The 30-30-30 rule for weight loss is going viral. Experts explain how and if it works

A new wellness regimen called the “30-30-30” method has been trending on TikTok, with many claiming it’s an effective way to meet weight loss goals. The approach, which focuses on protein intake and exercise first thing in the morning, is getting plenty of buzz for its various benefits. 

As with any new dieting or fitness trend making the rounds on social media, it’s important to know whether this new method is backed by science or if it’s just hype.

What is the 30-30-30 rule and how does it work?

What is the 30-30-30 rule? 

The 30-30-30 rule involves eating 30 grams of protein within 30 minutes of waking up, followed by 30 minutes of low-intensity, steady state cardiovascular exercise. Beyond these steps, the 30-30-30 method doesn’t require any changes to other meals or behaviors, restrictions or counting calories.

Although the names may sound similar, it’s different from the 12-3-30 workout, which entails setting a treadmill to an incline of 12 and a speed of 3 miles per hour then walking for 30 minutes.

The 30-30-30 morning routine was originally described by author Tim Ferriss in his book “The 4-Hour Body.” According to Ferriss, the approach can help catalyze fat loss in the body. 

On TikTok, the 30-30-30 rule went viral in part thanks to Gary Brecka, a podcaster and self-described “human biologist” who speaks about how to improve physical and mental health.

In two videos, which each have over 19 million views so far, Brecka praises the 30-30-30 method and breaks down how it can aid with weight loss and blood sugar control. Brecka claims that the 30-30-30 technique helps the body burn fat without losing muscle, and results can be seen in as little as one month.

Other people on TikTok are documenting their journey trying the 30-30-30 method in real life and showing off their results.

These claims and success stories are all great endorsements, but what does the science say about the 30-30-30 method? Can it actually help with weight loss, and are there any risks?

Does the 30-30-30 method work?

It’s difficult to say definitively if the 30-30-30 rule works, whether it can lead to weight loss and how it compares to other methods because it has not been studied rigorously, Tara Schmidt, lead registered dietitian at the Mayo Clinic, tells TODAY.com. Additionally, the effectiveness of any diet or fitness regimen will depend on the individual and their goals. 

However, the 30-30-30 method can be broken down into its three different steps, which have been researched more extensively. Here’s what we know about the benefits of eating a high-protein breakfast, doing so within 30 minutes of waking up, followed by low-intensity exercise in the morning.

Breakfast, eating times and weight loss

We’ve all heard breakfast is the most important meal of the day. Eating a nutritious breakfast has numerous benefits, but does it actually help with weight loss? 

It depends. “The evidence that we have supporting breakfast for weight loss is rated as fair,” says Schmidt.

In the National Weight Control Registry, a research study which includes adults who have lost at least 30 pounds and kept it off for one year or longer, 78% of subjects reported eating breakfast every day, says Schmidt. 

According to the study, eating breakfast was a common characteristic among those who maintained long-term weight loss, suggesting it may be a factor in their success. “We don’t know exactly why,” says Schmidt. 

While some claim breakfast helps “jump-start” or boost metabolism, the evidence to support this is lacking, the experts note. A 2022 analysis found that those who ate a bigger breakfast did not burn calories any faster, TODAY.com previously reported.

“Theoretically it could be beneficial for calorie burn if you’re the kind of person where eating breakfast in the morning makes you feel more energetic and active throughout the day,” Jason Machowsky, an exercise physiologist and registered dietitian at the Hospital for Special Surgery, tells TODAY.com. 

The 30-30-30 rule specifically recommends eating breakfast within 30 minutes of waking and more importantly, that the breakfast has to include 30 grams of protein. Does this make a difference?

“I would not say that breakfast needs to be eaten within 30 minutes of waking. I would typically say eat breakfast within a few hours. … Not everyone can stomach food that early,” says Schmidt. “I think there is a benefit to having 30 grams of protein at breakfast,” Schmidt adds.

The recommended daily allowance (RDA) for protein, for both men and women, is 0.8 grams per kilogram of body weight, per the Institute of Medicine’s dietary reference intake recommendations. For an adult weighing 150 pounds or 68 kilograms, that’s about 54 grams of protein per day. What’s considered a “high-protein diet“ depends on the individual and their body size.

In a video posted on his YouTube channel, Ferriss says eating 30 grams of protein in the morning can help inhibit appetite and reduce caloric intake during the day.

Research has suggested that eating protein at breakfast can help with satiety, or feeling fuller for longer, as well as blood sugar control and insulin resistance, the experts note. 

Protein can help people manage hunger, but research suggests that the type of protein is more important than the quality when trying to lose weight and keep it off, TODAY.com previously reported.

Nutritious high-protein breakfast choices include eggs, lean meats, greek yogurt, ultra-filtered milk, nut butters, and protein shakes, says Schmidt. “It’s perfectly fine to have carbohydrates at breakfast, but when you have a protein source along with the carbohydrates, that glucose spike is not going to be as high,” Schmidt adds.

Along with protein and carbohydrates, Schmidt encourages people to add in fruits and vegetables, which provide fiber and additional nutrients.

Ferriss says his “dream breakfast” includes two to three eggs, lentils or black beans, and a green leafy vegetable, such as spinach.

Low-intensity exercise for weight loss

The last step of the 30-30-30 method is to do 30 minutes of low-intensity, steady state (LISS) cardiovascular exercise every morning after breakfast. This type of exercise increases your heart rate, but not too rapidly, so you can sustain a steady, moderate level over a longer period of time without getting out of breath. 

Examples of LISS cardio include brisk walking, biking, swimming or using an elliptical, TODAY.com previously reported. “You should be able to talk on the phone, read a kindle, you are not panting,” says Brecka in a video.

Adults should get at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic activity or 75 minutes of vigorous-intensity physical activity per week, according to the U.S. Department of Health’s physical activity guidelines

“Any exercise is going to help bring your blood sugar down, so it’s absolutely beneficial,” says Schmidt. But she doesn’t think it needs to happen so soon after a meal.

In his viral TikTok videos, Brecka claims the final step of the 30-30-30 method helps the body burn fat instead of lean muscle.

“Fat-burning” is a loaded term, the experts say. “Lower intensity exercise is going to burn a higher percentage of calories coming from fat,” says Machowsky. However, higher-intensity exercise may burn more calories total, he adds.

Some fitness experts recommend a combination of LISS and high-intensity interval training (HIIT) for weight loss. LISS is also great for endurance and recovery, while HIIT can help you gain and maintain muscle mass while losing fat, TODAY.com previously reported.

“If the goal is weight loss, it’s about the total amount of calories you’re burning,” Machowsky adds. “You need to be in a calorie deficit to promote actual reduction of fat stores off your body.”

When it comes to what time of day is best to exercise, many experts agree that the morning can be ideal for logistic and health reasons — but whether it’s sustainable depends on the person.

A recent study published in the journal Obesity found that exercising between 7 a.m. and 9 a.m. could help with weight loss, TODAY.com previously reported

“Some people find the act of exercising in the morning makes them more mindful of their eating choices the rest of the day, so it can have a positive ripple effect,” says Machowsky. 

Others may find that morning exercise is easier to make a consistent habit, Schmidt adds.

Experts agree that exercising in the morning should not come at the expense of sleep. If you’re sleeping less than you need in order to squeeze in an early workout, it may be time to reconsider your routine. Sleep is essential for overall health, and not getting enough can make it harder to lose weight, TODAY.com previously reported.

Does 30-30-30 help with weight loss? 

The impact of the 30-30-30 method and weight loss results will depend on a person’s baseline activity level and other habits, the experts emphasize. “Ask yourself: Are the (30-30-30 steps) improvements upon those current habits?” says Machowsky.

“If you’re not doing any exercise and now you’re doing 30 minutes a day of low-intensity cardio, that’s better than nothing,” Machowsky adds. If you’re doing higher-intensity or longer workouts every day and cutting back in order to do the 30-30-30 method, then you might not burn as many calories as before, the experts note.

While many different factors can impact an individual’s weight, the main strategy that guarantees weight loss is being in a calorie deficit, Schmidt says. If the 30-30-30 method doesn’t result in you burning more calories than you consume, then you aren’t likely to lose weight, the experts note.

Risks of 30-30-30

Compared to other fad diets and fitness trends, the 30-30-30 rule is far less concerning, says Schmidt. The basic principles, eating a high-protein breakfast and exercising daily, are pretty easy to get behind. However, the 30-30-30 regimen may not work for everyone.

“The (method) doesn’t seem to be harmful to try, but it’s not one-size-fits-all,” says Machowksy. 

“Some people are hungry in the morning and other people aren’t, so I wouldn’t go force feeding yourself,” says Machowsky. If you can’t stomach a filling breakfast or can’t wake up early enough for morning workouts, the 30-30-30 method may not be right for you, the experts note. “But it doesn’t mean that you can’t try it and see how your body responds,” he adds.

It’s generally safe for people to consume 30 grams of protein at one time, given the daily recommended amount is higher than that for the average adult, the experts note. However, some people need to limit their daily protein intake for medical reasons, says Schmidt, such as those with chronic kidney disease. “Always check with your physician first,” Schmidt adds.

Thirty minutes of low-intensity exercise is also safe for most people, the experts note. “For the general healthy population, I don’t see it being an issue,” says Machowsky. However, anyone with underlying conditions or injuries should always check with their doctor before starting any new exercise program or type of workout, he adds. 

“Of course, there are always disclaimers: If something you eat doesn’t make you feel good, stop. If you do an activity that makes you hurt, stop,” says Machowsky.

“We keep finding newer ways to do the same thing we’ve been trying to tell people the whole time, which is you need to be exercising, you need to be eating a balanced diet, and it needs to be sustainable,” says Schmidt.

This article was originally published on TODAY.com

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