You’ve probably heard the expression, “Don’t believe everything you read on the internet.”
And the world of fitness is much the same.
Heck, I’ve worked as a personal trainer in gyms all over the UK for the last two decades, and I’m not surprised most people feel lost with training and nutrition, because some of the things I’ve heard on gym floors is downright nuts.
Today I’d like to unpack 5 of the most common ones and lay them to rest once and for all!
Myth 1: Newbies Should Only Do Cardio
Gym newbies are often advised to focus on cardio-only for the first few months to lose the belly, and then switch the weight training later on in a bid to tone up.
I don’t recommend this approach.
I’m not saying cardio won’t help you lose weight (in fact, I wish more people did it!), instead I’m saying you don’t need to delay lifting weights because studies show you’ll get even faster results by combining both. Plus it’s more fun, and it gives you a chance to learn the necessary techniques right from the start. (1)
Myth 2: Eat Small Frequent Meals To Speed Up Your Metabolism
This is one of the O.G. fitness myths.
Eating a meal raises your metabolic rate slightly, so this has led many people to believe that you can burn more calories (and therefore lose more fat) by splitting your food into smaller, more frequent meals in order to enjoy more of these little metabolic spikes throughout the day.
There’s just one problem…
… it doesn’t work!
In 2013, researchers from Colorado discovered that increasing the meal frequency of trainees from 3 meals per day to 6 meals per day (same caloric intake overall) actually had zero effect on metabolism and led to no improvements in fat loss. They also found that some of the participants who were eating more frequently felt hungrier and had an increased desire to binge. (2)
What this teaches us is that there’s no magic formula, and your meal timing should be built however you prefer.
But despite rock solid proof that it’s wrong, this myth continues to live on in most gyms. It’s been around since the 80s, and it’s so widely believed that I was even taught it during the nutrition section of my gym instructor qualifications in the early 2000s!
And is it any wonder it’s still out there with bulls**t advice (see below) from fitness personalities?!
Myth 3: You Have To Eat Clean
Clean eating is an undefinable term.
As Layne Norton explains:
“Clean eating is a meaningless fitness term because foods which would be classed as ‘clean’ to a bodybuilder would be deemed dirty by a vegetarian, and a vegetarian’s idea of a ‘clean’ food would deemed dirty by a vegan, etc. It means nothing!”
The concept of restricting your diet to a rigid preset list of so-called ‘clean foods’ flies in the face of science because studies clearly show that no single food can inherently make you gain body fat (only over-eating can do that). (3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8)
It also makes the catastrophic error of encouraging you to categorize food as good and bad (or in this case, clean and dirty).
This is a sure-fire way to create an unhealthy relationship with food, because as soon as you have a bad day (or the weekend arrives), you crave all the things you slapped on the dirty/bad/naughty list and get trapped in an endless cycle of re-starting on Monday!
Myth 4: Early Morning Fasted Cardio Burns More Fat
Of all the fitness myths on this page, this one hit me hardest.
I used to drag myself out of bed at such a godforsaken time that even my alarm clock just read “????”, and hightail it to the gym to pound the treadmill before the day started because I’d been told this would help me burn more fat.
And after a while I even started enjoying it!
But despite its continued popularity (The Rock does it, J-Lo does it, I still do it sometimes), this is an absolute myth.
The theory behind why we thought fasted cardio would burn more fat is because we have lower energy stores at the beginning of the day, which should force the body to use stored fat for fuel instead. The reality is very different, because we now have decades of research showing us that the body is able to counter-balance itself throughout the course of the day (if you burn more fat during training, you will burn more carbohydrates later, or vice versa if you train in a fed state), so really you can just do whichever type of cardio you enjoy! (9, 10, 11, 12)
Myth 5: Steroids Don’t Make That Much Difference
Every gym has a gearhead who says things like:
“Nah, bro, if anything you gotta train even harder when you use this stuff, otherwise it all turns to fat!”
This is wrong on so many levels, but the biggest problem it highlights is the fragile male ego.
If you choose to inject yourself with substances, the least you should do is become informed on what the stuff you’re using can actually do, as well as the possible risks – and there’s no denying that steroids make a huge difference!
To show you, let’s look at the results of this study published in the New England Journal of Medicine (1996).
Researchers worked with four groups of trainees split into the following categories:
- Group 1 had no anabolic steroids and did not go to the gym.
- Group 2 used anabolic steroids and did not go to the gym.
- Group 3 had no anabolic steroids and used the gym (weight training 3x per week).
- Group 4 used anabolic steroids and used the gym (weight training 3x per week).
Obviously, the guys who used steroids and hit the gym achieved significantly better results than any other group, but there’s another thing…
… look at group 2.
That’s right, the guys who took steroids but did NOT train built more muscle than natural trainees who were hitting the gym three times per week! (13, 14)
So the next time somebody downplays the importance of those drugs they took in a bid to protect their ‘hardcore-ness’, you’ll know they’re talking nonsense. Let me be clear on this:
Nobody takes steroids because they make it more difficult!
- 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).