(Note: I originally posted this on my LittleBlondeMeathead.com but since updated it for this blog)
Confused about what to do at the gym? Not sure how many carbs to eat? Tired of counting calories but not seeing results? Do you need someone to help keep you on track with your fitness goals? Hire an online fitness coach! Right?! Well, not so fast…
This blog is about my experience with 3 separate, unnamed online fitness coaches. Let me preface this by saying I first set foot in a gym about 5 years ago and had no clue what I was doing. I was determined to learn so I did tons of research on working out, nutrition, competing and all things in between. I have since become certified in personal training, done loads of fitness writing and even did a bikini fitness competition. I have read so many fitness articles/blogs, studied countless meal plans, watched hundreds of YouTube videos and stalked many a fitness model on Instagram/Facebook. And I just have to say that the more I exposed myself to, the more confused I became. And the more I felt like I needed a coach/trainer to help me.
Let me also make it clear that I knew there were many, many crappy online fitness trainers/nutrition coaches out there just waiting to rob me blind. Lots of these so-called experts post nice photos of themselves but literally have no credentials in health/fitness. Just because they look the part doesn’t mean they know what they’re doing. It’s actually pretty hard to find one who knows what they’re talking about and is qualified to give you advice, yet so many charge hundreds (or thousands!) of dollars for super basic, cookie cutter training/meal plans that you can find on the internet. Your health is really not something you should mess around with and your fitness goals should not be something you take lightly. There are plenty of trainers who will flat out rip you off and ruin your health in the process.
About a year ago I realized my health/fitness goals had fallen by the wayside, as did my formerly strict meal/training plan. I knew I needed to get on track and really wanted accountability since I felt like that was the major thing lacking. So I ended up signing up with 3 different online fitness coaches (not at the same time). All were well-respected and quite accomplished in the fitness industry. I didn’t set out to sign up with 3. I signed up with each believing they would be the right fit for me but in the end none of them were. Before I signed up with the first coach, I was already pretty fed up with being overwhelmed by information and wanted some concrete rules to follow. I followed the first plan but then decided I also wanted to sign up for the others to compare and contrast different plans to see what commonalities I could take away from them (if any) in the end. This way, I would have some basic rules to follow with my own plan if theirs didn’t work and then I could share the rules with others. Because why should YOU spend thousands of dollars like I did when I can tell you what I learned for free, right?!
I picked each coach’s brain and asked lots and lots of questions about calories, carbs and everything in between. Not surprisingly, they had very different answers about most things. I realized quickly how misinformed people are about fitness and it’s through no fault of their own. Every so-called expert is preaching different things. It is obvious to me that different coaches value different things when it comes to fitness plans and it’s almost entirely based on the personal successes they’ve had with various elements of dieting and exercise. It is actually quite shocking how different they are in their opinions on a lot of the “basics.”
I decided to do a comparison of each of the plans on the biggest and most confusing variables for most of us (especially fitness competitors) such as carbs, calories, cardio, etc.. Here are their answers to some of the most common questions I see on fitness forums/blogs/etc.:
How many rest days should I take?
- Coach 1 – 1 day per week
- Coach 2 – strict 3 days on, 1 day off
- Coach 3 – no full rest days (day 7 is HIIT cardio)
Can I eat dairy?
- Coach 1 – yes
- Coach 2 – yes
- Coach 3 – no
What should I eat post workout?
- Coach 1 – nothing special, just follow meal plan
- Coach 2 – up to 50 g of any sugary low fat carb + protein shake
- Coach 3 – 15 g simple carbs + protein shake
What supplements should I be taking?
- Coach 1 – A ton! Literally $150+ a month worth of stuff (all things that the coach got commissions on of course — watch out for this trap!!)
- Coach 2 – A few basics like fish oil and multi-vitamins
- Coach 3 – None but recommended fish oil
How much cardio should I be doing?
- Coach 1 – 5 sessions of 25-30 min per week
- Coach 2 – NONE
- Coach 3 – 3 sessions of 25 min HIIT per week and one fat burning session (off day from weight training)
Can I flavor my food?
- Coach 1 – adding low fat/no sugar condiments is ok
- Coach 2 – “food shouldn’t taste good” – not permitted to use recipes of any kind and food should be bland
- Coach 3 -add whatever you need to make it taste good including high quality oils
Should I be cycling my carbs?
- Coach 1- no
- Coach 2- no
- Coach 3 – yes
How many healthy fats can I eat?
- Coach 1 – some
- Coach 2 – none – only a fish oil supplement
- Coach 3 – lots – up to 62 g per day
How many carbs should I eat (on workout days)? (I am a 5’7″ woman weighing around 135 lbs)
- Coach 1 = Less than 100
- Coach 2 = about 165
- Coach 3 =about 105-155 depending on day of carb cycle (my cycle was High, Low, Med, Med, repeat)
Am I allowed cheat/treat meals?
- Coach 1 – yes, 1x a week, anything you want
- Coach 2 – no (very strict on this)
- Coach 3- yes as long as it fits in your macros, you can eat it
Do I need to weigh/measure my food?
- Coach 1 -Yes, required to weigh all food with a food scale
- Coach 2- Yes, required to weigh food with a food scale and strictly count calories (always stressed calories are MOST important)
- Coach 3 – Yes, it’s good to weigh food but don’t worry about calories. Just count macros.
Do I need to eat before a workout?
- Coach 1- yes
- Coach 2- yes (strict)
- Coach 3 – no only protein shake is fine
How many weight workouts per week do I need to do?
- Coach 1 = 4
- Coach 2 = 4
- Coach 3 = 6
Craziest thing the coach said to me:
- Coach 1 = It’s ok to develop a thyroid problem because “you just need to take a daily pill.” (This coach admitted to having a thyroid problem. Keep in mind that thyroid issues are very common with people who follow terrible fitness advice and end up undereating and overtraining!)
- Coach 2 = When traveling, you should “pack frozen chicken in your suitcase and tell your hotel that you’re diabetic so they give you a mini fridge.” Huh?
- Coach 3 = It’s good to throw up after a workout. You should “look like you just came back from a war” after your workout.
Cost of Plan
- Coach 1 = $350 a month
- Coach 2 = $200 first month, $100 each month after
- Coach 3 = $150 per year
Hardest Part of Each Plan For Me:
- Coach 1 – Way too much cardio and it made the workouts were way too long. I truly hate cardio so I wanted to die most days. The workouts were insanely long.
- Coach 2- Super rigid about weighing food and eating it bland. This got old really fast and I got tired of eating weird combos of food because I wasn’t allowed to use any recipes.
- Coach 3 – The cardio workouts are killer….downright brutal.
Easiest Part of Each Plan For Me:
- Coach 1 – The diet – I didn’t feel that restricted.
- Coach 2 – No cardio — it was awesome!!! Workouts really short compared to other plans.
- Coach 3 – The diet and rules about it are pretty flexible and some of the workouts were fun and challenging in a good way.
So after all that, what did I learn? Two things:
One is that if you are still thinking about hiring a fitness coach, make sure to do your homework. Research their credentials (find one with the right certifications, degrees, etc.), get current/past client referrals and don’t be afraid to ask a questions. Your plan should be customized to your needs/wants/body type, and if it’s not, it’s simply not worth the money. Trust me, you can Google plans like that for free.
The second thing I learned is that unless you are looking to compete or are brand new to the fitness world, you may not even need a fitness coach at all. There were a few rules that ALL three of my coaches agreed on and apply to anyone/everyone regardless of your current fitness level, weight or future goals.
And here they are:
- Drink a lot of water (a gallon or more a day)
- Eat a lot of high quality protein (lean meats, fish, eggs)
- Eat a lot of green veggies (as many as you can)
- Take fish oil every day
- Eat well balanced meals (protein, carbs and fat – moderate portions)
- Avoid sugar and alcohol!
- Lift heavy at the gym
- Measure/weigh food (ideally with a food scale)
- Be consistent with your eating/exercise and the results will come!
If you follow these 9 rules, chances are very good you will meet (and even exceed) your fitness goals. And with all the money I just saved you in fitness coaching, maybe you can take yourself on a nice little beach vacation to celebrate!