In the information age we have all kinds of research at our fingertips, but not a lot of time to sift through to find the accurate advice from the chaff. There are also plenty of commonly-held beliefs that hold sway simply because we hear them all the time. Today we'll deconstruct some common misconceptions and myths and (hopefully) perform a little course correction.
Myth #1: Crunches Will Give You a 6-Pack
The Truth: Abs are made through a favorable change in body composition achieved through a combination of cardio, resistance and core training supported by healthy eating habits.
Core work including crunches increases muscular endurance, strength, spinal stabilization and posture. However, if you eat a poorly-balanced and/or highly processed diet, refrain from cardio and resistance training you will not get that 6-pack. In my personal experience, that nutrition piece has been the key that makes all the training fall into place when it comes to midriff muscle definition.
Myth #2: Eating Late At Night Will Make You Fat
The Truth: The total number of calories you consume throughout the day is what matters.
When you eat your daily allotment of calories matters less than your energy intake vs. output. That said, eating smaller meals throughout the day or engaging in intermittent fasting helps keep hunger at bay and may prevent you from overeating, which is the common late night culprit.
Myth #3: More Protein Means More Muscle
The Truth: Your body can only synthesize a certain amount of protein; excess is passed through the urine.
The maximum amount of protein one can assimilate for the use of building muscle per meal is 30g depending on body type, kind of training you do and metabolism. When you exceed that amount, you place a strain on your kidney and colon as you pass that protein out through your urine. You may even see weight gain (that is not muscle). Nutritionists say that one should focus on eating a balanced diet.
Note: it is also commonly believed that eating protein every few hours is important to maintain muscle. Research, however, indicates that as long as you consume the required amount through meals there is no need for more.
Myth #4: Weight Training Means Getting Bulky
The Truth: If you want to turn into the Hulk, you'll need to overhaul your nutrition plan in addition to pumping iron.
Women in particular are often terrified that if they train with weights they will bulk up, and that just isn't going to happen because women lack the chemical makeup required. Unless a woman adjusts to extreme training volumes, strict dietary habits and potentially supplementation she will not turn into a bodybuilder -- and nor will men for that matter! Take a look at this article for an in-depth look at this concern.
Myth #5: The More You Sweat, The More Fat You Burn
The Truth: The harder your body is working, the more calories you will burn.
If you're running outside in Houston in the summer you'll sweat more than you would indoors on a treadmill with the A/C set to 60. Your sweat isn't an accurate metric.
Myth #6: No PAin, No Gain
The Truth: Pain is not an indication of muscle growth; it is an indication that you are working beyond your body's current capacity, are fatigued or possibly suffering nutrient deficiencies. Increases to your number of reps, the weight you can lift, cardiovascular endurance, and physical appearance are more reliable indicators.
You need to listen to your body in order to avoid injury. If you are always sore after a workout, you are likely pushing too hard and have a greater potential for injury. If your pain lasts for several days, you need to get it checked out as it may be an injury.
Athletes in particular (and by 'athlete' I am referring to anyone who trains consistently) are more likely to ignore pain during their workouts, which actually sets them up for injury as they don't go to the doctor or take steps to treat the issue when symptoms arise. See this article about workout pains you should never ignore.
Myth #7: Vegans and Vegetarians Can't Build Muscle
The Truth: Plants have protein.
I have been vegan for 2 years, and was vegetarian for a decade before that. I certainly don't have any problem building muscle. As with anyone else with any form of diet, it's about balancing your nutrition and putting in the work. Have a look at bodybuilders Nimai Delgado, Jon Venus, or Torre Washington -- they are all vegan.
Myth #8: Longer Workouts Mean Better Results
The Truth: Quality over quantity.
Short, focused, intense workouts are as effective -- and sometimes more effective -- than long workouts where you are distracted or not giving your full effort.
With the exception of endurance athletes who are specifically training to be able to continue heavy labor over long stretches of time, it is safe to say that if you only have 20 minutes to work out, if you give it all you have for those 20 minutes you will come away with great fitness benefits.
Myth #9: With Hard Work, Anything is Achievable
The Truth: Hard work delivers amazing results, but if the transformation you envision is in contrast to your natural body shape you are setting yourself up for disappointment.
Be realistic with your body goals and try to draw inspiration from people who have a similar body type. You may also opt to perform exercises that help balance your proportions, but keep in mind that beauty comes in all shapes and sizes.
Myth #10: Cutting Calories is the Key to Weight Loss
The Truth: Not eating enough calories can lead to weight gain as the body will go into 'survival mode' and store everything it can.
Consult your trainer, nutritionist or doctor regarding how many calories you need in a day in order to maintain proper energy and functionality and make sure your intake is aligned with this number.
Myth #11: Carbs Are the Enemy
The Truth: Imbalance in energy intake vs output (how many calories you take in versus how many calories you burn during your daily activities) is what causes fat gain.
With ketogenic diets being a hot item in the nutrition world right now, it's easy to believe the fallacy that carbs are the enemy. Carbs are actually the body's preferred fuel source, but it's important to eat healthy carbs like fruits and vegetables, nuts and seeds, whole grains, beans and legumes rather than refined carbs such as white rice, white pasta, processed snacks and sweets.
I personally have tried high-protein and high-carb macro ratios, and once my body adjusted to one or the other it functioned equally well. The key is to find an eating style that works for your lifestyle, as everyone's body performs differently.
Myth #12: Spot Reduction Works
The Truth: You need to perform exercises to tone the muscles while also working overall to burn away excess fat so that you will be able to see the muscles.
You can't tell fat cells to accumulate in a specific area, and you can't therefore burn them off in one specific area. Your focus should be on overall toning and weight loss, with strengthening work performed to tone the muscles you want to build up.
Myth #13: Early Morning is the Optimal Time to Train
The Truth: Consistency is the key, not the time of day.
My early bird clients always tell me that they love to work out in the morning because they get it done and have the rest of the day to do everything else. While it's true that morning workouts leave less room for other obligations to crowd out training time, everyone has a different circadian rhythm and preference. Train at whatever time works best for you, so that you can remain consistent.
Myth #14: Exercise is the Best Way to Lose Weight
The Truth: Slimming down almost always starts with significant changes to your diet.
Exercise burns calories, and the way to lose weight is to adjust that aforementioned energy intake vs output ratio. However, you can't just 'work off' whatever you eat -- truth be told, physically you feel worse eating unhealthy, processed foods and your performance suffers. Adjusting your nutritional hygiene is a major step toward seeing the results you want.
Myth #15: It Takes at Least 2 Weeks to Get "Out of Shape"
The Truth: Muscle tissue can begin to break down within a week without regular exercise, and degrades from there.
When you stop training, you will begin to see signs of de-conditioning in as few as 7 days of complete rest. Your body is programmed for "use it or lose it, so yet again consistency is key.