Avatar Nutrition (AN) is a web-based diet coaching AI; it prescribes macros for users, monitors their responses, and then suggests updates based on those changes. It’s the collective brain-child of Layne “Biolayne” Norton, Mark Springer, and Katie Coles, and they have a small team of experienced diet coaches on board. The level of knowledge you have access to is a steal for 10 USD per month.
Disclaimer – I don’t have any ties with AN, and I’m not getting anything from reviewing them (well, Layne Norton liked one of my Facebook comments once, and that counts for something.)
I’ve been using AV for 6 months now through three different diet phases (cut, maintenance, and then mass), so I feel that I am in a pretty good stead for providing an in-depth review of the services that they provide. I also understand that AN have some new features in the works, so as major changes take place I’ll make sure to keep this review up to date.
What does it look like?
When you sign into AN you’re greeted with a page that looks like this.
This is the page you do most of your navigation from. Most importantly, it shows my macros for the day and my current data. “Next Weigh In: 4 Days” is replaced with “Weigh In NOW!” when you’re due/overdue to weigh-in (you’re meant to weigh-in once per week, but you can do it as frequently as every 5 days or as infrequently as you like.)
Scrolling a little further down you’re met with a set of charts summarising what they refer to as your “Fitness Progress”, however, I think it should be relabeled as “Body Composition Progress” or similar (as a powerlifter I would say my “fitness progress” is reflected in my Wilks score or my total, not my body fat percentage.)
When you weigh-in, you’re presented with a pop-up like the one below. It requires to enter your weight for the day, your body-fat percentage (allowing you to enter your own if you own bioelectric impedance scales or similar, but it also has the Navy Body Fat Calculator built in if you prefer), and if you stuck to your macros for the preceding week.
To be clear, AN does not offer a tracking service, only the associated coaching. It does offer integration with MyMacros+ though (a little on that later.)
That’s probably enough about what AN is and how it looks, is it actually any good? There are a few components to AN, so I’m going to break it down into 2 major chunks for reviewing purposes; the core AI, and the other things you get access to.
I’m not going to lie, the AI is pretty fucking cool. There are some things that I think could be improved, but I’m going to start with the good stuff and go from there.
The automatic adjustments to your macros are great; weighing in is really simple and quick, the macro adjustments are immediate, and you get a short paragraph explaining what the adjustments were and why; it’s context sensitive, so the feedback varies depending on your goal, your compliance, and what actually happened to your body.
There is plenty of potential for individual adjustment, but the AI refuses to give you dumb coaching advice; you can choose to increase your protein (at the cost of some carbs or fats), but they won’t let you drop it below what they recommend, for example. There is also a fats/carbs preference slider, which is great for people who have strong preferences, or dietary requirements not reflected in their macros.
There are 4 goals you can choose from; muscle gain, fat loss, maintenance, and reverse diet. For each, there are some sub-settings; so you can choose rapid fat loss, slow muscle gain etc. For maintenance this means you can set how tightly you are maintaining your body-weight; for example, I am currently maintaining 93.5 kg +/- 0.9 kg (personally, I’d like that band to be tighter, but that’s the tightest it goes.)
I’m not a nutritionist, dietician, or a student of either of the above, but from what I’ve read the recommendations given by AN line up pretty well with the evidence that exists in the literature. AN advertises itself as being the evidence-based dieting option, so I’m happy to see them live up to that (good news if you’re used to having to choke down an entire chicken breast at every meal to hit your protein requirements.)
I do have a couple of (little) complaints about the AN core AI, mostly User Experience (UX) things. The first one that comes to mind is that it’s a pain-in-the-ass to change your goal; you need to dig right back through half of the original set-ups to confirm the change. I think it almost needs to be a change that you can do at the same time as a weigh-in. I guess this isn’t a big deal because most people won’t (and shouldn’t) change their goal very often (now that I think about it, this might almost be an intentional move to discourage people from switching goals too often?) My second complaint is also pretty small; I’d like to be able to set my maintenance weight band more tightly than I currently can. At the moment it’s +/- 0.9 kg for me (this might vary person to person), but really I’d like to keep it a little closer, possibly +/- 0.5 kg or +/- 0.3 kg.
My final complaint about the AI is a little less cosmetic. I would really like to have the option to enter my actual macros for a weigh-in period, not just a checkbox of compliant/non-compliant.
The Other Stuff
When you sign up to AN, you also get access to a bunch of other stuff, of varying value. I’ll talk about each thing in a separate paragraph.
The Facebook group – There’s a private Facebook group you can join if you’re an AN member. It’s pretty cool; Layne and Mark and Katie are there, answering questions, making posts, and generally interacting with the group. I’ve noticed Stephen Manuel poke his head up a couple of times too, and I’m sure there are other names I would recognise if I cared to look. There’s sometimes some really good conversation there; unfortunately, there is often some points that could easily be addressed using the search function or reading the FAQ.
The Articles – There are a bunch of articles on AN about compliance, hitting your macros, using the system and so on. The articles are infrequently updated, and are quite superficial (I’ve rarely got much from reading them). Not impressed on this front.
The Recipes – To be perfectly honest, I’ve never made any of the recipes on the website, but they look awesome. Check out the red velvet doughnut below! …and only 50 calories each (6P/1F/4C)! I might have to make some of these over the weekend…
The Videos – there are some good, educational videos about nutrition and dieting, and especially on Reverse Dieting (which AN is really big on.) Definitely worth having a flick through here when you have some downtime if you’re a member.
Integration with MyMacros+ – I don’t take advantage of this because there wasn’t a native Android app at the time when I signed up (I used MyFitnessPal instead). A synthesis of the comments I’ve seen on the Facebook page might be “it’s comparable to MFP; it works well with foods found in the US but you’ll need to manually enter everything otherwise.” The advantage if you use MM+ is that your daily macros get imported each day, so you can literally just log and go, whereas MFP is a little more manual. MM+ isn’t free, but the app seems to be a cheap one-off cost.
After writing such a complete review, it seems odd to try and give a score out of five or ten for a service, so I’m not going to. What I am going to do is give it a binary score; a yes or no. I think that the core AI is pretty awesome and takes all the manual work out of figuring out my own macros, but that the extras aren’t particularly compelling. At the end of the day, the best recommendation is where you put your money, and month after month I’m happy to pay for AN. So on my binary, yes or no, scale, I give AN a solid 1/1.
If you already use Avatar and want to let me know your thoughts, let me know in the comments below. If you don’t, what might you want to see from an AI diet coach, what would compel you to start using one? If you were on the fence, I hope that my review has helped you to make a decision.
That’s enough of writing about dieting I think, back to powerlifting next time. See you all soon!