The Nutrient Bucket-Filling Game

Let’s play a game.

Ready?

Imagine your body is like a well-stocked pantry filled with storage containers, each holding vitamins, minerals, amino acids, glucose and fat—everything you need to nourish and fuel your body.

The pantry has:

  • large buckets holding bulky, frequently-used items – these are the macronutrients (i.e. protein, fat and carbs),
  • smaller jars containing the minerals, and
  • infinitesimal canisters of vitamins, so small that the human eyes can scarcely see them and their vital contents.

Imagine each storage vessel inside of you, the ‘perfect human pantry,’ is clearly labelled for easy organisation, use, and efficiency.  As containers empty, your body immediately senses which ones need refilling. 

Then, your super-efficient survival instincts put in an order for what it needs, and your appetite drives you to go out in search of the foods and meals that contain the macronutrients and micronutrients on the shopping list.

Welcome to gamified nutrition!

Want to play this game?

Yes?

OK. 

But first, you need to learn the rules.    

The two largest buckets in your human ‘pantry’ are your fuel tanks – glucose and fat.

They could be likened to Monopoly’s Boardwalk and Park Place because they are the most expensive to own, fill, maintain, and operate.

The biggest bucket contains fat, and the second-largest holds glucose.  While each fuel is ideal in different circumstances, either fuel can be used to meet your body’s energy requirements.  

Your dual-fueled engine (fat + carbs)

Understanding the capacity of the fuel tanks that fuel your body’s dual-energy metabolism is critical to playing this game with expert skill.    

You can store about 2,000 calories worth of energy as glucose in your liver, muscles, and blood.  That is, about a day’s worth of energy fuel.

Meanwhile, you can stockpile a massive–but not infinite–amount of energy in your fat tank.  

  • A very lean person might maintain around 40,000 calories worth of fat, or 4 kg (10 lbs.), on their body. 
  • Meanwhile, a larger person could store up to half a million calories worth of energy as body fat! 

The image below shows that our fat and glucose fuel tanks are separate but somewhat interconnected – your body can convert one form of fuel to another if necessary.  

Due to Oxidative Priority and your limited capacity to store glucose, your body has to use any excess glucose before metabolising the fat on your body and in your blood.  The practical implication of this is that you must first use the fuels stored upstream before accessing your body fat.

Protein

Protein can be used as fuel in an emergency, but it’s an inefficient energy source.  A significant amount of energy is lost in converting dietary protein to energy for use in your body.

Rather than energy, your body primarily uses the protein you eat to build and repair your muscles, make neurotransmitters, and perform many unique and critical body functions.

The macronutrient known as protein is made up of various amino acids – as illustrated in the image below.

The amino acids identified above are ‘essential’ because the body can’t make them from other nutrients you eat.    

Minerals

Minerals are smaller than amino acids, measured in micrograms, milligrams, or grams, depending on the mineral.

Minerals help transfer energy throughout the body, similar to how wires in your car distribute power from the battery.  Minerals also work synergistically with vitamins to enable you to use the energy from fats and carbs. 

Vitamins

Vitamins are the organic compounds needed by the body to carry out metabolic processes.   Much like minerals, the essential vitamins cannot be produced by the body and, therefore must be obtained from food. 

Most of the vitamins are needed in smaller amounts than minerals, and some can only be measured in micrograms.  But tiny as they are, vitamins are still essential!

The B vitamins tend to come with protein, while other vitamins are more plentiful in plant-based foods (e.g., folate, K1, and C). 

Your Fuel Tank Dashboard

This dashboard screenshot from Cronometer shows fuel in the form of fats and carbohydrates alongside the essential micronutrients.  

With this dashboard view, you can easily see which ‘buckets’ are brim-full and which buckets need to be topped up with nutrients to prevent deficiencies and for your body to function optimally.

The Process of Nutritional Optimisation

Keeping ALL the nutrient containers topped up without overfilling your fuel tanks becomes a bit like a game of Whack-A-Mole

While you’re busy focusing on topping up one nutrient ‘bucket’ (without overfilling your carb and fat energy ‘buckets’), other nutrients pop up as higher priorities.

It’s not easy to balance your diet at the micronutrient level!  But don’t worry!  As you continue to play, your skills will improve. 

Over time, you become better at filling the buckets and lose yourself in the process of dialling in the harder-to-find micronutrients.  Then, one day, you look up and realise that with your perfect score, you’ve become a mini-me of the high rollers who do best at this ‘game.’

Congratulations!  You’re a winner!

Your Avatar

As you fill the buckets, your avatar grows in strength and vitality (not to mention good looks).

Eventually, you will have scored so many bonus nutrients that your avatar can reproduce cute avatar babies.

And, so, the cycle continues.

Unless, of course, you interrupt the storybook ‘happily ever after’ by failing to keep your containers topped up, and your appetite becomes an out-of-control dumpster fire!

Meet the Monsters  

Like those lurking in the scariest, creepiest games, ‘Fill the Nutrient-Container Game’ has a Monster–an Ogre’ Big Boss,’ an Unholy Umpire–that you must keep happy by following the rules!

Most terrifying is the Hunger Monster (aka your lizard brain, Lizzy, or amygdala).  If you lose your focus or fudge your scores, Lizzy comes roaring out (most frequently at night), and you binge indiscriminately. 

When challenged with basic survival, all Lizzy cares about is filling your energy fuel tanks with as much fuel (in the form of fat and carbohydrate) as possible so your avatar doesn’t die.

To make things worse, Lizzy also knows that she needs to fill the other vitamin, mineral and protein reserves, so she gorges on even more of the fat+carb combo foods trying to eat enough of all the micronutrients for your avatar to survive.

But it’s a hopeless, hapless strategy.  Sadly, without Lizzy attending to the other buckets, your avatar loses strength, health, and vitality (and not to mention becomes pudgy and lethargic) over time.

Game over?

Nope! 

We’ve created some winning additions to the playbook!

Precision Nutrient Filling

After spending a LOT of time trying to crack the code and help people win this game, we realised that it was impossible to win if you only focused on one nutrient at a time. 

Their faulty sense of gamesmanship has even driven some ‘cheat’ by using synthetic supplements.  While it’s easy to pack vitamins and maybe a few of the smaller minerals into a pill, you must balance all the micronutrients simultaneously.  That’s the key to a Nutritional Optimisation homerun!  You need to get all the essential nutrients from the food you eat in the form and ratios your body understands.

Do you want to know our ‘secret’ discovery–the game changer?   

Remember those crystal-clear glasses at the beginning of this article?  Imagine them as a row of nutrient buckets lined up, ranging from empty at one end to full ones at the other end.  

Now, with your nutrient containers organised, you can focus on filling the containers that were running low.  Once the empty containers are topped up, you can re-shuffle the containers to focus on those that need refilling.  And so on. 

That’s precisely what we’ve done in Nutrient Optimiser to help you manage your micronutrients.

The chart above shows an example of the thirty-four essential micronutrients from a week of food logging. 

Imagine precise, custom-designed watering cans to fill your empty containers.

That is exactly what we’ve done with our suite of NutriBoosters Recipes

The NutriBoosters Recipes are designed to enable you to maximise nutrient density (or nutrients per calorie).  After you’ve tracked your food in Cronometer for a few days, Nutrient Optimiser gives you a recommended shortlist of foods and meals that will provide you with the cluster of nutrients that your entries show you should focus on.  

Later, once you’ve dialled in your harder-to-find nutrients, the recommended foods and meals will be re-shuffled to highlight the next batch of foods and meals you can try to attend to the updated shortlist of micronutrients you need to attend to. 

As you continue to ‘play,’ your nutrient score climbs–your avatar brims with health and vitality, ready to tackle any challenge. 

Levelling Up to The Optimal Nutrient Intakes

As a beginner, your aim is first to meet the minimum intake of all the essential nutrients your avatar needs to survive and prevent diseases stemming from deficiency.  Without meeting the minimum intakes, your avatar will shrivel up and die prematurely.

Once you can check off the Dietary Recommended Intakes (DRI), you are ready to level up and shoot for the Optimal Nutrient Intakes (ONIs).

Rather than only taking in a minimum amount of each nutrient, the ONIs represent a ‘stretch target’ for each nutrient per calorie.  This means they are a measure of food quality, regardless of food quantity.  

The key component of this hack is that you don’t need to eat more food to improve your score.  Instead, you must make better food and meal choices to balance your nutritional needs at the micronutrient level without consuming more energy than you need.

The chart below shows an example of what a winning nutrient intake score looks like.  This time, the x-axis is the Optimal Nutrient Intake based on a standard 2,000-calorie per day diet.  You get a perfect score if you can fill in everything to the left of the black 100% line!

For more details, see the How Were the Optimal Nutrient Intakes Determined?  section of the Micros Masterclass FAQs

Winning a place on the leaderboard

In addition to knowing that you have improved your diet quality score and nourished your body with all the nutrients it needs without excess energy, you can also win a place at the top of the leaderboard.  

Of course, it’s not easy to achieve a perfect score, but we see many people achieve it when they use Nutrient Optimiser in our Micros Masterclass

The Optimal Nutrient Intakes

The table below shows the Optimal Nutrient Intake targets (per 2000 calories) compared to the Dietary Recommended Intakes and Adequate Intakes (i.e., the minimums to prevent diseases of deficiency).  On average, the Optimal Nutrient Intakes are around four times the recommended minimum targets. 

nutrientONIDRI or AIunits
calcium16501000mg
iron3018mg
magnesium825320mg
phosphorus1250700mg
potassium60002600mg
sodium40001500mg
zinc258.0mg
copper30.9mg
manganese5.51.8mg
selenium30055mcg
vitamin A100002333IU
vitamin E2515mg
vitamin D1200600IU
vitamin C35075mg
thiamine (B1)31.1mg
riboflavin (B2)61.1mg
niacin (B3)6014mg
Pantothenic acid (B5)125mg
vitamin B651.3mg
vitamin B12122.4mcg
vitamin K1110090mcg
folate1000400mcg
tryptophan2.2g
threonine8.1g
isoleucine8.8g
leucine15.2g
lysine15.2g
methionine4.8g
cysteine2.40.9g
phenylalanine7.91.6g
tyrosine6.61.6g
valine9.82.3g
histidine5.41.4g
omega 361.1g

How Can I Level Up from the DRIs to ONI Targets? 

Because the minimum nutrient intakes are low, many people find it reasonably easy to reach them in Cronometer and see lots of green straight away.  

However, they get pretty discouraged when they start putting the ONI stretch targets shown in the table above into Cronometer, and all their pretty green bars turn yellow and shrink.

The help you level up slowly, we’ve created several levels that you can use to stretch you once you start to get the hang of the game of Nutritional Optimisation.

The “beginner” column in the table below shows the DRI/AIs you will see in Cronometer by default.  In addition, we have the ONI targets per 2000 calories (i.e., Level 3). 

If you want to work your way up to the ONI targets, you can start by changing your settings in Cronometer to the ONIs per 1000 calories (i.e., Level 1).  This will highlight the nutrients you need to focus on more effectively.  Meanwhile, anything still green and full in Cronometer is good to go – you are already getting plenty of these nutrients. 

These Level 1 targets are handy for people consuming fewer calories in a weight loss phase or older females who require fewer calories than active young men. 

Then, once you are getting full green bars for most of the nutrients with the Level 1 targets, you can enter the ONIs per 1500 calories (Level 2) and continue focusing on nutrients that are harder to find.  Finally, if you eat around 2000 calories and mainly see green bars, you can level up to the ONI per 2000 calorie targets. 

nutrientBeginner DRI/AILevel 1 ONI (1000 cals)Level 2 ONI (1500 cals)Level 3 ONI (2000 cals)
calcium10008251,2381650
iron18152330
magnesium320412.5619825
phosphorus7006259381250
potassium260030004,5006000
sodium150020003,0004000
zinc812.51925
copper0.91.52.33
manganese1.82.754.15.5
selenium55150225300
vitamin A233350007,50010000
vitamin E1512.51925
vitamin D6006009001200
vitamin C75175263350
thiamine (B1)1.11.52.33
riboflavin (B2)1.134.56
niacin (B3)14304560
vitamin B556912
vitamin B61.32.53.85
vitamin (B12)2.46912
vitamin K1905508251100
folate4005007501000
tryptophan01.11.72.2
threonine04.16.18.1
isoleucine04.46.68.8
leucine07.611.415.2
lysine07.611.415.2
methionine02.43.64.8
cysteine0.91.21.82.4
phenylalanine1.64.05.97.9
tyrosine1.63.35.06.6
valine2.34.97.49.8
histidine1.42.74.15.4
omega 31.13.04.56.0

This won’t change anything in Nutrient Optimiser.  It just makes the display in Cronometer a little more user-friendly and motivational as you continue on your quest toward Nutritional Optimisation

How Do I Change My Micronutrient Targets in Cronometer?

To change your micronutrient targets in the web version of Cronometer, go to ‘settings’ -> ‘account profile’ and ‘targets’.  

Next, scroll down to the bottom to Nutrient Targets.  You can then click on each nutrient and enter the target from your chosen level.  

Finally, select ‘custom target’ for each nutrient you enter manually.  The screenshots below show what this would look like for the Level 2 ONI targets. 

You can also change your nutrient targets by clicking on each corresponding green and yellow bar in the main diary screen in Cronometer

See beyond the numbers

Unfortunately, quantifying your nutrition is a necessary evil to dial in your nutrient density and make your avatar thrive at the highest level.  Eventually, you begin to see beyond the numbers and understand what nutrient-dense food looks, tastes, and feels like. 

Once you leave behind the fake flavours of modern manufactured food, you can listen to what your body needs right now.  You can fill your fridge and cupboard with healthy foods that you know work for you, and then listen to your appetite for guidance on what you need to eat next!

Where Should I Start?

If you got this far and are both intrigued and overwhelmed by the idea of quantifying your nutrient density, we understand.  

We have been hard at work over the past three years to simplify this process and to make it as easy as possible to implement.

Free 7-Day Tracking Challenge

If you’re curious and want to see how your nutrition stacks up, we’d love you to take our free 7-Day Nutrient Clarity Challenge.  At the end of a week, Nutrient Optimiser will:

  • Reveal your nutrient score,
  • Identify which foods from your current diet are more and less optimal for you, and
  • Identify foods and meals you could add to improve your nutrient score.

NutriBooster Recipes

Once you start to find your feet, you can mix and match your recipes from our suite of NutriBoosters recipe books.  These are ideal for people who just want to know what to eat to get the necessary nutrients.  They are also tailored to a range of goals and preferences.  

Micros Masterclass

If you’re ready to level up, we’d love you to try our Micros Masterclass.  Over four weeks, we’ll show you how to plug the gaps in your current diet and how to play the nutrient bucket-filling game to take your nutrition to the next level. 

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