Avatar Nutrition – A Full Review

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.

Avatar Nutrition Home Page

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.)

an_fitnessprogress.png

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.

an_weighin screen.png

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.

The AI

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…

 

Avatar Nutrition Red Velvet Doughnut Recipe

I can only imagine that this looks like heaven deep in a diet.

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.

Conclusion

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!

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30 comments

  1. Nikki Richards · July 11

    Thanks for the info! Am really thinking about using AN for muscle gains as fearful of doing it on my own accord! Either that or go by online macro calculators and review using AN when I am ready to start cutting…either way thanks for the insight!

    Like

    • twowhitelights · July 11

      You’re most welcome, Nikki. If you end up deciding to use An, I’d love to hear what you think about it.

      Like

  2. Mike · July 20

    Good review. For the past 2 years, I’ve been tracking my macros and working with a trainer who made adjustments along the way. I just ended my contract with the trainer and thought of going with Avatar.

    Unless I’m missing something, it seems fairly simple to manage your own macros. My understanding is, for instance, if your goal is to gain weight (muscle + fat), as your weight stabilizes, you’d increase mostly carbs and a bit of fat. Protein stays relatively stable at 1-1.5g/ lb of bodyweight. Fat stays about 20-30% of total calories.

    Opposite happens when you’re cutting.

    Does Avatar do anything significantly different than follow those basic principles? It seems like a deal at $10/ month but I’d only need it if my current understanding is flawed.

    Thanks in advance.

    Like

    • twowhitelights · July 20

      Hey Mike,

      Although I’d disagree with some of the minutiae of what you’ve said, you’ve pretty much nailed it. I have the practical knowledge to be able to run my own macros as well, though there are still a few benefits; most notably accountability. Although there isn’t another person on the other end of a line giving you instructions and looking at you disapprovingly, having the financial buy-in and the expectation to get something out of it is probably worth the $10 by itself (to me, anyway.)

      If you’re happy running your own macros, you might not get a lot of Avatar, but for me it saves me the chore of doing a thing I don’t want to do, and I think it helps my compliance.

      Hope that helps.

      Like

      • Mike · July 20

        Appreciate the reply…. it does help for sure. I agree 100% about the accountability aspect. That was one of the main reasons why I hired a trainer. Probably worth giving Avatar a try. If it confirms what I (think) I know and, as you said, gives me a reason to stay on track, the $10 is worth it.

        All the best.

        Like

      • twowhitelights · July 20

        Cheers Mike. Let me know how you find Avatar after a month or two!

        Like

      • Mike · September 21

        Hi, again, Rory,

        Just finished 3 months with Avatar and canceled my membership today. For most people, the system is great. I thought it was going to be worthwhile for me, but, in the end, I did not like that I couldn’t slow the increases down. In ONE month, I gained 3lbs and 2% bodyfat. From my history with the trainer, I gain a 4:1 ration of fat to muscle. Over a year of bulking, I gained 30lbs total- DEXA (before and after) scan showed 6lbs of muscle and 24lbs of fat. I didn’t want to go through that again so I was hoping Avatar would be less aggressive- or that I could customize it. Maybe I missed a setting somewhere, but their help-desk was unable to steer me toward what I wanted.

        One big difference, though, between my trainer’s program and Avatar was that Avatar had significantly less protein (130g v.s. 190g) and more fat (30% v.s. 20%). I’m going to stick with their ratios, since I trust their research, but control my own macros to avoid gaining too much fat. Means gains will come slower, but I won’t have to spend 6 months dropping all that body fat (and subsequent muscle) to look good.

        Would be interested in your thoughts on fat v.s. muscle gains if you have experience in that area. I understand, when trying to gain muscle, the caloric excess will result in gaining fat also, but I was surprised that, at what I thought was a relatively slow (2.5lb per month) weight gain, I gained so much fat.

        All the best.

        M

        Like

      • twowhitelights · September 21

        Hey Mike,

        I’m sorry to hear that you didn’t have a good run with Avatar, but it’s good that you know what you want and are going after.

        On the fat/muscle gain front, you do need to be realistic. 20% muscle is actually not bad, especially when you’re talking 6 pounds of total muscle; that’s huge. For a trained unenhanced individual, gaining more than 30% muscle is basically not going to happen. I also understand wanting to limit fat gain (I’m starting to feel pretty fluffy myself at the moment), but the truth of muscle gain is that later fat loss is a price you have to pay. I can recommend this video for more (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5pkbrTpKaj4). If you don’t know Renaissance Periodisation, you should check them out as well!

        There’s four other things I think you should consider.
        1) Nutrient partition says (in short) the fatter you are, more fat you’re going to gain when you gain weight. In practice, that means that if you’re >= 15% body fat, you shouldn’t really be gaining weight, as you’re going to gain more fat than if you were leaner and put on the same amount of weight
        2) A good diet is necessary but not sufficient to gain muscle, you also need smart training. Take an honest look at your training over the past three months; has it been consistent? Has it been specific? Have you applied progressive overload? Are you training between MEV and MRV on average? If you’re not answering an emphatic yes to all of those questions, you should consider revising the way you training.
        3) The more weight you gain without a maintenance phase, the more fat you’re going to gain. You sure as hell shouldn’t be bulking for a year straight without maintenance periods (I’m not saying this is what you did, but that’s kind of how it sounds from your comment)
        4) The precision of most body fat measures is pretty damn poor. The Navy method is like +/-3%, so you should have multiple measures of muscle vs. fat. Are you getting stronger? Are your waist measurements changing? How is the fit of your clothes?

        Hope that helps, always happy to talk more. If it’s easier, you can email me (rory@sisyphusstrength.com) or send me a message here (https://sisyphusstrength.com/contact-1/)

        Rory

        Like

  3. Kimberly Mastin · July 28

    Hey there! Does it include a function to carb cycle? If so, or even if not, how would I be able to include that in my plan when using Avatar? Thank you!

    Like

    • twowhitelights · July 28

      Hey Kimberly. There isn’t a carb cycle function as such, but you are able to set high and low days, which are largely through carb manipulation. It is also possible to change between a preference for fats and a preference for carbs (there’s a 5-point sliding scale). Those two features mean you can probably carb cycle if you want to!
      Hope that helps ☺️

      Like

  4. Nathan · August 16

    Nice article. I just started using AN after following the primal blueprint for a couple of years. However, I wasn’t eating enough to keep gaining muscle mass with weight training, so I thought I’d give AN a shot. Here are my early thoughts:

    1) It’s been tough to eat enough carbs after limiting to < 150/day pretty consistently for about 3 years.

    2) That said, I like the way AN calculates alcohol consumption in the macros. It's easy to incorporate weekend wine/beer, and that was my weak point in primal blueprint compliance (didn't know how to calculate alcohol/carb equivalence).

    3) Ditto the request for actual vs. recommended macros. There's a learning process in hitting the macros exactly, and machine learning algorithms should be able to assess how well you complied with the previous recommendations in making new ones (i.e., compliance is a percentage/probabilistic metric, not a binary one). A simpler assessment than macros could be binary daily compliance.

    4) MM+ isn't as polished and doesn't have as good a library as MyFitnessPal, even in the US.

    Thanks again for the thoughtful review.

    Like

  5. Sanjana · August 31

    Hi,
    I need to loose 15 pounds….I was at 127 and went up to 141 while on vacation,I was away for a month and a half and gained so much😫I feel terrible as of now,my jeans are not fitting and other clothes feel snug:((
    Please advise me the best way/program to loose 20 pounds….and also I am
    42 years old,so am not sure if losing weight at this age is realistic….I keep hearing that aftef 40 it’s hard to loose weight!
    Awaiting your reply!

    Thank you,
    Monica.

    Sent from Yahoo Mail for iPhone

    Like

    • twowhitelights · September 1

      Hi Sanjana,

      Bear in mind I’m not a nutritionist, just an interested amatuer when you’re reading my answer – link anything on the internet, think critically about what I say, and if it’s correct and applies to you.

      With that said, the only way to lose weight in a consistent way is to eat at a caloric deficit for an extended period of time, and the only real way to keep the weight off is to develop healthy eating habits.

      My recommendation is to hop on Avatar Nutrition, and set yourself on “slow fat loss” (I know it’s really tempting to go for a faster option, but don’t.) In the background, I’d suggest buying and reading the book “Renaissance Woman” by the Renaissance Periodisation team.

      Hope that helps.

      Rory

      Like

    • twowhitelights · September 1

      Oh, and with respect to your age – that’s absolutely not true! People of any age can lose weight 🙂

      Like

  6. Sanjana · September 5

    Thanks so much for getting back:)

    Like

  7. Sanjana · September 5

    I wanted to know why select a “slow fat loss” option instead of the faster one?

    Like

    • twowhitelights · September 5

      Slow fat loss is designed to be sustainable over long periods of time. The faster ones are not a good place to start if you’re new to macros or dieting, or have struggled with compliance before.

      Like

  8. Sanjana · September 9

    Thanks so much again for getting back:)

    Like

  9. Teddy · September 16

    Going to give AN a try, curious how compatible it is for a Dutch user.
    Tried/bought MM+ and it’s not as easy to use for a European user as MFP, at least not yet.

    Thank you for your time and effort writing this review, it’s been helpful in making a decision to give it a try or not. 🙂

    Like

    • twowhitelights · September 16

      Hi Teddy,

      Like you, I found MM+ very difficult to use. Avatar Nutrition is agnostic to the method you use to track your macros. I don’t think it has language options at the moment, so you’re probably stuck with English. Otherwise, I think you should be fine 🙂 I’m glad you’ve found it useful.

      Like

  10. Nancy · October 4

    Your review was very informative and this may be one off but I want fat loss and muscle gain not sure that’s possible. I am currently using a trainer/nutritionist at a significant monthly cost and am ready to try some flexibility in my diet. Been lifting and macro tracking for 3 + years

    Like

    • twowhitelights · October 4

      Hi Nancy,

      Don’t we all! I think that’s been the goal of nearly every person trying to improve their body composition ever.

      Firstly, fat loss and muscle gain are distinct metabolic processes and in theory it’s possible for them to happen at the same time.

      Unfortunately, for anyone who is trained and has had a somewhat reasonable diet in the past (which seems to be you), they tend not to happen simultaneously. You’d probably be best to do a fat loss phase, then a maintenance phase, and then a massing phase.

      Hope that helps.

      Rory

      Like

  11. Kim · 14 Days Ago

    Just read your post! Vert imformative. Are you still doing AN?

    Thank you!

    Like

    • twowhitelights · 14 Days Ago

      Hi Kim! I stopped doing AN about a month ago after nearly 2 years. I found myself consistently non-compliant, so decided to take a break from tracking.

      Like

      • Kim · 14 Days Ago

        Would you still recommend it?

        Like

  12. twowhitelights · 14 Days Ago

    Yes! I only stopped because I made a personal decision to take a break from tracking. If I were going to go back to tracking in a strict way, I’d almost certainly resubscribe.

    Like

  13. Kim · 14 Days Ago

    Thank you so much for your reply! I will sign up in January! Have fun taking a break from tracking.

    Like

  14. Raymond Lanham · 3 Days Ago

    I’m interested in AN but I lack the basic vocabulary, I have no idea what you’re talking about when you refer to Macros. Is there some place I can go to learn all about AN without having to learn a whole new vocabulary?

    Like

    • twowhitelights · 3 Days Ago

      Hi Raymond. Unfortunately, you’re going to need to learn the vocabulary! None of it will make sense otherwise. I recommend the video versions of “Eric Helms nutrition pyramid”, available on YouTube

      Like

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