In the fitness industry, you always have to be aware that the advice you’re reading may come with a motive not to inform but instead to sell a product or supplement. The reason for this is that there is a great deal of science that guides what works and what doesn’t, but the vast majority of it is countered by anecdotal evidence that challenges sound research and often seems more plausible and achievable in a shorter timescale at first glance. When explored to a greater extent, it’s clear that there’s more to it.
Here are four well-established myths and an explanation of why they tend to carry weight amongst readers. Following this, there’s a complete truth, but you would be surprised how many decisions (and mistakes) are made because this isn’t correctly understood.
If you switch from a non-exclusionary diet to one where you cut out carbohydrates or reduce them significantly, your weight on the scales can fall significantly, even as much as 10lbs in just 72 hours. For those still in the learning stage, it’s very difficult to see this happen and then accept that cutting out carbohydrates isn’t a sustainable weight loss strategy.
Cutting out carbohydrates causes your body to release a lot of water weight, which is why your scale weight falls very quickly. This can be interpreted as fat loss and a huge initial success which fuels continued carbohydrate restriction, and puts you into a state often referred to as ‘ketosis’.
Over time, restricting carbohydrates can indeed lead to the intended fat loss but only because restricting one macronutrient is likely to lead to a calorie deficit. This also prompts a higher consumption of proteins and fats that are more filling and satiating.
The takeaway message is that there’s no science that supports long-term carbohydrate restriction being more effective than a broader calorie deficit strategy.
Any training volume will bring with it at least some benefits. That isn’t to say you can achieve ambitious goals training just once a week, but it can help you feel better about yourself, will afford your heart some welcome conditioning and can keep the cobwebs at bay.
If you have the chance to dedicate one evening every single week and you feel this is the amount of time you can realistically budget, then that’s exactly what you should do.
The point is often argued by those whose goals are more aggressive and where their intent isn’t necessarily to motivate but rather to make controversial statements and stand out by doing so. This is common on social media platforms.
This myth stems from an argument that training in a ‘fasted’ state allows you to deplete glycogen stores which means for the rest of the day the body can (partially) fuel itself from body fat. The science doesn’t support this, largely because your body’s use of energy is more creative and complex than this.
For those who take on this advice, weight loss results are often be seen but possibly because a morning training session can be habit-forming, and not because you’re fasted. Committing to waking up for a morning run has many positive effects on a person such as starting the day feeling good and energised being a motivator, and for many, training early and then hitting the day hard can bring remarkable improvements in mental health.
In reality, the time you train needs to be personalised to you. If you find that training on an evening means you can be more consistent in the long-term, then that is a better decision for you.
Do what feels good for you. The more advice you take that leads to fighting your own preferences and lifestyle, the less likely you are to stick to the plan in the long run. Contrary to what you will see, a fitness and training lifestyle has to be built around you, not the other way around.
This is a myth that tends to be more relevant amongst women. Resistance training such as lifting weights is often synonymous with bodybuilding and building extreme muscularity. This association often makes it difficult to demonstrate the benefits that weight training can have for other goals such as weight (fat) loss.
In a practical sense, it’s very unlikely that you’ll achieve unwanted muscle growth without a concerted effort in that direction. A well-thought-out diet, training style and frequency is required to ‘bulk’ and add muscle mass to any great extent. However, weight training used in other ways is a proven, effective component in fat loss as small increases in muscle mass can improve body composition (muscle to fat ratio) and support your metabolism as muscle tissue has greater resting energy demands (uses more calories at rest) than fat.
Technology is a great tool not only for measuring and tracking but also for information gathering and real-time data. The popularity of smartwatches such as the Apple Watch, amongst others, is growing as core features include the ability to track calories burned and other relevant data such as steps taken throughout the day and distance covered.
Such technology presents calorie figures, possibly for simplicity and user experience, as if the number is accurate and precise. In reality, the error margins involved in these calculations mean calorie calculations can be wildly inaccurate.
It’s unlikely that the intent of the manufacturer is to mislead anybody but the issue becomes apparent when calorie counts are used to inform nutrition decisions such as eating back the calories burned during a workout and the subsequent failure to lose weight being difficult to explain when you believed you were in a calorie deficit.
It’s absolutely fine to use these numbers as a broad guide, but trusting them to the extent that energy balances depend on it is unlikely to lead to success.