It’s a rare thing these days to pick up a book on training/nutrition and walk away satisfied that you’ve truly learned something new. This isn’t the fault of industry writers per se – the cash waving crowd largely represented by the newbie, the gullible and the clueless, are a fine demographic if your product is primarily aimed at separating those from their hard earned with minimal cognitive strain on your part.But for the rest of us, most of the existing resources on the above topics make us feel left wanting. This isn’t the case for Phil Learney’s N1 Programming.
Far from being a book that unnecessarily overcomplicates the topic of nutrition further, Learney explores the road less travelled on many topics to give trainers and coaches insight into the human psyche and physiology through the lens of individual body recomposition programming.
As stated in the outset of the book, there are many different roads to helping a client achieve their body recomp goals. If you’re familiar with many of the nutritional books for recomp already out there, they’re simply a variation on a theme that 20% of the key changes will elicit 80% of the results. Many trainers realise that generalisations work for the majority, hence the cookie-cutter approach applied to their clients at the push of a print/send button. Learney argues that these one-sized fits all template approaches are neither educative, sustainable or take into account the complex interplay between each individual’s biochemistry and psychology.
Coaches need to know what’s going on inside the body AND minds of their clients to select a plan that’s right from them and then be able to make the necessary adjustments as the client progresses.
“….(the) defining characteristics of nutritional programs must revolve around carefully considered parameters. Lack of consideration for the individual means we are crunching numbers and considering only superficial information. Planning a nutritional strategy around a formula, or a training routine around textbook beliefs, shows the lack of experience, flaws, or simple laziness in a coach’s approach to their client or athlete.”
One key idea that Learney presents is the slow approach to long term goal attainment. Rapid fat loss isn’t sustainable, but unfortunately it’s a huge selling point especially when the public lock onto the fad-program/physique of the month through the filter of their own confirmation bias. Thus, the slow road approach is often derailed by cultural and media fixation on “results now” regimes supported by spartan restrictive measures. Good things Learney stresses, sometimes take time and don’t require the severe life overhaul some trainers initially impose on their clients.
“A client with a diet that you could grade with a 30% mark simply needs 35% to see progress. Many coaches immediately shoot for a 100% mark. Much like you would not just throw 100 kg (~220 lbs.) on the back of someone who had never squatted more than 30 kg (~66 lbs.) in training, stimulus must be progressive and analyzed throughout then refined based upon response, mechanical considerations, and weak points in a supporting chain. Nutrition is no different. Ask for an extra 5 kg (~11 lbs.) on their backs first; when they achieve that, increase it.”
A slower approach also makes good biochemical sense.What many trainers need to keep in mind as evidenced by the above quote is that when hyper or hypo-caloric changes are invoked, the body invariably responds by up-regulating one system and downgrading another. Hormone disruption and (severe) fat rebound are minimised and enables the development of a more sustainable mindset in a client’s relationship with food.
Learnery also recognises that changes lead to the construction of new habits which alter a client’s physical and mental landscape, particularly their perception of what constitutes “good nutrition”. It’s a trainer’s responsibility therefore to avoid steering their clients unintentionally towards rigid thinking or an orthorexic like relationship with food.
Learney delves deep into the science of nutritional programming and the book is supported with a bibliography of references that account for 20% of the content. However, Learney is firmly grounded in the practical first and foremost. Like John Meadows, he recognises that science has its place, but is always one step behind the practical applications reflected in the lab of the gym-room floor. He stresses the ever-evolving, and rarely conclusive nature of scientific evidence as it applies to fitness;
“The metamorphosis of the human body cannot be viewed entirely as a scientific pursuit. Science, as useful and as credible as it is, still leaves us with many unanswered questions and inconclusive answers. We have what it gives us now and, beyond that, it is still in its infancy……Scientific studies allow us to conclude what is a best practice in small, sometimes randomized, and often specific populations. Collation of this data over the years may change our thinking or views on a specific practice, but does not detract from what coaches can see in front of them.
Understanding why something occurs leads us to better conclusions and more efficient, sustainable, and ultimately better outcomes. To disregard science would indeed be incredibly foolish, but to be led purely by its conclusions—especially in an ever-evolving, diverse, and efficient organism—would be equally as foolish. Science is part of a myriad of tools we must embrace to become better coaches and educators.
Coaches who study the hierarchy of knowledge and consider science, logic, trial and error, authority, and tradition together ultimately are able to serve their clients better.”
For those of us with a non-scientific background (but an eagerness to learn), Learney simplifies the science into easily comprehensible language and analogies that concretely enhance the “stickiness” of the concepts. The analogies also provide good frame of reference cues for explaining things to those clients interested in their own self-education. (Which again should be part of the trainer/coaches’ responsibility).
The technical information is definitely present and sometimes required a couple of re-readings to make sure I got it, but the book overall isn’t designed to be a text-book, nor does it read like one.
“Restricting food is like a wall with a sign that reads “No Graffiti:” the wall is typically covered by spray paint, whereas the adjoining walls are not. It is the same with dietary restrictions: if we impose a restriction on someone, we challenge their psyche. The second that psyche is broken, so are the floodgates.
Creating a rationale behind any imposed restriction is like telling the graffiti artist they will get access to the wall, just not this second; and when they do finally get access, they will approach the wall with a greater palette of paint. Nutrition is about education, alongside the coaching of modulatory patterns and habits far above and beyond any imposed restrictions, which is how “diets” are generically viewed.”
The book is broken down into easily referenced chapters of the various body systems and components of programming, along with a handy glossary of the various terms and acronyms used. When appropriate, Learney uses models to illustrate the concepts and his writing is peppered with illustrative quotes to highlight a discussed topic.
There is simply too much “good stuff” contained within this book to do it justice in a simple review. You can preview a sample of the topics covered on the book’s homepage here. I’m usually happy if I receive one or two good takeaways when I read a book – but 16 pages of e-reader highlights on my first reading alone is indicative that there were more than just a few gems gleamed from this work. I’ve already started a second reading and it’s like retuning down the rabbit hole of knowledge and insight.
If all the books that have been released on training and diet in the last three years alone were added to a pile, they would add up to a veritable mountain of shit. You could do a lot worse than dropping the £35 ($52US) on a resource that will not only contribute to your own knowledge, but definitely enhance your effectiveness as a trainer and coach. Learney is one of the best minds in the industry – and I’d rank him alongside Meadows and Berardi for producing quality, actionable information.
Personally, this is without a doubt, the best book I’ve read this year (and perhaps for a long time) on the topic of nutrition in the context of body recomposition, and it’s a must read for those wanting to peer behind the curtain of superficiality represented by the bulk of dieting books these days. It will greatly enhance the layperson’s knowledge of how the pieces of the puzzle fit together in the greater scheme of things, but more importantly it’s a vital read to the trainer/coach wanting to provide better value and service for their clients.
It’s a book that every coach and trainer should read, and unfortunately, in this industry where in many cases the blind perpetually lead the blind, probably won’t.