The 20 Fitness and Nutrition Myths that really annoy me

Richard Kelly 8th April 2019

  1. All Fat is bad for you

Who thinks this? A lot of people over forty.

Why do they think it? In the 1980s a research paper claimed that dietary fat was the cause of body fat.  The US government, and a bunch of western nations, followed this advice.

Why is it rubbish?  The research paper was funded by Coca-Cola.  They are therefore biased, and no subsequent study has found their claims to be true. 

  1. Carbs are bad for you

Who thinks this? A lot of people under forty.

Why do they think it? Doctor Atkins wrote a book claiming that excessive carbs in the diet was the cause of obesity, and now a number of people have avoided carbs and lost weight.

Why is it rubbish?  Carbs are one of the two main sources of energy we have, along with fats.  They are useful for energy recovery from intensive exercise and for building muscle.  Added to this when people avoid carbs what they are really avoiding is complex carbs, like bread and rice.  Broccoli and lettuce are carbs, but most no carb advocates still eat them.

  1. Running will make you lose weight

Who thinks this? A lot of people who are new to exercise, and a high number of runners.

Why do they think it? A lot of people believe that running is an easy, low cost start point for weight loss.

Why is it rubbish?  The main thing that dictates weight loss is calories.  Initially, running half an hour burns about one sandwich off.  That isn’t a lot when you consider that the vast majority consume more than this in post-run calories, and once you are conditioned to running the calorific expenditure falls down sharply.

  1. Weights will make you bulky

Who thinks this? Most women, and many overweight men.

Why do they think it?  Its hard to nail down a specific person for this, but I’m blaming Baron Pierre de Courbetin.  He invented the modern Olympic movement.  Whilst that’s all well and good, he and his friends were obsessed with the story of Marathon, and included a much higher number of endurance based exercise into the Olympics, which was not a part of the original Greek version.

Why is it rubbish?  Testosterone dictates muscle size, not the weight you lift.  Of course, extended and continual weight training could lead to muscle mass being built, but it isn’t like a six-week period of resistance training is going to transform you into the Rock!

  1. Yoga builds long lean muscle

Who thinks this? Those who have just started Yoga, or irregularly attend.

Why do they think it? Because they look at the other people in the class who attend regularly and want to have their body shape.

Why is it rubbish?  This is a case of looking at someone who participates in an activity and assuming that by you doing it you can achieve the same look.  The fact is that the long lean muscle look is genetic.  You might as well play basketball to get taller.

  1. Cholesterol is bad for you

Who thinks this?  A lot of people over forty.

Why do they think it? In the 80s and 90s there was a campaign against eating too many eggs, and a number of questionable research papers came out saying cholesterol in the diet affected cholesterol in the body.

Why is it rubbish?  Two things; there is no proven link between dietary cholesterol and cholesterol in the blood.  Secondly, your body needs dietary cholesterol in order to make sure that it remains healthy. 

  1. Vegans are healthier

Who thinks this? Vegans

Why do they think it? There have been a number of Vegan-produced documentaries, such as ‘What the Health’, that have made claims that eating meat is bad for humans.  Additionally, a number of new vegans claim they feel healthier, in virtually every case because they are eating more fruit and vegetables.

Why is it rubbish?  Apart from the fact that humans are designed to have some meat within their diets, it simply isn’t true to say they are healthier.  Vegans often miss out on a number of vital nutrients in their diets, and a lot of vegan meals are highly processed, which is far worse for you than eating a cut of meat.  The statistics are also bastardised; people on lower incomes cannot afford to be vegan, whilst most vegans come from at least middle income backgrounds and can also afford to eat organic, which might be the clue to their good health. 

  1. Keto is the best diet for everyone

Who thinks this?  The pro-fats crowd, and anti-vegans.

Why do they think it? There is a lot of military-backed research into the keto diet, which indicates benefits to cognitive function and a reduction in digestive inflammation, and some digestive based degenerative health issues, such as type two diabetes.

Why is it rubbish?  Keto does work for the benefits listed above, but it is not the best diet for everyone.  Absence of carbs for endurance athletes in particular is a problem.  We also don’t know the long term impact of the ketogenic diet on people, as it hasn’t been studied over a long enough period yet.

  1. Swimming is the best exercise

Who thinks this? Lots of occasional swimmers and social swimmers.

Why do they think it? They look at the bodies of swimmers like Phelps and want to look like them.  They also believe that swimming works all the muscles of the body.

Why is it rubbish?  Swimming, like any exercise, only works the exercises that you engage.  In water there is simply a different stress on the body than on land, so some muscles are engaged more than they would be worked on land.  And as I mentioned with yoga, just because someone looks a way you like and does a type of activity, doesn’t mean that activity will give you the same look.

  1. Deadlifts are dangerous

Who thinks this? People who started using the gym in the machine-dominated era of the 80s and 90s

Why do they think it? Because there are a number of cases of disc injuries attributed to deadlifts. 

Why is it rubbish?  Done right the deadlift can strengthen the back of the body and improve posture.  It is also a great exercise for strength building.  However, it is like any exercise a skill activity and without proper training injury can come about. 

11. CrossFit is the best form of exercise

Who thinks this? Crossfitters

Why do they think it? Because the CrossFit Champion is called the Best Athlete on Earth

Why is it rubbish?  CrossFit is a sport, and like any sport it is not for everyone.  It combines gymnastic moves with Olympic lifts, and strength and endurance training.  If the programming was better and the focus for the vast majority was around technical excellence rather than performance then CrossFit would have a better reputation, but for most people CrossFit exposes their limitations too much to be safe.

12. Crunches are the best core exercise

Who thinks this? Newbies.

Why do they think it? Because it will give them firm, tight abs. 

Why is it rubbish?  Crunches flex the abdominal sheet, which is the superficial (top) layer of the abdominal muscles.  Contraction of this area through crunches will result in increased tone and potentially growth of the abdominal muscles, making them more visible.  It will not reduce fat around this area, and in the vast majority of cases the deeper core muscles and the core muscles which attach to the hips are the areas which require the most work for most people doing crunches has a limited benefit.

13. You can get a six pack in six weeks

Who thinks this? People who read fitness magazines.

Why do they think it? Because that’s the headline in the magazine.

Why is it rubbish?  This one is all about context.  If your around fifteen percent body fat you could get a six pack in six weeks, which the right diet and exercise programme.  But most people who try to attain this goal are a long way from a six pack to start with.

14. More often and more intensity is the answer

Who thinks this?  Inexperienced trainers, inexperienced lifters, most endurance-based people

Why do they think it? If I get this result with this much effort then more must be better!

Why is it rubbish?  Intensity is just one way to see progress.  And it is the one that should often be applied last. 

15. HIIT is the best

Who thinks this? Newbies, and lots of people that go to classes

Why do they think it? Because HIIT is hard, and hard is good!

Why is it rubbish?  The concept of HIIT is fine in principle; short bursts of high intensity are better than long bouts of low intensity.  The issue is that most people just aren’t conditioned for this, and like with CrossFit, they increase their chances of injury.  Added to this HIIT is a stressor on the body, and this can actually restrict your fat metabolisation, not encourage it.

16. Endurance training is necessary before strength

Who thinks this? Most people you meet in the gym

Why do they think it? It is safest to get new people to train unsupervised with higher repetitions on free weights than with lower.  Over time this principle has been applied across the board.

Why is it rubbish?  The key factor here is unsupervised.  The initial phase of learning any new exercise should be seen as practice and perfection.  It isn’t.  If it was then strengthening the body would be the next natural step, as strength is far more valuable and sustainable for the body than endurance.

17. Sugar is always bad for you

Who thinks this? Right now, Everyone

Why do they think it? Recent reports have linked sugar with obesity, heart disease and Alzheimer’s. 

Why is it rubbish?  Sugar can be incredibly degenerative to the body if overconsumed.  But so can water.  It is all about moderation.  And having a spoonful of sugar in your morning cup of tea, so long as you aren’t diabetic, isn’t the end of the world.  It’s also worth bearing in mind that there are plenty of people who go out of their way to avoid sugar who then end up overconsuming hidden calories negating the benefits of avoiding sugar in the first place.

18. Sweeteners are good for you

Who thinks this? About half of the people who think sugar is bad.

Why do they think it? Because sugar is bad.

Why is it rubbish?  Sweeteners are manufactured to give the taste of sweet, without the negative affects sugar has.  But there is plenty of evidence that shows that using sweeteners doesn’t actually benefit you, as your body still craves sweetness and consumption of sweet items actually does go up.  Added to this large amounts of sweeteners appear to have odd effects on the brain, and have been linked to cancer.

19. Creatine is just like steroids

Who thinks this? People over the age of forty.

Why do they think it? Because in the 80s some wrestlers died who had used steroids and creatine, and creatine was blamed.

Why is it rubbish?  Creatine is one of the safest supplements there is, and is one of the few that is proven to work.  You produce creatine.  Right now, as you read this, you’re producing it.  It is totally safe.  Creatine will help to increase strength of the body, and has significant benefits in training.

20. You can out train a bad diet

Who thinks this? Overweight people.

Why do they think it? Because they don’t want to give up the foods they like, and they will meet a variety of people who’s metabolism allows them to avoid this problem.

Why is it rubbish?  If you’re metabolism is exceptional, you can eat what you like with no problem.  For the rest of us a good diet has to go hand in hand with exercise to see significant results.  In the modern world it is incredibly easy to eat a thousand calories more than you intended on one day.  It is not possible to do that with exercise.  There is too much convenience to allow it.  Therefore having a good, but not perfect, diet is essential to reaching any goal. 

Exercise and diet need to be individualised.  There are some people who respond really well to following a vegan diet and doing plenty of yoga.  There are others who respond really well to a high fat diet and lots of weight training.  That doesn’t mean they should be dogmatic though.  You need all aspects of your diet and exercise regime to be in balance to truly get the best results for long term health and fitness, and that means working with a health and fitness professional.  Otherwise you are just groping around in the dark.

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