Expert Interview Series: Martin Cheifetz of FitnessGenes About How Fitness Technology Can Provide You With a Workout Plan and Diet Tailored Specifically to Your DNA

By Aaron Eisberg

Martin Cheifetz, a senior vice-president at FitnessGenes, is an international fitness, media, and nutrition specialist and outdoor sports enthusiast. We recently sat down with Martin to learn more about the trend of genetically-customized fitness and diet plans.

What exactly does FitnessGenes do?

FitnessGenes interprets people's DNA to help them build muscle, burn fat, and lead healthier, longer lives. We've taken an incredibly complex series of processes and made it very simple, easy, and affordable for the consumer. All the consumer needs to do is send us their saliva sample and then we extract and analyze their DNA for dozens of genetic variables that influence metabolism, appetite, muscle structure, and performance.

When a customer registers the barcode of their DNA sample on our secure website, we also conduct a thorough lifestyle survey, because these "environmental" factors influence how a person's genes express themselves (This is called epigenetics). After a detailed analysis of a customer's combined DNA and lifestyle data, we provide precise, actionable advice on how that consumer should eat and train to achieve their body composition goals. Furthermore, if the customer desires a more structured diet and exercise program, we also create goal-specific, genetically tailored weekly plans detailing each day's workout, caloric load, and macronutrient breakdown. These have been very popular, particularly with consumers who have previously struggled to either lose weight or build a lean, muscular physique.

With DNA-based fitness analyses, how can consumers be sure that the testing mechanisms and/or results are accurate?

The first part of the question pertains to the DNA testing itself, which is incredibly accurate. The FitnessGenes system uses the only FDA-approved saliva collection kit currently on the market. In addition, our DNA tests happen in duplicate, so every single person who gets tested actually gets tested twice to make sure that their results are consistent and accurate.

In terms of the customer's DNA results, we utilize three levels of research:

1) peer-reviewed research that relates to the specific SNP (Single-Nucleotide Polymorphism) that we're talking about
2) our own process of discovery within the algorithmic models that we've created, refined, and tested via rigorous R&D
3) our proprietary research in collaboration with the big universities.

So in terms of interpretation of the results, we have a very stringent, peer-reviewed academic research validation process that ensures accuracy.

Could you give us an example of how someone who was working out or training and not getting satisfactory results obtained their genetic testing data, changed their workout/training regimen, and saw a drastic improvement in results?

Online reviews from individuals report weight loss amounts of 10-15 pounds within several weeks of embracing a health and fitness regimen plan that's custom-tailored to their genetic profiles. Other people described gains in muscle mass and reductions in waist size. One person discovered that their DNA profile called for more power workouts and less cardio fitness activities, and proceeded to lower their body fat by 3%.

What is a DNA-based diet, and how popular are these diets right now?

Very simply, generic "diets" simply don't work for everybody. We use an "animal kingdom" example that illustrates the problem rather well.

Let's say a consumer follows a magazine's (or website's or celebrity's or personal trainer's) "6 weeks to a 6-pack" or "6 weeks to a bikini body" diet. That diet (and its training plan) may be 100% solid from a health and nutritional perspective. The training plan may also be well-thought out and carefully periodized. However, if 100 people follow this diet and exercise plan, probably only 5% of the user base will achieve the goal. Why will 95% fail? Simply because that generic program was written by a "lion." All the other "lions" who followed the "lion" training plan achieved their fitness or body composition goal.

But what about the giraffes, the gorillas, or the platypuses? Not much chance of success on the "lion" diet, is there? And it's not just about simply switching from a "lion plan" to a "platypus plan." The consumer may have to work around the entire zoo before they find the animal plan that matches their specific genotype. In doing so, how many more times will they fail? And how many failures can they endure before they just give up entirely and cancel their gym membership?

By cutting out the guesswork entirely (like, say, informing the consumer on Day 1 that they are a "giraffe" and should "eat leaves from tall trees"), we eliminate the repetitive failure cycle and put them directly on the road to success. People find this quantifiable, personalized data very empowering. It is far more motivating to know that you are doing the right thing; and that if you continue doing the right thing you, will get results.

If a person were to ask you, "So, if I follow both my FitnessGenes training plan and my DNA-based diet to the letter, is it guaranteed that I will achieve a predetermined result?" how would you respond?

While I wouldn't go so far as to guarantee a predetermined result (because physical results always vary due to incredibly complex circumstances), I am extraordinarily confident that a "giraffe" will achieve more success "eating the leaves from tall trees" than they will "chasing zebras, unpeeling bananas, or sucking larvae out of the ground." Therefore, it follows that if a person adheres to a genetically-tailored, goal-specific diet and exercise plan to the letter, they will have a much higher degree of success and a much lower rate of failure than a person who just randomly grabbed a diet and exercise plan "off the shelf."

Here's another way to think about it. Let's say you're a student and you need to prepare for a history exam. Would you feel more confident walking into an exam room knowing only that you will be tested on "U.S. History", or if you knew in advance that the test topic was "Compare/Contrast U.S.-Russian relations in the Reagan vs. Obama Presidencies?" In which scenario would you predict a better outcome for the student?

Because a DNA-based diet is so precise in measuring which nutrients have the most ideal effect on an individual's body, does that mean that the consequences of straying from that diet are more drastic or detrimental than with a traditional diet?

Not at all. In fact, I would say the opposite is true. If we tell you, "Here's the 100% correct nutrition plan for your genotype and goals," and then you disregard 25% of what we say, you're still 75% on target. Wouldn't your rather have a situation in which you are 75% correct on a DNA-based plan than a 95% failure rate on a generic plan?

How can a gym or fitness center utilize DNA-based diets and genetic fitness testing to improve revenues?

A 95% failure rate for generic diet and exercise plans is bad news for gyms. When people fail to achieve their fitness/diet/body composition goals and give up their gym membership, that means lost revenue for the club.

One obvious way to reduce the failure risk from generic programs is to work with a personal trainer who has been educated, tested, and qualified to advise on appropriate diet and exercise. The trainer also acts as a motivator and coach, giving the client a higher level of accountability as well as personal instruction. The trainer clearly wants the client to succeed so that the client continues to work out with the trainer, and also hopes the happy client refers lots of friends back to the trainer. This is clearly a better model because as the client gets results, the trainer grows their revenue base, and the gym grows its membership roster.

However, there is still a problem with this model: the trainer begins every relationship with their client based on a set of assumptions. These assumptions, no matter how much experience or education the trainer has, mean the trainer is still largely guessing as to what is going to work for a particular client. This is not an insult to personal trainers at all. It is analogous to describing an engine noise to a car mechanic and the mechanic recommending a solution without running any diagnostic tests on the engine, or a surgeon wanting to operate without having seen a patient's X-ray or MRI. In all these examples, these skilled professionals might be successful some of the time, but wouldn't their success rates be higher if they had more detailed information before they presented their advice?

That's where genetic fitness comes in. Working in conjunction with personal trainers, clients' genetic data can be combined with environmental (lifestyle) factors to produce truly personalized fitness and dietary recommendations which are tailored to each client's specific goal. By replacing the exercise and nutrition guesswork with scientifically backed, individualized, and actionable advice, training can be as efficient, effective, and personalized as possible.

The DNA results, analysis, and recommendations are sent directly to the client, who then shares the info with their trainer. Gyms can also use DNA Analysis without involving personal trainers. They just simply retail the kits and earn a percentage of the proceeds as profit. The same logic about higher retention rates and increasing recurring revenue obviously still applies.

How prevalent will these "designer" diets and workout plans become over the next five to ten years?

Five years ago, these kinds of personalized diets and workouts were the preserve of professional or elite athletes only. Five years from now, they will become the "new normal." With all of the advances in wearables and increased availability of biological data that is making personalized wellness and precision healthcare possible; the apps and tests that fuel the quantified self and biohacking movements; and the reduction in costs that make this level of specialization increasingly available and affordable, why would anyone settle for "generic" when they can get "precise?" Why would you settle for an exercise plan that did not play to your strengths, or for a diet that stuffed you with the incorrect foods?

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