What I Learned From Training 200 People in One Year

I’ve always considered myself a good coach.

I don’t think that’s too cocky of a statement, because, honestly, it’s not because there’s anything really special about me as a person.

It just so happens that my particular set of circumstances have helped to create a rare world view and coaching skill set – being a former-fat-kid and a present-day entrepreneur who works 80+ hour weeks. Both of these experiences carry a lot of weight when your clientele mainly consists of normal people who want to make ridiculous transformations.

All that being said, 2013 is, by far, the year that I learned the most as a coach due to one sheer reason – client volume.

I normally take about 3 one-on-one clients at a time leading to less than 10 per year. This year, however, I coached a lot of people via group training. These groups ranged anywhere from 30 people per class (Minimum Viable Fitness) to as many as 80 people per class (Weight Loss Made Simple).

Group coaching doesn’t have the same level of personal touch and attention that one-on-one coaching has (but it’s still amazing value… arguably better) but it exposed me to mountains more data than I’ve ever seen before. It would’ve taken much more time to collect this level of insight at my former pace.

All in all, I ended up coaching a little more than 200 trainees running the gamut on amount of handholding and length of coaching time; most folks had very little hand holding for 8 weeks or less, while others (one-on-one clients) trained with me for a year with near-daily interaction.

Anyway, I decided to take down the biggest insights in hopes that they’ll help others interested in coaching insights. To keep you from boredom, I’ll break this up into three posts. Part I (this post) outlines calories/protein. Part II outlines notes on exercise habits and results. Part III outlines insights on psychology and motivation.


  • Most obese trainees had one glaring thing in common – When looking at food logs of obese people (those who need to lose over 30% of their body weight) who are asked to change their eating habits as little as possible, there’s one glaring pattern. A ridiculously, abysmally, infinitesimally low percentage of their calories came from protein. I’m talking about less than 10% of their calories, 5% on some days.We’re talking about a 350-pound individual reporting 3000-4000 Calories/day with maybe 60g coming from protein! I’m not even sure what you’d need to eat to get that low.It’s important to be hesitant in labeling causation with observational data, but a few other things tell me that a large chunk is causation. (See my next point.)
  • Aggressive deficit + high protein FTW – In obese beginners, the act of simultaneously prescribing a super aggressive caloric deficit (7000-8000 Calories/week) and doubling or tripling one’s protein intake made most clients fuller and even more energetic. Previously, I’d been weary about such aggressive initial caloric deficits.
    I suspect that for people who are on their last leg in terms of giving up on fitness altogether, going aggressive may be a novel approach. There is nothing more motivating than losing 5 lbs in your first week, while you’re constantly stuffing your face.
  • Maintenance calories can be much lower than I thought – I used to follow Lyle’s basic rule-of-thumb philosophy of caloric maintenance being roughly 12-13x bodyweight for women and 13-14x bodyweight for men.This only holds true for relatively lean individuals. There were certainly some obese folk whose maintenance seemed closer to 9-10x body weight in calories, meaning they had to go as low as 7-8x. (And again, many were still pleasantly full.)My hypothesis on why their maintenance is so low is quite simple. Obviously, you’d expect a low RMR due to relatively low levels of lean mass. However, it’s also important to keep in mind that for correlational reasons, obese folk usually aren’t exercising. The “boost” in calories burned due to their sheer weight isn’t being realized.Now, it’s possible that there was binge eating and such that did not make the ledger. Actually, I’m sure of it. But for someone who was used to relatively lean clientele (7-25% bodyfat in men) it was still astonishing how low caloric maintenance seemed to be.
  • There’s some sort of limit to how much protein beginners, especially women, can take – Not sure if this is purely psychological, but beginners will just not be able to eat past a certain amount of protein. That amount is gender-dependent.Specifically, pound-for-pound, women will just not be eat more than 150g of protein/day. That’s an absolute number. In other words, even a 250-pound woman will struggle eating more than that.Use the ridiculous satiety of protein to your advantage, but also be mindful that when clients feel they miss their mark by a high amount, they begin to get demotivated. (I talk about that in the psychology/motivations section.)
  • Only advanced clients can tell if they’re losing fat based on diet – Clients – even experienced dieters – are very poor at gauging whether or not they are making progress based on their food intake. Specifically, clients who aren’t used to proper dieting will fight you tooth and nail and claim that there is no way that they’re making progress while eating this much. If you’re certain about your calculations, have them put a little bit of trust in you and quell their inner doubts until they see results.

I don’t want this to get too lengthy even if I still have a ton more notes around protein/calories so I’ll leave it at this for now.

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