The Principles of Body Recomposition

Investing and body composition have a lot in common.

Both require delayed gratification over short-term rewards.

Both are ‘something that I’ll get to’, but few do.

And both tend to be cyclical, with the gradual trend being expansion.

For these reasons, I have found that many successful investors and financial managers have great lessons that can be applied to body recomposition. Principles by Ray Dalio is the latest and greatest.

Dalio founded Bridgewater Associates, which has become the world’s largest hedge fund. In the process, he has built a net worth of $17b USD. But what's interesting is not how much money he has made, but the system he used to do so.

Dalio built algorithmic decision-making processes to help drive investment selection and capital allocation. By doing so, he was able to use all the information and knowledge he and others had gained in their lives, in an unbiased and unemotional setting. 

This is important because it’s the deviation from fundamentals – be it from ‘gut feel’, cognitive bias, or anything else - that can ruin investment portfolios and stifle returns.

That’s not dissimilar to body composition, particularly when it comes to delayed gratification and placing an emphasis on short-term rewards.

We are often guilty of overestimating our ability and taking on tasks that are beyond current capability. This is called illusory superiority - of which a great example is that 90% of people thinking they are above-average drivers (Roy & Liersch, 2014). Although I would be surprised if that was the case in Canberra...

So even though we know that a diet and training program might be overly restrictive or tough, we decide that we can do it, because we are the exception. The problem is that often the failure sets us back in the long run, as we feel disillusion and unrewarded for our efforts.

A few months ago, and before I had read this book, I was challenged by a mentor to put together the ‘rules of body recomposition’. The idea was that these were the rules that could not be violated if people wanted to get results. They were to be moulded by my experience, learnings, and ideas on how things should work.

It made sense – if I could boil the process down to what is fundamentally essential and what is not, I could refine my programs to ensure these needs were met. These rules would also guide the content I produced, to ensure a consistent message.

However, I was hesitant to write ‘the rules’ at the time, mostly due to the fact that I wasn’t comfortable making the rules – I have only been doing this for a few years, and the more I learn, the more I realise I don’t know!

Instead, I decide to call them the Principles of Body Recomposition, for no other reason than it less-induced a feeling of Imposter Syndrome. But don’t worry, Ray, you won’t be hearing from my lawyer(s).

The Principles of Body Recomposition had to be simple and limited to the essentials only. They weren’t allowed to be four pages long, with multiple sub-headings, because that defeated the purpose (this guideline was probably specific to me, as I have a tendency to go long-form).

Principles of Body Recomposition


- Ownership: the individual is in charge of their actions, and results.

- Energy Balance: body composition changes are driven by energy deficit or surplus.

- Adherence: adherence drives any strategy's success.

Every time I review them, they seem pretty obvious… we are in charge; energy balance is king; and the best strategy is one we stick to. But the simplicity is the strong point of these principles. 

Importantly, there is no training system or nutrition protocol attached to them. Instead of favouring nutrition protocols such as Ketogenic, Paleo, or Atkins, or a training system such as HIIT, powerlifting, or LISS, the principles encourage you to find what suits you and will be adhereable.

At the end of the day, it doesn’t matter what we do, so long as we create an energy balance and adhere to it.

Unfortunately, these aren’t the principles or advice most people want. We want to be told 'eat 150g of protein per day and we will lose body weight, without doing anything else'. 

We want there to be a magic bullet that we haven’t heard of yet, because this one ‘could be exactly what I need’.

That’s why we continually try new diets, looking for the answer while ignoring the truth.

These principles aren’t simple nutrition guidelines that you can follow and results will follow. Instead, they should guide your approach to nutrition at the macro level (not the same as macronutrients).

Firstly, we need to take ownership. I'll admit I am probably not the best at helping people do that because, by the time people hire me, they have already done it.

Secondly, any system we implement needs to create an energy deficit, for fat loss to occur. This can mean exercising more, but mostly it means consuming less energy from food. A combination of both is ideal.

Finally, we need to be able to stick to it. This doesn’t mean it needs to be easy, but it does need to be manageable, and not overly daunting. 

Individuals will have varying approaches that work for them. A time-poor executive may struggle time to allocate time and energy to exercise, but they can afford to have healthy meals prepared for them in advance, which helps them control energy intake.

A first-year uni student might not be able to afford this, but they can dedicate an hour a day to exercise.

No matter what, the results are the outcome of your repeated action (ie. whatever you adhere to).

Try these principles, test them, challenge them, and change them.

You might think they are too simple, too general, or too vague. In this case, use them as a start point to develop your own principles based on what works for you, and what doesn't.

Two years ago, my approach to training clients was different to what it is today. 

In two years time, it will be different again.

But the principles will likely remain consistent. And if they have changed, it should be the result of them being challenged and improved.

Change and evolution is important, but it's always interesting to see what remains consistent - because this is where the principles are found!