The Top Five Fitness Myths
If you’ve every tried dieting, I don’t have to tell you how difficult it can be, especially at first. Making major changes to your lifestyle, your habits, or your daily routine can be challenging. You’re not alone; it’s a challenge even for experienced dieters and bodybuilders. After coming off of a bulking phase and being used to eating anywhere from 700 to 2,000 extra calories per week, to then under-eating in order to cut fat is no fun, no matter who you are!
But sometimes, what’s even more challenging than the actual implementation of that change is learning what changes to implement in the first place, ESPECIALLY when it comes to nutrition. A quick Google search on how to lose weight can result in loads of contradictory and inaccurate information. So today, we’re going to break down the top five myths of the health and fitness world in order to help you gain a clearer understanding on what’s total bullshit and what isn’t.
Fat Makes You Fat
With just a cursory glance down almost any aisle at the supermarket, you’ll find products boasting their reduced-fat, low-fat, or fat-free content. Because of its unfortunate name, somewhere along the way we equated EATING fat with BEING fat. Add in the confusion surrounding saturated fat, trans fat, monounsaturated fat, and polyunsaturated fat and it seems simpler to just throw anything with the word “fat” in it out the window. (Here’s margarine! It’s better for you than butter!)
But believe it or not, fat is not only good for you, it’s essential to life. Eating an adequate amount of dietary fat is necessary for a whole host of things, including proper hormone production, the construction of cell membranes, and aiding in the absorption of certain vitamins and minerals among other things. It’s also the most calorically dense macronutrient at 9 calories per gram, making fat an easy way to get in some extra calories quickly.
So if fat doesn’t make you fat, what does? Simple: too many calories. It doesn’t matter if those extra calories come from fat, protein, or carbohydrates, the simple truth is that if you eat more than you burn, it’s going to get stored as extra fluff in that abdominal area and elsewhere.
You may be asking yourself, “Hey Steve, what about trans fat? I’ve heard that trans fat is the most vile, evil thing on the planet and should be avoided at all costs!” While trans fat definitely isn’t the GREATEST thing for you, the GOOD news is that it’s mostly manmade and can be easily avoided by avoiding processed foods in general (which I recommend, at least 80-90% of the time). In addition to trans fats, there are three other types of fats: saturated fats (which are not as bad for you as previously thought, and can be found in meat and eggs), polyunsaturated fats (such as olive oil), and monounsaturated fats (found in nuts, fish, and avocados).
Long story short, don’t be afraid of getting fat by eating it. I regularly include butter, olive oil, nuts, cheeses, eggs, and meat in my daily routine. Hell, it seems like these days, plenty of people out there seemingly subsist entirely on avocados! So enjoy your fat, folks; fatty foods are some of the most flavorful and satiating foods out there!
Carbs Make You Fat
I’m running the risk of breaking the hearts of keto dieters everywhere with this next section, but I promise it’s for your own good. Much in the same way fat doesn’t make you fat, carbs don’t make you fat either. Again, that comes down to calories in versus calories out. However, with that being said, there are a few caveats.
First off, carbohydrates are technically the only macronutrient that your body doesn’t actually need. You need protein to live. You need fat to live. But carbs? You could ditch them almost entirely and your body would survive just fine. (Which is essentially what keto dieters do, forcing their body to run on ketones instead of glucose.)
HOWEVER, carbohydrates do play a specific role in health and fitness that should not be overlooked. When consumed, a certain percentage of carbs get stored directly in your muscle fibers as glycogen and that glycogen can be used at a moment’s notice for instant energy (say, for instance, when you’re trying to lift something really fuckin’ heavy).
The issue is that your body can hold on to only so much glycogen, so anything extra gets stored as unwanted body fat. The REAL problem is not the carbs themselves, but rather the fact that it’s very easy to overeat carbohydrates (seeing as they’re extremely yummy). and thus people have equated carbohydrates with excess weight gain.
Now I’m not here to hate ENTIRELY on the keto diet. In fact, there are some major benefits to living in a constant state of ketosis. Specifically, it’s been shown to be quite effective in improving the lives of individuals with certain neurological disorders such as epilepsy and Alzheimer’s disease; even more so than surgery in some situations.
But! If you don’t suffer from one of the aforementioned conditions, and you’re going to the gym on a regular basis, lifting heavy weights as part of a structured training program, it behooves you to include carbohydrates in your diet plan. Just not too many. Without them, you’re apt to feel sluggish and weak. (Ever hear about keto dieters hitting the gym and not having enough energy to finish their workouts? This is why.) Even if you’ve been on the keto diet for a while, and you’re “fat adapted,” it’s still much quicker and more efficient for your body to use the glycogen that’s stored directly in your muscle fibers for an instantaneous energy boost than it is to force your body to metabolize dietary fat for energy.
However, most people don’t lift weights, don’t require that much glycogen in their daily lives, and eat way too many carbs (and calories!) than what is necessary. Thus, the poor old carbohydrate starts to get a bad rap.
Things get even worse when you start discussing added sugar. Sugar itself (along with fiber and starch) is a carbohydrate, and our war against sugar has wrapped up and swallowed whole the innocent carb along with it.
The truth is that sugar in its natural form (and coupled with soluble and insoluble fiber!) is a perfectly healthy, natural thing. Unfortunately, that’s now how most people get their sugar fix. When it comes to sugar in most folks’ diets, sources range anywhere from the added sugar in full-flavored sodas, to ketchup, Skittles, Snickers bars, syrup, donuts, cakes, chocolate and pretty much anything that isn’t black coffee at Starbucks. Since sugar equals carb, and sugar equals bad, carb equals bad in most people’s minds.
To put the cherry on top of the anti-carb cake (pun intended), we’ve not only been waging war against added and refined sugar (and rightfully so), but with refined grains as well.
It’s true that we Americans (and the rest of the developed world) eat too many processed and refined grains. Too many hamburger buns, donuts, breads, bagels cereals, cakes, giant bowls of pasta, et cetera. All of which are carbohydrates. Why? Because most of the time they’re loaded with added sugar (which can be just as addictive as hard drugs), calorically dense, and not very satiating, so they’re quite easy to overeat.
Keeping in mind that carbs are the only macronutrient that you don’t explicitly need, but yet are probably the most tasty, the most addicting, and the most readily available, and it’s clear to see how the carb takes the fall for those extra pounds you want so desperately to shed. It’s ALSO clear how diets like keto surge in popularity once the Anti-Carb Establishment has gained control of our minds.
Just remember, much like fat, carbs aren’t inherently bad for you (it’s processed food that’s the real enemy). Carbs themselves aren’t evil, they’re not the devil, and they’re not making you fatter (it’s the extra calories that are doing that). If you choose things like fresh fruits and vegetables over refined grains and added sugars for your carb fix, you’ll be just fine. I eat rice (brown, and even…white!) and oats on a regular basis, I just make sure I don’t eat too much. Remember, carbohydrates play a very specific role, serve a purpose, and can be quite useful when used appropriately.
Crunches Give You Abs
Alright boys and girls, listen up: hate doing crunches? Sit-ups, planks, ab-sliders, ab-rollers, or anything ab-related? Then I’ve got good news for you: they DON’T give you abs. I REPEAT: doing crunches will NOT GIVE YOU ABS, I promise you. Here’s another piece of good news: you already HAVE abs. Yes, they’re there, they’re just covered in a layer of squishy stuff on top. In order to SEE them, you simply have to REVEAL them by achieving a low body fat percentage.
You may be thinking, “But Steve, if I want to lose fat around my midsection, won’t crunches help with that?” Well, my friend, here’s another truth bomb for that ass: you cannot SPOT reduce fat. What I mean by that is when your body burns fat, you don’t get to choose where it comes from. So doing crunches isn’t going to result in a stomach with less fat. The best way to reveal those abs is to lose fat, and the best way to do THAT is to eat in a caloric deficit. For men, their abs start appearing somewhere around 15% body fat, and for women it’s somewhere around 20%.
When I first achieved the coveted six pack, I did it without doing ANY crunches (or any cardio, for that matter).
Now, if you want to add in some core exercises as a part of a well-balanced strength and conditioning program, by all means, go for it. But do it knowing that those core exercises will not directly contribute to you walking around like Brad Pitt in Fight Club. Just know, abs are made in the kitchen, not in the gym.
Red Meat Will Give You A Heart Attack
We’ve all seen the headlines that tout the connection between red meat and cardiovascular disease. Red meat will clog your arteries! It’s high in cholesterol! You’ll have a heart attack! For the most part, these are the same people who warned against eating eggs (now seen as one of the healthiest foods you can eat, and I agree) because of its cholesterol content. They’re also most likely the same people who warned against eating saturated fat, although the science community is finally starting to turn the corner on that subject as well.
For the most part, whenever red meat studies are conducted, they’re not looking at the effect of lean, unprocessed meats from free-range, grass-fed animals only, on people who follow a healthy lifestyle. Rather, they’re including things like hot dogs, salami, bacon, and a whole host of other processed foods on individuals who you most likely wouldn’t see at your local Gold’s Gym.
Nor are they looking at what else the subjects are including in their diets. Most of the time, the sample groups are eating the standard American diet: too many carbs in the form of processed grains and added sugar, which we already concluded was a big no no.
However, when you look at groups such as the Masai people of Kenya and Tanzania, you’ll find that they’ve eaten huge amounts of red meat for thousands of years, and have remained in excellent health. The conclusion is that their lifestyle, which is definitely not sedentary, coupled with the fact that they eat no processed foods (meats or otherwise) results in very low atherosclerosis (fancy term for clogged arteries) and mortality rates.
Furthermore, red meat is rich in vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants, such as B3, B12, B6, Iron, Zinc, Selenium, and plenty more, not to mention creatine and carnosine. PLUS, if you opt for grass-fed beef (which I recommend that you do), you’ll find even higher levels of heart healthy omega-3s, higher amounts of vitamins A and E, as well as CLA.
The bottom line is that most of these studies are observational. Many of the subjects are indeed at a higher risk of cardiovascular disease and in some cases even cancer, but this is most likely due to other factors present in their lives. The link between red meat and their risk for heart disease remains weak at best. Unfortunately, we’ve yet to see a large-scale study conducted on those who follow meat-heavy, protein-rich diets such as the Paleo diet, so until then we’ll have to be patient. Just remember boys and girls, correlation and causation are not the same thing!
Eating Six Small Meals a Day Increases Your Metabolism
For decades, bodybuilders and other like-minded fitness-oriented individuals have been eating six small meals a day, misguidedly thinking that doing so will increase their metabolism, help them to burn more fat and build more muscle. While eating smaller meals multiple times a day can help with providing more consistent energy and blood sugar levels (provided you’re eating the right kinds of foods!), it doesn’t have any effect on metabolism or fat loss whatsoever.
Turns out that whether you’re eating six meals a day, three meals a day, or ONE meal a day (if you’re hardcore like that), your metabolism remains virtually the same.
In fact, as I covered at length in this post, there is evidence to suggest that skipping breakfast and utilizing Intermittent Fasting can help burn more fat since for most of the day, you’ll be in what’s known as the “post-absorptive state,” allowing your body to derive energy from stored fat rather than the glucose floating in your bloodstream.
Additionally, speaking of metabolism, it turns out that once you hit your initial drop somewhere in your early-to-mid 20s, it doesn’t seem to drop much more as you get older. So all this B.S. about it being impossible for people in their 40s, 50s, and 60s (and beyond!) to get ripped is just that: B.S.
So there you have it guys. There are plenty of diet- and training-related myths out there, but hopefully I’ve put some of the bigger ones to rest. As always, if you have any questions, feel free to leave a comment down below!