Fitness and nutrition myths are like conspiracy theories: nobody knows how they were started, there’s no evidence to support them, and they just won’t go away. Below are 10 major misconceptions in desperate need of debunking. Prepare to have your mind blown because the truth isn’t “out there,” it’s right here.
1. Weight training makes women bulky.
This is a big one! Too many women shirk the weights for fear that building muscle will give them a big, bulky look rather than the toned physique they’re actually after. In reality, the opposite is true. “A lot of heavy lifting goes into developing the sexy, lean, hourglass shape women covet,” says Xenia Busigin, CPTN-CPT and Figure Competitor. “It takes a lot of food and a lot of unnatural amounts of testosterone for a woman to look ‘bulky.’” Keep in mind that dense, firm muscle doesn’t just look great, it also turns the body into a fat-scorching machine because muscle tissue burns way more calories than fat, even when at rest.
2. Protein is the only nutrient for muscle-building.
Trying to build a dangerous physique with just protein is like trying to build a house with just concrete. Protein is crucially important, but it’s far from the only nutrient your body needs. “In addition to protein, carbohydrates, fat, a positive caloric balance, and nutrient timing are essential to building muscle,” says Alyson Onyon, MS, RD, and Assistant Director of Sports Nutrition at Virginia Tech University. These other nutrients provide the body with the energy required for muscle cells to grow. Protein alone cannot fuel this process. If you’ve noticed your gains have stalled or if you’re feeling particularly fatigued after your workouts lately, chances are your nutrition plan needs some rethinking.
3. Carbs are fattening.
In recent years, carbohydrates have earned an unfair reputation as a widener of waistlines. In truth, long-term studies have shown low-carb diets to be no more effective than any other diet, says Jamie Sheahan, MS, RD. When it comes to carbs, your concern should be focusing on healthy varieties (think: brown rice, sweet potatoes, and whole grains) rather than cutting them out altogether. “Refined carbohydrates, like white bread, cause a rapid rise in blood sugar that is readily turned to fat when not used up by the body,” explains Sheahan. “Consuming whole grain bread on the other hand, results in a more gradual rise in blood sugar, and thus, is not as readily stored as fat.”
4. Yoga is only for the super flexible.
No one is born with Catwoman-like flexibility, and even the most experienced yogi once struggled to reach the remote at the other end of the coach. “One of the main benefits and purposes of yoga is to become flexible,” stresses Jenna Chadwick, CPT and Registered Yoga Instructor. “The sooner you start practicing, the sooner you’ll start feeling the benefits.” Keep in mind that yoga, much like most other fitness pursuits, should be viewed as a journey, not a destination. The goal is not to be the stretchiest person in the class, but rather to hone mind, body, and soul into a perfect example of grace, strength, and control. Namaste.
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5. Meat is the best source of protein.
Training like a wild animal doesn’t warrant eating like one. For those tired of chicken breast, steak, and egg whites, there’s a whole wide world of high-quality, non-animal protein sources just waiting to be explored. “The options are there, it’s just a matter of taking an extra few minutes to do some research and opening your mind to new things,” says Rachel Clements, ACSM, CPT, and vegan Figure Competitor. Don’t be afraid to take the occasional departure from a meat-centric meal plan and reach for plant-based alternatives. Legumes, whole grains, and fermented soy are high in protein and a plethora of other essential nutrients.
6. You can crunch your way to abs.
“There are plenty of fitness rules you can argue over, but the fact that abs are made in the kitchen is not one of them,” says Cassie Day, Toronto-based Fitness Coach, Holistic Nutritionist and motivation maven. Core training is a crucial component of any fitness regimen as a strong core provides a stable base of support for virtually every exercise. However, if you want to reap the aesthetic benefits of granite-dense abdominals, you have to get rid of the layer of belly fat they’re hiding behind. “You can do 10,000 sit ups and you will still not have a visible six-pack,” says Day. “If you’re looking to have oblique lines down your stomach before summer, narrow in on your diet.”
7. Fruit-based diets are healthy.
Fruit is definitely a healthy addition to any meal plan since they’re packed with essential vitamins and minerals. However, eating only or primarily fruit is a recipe for diet disaster. “Fruit breaks down in the body the same way candy does,” warns Busigin. The reason for this is fructose, a fast-digesting simple carbohydrate that spikes insulin levels and pumps muscles full of glycogen. As with all simple carbohydrates, if this quick energy isn’t burned, the body stores it as fat. The key to getting the good without the bad is healthy balance. “My simplified rule of thumb when it comes to carbs is earn them, don’t burn them,” explains Busigin. “They have their place; they just need to be timed properly.”
8. Supplements are a substitution for food.
Supplementation has a lot of benefits—particularly when done in consultation with a certified fitness or nutrition professional. But before you spend next month’s rent at the supplement store, consider that a nutritious diet can yield many of the same benefits. “Food first!” says Onyon. “Food is the fuel that is needed for our bodies to make energy.” For example, rather than chugging a pre-workout before training, Onyon recommends revving up with some healthy carbohydrates like cereal, toast, fruit, or crackers. Competitive athletes should also be wary of seemingly benign supplement ingredients like caffeine that are actually banned by certain sports associations and levels of competition.
9. Fitness competitions are only for the pros.
Stepping on a fitness stage is just the challenge you (yes, you) have been looking for to take your training, confidence, and physique to the next level. Don’t think you have the time? Think again! “I think the biggest misconception in competing is the time commitment,” says Clements. “It doesn’t take all that much.” A dedicated day for weekly meal prep will save hours of cooking, and there’s no reason for your contest training routine to ever exceed two hours a day—cardio and posing practice included. “Everybody can make a slight adjustment to their lifestyle to incorporate these kinds of changes,” says Clements. “It’s time well spent, and worth every minute!”
10. More pain, more gain.
Training too often significantly increases the risk of injury, stymies adequate recovery, and negatively impacts overall mental and physical health. “Eventually your willpower and motivation will drop because you’re investing all of this time, and slowly your results will start to decrease,” says Day. “It’s important to train smarter, not harder.” She recommends shooting for three strength-training days per week with perhaps one day of yoga, boxing, or some other activity in between. To ensure proper recovery time, try to schedule at least two consecutive days of rest.