The science behind fitness and nutrition is constantly changing and there’s always new research to keep up with, which is one reason I got into the field. What was thought to be true years or even months ago may not be the case anymore. With the said, I don’t know all the current research and I’m not going to preach it to you. However, I am certified through ACSM and NSCA, have a degree in Nutrition Science, and have been working in the field since college, so I do have a solid background on what’s true and what’s not.
Let me tell you, as a personal trainer I hear a lot of fitness myths people have picked up along the way. Another term for these myths is “broscience”.
In the terms of Urban Dictionary:
Anecdotal evidence presented as fact by unqualified, yet confident individuals in the body building community.
Rampant within lifting forums and message boards, the information is usually based on hearsay with little to no scientific evidence to support the claims made by the individual.
There’s usually little to no scientific evidence to back up these fitness claims, yet they’re believed by thousands because “gym bros” and fitness magazines pass them as facts.
I’ll go out and say it: The best fitness routine is one you’ll stick with. The best cardio routine is one you enjoy. The best “diet” is changing your viewpoint on food and making healthy decisions. The rest are things that may have worked for one person, but won’t work for everyone. There’s no ‘’one size fits all” program; all of our bodies and metabolisms are different. So if you hear about some “miracle cure”…chances are it’s not. Changing your lifestyle to be overall healthier is the most effective plan.
Note: the following may not apply to anybody working toward bodybuilding competitions or those taking steroids (but that’s because they’re either eating very restricted calories and have nowhere else to go or are changing their hormone levels through supplementation).
So without further ado, some common fitness myths and why you shouldn’t fall for them…
#1. CARBS AFTER DARK MAKE YOU FAT.
The theory here is your body isn’t using the carbs while you sleep, so they’ll be turned to fat. It’s true our metabolism slows down overnight, but it’s not true whatever is sitting in our stomach will automatically be stored as fat. What actually determines fat gain is simple: too many total carbs, protein, or fat. So basically, if you eat more calories than what your body is expending throughout a 24-hour period, then you’re in a caloric surplus and will eventually gain weight.
So when carbohydrates (or any macronutrient) is eaten isn’t nearly as important as how many are eaten during the day.
That being said, most people feel like crap if they eat a carb-heavy meal right before bedtime. It’s a good idea to have the majority of your carbohydrate intake before and after your workouts since that’s when your body needs them the most, and then space them evenly throughout the remainder of the day to keep your blood sugar levels steady.
#2. LONG STEADY STATE CARDIO SESSIONS ARE THE BEST FOR FAT LOSS.
I’m going to reiterate what I said earlier: The best cardio plan is whatever you enjoy. So if you enjoy long distance running, then that’s the best choice for you.
Scientifically speaking, though, high intensity interval training (HIIT) is the most effective type of cardio for fat loss. This type of cardio involves bouts of high intensity cardio with periods of rest. The point is to get your heart rate up to 80-85% your max heart rate (220-age) for a short period, then drop it back down to around 65% max heart rate during the rest period.
There are many, many types of HIIT. A good way to start is a 1:2 work : rest ratio. For example, sprint 30 seconds, rest 60 seconds, repeat for 5-10 rounds. As you advance, either do more rounds or decrease your rest period to eventually 1:1 or even 2:1.
Tabata is a very popular 2:1 HIIT protocol. Tabata consists of 8 rounds of 20 seconds work with 10 seconds rest. Sounds easy, but it’s tough!!
You could even skip the timer and do Fartlek (haha) training. For Fartlek, you could, say, sprint to a light pole, walk to the next, sprint to a mailbox, walk to the next…whatever. There’s no timing other than giving yourself a time limit to complete the run in.
As you can see, there are lots of HIIT options, so there’s room to mix it up! Just keep the sessions to every other day as they should be intense enough to need a rest day in between.
#3. LIFTING HEAVY WILL MAKE YOU BULKY.
Lifting heavy will make you bulky just like sitting in a garage will make you a car.
Ladies, it will NOT make you bulky! Heavy lifting enhances our natural curves! Don’t believe me? Check out these two lovely ladies.
Jessie Hilgenberg, creator of the Jessie’s Girls programs.
I’ve personally completed Muscle Building 1, Muscle Building 2, and bought the Prenatal Edition as a guide.
And Jamie Eason, creator of the 12-week LiveFit Trainer on Bodybulding.com.
I’m only using them as examples because they’re well known and I can speak about their programs from personal experience.
Yes, they have muscle…but are they “bulky”? That’s a matter of opinion, but I don’t think so!
As women, putting on muscle is no easy feat. We don’t have nearly the amount of testosterone it takes to gain muscle quickly and have to work really hard, often for years, to put it on.
If you see a woman who’s bulky (think, manly or is a bodybuilder), I can guarantee she’s doing much more than just lifting heavy to get like that.
#4. YOU NEED TO EAT LESS TO LOSE WEIGHT.
I have many clients that come to me saying they can’t lose weight. If they’re active and have plateaued, my first question is, “Are you eating enough?”
“Sure, I eat around 1200 calories, work out, and still can’t lose this fat!”
No! No, no no!!
They think they’re doing everything right because that’s what women’s fitness magazine says women need to be doing. Eating so little may work initially, but overtime our bodies literally go into starvation mode from the low calorie intake and hold onto every calorie we consume…making it nearly impossible to lose fat.
Here’s a really great method to find out just how many calories you should be eating based on activity level.
Note: this does not account for metabolic damage due to chronically under-eating. There’s something called reverse dieting to help that…but more on that another day.
Step 1: Find your basal metabolic rate (BMR)
655 + (4.35 x weight in lbs) + (4.7 x height in inches) – (4.7 x age in years) = BMR
Step 2: Find your Total Daily Energy Expenditure (TDEE) by multiplying your BMR by an activity factor.
- exercise heavily 6+ times a week: BMR x 1.65 = your TDEE
- exercise 3-5 times a week: BMR x 1.5
- exercise 1-2 times a week: BMR x 1.35
- sedentary with no structured activity: BMR x 1.2
Your TDEE is how much you should be eating to maintain weight given your activity level.
Step 3: Adjust your TDEE for your goals
- ADD 150 calories to slowly gain muscle
- SUBTRACT 150 calories to lose fat
The end number will most likely be more than you expect, but believe me when I say you should trust the process and eat more!! We can’t expect our bodies to perform properly if we don’t fuel them well. Your body will thank you!
#5. YOU CAN OUT-TRAIN A BAD DIET.
I would love to be telling you differently, but it’s simply not true. You can kill yourself in the gym 8 hours a day, then supplement it with a crappy diet and still gain fat or not see any changes. There are the blessed out there who can eat tubs of ice cream and have abs…but the vast majority of us need a healthy diet to back up our training in order to see results.
And for all those that follow #IIFYM on Instagram and see hundreds of posts of ice cream and cake…they aren’t only eating ice cream and cake. 90% of their diet is clean with room for 10% treats. (They only post the god stuff because it gets more likes).
#6. IF I WANT TO LOSE WEIGHT, I SHOULD ONLY DO CARDIO.
I’m saving the best for last because it pulls a few of the previous points together.
First, there’s some truth to this one. Cardio can make you lose weight, but it’s not guaranteed to make you lose inches…and isn’t that what we really care about?
Speaking from experience, I gained a substantial amount of fat while training for a marathon. Yep, putting myth #2, #4 and #6 together, I wasn’t eating enough to fuel my runs, then I was over-training with cardio and very little weightlifting. So not only was my metabolism slowing down from not eating enough, I was burning muscle doing too much cardio!
And more muscle = higher metabolism = more calories burned at rest = fat loss.
Here’s the transformation from loads of cardio to loads of weightlifting. There are a few years between these photos, which includes prep for 3 figure competitions. Change takes time!
Right: Lifting heavy, eating 2500+ calories/day, and doing primarily HIIT cardio.
And would you believe I weigh 10 lbs MORE on the right than on the left?? The right was just before I got pregnant, weighing 156 lbs. I weighed 145 lbs on the left.
That’s why I believe the scale is complete bullshit. Focus on losing inches if you want to transform, not weight.
Those are some myths I hear way to often as a personal trainer. It’s time to put them to rest!
Question: Do you have a fitness myth to add?