories are king and they dictate the way your weight will fluctuate up or down. But those calories are broken down into macronutrients and the way you portion out your macros will determine how well you perform, build muscle, regulate some hormones, recover, sleep, burn fat, stay full during a diet, maintain muscle during a diet, and so much more.
Adding to all of that, there are times where you cannot change calories at all but shift the composition of those calories (i.e. change the macro ratio) and create further fat loss. Which goes against the rule of thumb saying calories are everything.
So to ignore macros is to ignore one of the prime movers in fat loss, muscle gain, health, and performance.
Where should your individualized macros be set at? Shit… that’s a loaded question in itself, in fact I wrote an entire ebook on the subject – so if you really want to dive into it, I suggest checking out The Nutrition Hierarchy.
But in general, we can suggest the following:
- Set Calories First (Broad Ranges):
- Fat Loss – BW x10-14x
- Maintenance – BW x13-15
- Muscle/Weight Gain – BW x15-18
- Set Protein Second (Broad Ranges):
- Fat Loss – BW x1 – 1.4g Per Lb.
- Maintenance – BW x1g Per Lb.
- Muscle/Weight Gain – BW x0.8 – 1g Per Lb.
- Set Fats Third (Broad Ranges):
- Fat Loss – 25-35% of Calories
- Maintenance – 20-30% of Calories
- Muscle/Weight Gain – 20-25% of Calories
- Set Carbs Last:
- Whatever is left!
The truth about what I laid out above is that although it works – it’s not an individualized approach. It’s just general and broad ranges to get people started.
To create a truly individualized macronutrient intake, we need to consider the following:
- What’s your dieting history like? Have you chronically been in a caloric deficit? Have you neglected any one macro before?
- What do you fall towards naturally? Do you tend to crave fat or carb based foods? What fuels your body better?
- What is your specific goal? Are you solely focused on weight or visual fat loss? Do you want to build muscle in the process or at the very least maintain the muscle you have? Is performance an important metric to you? Do you want to lose weight without really worrying about training a whole lot?
- What’s your lifestyle like? This is the big kicker in our coaching program, because if you are very social and attend activities pretty often – it’s doubtful that a low-carb approach makes sense for you. In the same way, if you’re fairly sedentary and you don’t go out hardly at all – a low-carb approach may be exactly the right approach for you. Your lifestyle should dictate your diet, not the other way around.
3. Food Selection Part 1 (Adherence)
This is part 1 for the obvious reason; it’s the most important. Anything you cannot follow for longer than 30 days is not worth investing in – unless you have a specific strategy on how to get out of that approach and sustain the results.
Consistency is king. Period. End of story. Plain and simple.
The reason I’m categorizing or pairing this up with food selection, is because when we consider an individualized nutrition plan we need to consider the foods that you enjoy consuming on a regular basis.
That means following point 1 and 2, tracking and hitting both calories and macros, but also including the foods you like. Imagine this…. You start your nutrition coaching with me and I tell you,
“I want you to eat nothing but chicken and tilapia for your protein, yams for your starchy carbs, blueberries for your fruit source, broccoli and spinach for veggies, and nothing but olive oil and almond butter for fats.”
Will this work for getting shredded? Honestly, hell yes. It absolutely will. Because it’s low high volume for the caloric loads, all easy-to-digest food groups, high nutrient based foods, and extremely easy to control from a measurement perspective.
Is it individualized though? Not one bit.
Because you hate tilapia and chicken, prefer strawberries to blueberries, would much rather have green beans compared to broccoli, and you love cooking in coconut oil.
So not only do you hate the menu, but you also want to eat everything that’s NOT on the list simply because I told you to stay away from it! We’re human beings, we want what we can’t have.
Adding to that, it doesn’t educate you on the caloric and macronutrient loads for the foods I suggested you eat. In other words, how do you substitute in the things you love? And that goes for healthy whole food sources AND junk foods that we keep in the 10-20% of the time.
An individualized plan allows substitution and a wide variety of foods, because that’s exactly how adherence becomes strongest.
4. Food Selection Part 2 (Digestion)
I eat Cream of Rice pretty much every single day. I know, it’s a weird food that only your grandparents and old-school bodybuilders eat. But I love it because its pure carbohydrate, provides me with a solid pump during my workouts, and it’s extremely easy on my gut (digestion is really good).
That is a form of individualization. I’m using my history of dieting, self-awareness, and knowledge taken from tracking my nutrition to learn what foods work best with my own body.
The reason this is so important is because the gut is literally our second brain, if we don’t treat it properly we will not see body composition results. Poor gut health can lead to some very serious detrimental autoimmune diseases, which would be the most extreme case here, but it can also lead to lack of nutrient absorption, insulin resistance, poor hormonal health, bloat, gas, and bowel issues.
Not only does all of this directly slow down fat loss, muscle gain, performance, and obviously health – but also it just generally makes us feel crappy (no pun intended).
And as you’ve heard me say 1,878 times… adherence is key.
If you feel like shit, you will not adhere to the diet. If you do not adhere to the diet you’re lacking consistency and when you lack consistency, you don’t see sustainable results.
So how can you begin to make this individualized to you personally? Simple…
- Record Your Diet.
- Build Self-Awareness With The Foods You’re Eating.
- Track Your Biofeedback Daily/Weekly.
- Purposefully Select Foods That Agree With You.
- Eliminate The Foods That Do Not Agree With You, 90% Of The Time.
5. Food Selection Part 3 (Ease Of Preparation)
We’ll spend the least amount of time on this bullet here because I don’t need to break down science or explain this in too much detail for you to get it, I hope.
I love this fajita shredded chicken and bean salsa soup that Shannen (my fiancé) makes. It’s healthy, great ingredients, and can easily be eaten on a healthy nutrition plan.
But it is not easy to prepare, track macros with, or prep out for days in advance.
And because of that last part, it’s very rarely in my diet at all.
Once again coming back to adherence, we need to be able to easily prepare our meals if we’re planning to stick with them for an extended period of time. This is exactly why bodybuilding meal plans DO typically work, at first.
It’s extremely easy to prepare a bunch of meals out in advance when you’re sticking to the same foods and eating them plain by themselves. The issue becomes longevity, obviously.
But the point here is that in order to make your specific menu or nutrition plan individualized, you need to combine the idea of loving your foods and being able to easily prepare them. Make them creative, but don’t over complicate them and expect to have a gourmet recipe for every single meal.
6. Daily Nutrient Distribution (Frequency/Timing)
This is my fancy way of saying, “how many meals you eat per day”…
Studies have shown us that it doesn’t really matter, actually. So whether you prefer to eat 2 meals per day, 4 meals per day, or 6 meals per day – your metabolism and fat loss results will show no difference between the options as long as your calories are where they need to be and are met daily.
When it comes to building muscle, studies have shown that 3-5 meals per day is going to be most favorable. This is because it allows you to equally distribute your protein throughout your day, keeping not only satiation a bit higher but also increasing MPS (muscle protein synthesis). When MPS is higher, we’re more likely to recover faster and rebuild muscle tissue more effectively and both of those things will lead to better muscle gain.
The reality here is that most of us want fat loss, not just weight loss. And if that’s true for you, I’d highly consider eating 3-5 meals per day simply because it’s going to allow for that muscle growth response to be better for you and whether your main goal is to build muscle or not – it will help you burn more body fat.
So where does this become individualized? Well, the choice is yours – which is literally the definition of individualization.
So here’s what we consider when deciding on a meal schedule for a client:
- What’s your schedule? When do you go to sleep and wake up? What time is your work and when are you off? Is it different day to day? When do you realistically have breaks to sit down and eat a whole food meal?
- When’s your workout? Working out determines a lot for this. Do you like to eat right before or hour’s prior? Do you train first thing in the AM or later in the evening?
- What’s your goal and where are you in your journey? Are you striving to get big or lean out? Are you in a deficit? If so you may benefit from 3 large meals to keep you full. Are you in a surplus? If so you may benefit from 6 meals to be able to reach your daily calories.
- What’s the end physique we’re building? If you want to be muscular or have real definition at the end of your cut, we may want to optimize MPS to make sure you’re keeping muscle mass.
Supplements come after all of the above, simply because they’re exactly what their definition states – they’re here to supplement an already sound nutrition plan.
But when it comes to creating an individualized plan for someone, we absolutely do consider supplements because everyone is need of something different and has different goals.
Whether we’re talking about joint health, fat loss, strength/performance, better digestion, improved cognition, nutrient absorption, or insulin sensitivity… supplements play a role and can help out quite a bit.
So to break this one down, let’s split it up by goal:
Bloat, Gas, and Digestion – I’d consider taking an Apple Cider Vinegar capsule multiple times a day, digestive enzymes with meals, and a greens powder drink in the morning. If all that doesn’t help, then I’d consider fiber supplementation but I’ve actually rarely ever had to resort to that as all of this helps much more along side a high fiber diet.
Fat Loss – To be honest, this is the shortest list of all… I’d possibly consider L-Carnitine during fasted cardio or pre workout to enhance mental focus during training and possible fat utilization as a fuel source. Maybe even Yohimbine in an extreme setting, for a competitor for example. But other than that, I’d focus on all the other categories in here first – because they’ll all help overall fat loss.
Strength/Performance – The biggest one here will definitely be creatine monohydrate, because it’s been tested over and over again and not once has a study proven anything negative against it. It’s shown to improve recovery and performance, leading to better strength, muscle gain, and even fat loss. Creatine even stimulates better cognition and memory, shown in youths and adults. Whey Protein would be the only other supplement to consider here for anyone who cannot consistently hit their daily protein intake, which we know is a key driver for body composition changes.
Nutrient Absorption – For this, we can consider all the supplements in the digestion section as well. But to add to those, I’d throw GDA’s (glucose disposal agents) in the mix as well. This could be a GDA blend supplement or even something pure like berberine, which is known to be a very good insulin mimicker. GDA’s are supplements or nutrients that help our body break down and absorb carbohydrates by increasing insulin sensitivity. This is an awesome way to allow the storage of carbohydrates to be in the muscle cell directly, rather than stored as fat. The other to consider here is Fish Oil/Omega-3 supplementation, as it will improve insulin sensitivity overtime as well.
Joint Health – This, in my opinion, is dictated more through nutrition, smart training and proper recovery. But if I were to add in supplementation for this it be turmeric, fish oil again, and collagen or bone broth based supplements.
Understand that I’m leaving out a lot here that could benefit you, but could also easily be consumed via whole foods. Things like Vitamin D and C, Magnesium, Zinc, and many other vitamins and minerals are all greatly important – but if you don’t want a pantry full of pill bottles, strive to get the majority from foods.
So now, it’s about deciding exactly what YOU are in need of. Then running down the list and incorporating just a few of the supplements needed in order to help your individualized situation.
Honestly, this is the icing on the cake.
Because all the information in the world won’t truly work if you don’t consistently utilize it and one of the easiest ways to be sure you are consistent, is to be held accountable by a coach.
It’s why even as coaches, everyone on my team has coaches too! We value that more than anything else. It’s the glue that holds all the strategies together and leads to serious results.
Whether you get it from a coach, a forum, a friend, or elsewhere – find accountability, it WILL be the thing that finally takes your results to the next level.
Cody McBroom is a Strength Coach and Nutrition Expert located in Seattle WA. He coaches people in person and online, now internationally. His passion is helping individuals changing their lives through body composition transformation, as well as creating content across all platforms to help individuals and other coaches learn more about training and nutrition.