I recently was working out at a local gym and overheard a conversation between a personal trainer and a man exercising on the elliptical that caused me to just shake my head. The man, who was working out quite intensely—fast pace and was dripping in sweat—was told by this trainer that he needed to be eating protein every two hours throughout the day and that he needed to stop spending time on the elliptical because that form of exercise was causing him to “hold onto his fat.” He then added he wanted him lifting heavy at least two days during the week. Now was the man asking for advice on how to gain muscle or was the trainer just coming by and offering some free/helpful advice I do not know (I suspect the latter) but this information is just flat out false! He even started listing off what he was calling “lean protein” sources that were not lean at all! I will add that this man was quite trim while the trainer not so much.
Unfortunately, this isn’t the first nor will it be the last time I hear misinformation being passed around a gym. No wonder people are confused about how to exercise and eat properly. So let’s try to clear some of this up. Here are some statements that are commonly tossed around the gym. Test yourself. Do you think they are fact or fiction? (I pretty much have already given you the answer to a few of them.) Then look below to find out more.
Let’s start with clearing up what I overheard at the gym.
Strength training burns a lot of calories and helps a person lose weight faster.
Fiction: The best way to burn calories (not to mention receive substantial health benefits) is to do continuous, cardiovascular activity such as brisk walking, running, bicycling, swimming or cardiovascular machines like the ELLIPTICAL, at a moderate pace. Burning calories affects calorie balance. In order to have weight loss we need to create a negative calorie balance. To do this we need to expend more calories (exercise, activities of daily living, etc.) than we take in (the food we eat). Performing cardiovascular training in no way causes you to “hold onto fat.” It is quite the opposite. Now in terms of strength training and calorie burn, the actual amount of calories burned during strength training activity is relatively low. So why is there the perception that strength training aids in weight loss? Well, this takes us right into the next one.
A pound of muscle burns more calories than a pound of fat.
Fact and Fiction: An argument you will hear for performing strength training over cardiovascular training for weight loss is that you will build more muscle which will burn more calories across the day. Muscle cells are in fact more metabolically demanding than fat cells (which means they burn more calories), even at rest. But the estimates for how much more are way over-exaggerated. In addition, even though strength training increases muscle mass and significantly reduces the loss of muscle mass during the weight loss process, studies have not consistently shown that strength training significantly increases metabolism or the amount of calories you burn during the day. Strength training is important for a number of health reasons and as mentioned to prevent the loss of muscle during weight loss but it is not the superior choice to burn calories.
Eating lots of protein will cause you to build muscle.
Fiction: Protein itself does not help you build more muscle or make you stronger. It is the work you do during strength training that will have that effect. Yes those who exercise need protein and more than those who are inactive but most Americans including your hardest training athletes get plenty of protein in their regular diet. Protein intake according to the most recent guidelines should be 10-35% of your total calorie intake. So for your most trained individual who let’s say is consuming 2500 calories a day, at the high end of the protein recommendation this would be approximately 200 grams of protein. This can easily be met through food and hardly needs to be consumed every two hours. Some examples:
This segues nicely into the next one.
The composition of what you eat is an important factor in weight loss.
Fiction: Studies have consistently shown that the composition of what you eat does not have an impact on weight loss efforts. Making ANY energy deficit through a negative energy balance is what produces results. When calories are kept constant, a low fat diet and a low carbohydrate diet (or high protein diet) result in equal amounts of weight loss in the long term.
Certain foods, like grapefruit, celery, or cabbage soup, can burn fat and make you lose weight.
Fiction: Hopefully by now you have caught on that it is calorie reduction which helps to create a negative energy balance that causes weight loss. No foods burn fat or cause you to lose weight. While some foods with caffeine may “speed up” your metabolism for a short time, the amount is not significant, and does not lead to weight loss. I know we all want that quick fix or immediate gratification but the reality is that weight loss comes from consistently engaging in healthy behaviors which includes reducing calories.
Unfortunately, this just scratches the surface in terms of the misinformation that is out there but we will keep trying diligently to counter it with the correct information. What are some common myths that you have heard while at the gym?