5 FITNESS MYTHS THAT LIVE IN EVERY GYM
After 20 years in the fitness industry, I can confirm that gyms are a breeding ground for fitness myths.
Seriously, there are hundreds.
From the big ones (eating carbs after 6pm causes weight gain) to the more niche ones (celery is a negative calorie food which helps you burn fat by chewing), it seems we never run out of broscience.
But there are a few myths which sit on top of the pile. These are beliefs which, despite years of academic data PROVING them incorrect, refuse to die and routinely pop back into the headlines every few years.
Let’s put them to rest.
MYTH #1: CARDIO TO LOSE WEIGHT, LIFTING TO BUILD MUSCLE!
Newbies regularly ask me if they should do cardio for the first few months “to lose the belly” and then switch the weight training “to tone up”.
The answer is no.
Cardio will help you to lose weight, of course (and it’s something I wish more people at the gym would do), but there is no reason to delay lifting weights and you should do both from the start. It’ll help you get faster results! (1)
MYTH #2: EATING SMALL FREQUENT MEALS SPEEDS UP THE METABOLISM
This is one of the O.G. fitness myths.
In fact, it’s so widely believed that I can remember being taught it during the nutrition section of my gym instructor qualification course many, many years ago!
But despite what you’ve heard, it’s NOT true.
An interesting 2013 study from researchers at the University of Colorado got to the bottom of this one. They noted that increasing trainees’ meal frequency from 3 meals to 6 meals had zero effect on metabolism – and zero effect on fat burning. In fact, trainees eating smaller, more frequent meals actually reported feeling hungrier and had an increased desire to over-eat. (2)
But with advice like this (see below) from fitness personalities, it’s no wonder most people are lost.
MYTH #3: CLEAN EATING
There are fitness buzzwords, and then there’s “clean eating”.
This phrase took on a life of its own in the 2010s and remains hugely popular today, despite the fact IT DOESN’T WORK for most people.
I have two problems with clean eating.
The first is that it’s an undefinable term. Seriously, ask any “clean eating” enthusiast what the term means, and they won’t be able to tell you. As Layne Norton explains:
“Clean eating is a meaningless fitness term, because a food which is classed as clean to a bodybuilder would be deemed dirty by a vegetarian, and their idea of a clean food may be off limits to a vegan, etc. It means nothing.”
The second problem is that it puts foods into categories of “good & bad” (or “clean & dirty”), which is a sure-fire way to create an unhealthy relationship with food. It also flies in the face of science, because no single food can inherently make you fat, and studies show that the two most important factors in body composition are calories and consistency. (3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8)
To all extents and purposes, the notion of clean eating just tricks us that we must eat only chicken and broccoli for the rest of our lives in order to get lean.
(And by “the rest of our lives”, I mean Monday-Friday, cuz clean eaters are the absolute worst when it comes to weekend binges!)
MYTH #4: FASTED CARDIO BURNS MORE FAT
I was devastated when I found out this is a myth.
Gyms are PACKED with people who regularly drag themselves outta bed at F**k O’ Clock to go pound the treadmill, and I know exactly how they’ll feel reading this. I wanted to punch my alarm clock square in the face.
But here’s the thing…
Fasted cardio does NOT burn more fat. It doesn’t matter how many times the media quote it, or how many celebrities claim it changed their physique, it doesn’t burn more fat and we have decades of research to show it. (9, 10, 11, 12)
So what gives?
Well, the theory behind why fasted cardio burns more fat is pretty solid (in a fasted state, we will burn fat for fuel more easily) but the reality is very different and it seems the body is able to balance itself throughout the course of the day (i.e. if you burn more fat during your workout you’ll burn more carbohydrates throughout the day, or vice versa if you train in a fed state). Clever, huh?
MYTH #5: STEROIDS DON’T MAKE MUCH OF A DIFFERENCE
There are several popular myths I could’ve put in the final spot on my list, but I’ll save them for another day.
I included this one because every gym has a guy attempting to convince his friends that those steroids he took never made a difference and it was all down to how #dedicated he is.
They’ll say things like:
“Nah bro, if anything you have to train even harder when you take steroids, otherwise it all turns to fat!”
Now, I don’t really mind if somebody wants to use anabolic steroids to enhance their physique. That’s their choice. But I despise misinformation (especially when they’re just doing it to stroke their own ego), so let’s be very clear on this:
Nobody uses steroids because they make it HARDER…
This was well documented in a 1996 study published in the New England Journal of Medicine, where researchers worked with 4 groups of trainees split into the following categories:
- Group 1 had no anabolic steroids and did not exercise.
- Group 2 used anabolic steroids and did not exercise.
- Group 3 had no anabolic steroids and exercised (weight training 3x per week).
- Group 4 used anabolic steroids and exercised (weight training 3x per week).
There were a couple of interesting findings here.
Group 4 (the guys who used steroids and trained regularly) experienced BY FAR the best results. It wasn’t even close. And that should be no surprise, really.
But this will be:
Group 2 built more muscle than group 3.
That’s right! The guys who used steroids but did no exercise actually built more muscle mass than the natural guys who hit the gym three times per week! Holy f**k! So the next time somebody uses steroids and then downplays the importance they had in their transformation in a bid to sell you on their “hardcore-ness”, feel free to call them an atomic f**knuckle. (13, 14)
- Willis L. H., et al. Effects of Aerobic and/or Resistance Training on Body Mass and Fat Mass in Overweight or Obese Adults. J Appl Physiol (2012).
- Ohkawara K., et al. Effects of increased meal frequency on fat oxidation and perceived hunger. Obesity (2013).
- Leibel R. L., et al. Energy intake required to maintain body weight is not affected by wide variation in diet composition. Am J Clin Nutr (1992).
- Golay A., et al. Similar weight loss with low- or high-carbohydrate diets. Am J Clin Nutr (1996).
- Golay A., et al. Weight-loss with low or high carbohydrate diet. Int J Obes Relat Metab Disord (1996).
- Luscombe-Marsh N. D., et al. Carbohydrate-restricted diets high in either monounsaturated fat or protein are equally effective at promoting fat loss and improving blood lipids. Am J Clin Nutr (2005).
- Raatz S. K., et al. Reduced Glycemic Index and Glycemic Load Diets Do Not Increase the Effects of Energy Restriction on Weight Loss and Insulin Sensitivity in Obese Men and Women. J Nut (2005).
- Johnston C. S., et al. Ketogenic low-carbohydrate diets have no metabolic advantage over nonketogenic low-carbohydrate diets. Am J Clin Nutr (2006).
- Febbraio M. A., et al. Effects of carbohydrate ingestion before and during exercise on glucose kinetics and performance J Appl Physiol (2000).
- Schoenfeld B. Does Cardio After an Overnight Fast Maximize Fat Loss? Str Cond J (2011).
- Hackney K.J., et al. Timing Protein Intake Increases Energy Expenditure 24 H After Resistance Training. Med Sci Sports Exerc (2010).
- Paoli A., et al. Exercising Fasting Or Fed To Enhance Fat Loss? Influence Of Food Intake On Respiratory ratio And Excess Post Exercise Oxygen Consumption After A Bout Of Endurance Training. Int J Sport Nutr Exerc Metab (2011).
- Bhasin S., et al. The effects of supraphysiologic doses of testosterone on muscle size and strength in normal men. N Engl J Med (1996).
- Sinha-Hikim I., et al. Testosterone-induced increase in muscle size in healthy young men is associated with muscle fiber hypertrophy. Am J Physiol Endocrinol Metab (2002).