Four fitness myths holding you back
TODAY, anyone with washboard abs is a fitness expert, whether their accomplishments are naturally attained or not. But one thing's for sure, there's a whole lot of BS advice from people who probably aren't qualified to give it. Whether you're looking to shed body fat or bulk up, there is a trove of conflicting information on- some reliable, some not. Here the top ones.
Myth 1: More protein equals more muscle
Unless you down a protein shake right after your sweat sesh, you have wasted your entire workout, right? Sure, protein serves as the building blocks for muscle, however the notion that eating more protein equals more muscle is not exactly correct.
"To build muscle mass, energy intake (ideally a combination of protein and carbs) needs to be in surplus of expenditure and in combination with a consistent strength program" says Dr Dominique Condo, spokesperson for Sports Dietitians Australia and Lecturer in Nutrition and Dietetics at Deakin University.
Where these calories come from is important as just filling up on empty calories (e.g. highly processed bars) may affect body composition (e.g. body fat) compared to getting these calories from whole food sources.
"Athletes or body builders may have a slightly higher protein requirement, however it is still not huge and many athletes exceed it".
So, while protein is important for muscle building, Condo says none of us should be having more than 2 grams of protein per kg body weight a day, as biting off more than you can chew may contribute to weight gain.
Myth 2: Fat can turn into muscle (or vice versa)
Muscle and fat are two totally different sets of tissue so there is no direct conversion between the two.
"When you exercise muscles grows more blood vessels (and more muscle mass accordingly), not newly created muscle tissue. When you don't exercise the opposite happens - body begins to reduce size of capillaries, and muscles shrink and decrease size" adds Condo.
This decrease in muscle size will slow down the metabolism. On top of this, many people who stop exercising may not adjust how much food they eat. In other words, when you exercise less, you have to eat less to avoid increasing your body fat levels.
Myth 3: Hit the gym before the cereal bowl
There are studies that show greater fat loss on an empty stomach (i.e. fast overnight and consume no breakfast), some even up to 20 per cent, however the science of exercising in a fasted state is inconsistent. The theory is that with no calories in the tank your body should pull from its fat reserves. In scientific speak, your body starts to break down adipose (fat) tissue into free fatty acids, which can then be converted into a form of energy known as ketone bodies.
But exercising when you're hungry doesn't necessarily translate to weight loss. Depending on the level of glycogen (stored glucose) and the extent of the fast and frequency this happens, there may be the potential of the body to breakdown muscle instead of fat for fuel. On the flip side, there are also studies that show eating a small meal or snack before training may be more beneficial in burning fat. This may be that having some fuel allows you to work harder, hence burning more calories in that session.
"If an [athlete] needs to perform or is doing a high-intensity session then I would not suggest training on an empty stomach. However, if the average person is going for a morning jog then we may experiment with this type of fasting to see how they respond" adds Don.
Do what feels right for you. If you're experiencing nausea or dizziness, it's probably best you eat something first to prevent your blood sugar levels from dropping too low causing these unwanted side effects.
Myth 4: cardio is best for fat loss?
Of course any exercise is better than none, but if you're determined to whittle the waistline than it's time to lift some dumbbells, too. Why? Focusing just on cardio will see you lose muscle as well as fat, making future ability to keep weight off that little bit harder. What's more, excessive levels of cardio and a low energy intake can lead to overtraining (and increased risk of injury). This overtraining can increase cortisol levels (stress hormones), slowing down fat loss. Muscle breakdown can also occur, especially if the body is running on empty (as described above).
A combination of both cardio and weight-based training is ideal for fat loss and the extent of this combination will be quite individual. Building muscle boost the metabolism (the rate at which you burn calories). Diet is of course an integral piece of the puzzle.
Kathleen Alleaume is a nutrition and exercise scientist and founder of The Right Balance. Follow her @therightbalance