The reason exercise doesn't work for you could be found in your genes

No matter what Ken Baldwin did, he could not shift his gut weight. The 54-year-old from Brisbane tried everything.

"It was really frustrating" he says.

"I was taking six classes a week, doing two HIIT sessions and three strength sessions. I ate natural and healthy foods. It stressed me out - I wasn't sleeping well."

Then, in December last year, Baldwin started a program called ph360, run by Dr Cameron McDonald, who describes it as "a personalised user manual that guides a person to their best health."

Basically, a how-to health guide tailored to your genetic structure.

Gene therapy

It started with an extensive questionnaire - everything from the standard measurements to skin and eye colour and how much white is on his nails, data that was then used to spit out new life instructions: when he should exercise and eat, when he should sleep and meditate, the changes he should make to his work out regime and diet.

"I discovered I was eating the right foods at the wrong quantities and the wrong times" Ken says. "I was eating too much protein, which created an insulin resistance level - my body couldn't break down sugars so I was getting constant cravings."

Goal unlocked

According to the program, there are six body types, all with greatly varying guidelines on diet, exercise and rest.

But the names for each are somewhat of a red flag and like much of the language of the program, they're shrouded in jargon: Diplomat, Crusader, Sensor, Guardian, Connector, Activator.


Once you unpick the coded language, the genetic work-outs they prescribed for you aren't actually prescriptive, but generalised. They might recommend your body type should focus more on heavy weights, for example, but they won't outline the best heavy lifting exercises you should be doing.

For Ken, the impact after making the recommended changes was pronounced.

"I have more energy, I'm more relaxed and my waistline has shrunk from 102cm to 86cm. I've lost 15kg without losing muscle mass," he says.

But is there any science behind these results? That depends on who you talk to.

The 'science'

"Recommended workouts for two different individuals are starkly contrasted depending on who it is," explains the programs founder Dr McDonald.

"One individual may have a body designed for short, high intensity early morning workouts. However, that same program for another person's body will predispose them to injury, potentially increase their weight, and make them crash at 2pm. This different type of body needs to sleep in as they're a night owl. They'll thrive with afternoon training of heavy weights with long rest periods between sets, and will get far more benefit from food that's mostly plant based and low to moderate protein over 3 meals per day."

But are we being blinded by science here?

"Shaky ground"

Medical doctor and health expert Michelle Groves thinks so - but it's "pseudoscience" she thinks that's blinding us.

"Pseudoscience with strong marketing playing on people's fears," she says.

"This is very shaky ground to be basing your health programs on. There's no independent, unbiased research to support claims that genetically tailored health plans work, or are even suitable. Epigenetics is a complicated field of science and is in its infancy. I don't believe these genetically tailored diet plans are beneficial for the general population."

The way of the future?

But for Sports Nutrition lecturer Cody McAuliffe, these gene-tailored programs are "the way of the future in health and fitness".

"For years personal trainers have given training and nutrition protocols based on what works for them or outdated science. If you can understand the limitations of a client's genetics and their current epigenetic representations, then you can create an individualised approach."

Nutritional downlow

Nutritionist Samantha Gemmell is more reserved in her assessment.

"They're a step in the right direction" she says. "A diet plan should always be tailored to a person, and genetics/hormones are one piece of this puzzle. Many underestimate how much their predispositions play a role in health. It's a much better option than following a 'one size fits all' diet and lifestyle approach."

Dr Carlotta Petti, a Melbourne-based Nutritional Genomics Specialist, is a fan - but her endorsement comes with a key caveat: "The concept of personalised health plans makes perfect sense. Once you're aware of these genetic differences, you can focus on a certain way of eating or exercising, according to your genetic variants.

"But caution is needed when choosing companies that offer genetically tailored plans. It's important to choose only trusted companies with strong scientific foundations."

A new day, new discoveries

Despite the detractors and caveats, Dr McDonald is confident that'll happen.

"So much literature we read online is completely conflicting. Yet the same recommendations are given to everyone. It's not just the genes that differ, but the biomechanics, the circadian rhythm of hormones and how they're influenced by exercise and nutrition at different times of day."