As someone who has spent a lot of time either researching into health and fitness or doing the workouts in person, I consider myself fairly knowledgeable on the subject. Despite that though I still respect the fact that nothing is ‘set in stone’ as it were when it comes to training because we’re making new discoveries all the time, and obviously what works for one person won’t necessarily work for someone else. Thus I am careful when imparting advice to stress that it’s my opinion and that there are probably alternative methods and views out there; which is why it really gets my goat when I overhear someone spouting complete nonsense as though it was fact.
Take yesterday in the gym for instance. I overheard a guy telling his friend in all seriousness that ‘Stallone used to do loads of steroids, that’s why he has that snarl’. Not only is that essentially slander (and against a personal hero of mine no less), but it’s also completely inaccurate and based on a complete lack of understanding when it comes to the role of hormones in muscle development. Stallone has never (openly) used steroids, although he admits to having used growth hormone (controversial still, but very different). Furthermore, steroids would not cause a guy to develop a snarl. It just doesn’t work like that. So why would you act like an expert on the matter and say that it does? To make friends??
While that one got to me personally though, this is a relatively harmless example of the kind of misinformation being spread around freely. The more damaging kind is when someone gives wrong advice to their friends and colleagues and potentially risks doing them injury or at least stifling their progress. Here are some examples of the kind of nonsense people spread daily…
Wine Is ‘Good for You’
Someone I work with told me this the other day and said that they tried to ‘make sure’ they had a glass of wine a day. Look, wine is high in antioxidants and particularly resveratrol which is great at protecting your cells and fighting cancer and heart disease. And as alcohol is a relaxant that could potentially be beneficial to your heart health as well.
But it’s still fattening, it’s still alcohol, and it’s certainly not going to make any major changes to your physique. You can get resveratrol from red grapes and warm milk works as a muscle relaxant. Both are much healthier.
Sugar Free Coke Is Okay
Just because a soda drink doesn’t have any sugar in it doesn’t mean it’s not still harmful in other ways. In this example for instance you’ll be drinking sugar alternatives which can ‘trick’ your body into releasing insulin and thereby leave you feeling lethargic and craving sugar. Best to avoid.
Fat Is Bad for You
A lot of people are still laboring under the false belief that fat is bad for them. Eating things like eggs and whole fat milk will cause heart attacks and massive weight gain! Worse is that many health organizations still preach this, as do many weight loss classes. Here in the UK, the NHS advises against eating fat even, which means you’ll have a tough time convincing someone like my Mum otherwise.
Why is this the advice then if it isn’t strictly accurate?
Essentially, it comes down to the fact that it used to be true. It was once the understanding that we should avoid eating fat but this was due to poorly designed studies. We now know that the fat in eggs will only boost the ‘good kind’ of cholesterol (HDL) and that this is essential for things like testosterone production.
Fat is also great for making us feel full (which is why low fat diets don’t work out – study), it’s very beneficial for brain health and more. The only kind of fat that is ‘bad’ is the trans-fat that you find in processed foods.
It’s time that health organizations caught up to speed with the studies and information that have been available online for years.
You Should Eat All the Avocados
But just as annoying as those who are stuck in a rut and refusing to eat a diet informed by recent science are all those hipsters who have jumped onto the trendy, fatty bandwagon.
Take someone like Dave Asprey who recommends dolloping lumps of butter into your morning coffee. Or how about all those Instagram posers who take photos of avocados all the time.
Fat isn’t as bad for us as we once thought. In fact, it is good for us. But like anything, it’s still all a matter of proportion and getting the right quantities. Because while something like Avocado is highly nutritious, it is also highly calorific. In fact, a single avocado can contain over 400 calories in some cases – equivalent to a big old club sandwich. And putting butter in your coffee is just dumb.
The thing that’s really annoying about this is that people feel the need to get carried away with every new bit of information and take it to its natural extreme. Which doesn’t help anyone!
Salt Is Fine
The exact same thing has happened with salt. First, everyone told us that salt was bad for our heart and so we all avoided it. Salty food was considered to be the worst thing going. Then, more recent studies told us that salt was actually fine and wouldn’t damage our hearts (study). Unsurprisingly, it actually transpired that we needed salt in our diet. Just like everything that we eat is there for a purpose.
But this then led some people to preach from the rooftops about how ‘salt isn’t bad for you’ and to presume that this meant you could eat as much as you wanted of it. Which of course is also not accurate.
We now know that eating too much salt can actually be very bad for your brain and may lead to a number of issues in that regard. So just, don’t get so carried away! Okay?
Milk Is Bad for You
Another example of a food that has been scapegoated is definitely milk. Milk is held responsible for many people feeling bloated, feeling sick, gaining weight etc. The reasoning is that a lot of people can’t break down the lactose due to the lack of an enzyme called lactase. This causes lactose to build up in the colon, where it can eventually start to produce methane and noxious gasses which lead to the bloating and stomach pains.
A huge proportion of the Earth’s population suffer from this form of lactose intolerance, which is why so many people recommend avoiding it.
But the truth is that most people with lactose intolerance are not Caucasian. This is a condition that is highly common among Asians and African Americans but most Caucasians should be able to consume milk with no problem. And if they can, they should – seeing as it is very healthy.
If you’re not sure, then it’s possible to get yourself tested for lactose intolerance. If you’re not intolerant, then you can drink as much milk as you like with no cause for concern!
Bread Is Bad for You
The precise same thing goes for bread. Sure, if you have celiac disease, then you should avoid bread and gluten at all costs. The same goes for a gluten sensitivity.
But there is zero evidence that gluten is bad for anyone else. While it might seem ‘trendy’ to ‘go gluten free’, it is really just a waste of your hard-earned cash.
Steady State Cardio Is Useless
Here’s another example of a fitness/health trend taking off and being blown out of all proportion: HIIT.
HIIT is high intensity interval training. This is a form of exercise that involves alternating between periods of intense exertion and periods of relatively calm recovery. It has been shown to be highly effective for weight loss, thanks to its ability to improve your VO2 max, to improve your mitochondrial function and to help you maintain and even build muscle. On top of that, it’s ‘afterburn effect’ means you continue to burn calories for hours after the workout ends.
That’s all true. But what’s not true is that this makes steady-state cardio obsolete. Heading out for a 60 minute run is still an effective way to train and it has benefits that HIIT just does not. It’s actually better for generating new mitochondria for instance (meaning more energy throughout the day) and it also helps to increase the size of the left ventricle in the heart – improving your ability to move blood around your body and thereby improving your resting heart rate.
Plus it makes you better at running long distances.
You Can’t Absorb Nutrients From a Multi-Vitamin
A lot of people will tell you that there is no point in taking multivitamins – or a range of other nutrients for that matter – seeing as the body won’t be able to absorb the nutrients from them anyway.
Again, this is a baseless claim.
The reasoning is understandable: when we consume vitamins and minerals from supplements, we don’t consume them alongside all the other agents we would normally take them with such as fats, carbs and other nutrients. This means in some cases that we won’t be able to absorb the nutrients as well. For instance, fat soluble nutrients will only prove effective when taken with a source of fat. Likewise, curcumin becomes far more effective when consumed with black pepper.
Even simple nutrients tend to be absorbed best when not on an empty stomach.
So yes, getting nutrients from your food is always better. But it’s not always possible to get nutrients from food. Our diets mostly lack many of the crucially effective nutrients that we could stand to benefit from.
And actually, multivitamins are a perfectly adequate ‘second best’. This is especially true for those that have been designed to be as effective as possible. The best multivitamins will be designed with smart combinations to enhance absorption while some will even time their release to stagger the delivery of different ingredients throughout the day.
If you need more proof that nutrients can be absorbed through supplements, then you should look no further than Soylent or Huel. These are supplements designed to replace your entire diet. They have been designed to provide all the nutrients you need in just the right balance – so that you can live without cooking a single meal.
Is this a good idea? Who knows. Probably not, but that’s beyond the scope of this post. The point is that people who follow this diet don’t die of starvation. And that suggests that they must be absorbing at least a fair bit of it.
If the supplement is well-designed, then it can do a whole lot of good.
Spirits Contain Fewer Calories
This is one that my friends seem to be sure of on a night out. They can drink as much as they like and not get a beer belly because they’re drinking vodka instead. Well unfortunately it doesn’t work like that. Not only are they drinking them mixed with soda drinks – which are much higher in sugar compared with beers (the equivalent of a Cadbury’s Cream Egg if you have a small glass) – but it’s actually the alcohol content itself that’s the most calorific. In other words the beer doesn’t really matter – it’s the percentage that will cause you to gain weight. Simply then: if you’re drunk, you’ve put on a bunch of calories. You may as well drink whatever you like.
That said, beer does decrease testosterone in men, so avoiding drinking lots of that is certainly no bad thing.
You Don’t Need to Hurt Yourself in the Gym
This is a controversial one and I admit that there are a lot of opinions on this matter (you see how I phrased that?), but whatever the case I can certainly knock anyone who claims with certainty that there is no need to hurt your muscles if you want growth. The point is that your muscles only grow in response to causing microtears – tiny tears in your muscle fibers that grow back thicker and stronger. If you don’t have microtears you don’t have growth – and microtears hurt.
The pain we get the next day is called ‘DOMS’ – delayed onset muscle soreness. It’s completely normal and in fact many people will work out entirely by ‘chasing the pump’. There are ways you can improve without pushing yourself, but your gains will be ignorantly slower coming, and you will likely plateau sooner.
Protein Shakes Are Bad for You
This is something that all my non-bodybuilding friends and relatives seem to believe and I’m often told to ‘stop putting that muck’ in my system and the like. This really winds me up the wrong way because it’s clear that they’ve done no research and yet still seem to think they know better. Protein shakes are generally made from whey, which is an extract of milk. It’s completely natural and it can’t do you any harm – in fact it’s much more natural than many ready meals and chocolate bars out there. So, with all respect, please be quiet.
And while this is certainly very annoying, it’s still not even the most frustrating part. Instead, that dubious honor goes to the notion that you ‘don’t need’ all that much protein to build muscle – that any protein above normal intake will simply be eliminated from the body. That has been shown to be inaccurate in countless studies (study) and really the biggest clue should be this: the simple fact that athletes and bodybuilders always consume extra protein. While a nutritionist might tell you that you don’t need more protein to gain muscle, the coaches in the Olympics tell their athletes otherwise. That should be enough to tell you that there is something to the notion that you need more in your diet if you want to build muscle. The best advice to follow in this regard is that you should consume 1g of protein for every 1lb of body weight.
So those are a fair few myths and misunderstandings relating to fitness and diet. Some of these are harmless ‘old wives’ tales’, whereas others are potentially much more damaging to our health and our progress.
The bottom line is not to accept anything at face value. Don’t listen to the advice of your mate down the gym and question what you read online. Do your own research and apply a little bit of common sense. On the whole, it is usually true that everything in our diet is there for a reason, and that exerting yourself is going to make you fitter.
Let’s not overcomplicate matters!