Fitness Myths Part 1

With nineteen days under our belts in 2017 and with many punching their tickets to get on the Fitness Train, I thought it would be timely to bring up a few of the fitness misconceptions that I see floating about gyms and newcomers.

When it comes to a lifestyle change like adding fitness and nutrition into the mix, it’s very easy for people to become confused about what to do to get the best possible results.

This post isn’t directed exclusively to gym “noobs” but actually to those who’ve been here for years who may be saying or doing things erroneously unknowingly.

Let’s take a look at some of the more common myths that the big T-back wearing jacked dude or the hot LuluLemon gym vixen is likely sharing with you at the gym:

Myth #1: Fasted Cardio Burns More Fat

This is probably the bane of fitness existence and a nightmare of fitness competitors or for anyone looking to drop body fat. This is probably one of the most perpetuated fitness myths that simply won’t die.

It’s the Spawn of Satan. And I’ll even be the first to admit it--I’ve been there and I’ve done it. 

Fasted cardio has been around for decades and the theory behind it is that by being on an empty stomach, more fatty acids will be dumped into the blood stream to be burned as fat. Also, the notion of being glycogen depleted (no carbs stored in muscle and liver) will maximize pure fat oxidation.

I mean, if I haven’t eaten in 8 hours because I’ve been sleeping, surely my body has to be tapping into those unwanted fat stores to use for fuel…right?

I wish I could say yes, but the answer is no. In fact, research shows that as long as you’re burning more calories than your consuming, fat loss is similar whether you choose to eat before performing cardio or not. But don’t take my word for it: 

“Findings indicate that body composition changes associated with aerobic exercise in conjunction with a calorie deficit are similar regardless of whether or not an individual is fasted prior to training. Hence, those seeking to lose body fat conceivably can choose to train either before or after eating based on preference.”

You won’t lose weight (read as: body fat) by performing or including cardio into your routine—you’ll be losing that weight because over the course of a day/week/month you’ll be eating less calories than you’re burning, and the cardio portion is simply a variable helping with the equation.

So, the main message here: when it comes to cardio, stick to what you prefer—fasted or not. There’s no advantage, no difference.

I personally find my performance goes down without eating, so I choose to perform training or cardio in a fed state. That’s what works for me so I stick to it. My energy is higher and I have the ability to burn more calories as a consequence.

Myth #2: Eating Carbs at Night Makes You Fat

I’m guilty of this one too. I believed it and lived it to the T. No carbs past 6pm. Oats? Rice? What about fruit? Not even, bro. You’ll get fat.

That’s what I used to believe.

So, where did this fallacy originate? The idea came about that you should avoid carbs at night because your metabolism slows down and you won’t ‘burn them off.’

According to this myth, since you will be going to sleep soon, your metabolism will slow down and those carbohydrates will have a greater chance at being stored as fat compared to if they were consumed earlier in the day where they would have a greater probability of being burned.

Interestingly enough, some researchers from Israel put people on a calorically restricted diet for 6 months and split them into two groups, a control group and an experimental group. Each group consumed the same amount of calories, protein, carbohydrates, and fat but they distributed their carbohydrate intake very differently. One group (control) ate carbs throughout the day, whereas the experimental group consumed the majority of their carbohydrate intake (approximately 80% of the total) at night. The results of this were somewhat shocking.

Not only did the experimental group consuming the majority of their carbs at night lose significantly more weight and bodyfat than the control group, but they also had better satiety and less hunger!

Furthermore, withholding carbohydrates to later in day can increase insulin sensitivity and increase the body’s ability to burn fat throughout the day, so long as the end result at the end of the day is in a caloric deficit.

Steak and eggs for breakfast anyone?

Myth #3: Eat Small Meals Every Two to Three Hours to Speed up Your Metabolic Rate

This has been a long-standing, frequently circulated myth. Logic would say, yes, this myth seems to make sense. Heck, I’m guilty of repeating this same rhetoric to my clients and others when I first started.

Theoretically speaking, this myth is that your body would find it easier to handle and digest multiple smaller meals per day in comparison to larger, more infrequent feedings. A more practical analogy might be thinking of dumping a giant pile of wood onto a fire versus gradually adding or “stoking the fire” one log at a time. “You’ve got to stoke that metabolic fire”—except for the fact that your metabolism isn’t a fire.

Here’s a fun fact: with every meal you eat, you burn calories just digesting the meal you’ve just consumed. This caloric burn from digestion is called the thermic effect of food (or TEF).

TEF is directly proportional to the amount of calories consumed and NOT the frequency of feeding. While proteins, carbohydrates and fats each have a slightly different increase in TEF, at the end of the day, consuming 10x 250 calorie meals is ultimately going to burn the same amount of calories through digestion as consuming 1 large 2500 calorie meal, given that the protein, carbs, and fats distribution is the same of course.

However, for simplicity, it’s easier to eat smaller meals that contribute to the overall end goal of meeting nutritional needs versus trying to cram everything all in one giant bolused amount.

Another way to look at this is if we made an analogy between total daily caloric intake to a daily financial budget. You must spend less than you make to save money, just like if you want to lose fat you must eat less calories than you burn.

As long as you aren’t going over your total calories for the day and adequately meeting your recommended daily intake for calories/macronutrients, the quantity of meals you eat is irrelevant to body composition, with the caveat that other variables such things as mood, energy levels, and training intensity could be affected.

So, there’s really no need to time your meals to the minute just to lose fat. No stop-watch needed here.

Ultimately, in regards to burning fat, it all comes down to energy balance: the calories you consume versus calories that you burn. It’s that simple. It really doesn’t matter when you choose to eat the calories as long as  you’re eating fewer calories than what you’re burning.

Myth #4: You Just Have To “Eat Clean”/ Gluten-Free/ Restrict Food Choices To Lose Body Fat And Get Lean

Losing body fat is easy. Everyone knows that all you have to do is “eat clean”….right?

So how do you “eat clean”? What does that even mean? Wash you food with soap?

The biggest problem here with discussing foods in these terms is that there’s no exact definition of “clean” or so-called “dirty.” It’s completely undefined. Like an asymptote in math. Everyone has their own definition.

At first glance, it might seem obvious, but a closer look reveals it’s far from crystal clear. The confusion is compounded when “clean eating” is preached as the “best way” to optimal health and body composition.

The “Processed vs Whole Foods” camp is most commonly and widely agreed upon and cited as being “clean”, saying that single ingredient, nutrient-dense foods occurring in their whole, naturally occurring state while being minimally processed are deemed “clean”. In contrast, foods that are altered or removed from their original state via ‘processing’ are stripped of the clean stamp. Many gym-goers will adamantly declare that “clean eating” is the key to success when trying to build muscle and burn fat. In their mind, “clean eating” entails a day full of nothing but chicken, broccoli, and brown rice or egg whites and oatmeal.

Another version is “Caveman Clean” promoted by Paleo eaters, which basically eliminates grains, legumes, dairy, added salt, sugar, alcohol and even certain vegetables. Foods outside of these boundaries are seen as dirty.

Then there’s “Bodybuilding Clean”, which has an avoidance to dairy and fruit, with the exception of whey. Why? Possibly due to pre-contest leaning out phases when carbs are decreased. With dairy and fruit being carb-dominant sources, they’re out.

 In the case of vegetarians, “clean” foods are predicated upon whether you are a lacto-, ovo-, or pesco-vegetartian, a combination of all of them, or vegan, each with their respective dietary restrictions.

In regards to gluten avoidance there is very little evidence that gluten is a contributor to health issues with the exception that people with Celiac disease and non-Celiac gluten intolerance (NCGI) should avoid gluten at all costs. A gluten-free diet excludes grains such as wheat, barley, rye containing products. When you have Celiac disease, your body is physically incapable of processing the protein gluten and causes an allergic reaction when ingested. It does not help you “lean out” to eat gluten free.

The reality is this: when it comes to restrictive eating practices such as “eating clean” studies have shown there are greater probabilities of binge eating behavior, higher weight gain and waist circumference over time. In cases like this, denial of foods that make you happy is no way to live.

Elimination of entire food groups is silly and to add insult to misery, it won’t help you reach your goals any faster or more effectively doing so.

Eating plain, bland, chicken, rice and veggies all day won’t make you any healthier, or better looking than the next guy. What it will do is make you someone who dreads their diet and can’t wait for the next “cheat day” (a.k.a. binge-a-thon) to roll around the next weekend. Like the saying goes, “Be stubborn about your goals, but flexible about your methods.”

If you are flexible in your dieting approach, you’ll find you’ll be more consistent in your diet habits and more consistency over time equates to greater results and long-term dietary adherence and greater overall success.

Bottom line-- no matter how "organic", “gluten-free”, or “vegan friendly” your food is, it still has calories. Yes, these foods may potentially be a healthier option because they're more likely to be free of pesticides and other chemicals, but over eating "natural" food is still exactly that--over eating.

Once again…energy balance: calories in versus calories out. Every food has to be looked at in context.

Finally…

The fitness industry is currently inundated with under-qualified (and even self-certified) coaches, trainers and professional competitors who all preach about the methods and practices that have ‘worked for them.’

Knowing this, it’s important to understand and consider the “why” or the underlying reason certain approaches work and to do your research if in doubt.

Just because something seems to be causing a certain result does not mean that’s the case. Don’t confuse correlation with causation. Question and do some research.

That’s just common sense.

So the next time you’re getting an earful of advice from Jacked and Tan Ken or MyFitness Barbie you can listen with understanding, nod, and smile. Wide.

Because now you’ll be armed with some knowledge bombs yourself.

Bombs away.

 

REFERENCES:

Adibi, S. A., & Mercer, D. W. (1973). Protein digestion in human intestine as reflected in luminal, mucosal, and plasma amino acid concentrations after meals. Journal of Clinical Investigation, 52(7), 1586.

Aragon, A. (n.d.). Myths Under The Microscope: Fasted Cardio. Retrieved January 16, 2017, from http://www.simplyshredded.com/fasted-cardio.html

Bouchez, C., & Nazario, B., MD. (2010, May 14). Top 9 Fitness Myths -- Busted! Retrieved January 16, 2017, from http://www.webmd.com/fitness-exercise/features/top-9-fitness-myths-busted#1

Buchnolz AC and Schoeller DA. Is a calorie a calorie? Am J Clin Nutr, 2004:79(suppl): 899S-906S. 

Donohue, W. A., & Kolt, R. (1992). Managing interpersonal conflict. Newbury Park: Sage Publications.

Kinsell, L. W., Gunning, B., Michaels, G. D., Richardson, J., Cox, S. E., & Lemon, C. (1964). Calories do count. Metabolism, 13(3), 195-204.

Meule A, Westenhofer J, Kubler A. Food cravings mediate the relationship between rigid, but not flexible control of eating behavior and dieting success. Katayose Y, Tasaki M, Ogata H, Nakata Y, Tokuyama K, Satoh M. Metabolic rate and fuel utilization during sleep assessed by whole-body indirect calorimetry. Metabolism. 2009 Jul;58(7):920-6.

Schoenfeld, B. J., Aragon, A. A., Wilborn, C. D., Krieger, J. W., & Sonmez, G. T. (2014). Body composition changes associated with fasted versus non-fasted aerobic exercise. Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition, 11(1).

Seale JL, Conway JM. Relationship between overnight energy expenditure and BMR measured in a room-sized calorimeter. Eur J Clin Nutr. 1999 Feb;53(2):107-11.

Smith CF, Williamson DA, Bray GA, Ryan DH. Flexible vs Rigid Dieting Strategies: Relationship with Adverse Behavioral Outcomes. Appetite, 1999, 32, 295-305

Sofer S, Eliraz A, Kaplan S, Voet H, Fink G, Kima T, Madar Z. Greater weight loss and hormonal changes after 6 months diet with carbohydrates eaten mostly at dinner. Obesity (Silver Spring). 2011 Oct;19(10):2006-14.

Stotland. Moderation: An alternative to restraint as a mode of weight self-regulation. Eating Behaviors 2012, 13;406-409.

Daniel Saunders