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The importance of the 80/20 rule in Diet and Exercise

Diet. The word that makes us all cringe. What if there was a solution that simplifies eating AND allows you to eat some of those "bad" foods you crave? There is.

What constitutes a diet?

  1. food and drink regularly provided or consumed

  2. habitual nourishment

  3. the kind and amount of food prescribed for a person or animal for a special reason

  4. a regimen of eating and drinking sparingly so as to reduce one's weight <going on a diet>

  5. something provided or experienced repeatedly

Everyone's diet will be different based on lifestyle, job, hobbies etc. So how do we condense healthy eating and activity into an easy to digest (pun intended) plan to maximize results, regardless of diet?

Enter The 80/20 rule. This can be applied not only to diet and exercise, but for any avenue in your life.

How it Works

The 80/20 rule is quite simple: hit your goal on diet or exercise 80% of the time and allow yourself a 20% cushion to miss. There are many ways you can employ this rule. I list examples of both a diet and exercise goal below and how you can employ the 80/20 rule and still achieve progress.

I use a point system sometimes when gauging cheats. Small cheats, like a small dessert and/or beer with a meal is 1 point, adding a large portion of fries with a chicken sandwich or something would be 2 points, and a full pizza/beer meal would be a 3 pointer.

Goal: Lose 10lbs

Option 1:

- Eat 2 lower calorie meals + 1 high protein snack

- This leaves a calorie gap while still allowing you to hit your protein goals, allowing you to indulge in a small cheat meal on a WORKOUT DAY, so 3-6x per week (emphasizing again, on WORKOUT DAYS), depending on your program.

- Ideally this cheat will be as close to your scheduled workout for the day as possible.

Totals for the week (3 meals+ 1 snack meal plan)

21 meals

7 snacks

6 small cheats (6 points)

= ~18% cheats

This not only keeps you from completely off-railing at the sight of cake, but can be very beneficial in diet sustainability and progress.

Option 2:

- Eat in a controlled, macro-friendly, diet for 5 or 6 days of the week, hitting all macro goals.

- This not only improves hormonal response, but it also makes that one large (or two medium) cheat meal(s) that much more satisfying.

- This option is a more advanced protocol, and the cheat(s) should be done on workout days only!

Totals for the week (3 meals + 1 snack meal plan)

21 meals

7 snacks

2 large cheats (6 points)

=~18% cheats

This option is good for social dieters and people that do well with a weekly reward or goal.

Some people do very well with a daily small cheat (myself included) while others like to get the big reward at the end of the week or a big outing to cap off a hard week of dieting. Either way, just try to keep the total cheat percentage at or below 20%.


If you are following a super strict diet (counting your macros: total calories, protein, fat, and carbs), the 80/20 rule can be very beneficial. Lets face it, life happens and we can't always hit our macros the way we want to each day. But if you shoot to hit them 80% of the time, then that 20% will take a bit of stress away each day. So don't freak out if you don't eat to the gram of protein you were shooting for or if that piece of fruit put you 10g over your carb goal, IT'S OK. Just keep it 80% on point, and watch as progress continues.


The same rule applies to exercise. For example, let's say you are trying to get in the gym 4x per week, or 20x per month. Because of the 80/20 rule, you can afford to miss 20% of your workouts, or 3-4 "misses." If you do miss a workout, don't overthink it or stress too much. Just chalk it up as a miss, use it for motivation, and get your butt back in there tomorrow. Life goes on!

In summary, try this simple, yet effective, principle in your fitness regimen. But let's face it, no matter how well you prepare, sometimes there's going to be cake at the office or your cousin invites you to a barbecue over the weekend or your boss drove you crazy and you NEED a beer. That's fine...20% of the time!

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