Biofeedback is a technical-sounding term for all of the signals your body is giving you.
Bio [body] feedback [signals].
These are the little things that tell you what’s going on internally.
We know as coaches if we help you manage your diet and training properly, your body will be well from the inside out, and your biofeedback will reflect that and let us know you’re feeling, moving, training, and sleeping well.
There is a whole list of biofeedback indicators we track with our online clients. In today's blog, we'll talk through all of the key biofeedback markers we look at with online clients, and how to understand them to improve your fat loss & muscle building results.
First up on the list of biofeedback markers we track is sleep.
[For a deep dive into sleep; why it’s so important for building muscle and burning fat, and how to improve sleep, check out this blog.]
we cover with all our clients why they need to focus on good quantity and quality of sleep. Getting great sleep helps you adhere to your diet, because poor sleep means...
→ Higher stress
→ More cravings
→ More hunger
→ Lower willpower
All of this together adds up to a way harder time actually adhering to the diet when you’re under-slept. Not to mention training and recovery will suffer with poor sleep, and if you’re tired you’ll generally just move less (lower N.E.A.T.), meaning you’ll burn less calories throughout the day.
Sleep is also something we watch for changes over time. Sometimes in a prolonged calorie deficit, especially when you start to get pretty lean, your sleep can start off fine and get worse over time.
Sometimes that will just come with pushing to get ultra-lean, but it’s something we can keep an eye on and try to mitigate as much as possible with things like sleep routines and lifestyle modification, or even meal timing so you’re not going to bed hungry.
In general, we like to see anywhere from 7-9 quality hours of sleep per night.
Stress goes hand-in-hand with sleep - Poor sleep leads to higher stress, and high stress leads to poor sleep.
Stress is also another factor that can alter your ability to stick to your nutrition protocol.
Most people think the reason to keep stress down is because cortisol can block fat loss, which isn’t really the case.
Cortisol (the stress hormone) can mask fat loss by causing you to hold onto water weight, but it won’t actually completely stop you from losing fat.
The real detrimental effect of stress is it’s propensity to lower your adherence and willpower.
When you’re stressed your willpower is lowered, and hunger is typically higher either during or after the stress. We can usually see a pretty direct correlation with stress, sleep, hunger, and cravings. When one of the first two are off, everything is off.
We have our clients rate their perceived stress on a scale from 1-5. If it starts to creep up beyond a 2 or 3 and starts affecting their other biofeedback markers it’s time to start implementing stress-relieving activities.
Some good options are:
→ Deep breathing
→ Any other activity that feels calming and enjoyable to them (this can mean drinking a glass of wine, watching a favorite TV show, etc.)
We track motivation to keep tabs on two main things:
1. How motivated you are a client are feeling to do the work (this one’s obvious)
2. How well you're following the plan
We know motivation follows action.
When someone is setting their goals, setting up their checklist of actions they need to be doing to reach those goals, and following through and checking off those boxes, they are motivated and on fire for the process.
It’s only when they stop doing the things they know they need to do that motivation starts to lag.
Giving a motivation rating from 1-5 is basically a sneaky way of asking...
“How well are you really following the plan?”
When we see motivation rating start to fall for a client, that’s an alarm bell going off for us to dig into that and see what’s going on, and try to remedy that so they can get back on track and crushing their goal.
HUNGER & CRAVINGS
Hunger and cravings are indicators of:
→ What’s your food quality like?
→ How well is your meal plan set up to include things that keep you full and have enough satisfaction factor?
→ Is there something more going on like hormonal hunger/cravings that we know we just need to anticipate?
→ Have you been in a deficit too long?
Let’s break each of these down individually.
> WHAT'S YOUR FOOD QUALITY LIKE? <
If you are in a very slight deficit, or even at maintenance and still having more hunger than is expected, it’s usually a result of less than optimal food quality.
High quality, nutrient dense, whole foods come along with fiber, water content, and volume. These are also foods that are more likely to be single-macro foods.
The example I always like to give to clients is…
→ 1 protein bar = 250 calories, 20g protein and is a mixture of carbs, fat, and protein all in one.
→ 1 cup plain fat free Greek yogurt, 1 orange, and 10 almonds is also 250 calories, 25g of protein, but each food is a lot more food volume, and is more filling.
Another great example of this...
→ 4 oz ribeye steak is 320 calories, 19g of protein and 27g of fat.
→ 4 oz chicken breast and an entire avocado is 350 calories, 25g of protein, and 23g of fat.
The chicken and avocado is much more filling because of the extra food volume.
For any clients who are struggling with hunger in a deficit, one of the first things we have them add is a big salad during their hungriest time of the day.
A big salad usually includes tons of greens, chopped veggies of their choice, some lean protein on top, and a low or no fat dressing.
This gives lots of food volume, fiber, micronutrients, protein, and takes a lot of time to chew and finish. The combination of these factors gives major fullness points for very few calories which is a win-win in a deficit.
For all of these reasons, food quality is the first place we look when hunger is high without a clear reason.
> HOW WELL IS YOUR MEAL PLAN SET UP TO INCLUDE THINGS THAT KEEP YOU FULL & SATISFIED? <
Your meals need to have 3 characteristics:
1. Fit your target macros
2. Be enjoyable
3. Be repeatable
If you stop at number one you’ll be eating in a way you can’t stick to. Meals should also be enjoyable and repeatable.
Being enjoyable doesn't just mean it tastes good. It means it tastes good, makes you feel good, digests well, and is satisfying, meaning you don’t finish eating and still want something.
Using the big salad example from above, maybe a salad with greens, grilled chicken, and fat free dressing is fine, but it just isn’t satisfying and you’re still wanting something when you finish.
But maybe you find that if you just add something crunchy on top it adds just a few calories, still fits your macros, and is way more satisfying.
And lastly they should be repeatable, meaning the meal isn’t so complicated it’s unrealistic to repeat day to day.
> IS THE SOMETHING MORE GOING ON LIKE HORMONAL HUNGER/CRAVINGS THE NEED TO ANTICIPATE/PLAN FOR? <
Some times of the month you know you’ll be hungrier and have more cravings.
For some that’s the week leading up to their period, for others it’s the week of.
One option is to add food that week to accommodate and make that trade off for slower progress. If you don’t want to do that, just knowing it’s coming can be helpful.
If you don’t already, start tracking your cycle and see if you consistently have increased hunger at any points during the month. That will usually be around ovulation or the start of your period.
> HAVE YOU BEEN IN A DEFICIT FOR TOO LONG? <
This would be the last on the checklist if you still have more weight you’d like to lose, but if you’ve been in a deficit for weeks on end you could just be ready for a diet break.
Having some time to eat at maintenance can be the mental and physical break you need to get back to it.
We train hard when we’re in a surplus so we can build the most amount of muscle possible, and we train hard in a deficit to make sure to preserve the most amount of muscle while dieting.
So it would make sense to track how training performance is going. If this is starting to suffer you may not be optimizing your physique, but it can also give clues to any changes that are needed in the diet.
If you have always had a pretty low fat diet and you experiment with raising fats and lowering carbs and see your training performance go down, you know that strategy isn’t right for you.
This can also be a situation where you are going in and out of different training phases and you can see what does and doesn’t work for you while you’re in a deficit.
If you are deep into a dieting phase and you go into a very glycolytic training phase that you just don’t have the fuel for and training performance suffers, it might be best to hold off on that type of training until you’re back at maintenance.
Tracking training performance can also give you clues about what’s going on outside of just the training and diet.
→ Are you hydrated?
→ Is sleep going down and you’re seeing it reflected in training performance?
→ Do you need to add a pre-workout meal or change the one you’re already having?
→ Are outside stressors taking a toll on training?
Oftentimes fixing one of the other biofeedback markers can benefit training performance as well.
Recovery can be just as important as training performance.
As the SRA Curve illustrates, it's not just train hard, build muscle. You can only adapt to training you can recover from:
As you might expect from reading the integration of all the previous sections, recovery can be majorly affected by diet, sleep, stress, and hydration. Those are the places to start if you want to improve your recovery.
If you have all those dialed in and still want to improve your recovery from training you can...
→ Make sure your pre and post-workout meals, particularly carbohydrates, are dialed in.
→ Add external modalities like massage, stretching, foam rolling, and/or heat.
→ Take a look at training intensity and volume and make sure they’re dialed in.
However, these things are the 20%, and the 80% are the fundamentals I mentioned above: Diet, sleep, stress, and hydration.
Renaissance Periodization has coined the terms minimum effective volume (MEV) and maximum recoverable volume (MRV).
You might have guessed from the names, but...
MINIMUM EFFECTIVE VOLUME (MEV): The lowest volume of training an athlete can do in a particular situation and still measurably improve.
MAXIMUM RECOVERABLE VOLUME (MRV): The highest volume of training an athlete can do in a particular situation and still recover.
→ Having adequate protein and calories (maintenance or above)
→ Lowering stress
→ Increasing sleep quality and quantity.
→ Being hydrated and having the proper electrolyte balance
...will both lower your minimum effective volume, so you can get adequate results with less volume, and extend your maximum recoverable volume, so you can do more while still recovering and not overtrain.
BONUS: STEP COUNT
Ok, this one is a bonus because step count isn’t really biofeedback per se, but it does give us an indication of the amount of movement a person is doing in a given time and might clue us in to metabolic adaptation and help prevent that.
Let me explain…
Your metabolic rate is made up of the following components:
→ BMR (calories burned through your heart pumping, breathing, etc. - you'd burn these even if you didn't lift a finger all day)
→ EAT (exercise activity thermogenesis-calories burned during exercise)
→ TEF (thermic effect of food-calories burned in digestion)
→ NEAT (non-exercise activity thermogenesis-calories burned during all movement outside of exercise)
We have no control over BMR and minimal control over TEF.
That leaves calories burned during movement.
Since we can’t just keep pushing calories burned through exercise because that eats into recovery ability and time in our day, we have the most control over NEAT.
Technically by definition this would be little movements that we don’t have much conscious control over like fidgeting, blinking, spontaneous standing vs. sitting, but for our purposes we use step count.
Step count is something we can control, and it’s a way to monitor and gauge decreased activity over the course of a diet.
See, when you diet your body attempts to burn less calories to keep you from starving to death.
One major way of doing this is slowing down your NEAT. You stand less, talk with your hands less, fidget and blink less, and walk less.
If we see a clients steps start out at an average of 10-11k steps per day when they start a diet, and gradually move down to 9, 8, and eventually even 7k… That decreases calorie burn to a pretty large degree.
Instead of continually slashing more and more calories, we can attempt to keep those steps up and mitigate some of that metabolic adaptation.
That way you’re not adding any unnecessary cardio time, and not slashing calories any more calories than is necessary.
As a client, you are expected to track a lot, but it’s not without good reason.
These are all things we’re taking into account to make sure you’re getting the absolute best results possible, staying healthy, and learning throughout the process.
If you need expert guidance to achieve you physique goals, click here now to apply for online coaching with our team.
About the Author
Andrea Rogers is a certified nutrition coach, personal trainer, and coach for BairFit. Follow her on Instagram for more helpful training & nutrition content.