Cris LaBossiere

Cris LaBossiere
Strength training and mountain biking. My two favorites

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Diet & exercise: Everyone is different. Or are they?

Whenever someone say's "everyone is different, you have to find what works for you", I know that whoever follows this mantra is going miss a lot of opportunity to have success with fitness and maintaining a healthy body weight.

 This sentiment is perceived to mean that two people may need drastically different exercise programs and food intake strategies in order to improve fitness and get all the nutrients they need, but this just isn't case, with the exception of medical conditions. For instance, a food allergy to nuts might cause a severe reaction or even death in one person, and for another, the same food is perfectly healthy, that's a dramatic exception, but not the rule.

However, even between those with allergies and no allergies, we would still find that all the aspects of the body were still pretty similar.  Both would still need balanced nutrition with about the same amount of daily requirements of the same nutrients from the same food sources, except of course those causing the allergic response.

Any person not getting enough vitamin C will develop survey.  No exceptions ever.  No human produces vitamin C, which is why we need to consume it (vitamin C rich foods are your best source).  Nobody is "different" in this regard.

If women don't get adequate amounts of folate in their diet prior to and throughout pregnancy, serious birth defects like spina bifida can occur.  This is why many countries fortify foods with folate, and why women are recommended to consume a balanced diet and take folate supplements.  This is true for all women, no exceptions.

People who don't exercise cannot become physically fit.  It's the exercise that stimulates change.  This true for every person.

What happens with the "everyone is different" mantra is that people become convinced that they are immune to fat loss because they are "different".  Or self proclaimed diet and exercise guru's use the "difference" argument to sell and promote unfounded strategies after convincing people that only their special program addresses their "differences".

Interesting.  When I'm in an exercise lab looking at oxygen and carbon dioxide breathed in and out, I see the same variables at play in everyone; no exceptions ever.  When people increase fitness, any person can observe telltale signs of physiologic adaptation, which are the same in everyone.

I've never had any person not get stronger when they exercise, except when overtraining (which includes emotional suffering as well as performance losses).

Lets's do a quick systems check:

Everyone has a brain, heart, lungs, liver etc, and these important organs are found in the same place, and they perform the same functions in every person.

Arms attach at shoulders, not the knees.  Everybody's biceps bends the elbow.

Everyones body temperature is about 37 degrees C.

Everyones blood cell levels when healthy, are in the same range for how many there are.

Everyone needs to breath air and consume food and water, and everyones digestive system works the same way when healthy.

Strength training makes everyone stronger.  Cardio training makes everyones cardio better.

Overuse injuries are predictable, because the bodies tolerance to exercise is governed by the ubiquitous design of the human body.  When someone is injured they will most likely respond the same way to same the rehab program as someone else with the exact same injury.  There is variability on time to recover, and the total degree of recovery, but the recovery process is the same: heal injured tissue and retrain it.

While there are there are definitely varying degrees of response to the same exercise between different people, with some being more tolerant of more frequent training and others requiring more recovery time, the same training adaptations are still occurring, just at a slightly different rate.

Each of us have more in common with each other than we have differences. This isn't a bad thing and doesn't subtract from our intellectual sense of self or personality traits.  Interestingly though, even with our diverse personalities, we'll still find groups of people who are very similar in personalities.

We can find medical exceptions to many of these commonly shared attributes but these variances don't nullify the rest of everything else that is near identical between all of us.

It's true that we need to find the foods and exercises that appeal to us individually, but really we're all doing the same thing with the same equipment, or at least, very similar equipment.

In practical application when I look at the nutritional and training needs say, of a bodybuilder and a marathoner, the two most commonly juxtaposed athletes, all of the core requirements between the two are the same. Both need to consume adequate amounts of a variety of foods to meet all the basic vitamin and mineral needs, otherwise predictable nutrient deprivation symptoms will start and health will deteriorate, and that goes for any human.

They both need about the same amount of good sleep, about the same amount of protein per kilogram of body mass, they both need fats and carbs, but the marathoner will need more carbs and fat (more emphasis on carbs) when cardio training volume is high and on race day.  We're still talking about the same need for cabs, proteins, and fats, but a small variance in the distribution of the same nutrients.

The carbs are not being used for something "different" in the marathoner versus the bodybuilder.  Both require carbs for energy for sustaining muscles contracting.  The marathoner's muscles are working for a longer period of time, but they still contract and relax in exactly the same way the bodybuilders muscles do.  The tiny contractile filaments are doing exactly the same thing. The marathoner will have developed their aerobic system more, but it is the same physiologic aerobic system the bodybuilder has.

The terms "bodybuilder" and "marathoner" serve practical purpose, but really we're talking  about two humans.  Do we train bodybuilders and marathoners "differently"?  I suppose it can be a matter of semantics.  What we're really trying to do is get the same basic design human body to get better at doing the same thing, but to greatly different degrees.  Both need to maximize muscle contractions, one for very brief periods producing near maximal or maximal force, the other contracting for very long periods with a fraction of peak force production.

If I look at my programs for runners versus bodybuilders or strength athletes, I'll see more similarities than true differences.  They both use weights to train, but of course the strength athletes spend proportionally more time doing the strength training than the cardio training.  But when both athletes to lunges, they're both doing lunges.

They'll both have a mix of high reps and low reps, but the marathoner will do more high rep sets compared to the bodybuilder.

Of course the runner, cyclist, skier etc, does significantly more cardio.  However in order to determine what intensity the two people should train at, both will undergo the same testing and will be given training that is based on the results of the tests.

When either is doing cardio, they are of course..  doing cardio.  Their hearts, lungs, and muscles are still engaging the cardiopulmonary systems, and if we looked at both on a treadmill in an exercise lab we would see the same things happening in both.

In terms of the degree to which each uses their aerobic system (the same aerobic system using the same components), we would see the endurance athlete has greater aerobic capacity (of course).

Importantly, they both have an aerobic capacity that is measured the same way, measuring the same things.

Let's look at muscles.  These images apply to every human on the planet.

This diagram includes an actual image of the contractile fibers (black and white)

This image is what is thought to be happening on the microscopic level.. in everyone.  Never mind the details for now.. the mechanism is the same.

We all have these, mitochondria, and they do the same thing in everyone; they make energy for our cells.

In muscle cells the mitochondria are right next to the contractile fibers.  Yes, these are in the same place and do the same thing in both marathoners and bodybuilders, though sometimes sport culture differences cause the two to feel at odds with each other, and they might not like to admit that their muscles are made the of the same things and do the same things.

What would happen if we convinced the bodybuilder and marathoner to switch places? To spend a couple years training and competing in the other sport?

First, this would pretty difficult to do because these two athletes are typically the antithesis of each other, often not paying much respect to the other.  A shame really, because they are mostly doing, you guessed it, the same thing.

They're pursuing a physical and personal challenge that inspires them to do better, to build their bodies to a higher level. I think if bodybuilders and marathoners could get passed the traditional prejudice they share for each other, they would find their trials, tribulations, and triumphs were pretty much the same experience emotionally, with very similar perspectives as well, on their physical training progress.

If we did find two noble and seemingly disparate athletes to switch off for a couple years we would see the bodybuilder losing muscle mass and gaining aerobic efficiency, and the marathoner would-be bodybuilder would gain muscle mass and strength and reduce aerobic performance.

No kidding.  Why?  Because their bodies would respond to the same training the same way.. because that's what the human body does.  It's coded into our DNA.

 Genetic variability between people dictates the degree of responsiveness to what exercise we do.  Some are more responsive to building mass, others more responsive to aerobic improvements.  Both have the same systems that work the same way and respond the same way, but the degree of response is the variant.

Some people have a genetic predisposition that is better suited to pursuing endurance sports, some for strength sports.  However, the mechanisms that allow for strength and endurance would still be the same between the two people.

My reason for writing this entry is to try and dispel the urban exercise myth that everyone is completely different.  Believing this causes a lot of confusion and the generation of more falsehoods.

I don't want people to be misled into believing that their exercise plan or nutritional plan has to be significantly "different" than anyone else's   Really we're all looking at the same variables applied to different degrees between us.

This doesn't mean that sedentary people should copy elite athlete programs to get fit.. well, actually it does mean that.  Literally.

Elite athletes didn't (or shouldn't have) start out with large volume high intensity training; they started out not as elite athletes, and started with the basics.  That is part of the elite development model, but we often are distracted by the optics of the end point of athlete development and so we don't make the connection that easy, incremental exercise is part of the elite athletes experience.

Anyone who is getting started should start of with very easy, simple exercises that were well within their current ability, and gradually increase loads as their ability increases.  This is what everyone does, including those who become elite athletes.  At some point they had to start with the basics.  So yes, the elite development path in it's entirety, properly and logically starts off well before the person is transformed into the elite athlete.

See how were all more the same than different? We don't all end up in the same place, but we start out about the same.

If a sedentary person tried to train with the same relative loads as a developed elite athlete, that would be a disaster.  Too bad this is actually quite common.  If they did that, they wouldn't actually be on the same program, because they would have skipped all the years of preparation the elite athlete did.

Next time someone tells you how different people have completely different nutritional needs or training needs, rest assured this can't be true, because skin and all, we're made of the same components that work the same way.  That's why the RDA for nutrients is aplicable to nearly everyone.  We all need about the same amount of vitamins and minerals to perform the same functions in us.

If any person on the planet doesn't consume sufficient iron, they will develop anemia.  There are no exceptions.  The reason this is the case is because human physiology requires a certain amount of iron to support critical functions in the body, mainly transporting iron, which is done in the same way in all humans.

What's great for all of us is that the variance to which we can adapt our bodies to is enough satisfy anyones drive.  Using nearly the same bodies, we can adapt to all the different activities and sports we know about.  Genetics play's a roll in dictating the degree we respond, so for peak performance if you're genes are better suited to respond to strength activities, choose a strength sport you like.  Natural endurance ability?  Choose an endurance sport.  Or, to heck with the genetics, you'll respond to anything you do, and you'll respond really well with good training and nutrition habits.

I'm not saying the hocky teams program is 100% identical to the rowing teams program, I hope nobody interprets that.. I'm saying that whether you're training for hockey or rowing, you'll find the two programs follow the same process:

Start with developing the same core competencies.

Gradually spend more time doing the exercises that are specific to the sport

In general most of the exercises will be the same, (pushing exercises, pulling exercises, leg exercises, core exercises, cardio training)

A hockey player and a rower both have brains that coordinate movement patterns, hearts that deliver blood and oxygen to cells, lungs that respirate, biceps that bend the elbow, a need for proper recovery, balanced nutrition, work, life, training balance..  More similarities than differences and the differences are really degrees of the same things.

Don't be fooled by fads, gimmicks, and pseudoscience claims about how the body works.

At the end of it all, all of our hearts are literally, in the same place.


  1. Each of us have different weight lose program and diet plan, some goes in healthy diet and other are raw food diets. Sometimes your weight lose program may harm your health so you still need to be careful in choosing good weight lose strategy,

    1. Hey Tony, thanks so much for your comment. I know it seems that way on the surface, especially when socially we tend to see vegetarians and meat eaters as very different people with different diets. Rest assured, both have lungs and hearts that do the same things and work the same way.

      In terms of weight loss the only way to lose weight is to consume fewer calories than expended. It doesn't matter what you eat. If a "diet" has a 500 calorie deficit, it would cause weight loss, no matter what the food was. Of course eating only cake would be unhealthy for everyone in the same way, but you could still lose weight on a cake diet. Here's an article I did on this;postID=1306064662054282119;onPublishedMenu=postsstats;onClosedMenu=postsstats;postNum=13;src=postname

      You can search my blog for articles on weight loss for more details.

      Regardless of what diet a person chooses, daily needs for vitamins and minerals is still the same, and one would need to be mindful of choosing foods to meet those needs. I recommend using or similar dietary tools to see if you're meeting your needs.

      Both the raw food diet follower and the meat eater need iron, and they need iron for the same reasons because iron will do the same thing in both people.

      Because plant sourced iron isn't absorbed as well as meat sourced iron, a plant based diet needs more total milligrams of iron per day to make up for lesser absorption (around 15-19mg/ day vs 10-14mg/ day of dietary iron for plant vs meat based diet). It's still iron, so not more of something different, but more of the same nutrient, which again, is used by the body in the same way.

      Far more similarities than differences.

      The vegetarian and the meat eater both get the same protein, one from only plant sources, and the other from plant and animal sources. The actual protein is the same, and is used the same way in the body. Both need about the same amount of protein each day.

      Everyone needs about the same amount of calcium, magnesium, iron, sodium, vitamin C, omega 3 fats and other nutrients.

      If one person gets most of their vitamin C from kale, and another from red peppers, and another from oranges, they're all getting the same vitamin C, and they all have near identical needs for vitamin C.

      No matter what a persons dietary preferences, each person has to choose foods that will deliver the nutrients we need, and those nutrient needs are more similar between people than they are different.

      The reason why the needs are so similar is because we are all human. Each of our livers and other organs are located in the same place in our bodies, perform the same functions, and require the same nutrients.

      You're right that some weight loss plans can be harmful, but the harmful programs will harm each person in the same way, because the body will be deprived of the same important nutrients.

      For instance, sailors used to be susceptible to developing scurvy, due to lack of vitamin C in their diets. Many different sailors succumbed to the same illness caused by same deficiency of the same nutrient.

      When people don't get enough iron they suffer from anemia. The same deficiency of the same nutrient causes the same problem. Why? You guessed it; we're all human and share more similarities than differences.

      My point is many are mislead into believing that there are huge significant differences between everyone, there simply aren't, and that's not a bad thing.