Quick preface here – I have an undergraduate and a master’s degree in exercise and sport science, as well as a training certification from the American College of Sports Medicine. I have well over six years of education in the field, in which I also held a perfect 4.0 in all coursework (*cough-brag*). I’ve been a co-author on two scholarly journals (here and here), and that’s to say nothing of the real life experience I’ve had. In other words, I’m qualified to write this article.
I’m sure some of you won’t care, and will still cling to these myths because they’re comfortable, and they’re a way to excuse certain choices. That’s fine. I’ve always seen my role as one to educate, rather than argue.
But it drives me bananas that these myths just won’t die. Many of them are cliches, and many of them hold half-truths, but these half-truths can cause damage when they’re left to interpretation by anyone uninitiated to the fitness industry. So if you have the heart for education, please help stop these myths in their tracks by clicking the “click to tweet” button below.
1. “Muscle weighs more than fat.”
Oh honey, no it doesn’t. In the last week I’ve seen quotes by two extremely well-qualified, well-known “fitness celebrities” to this effect. This is why the myth won’t die. The fact is, a pound of muscle weighs exactly the same as a pound of fat… it weighs one pound. The difference is that a pound of muscle is more dense than a pound of fat – it takes up less space. So as you gain muscle and lose fat, you can actually continue weighing the same amount (or even more), while your body becomes leaner.
Imagine you have a pound of feathers (contained in a bag) and a pound of bricks (probably the equivalent of one brick), for a total of two pounds. It’s going to take a big bag to hold a pound of feathers. But if you replace the pound of feathers with a second brick, you still have two total pounds, but it’s going to take up a whole lot less space than if you were trying to carry around a bag of feathers and a brick.
In other words, when you compare weight to weight, or pounds to pounds, muscle and fat weighs the same. If, however, you add the additional variable of volume to the mix, where you fill one bag with feathers and a second bag with bricks, the second bag, of course, will weigh more. Rather than saying “muscle weighs more than fat,” which can be misleading (trust me, I’ve had the conversations with the confused people), keep it accurate and say, “muscle is more dense than fat,” “muscle takes up less space than fat,” or even, “muscle by volume weighs more than fat by volume.” It’s not as catchy, but it doesn’t leave room for confusion.
2. “Carbs aren’t healthy, so I’m cutting them out.”
Really, you’re cutting them out? Are you still eating veggies? Or fruits? Beans or nuts? Maybe dairy products? All of these things contain high-quality, nutrient-rich carbohydrates. If you’re eating any of these things, you’re not cutting out all of your carbs. The body needs carbs to function. In fact, your brain consumes more carbs than the rest of your body – it craves ’em.
What your body doesn’t need are refined, nutrient-poor carbs, like chips, cookies, white bread (most bread), or any of the other “bad” foods most people think of when they hear “carb.” So rather than vilifying carbohydrates when you makeover your diet, clarify the statement by saying, “I’m eating fewer refined foods and more fruit and veggies” – the intent is the same, but the meaning so much more accurate.
3. “This squat challenge will give me the booty I want.”
Hmmmm… maybe? I’m not knocking monthly challenges, but those that focus on only one thing – squats, burpees, planks, whatever – may not get you where you wanna go. First of all, if it’s your only form of exercise, you might build muscle or gain strength in a certain area, but you probably won’t get the well-balanced workout routine that helps deliver lasting and noticeable results. And if you’re doing a million repetitions of a single exercise, you could end up with an overuse injury. No bueno.
That said, if your monthly challenge is incorporated into a well-balanced routine and doesn’t have you doing 1,129 squats a day, who knows? It might give you the exact lift you’re looking for. Proceed with cautious optimism.
4. “You need to stay in the ‘fat burning zone’ to lose fat.”
Ai-yai-yai – Cardio machines are to blame for this one. Let me try to explain why this just isn’t true.
Your body is always burning a combination of fats and carbohydrates. Because fat is a slow-burning, highly available resource, it’s the body’s preferred energy source for lower-intensity exercise. Carbohydrates, on the other hand, are a quick-burning, but limited fuel source. The body holds out on burning more carbs to help preserve them for higher intensity exercise.
When working at a lower intensity, you might be burning 5 total calories per minute – 4 from fats and 1 from carbs. (FYI, these numbers are made up.) Because you’re burning more total fat calories than carb calories, you’re in the “fat burning zone.”
If you pick up your pace and work harder, you’ll burn more calories – let’s say 7 total calories per minute. Because you’re working harder, your body starts relying more on carbohydrates for fuel, so you might be burning 5 calories from fats and 2 from carbs. But even though you’re burning more calories from carbs, you’re still in the “fat burning zone.”
If you pick up your intensity level again, you’ll burn even more calories – let’s say 11 calories per minute. Now, however, your body needs even more readily available fuel, so it starts burning 6 calories from carbs and 5 from fats. You’re now officially in the “carb burning zone.”
But even though you’re no longer in the “fat burning zone,” you’ll notice you’re burning more total calories, a good portion of which are still coming from fat sources. This will ultimately help you lose fat at a faster rate if that’s your goal.
5. “You’ll only see results if you get really sore.”
Delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS) is not unusual, and it can be a sign that you’re working hard and experiencing positive physical adaptations as your body recovers and repairs after a hard bout of exercise. That said, “getting sore” shouldn’t be the barometer by which you measure a workout’s effectiveness. Who wants to walk around sore all the time?! Not to mention, constantly placing too much stress on the body can lead to injury and burnout. Keep challenging yourself and trying new things, but don’t aim for “sore.” Instead, measure a workout’s effectiveness by the results you see over four, six, or eight weeks. Are you getting stronger or faster? Are you losing body fat and leaning out? Do you feel positive and happy after your workout? Is your flexibility improving? Do you want to keep doing the routine? All of these are signs you’ve found a high-quality workout.
6. “You have to take supplements to get results.”
I’m not knocking supplements – they can absolutely help deliver positive results. That said, they’re not absolutely required. You don’t have to drink a protein shake after every workout, or load up on every vitamin and mineral known to man to enjoy an energized life. If your diet is already delivering the nutrients you need, then you may not need to supplement at all. (Side note: most people aren’t consuming all the nutrients they need). If, however, you’re not consuming enough iron, calcium, protein, or any other key macro or micronutrient, then supplementation can be beneficial, or even necessary.
How do you know if you need a supplement? Try tracking your nutrition through a platform like MyFitnessPal for a week and take a look at how your nutrient intake adds up by the end of the week. If you’re persistently low on a particular nutrient, it’s worth adding a supplement.
If you’re pursuing a particular athletic goal, or you’re looking for supplements to help you recover, try talking to a sports nutritionist to determine which supplements might be a good fit. I always suggest talking to a nutritionist or coach who isn’t affiliated with a particular supplement brand before making a selection – they’re less likely to suggest unnecessary products, and can direct you to the brands they personally trust.
7. “Eggs will raise your cholesterol.”
Poor eggs, they’ve had a bad rap. Luckily, the USDA finally revised its nutrition guidelines to reflect what the building body of research has already proven: Dietary cholesterol doesn’t increase blood cholesterol in most individuals, and doesn’t increase the risk of heart disease.
The fact is, the body regulates its own cholesterol levels – roughly 75% of blood cholesterol is made by the body, and roughly 25% comes from food. If you take in more dietary cholesterol, your body makes less – if you take in less dietary cholesterol, your body makes more. Only 25% of the population experiences increases in blood cholesterol due to dietary intake, and even those who do aren’t at a greater risk of heart disease because both LDL (bad cholesterol) and HDL (good cholesterol) levels increase, keeping the ratio of bad to good cholesterol the same.
So go ahead and eat your eggs for breakfast… but if you have specific concerns, please do talk to your doctor and a registered dietician to make sure your nutrient intake is appropriate for your circumstances.
8. “I can’t run. I’m not built for running.”
Okay, it’s true that some people physically can’t run. Or physically can’t swim, or physically can’t… whatever. There are definitely scenarios in which a person shouldn’t try a specific activity due to injury or physical limitation.
That said, my guess is your, “I can’t run,” (or CrossFit or whatever) is actually closer to my claim that I can’t sing. Actually, I can sing, I just reserve it for those times when I’m alone in the car.
If you don’t like running, or you feel self conscious running, or you would rather do a different activity – great! Those are legitimate excuses, but for 99% of the population, claiming you “can’t” do something, or that you’re “not built” for something is just a cop out. Own your choices not to participate. There’s a big difference between “can’t” and “choose not to.”
9. “I’m juicing to de-toxify my body.”
No, actually your liver does that.
The body is a highly effective machine that knows how to clean itself. The problem is that you may make your body work on overdrive by constantly throwing crap in it, and as a result its ability to function at 100% is hindered. Juicing can be a highly effective way to “reset” yourself, re-initiate good habits and remind your body what it feels like to actually receive the nutrients it’s intended to have. It can make you feel amazing because you have the chance to work at 100% (or closer to it) rather than limping along on a partially-functioning motor.
Learn more about juicing from GGS Nutrition Guru and Registered Dietician, Serena Marie, R.D.
10. “This plate of spaghetti is my carb-load for tomorrow’s 5k.”
Sorry, but you don’t need to carb load for that. For short competitions, it’s really unnecessary to overdo the carbohydrate intake because your body has more than enough glycogen (readily-available fuel created from carbohydrates) stored in the muscles and liver to get you through the event, particularly if you follow a high-quality nutrition plan.
But even if you’re racing or competing in a longer event, a night-before carb overload isn’t going to do you that much good. You need to carb load correctly to keep yourself from hitting “the wall” (glycogen depletion). Generally this consists of a slow reduction in carb consumption about one to two weeks before your event, followed by a significant increase in carbohydrate consumption in the two to three days before the event.
11. “Pregnant women shouldn’t push themselves during exercise.”
Don’t get me wrong, pregnant women need to be careful and aware of how their body’s changes can affect exercise, and they need to be upfront with their doctors about the activities they’re engaging in, but this doesn’t mean pregnant women should sit on the sidelines and twiddle their thumbs. Moms and pre-born babies need exercise!
As to the question of “pushing themselves,” pregnant women may find that a fitness regimen of a reduced intensity is actually every bit as intense as their pre-pregnancy workouts, especially as the pregnancy progresses. With additional weight to carry around, greater blood flow, and an altered center of gravity, lower intensity workouts can be tough! The most important thing for pregnant women to do is to listen to their bodies, make modifications when and where needed, and switch activities if one thing becomes uncomfortable. Just because pregnant women can run, doesn’t mean it’s an appropriate choice for everyone.
Above all, talk to your doctor about any risks or limitations that might affect your ability to exercise. If you’ve been given the all-clear, but you still feel nervous, sign up for a few sessions with a trainer certified in prenatal fitness. The peace of mind will be more than worth the money.
12. “I wish I were naturally thin like you – I bet you don’t have to workout at all.”
Ah, but you see, working out isn’t just about being thin. Working out is about being healthy, which means everyone should engage, regardless of body type, size, or composition. And just because someone looks thin on the outside doesn’t mean that person’s healthy on the inside. Unhealthy behaviors and diseases can lead to a thin-looking frame that’s actually quite sick on the inside.
Also, studies have shown that roughly 50% of individuals with a healthy BMI may actually have an unhealthy level of fat in their bodies. This is because basic weight and BMI measurements don’t provide any information about body composition, or the ratio of fat mass to fat free mass, so the measurements can be misleading. Individuals who exercise regularly are more likely to have a healthy body composition, and a healthy body composition plays a role in avoiding certain health complications and chronic diseases.
Long story short, everyone needs to exercise regularly. It’s good for you. And if you’re curious about your body composition, ask your local gym, doctor’s office or university if they do body composition testing. It can be an enlightening experience.
13. “Running’s not good for your body.”
Well, it’s certainly better than sitting on the couch. Yes, there are risks when you engage in any physical activity. And yes, there’s a chance of injury. And yes, there are horror stories out there about the things that can go wrong. Particularly when someone runs with poor form. But frankly, those risks are vastly outweighed by the rewards of maintaining a healthy and fit body.
As long as a runner (or CrossFitter, or swimmer, or triathlete) is maintaining balance, taking rest days, eating healthfully, using proper form, and appropriately managing risk of injury, there’s no reason she shouldn’t continue to pursue the sport she loves.
14. “I don’t eat healthy because I like food to taste good.”
I call foul! It may take a little while to wean yourself off the diet coke and bucket ‘o fries, but I guarantee you that if you keep trying nutrient-dense meals, and you keep experimenting with ways to prepare healthy dishes, you will find foods you love. Jamie Oliver is probably my favorite example of real food made delicious. Just take a look at some of his 15-minute meals – just straight up decadent, well-balanced and nutrient dense.
15. “I don’t have time to workout.”
No, you don’t want to workout. There’s a difference. The American College of Sports Medicine recommends at least 30 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise, most days of the week, but that can be split up into 3, 10-minute sessions. Or if you’d prefer, take the intensity up a notch and aim for just 3, 25 minute, high-intensity workouts per week. Or just 4, 20-minute high-intensity workouts per week. Or just 5, 15-minute high-intensity workouts per week.
High intensity interval training is incredibly effective, and it doesn’t take long at all to fit it into your day. If you’re telling me you can’t spare 15 minutes per day, 5 days a week, I’m going to call you a liar.
16. “You can’t out-supplement a bad diet.”
Wait… what? Yep, it’s a myth. Unfortunately, you can out-supplement a bad diet, but that doesn’t mean you should. One of my professors used to say that he could easily put together a regimen of supplements for athletes who ate nothing but crap all day, and they’d end up performing just as well. But kids, don’t try this at home. Just eat real, nutrient-dense food, and only supplement where necessary. Supplement companies can put whatever they want in those pills and powders because they’re a largely unregulated industry. I’d rather stick to food I know came out of the ground or direct from an animal… although you do still have to be careful about hormones and GMOs.
17. “I don’t eat bananas. They’re fattening.”
… or sub in “avocado,” “coconut,” or “nut butter” for bananas. There is no single food that’s responsible for fattening you up or slimming you down. It’s the sum total of everything you put in your body that does the dirty. And the idea that whole, all-natural, from-the-earth foods are somehow going to kill your results? It’s flabbergasting. Rather than obsessing about specific foods, vilifying food groups, or otherwise structuring your nutrition habits so tightly that you can’t enjoy a meal without stress, just focus on eating real foods without crazy additives or preservatives, with ingredients you can pronounce. Then moderate your servings. It’s about eating less and eating quality, not about specific foods.
18. “You’ll only see results if you lift.”
… or sub “run,” or “do barre,” for lift. Vilifying or exemplifying one method of exercise is the same trap as vilifying or exemplifying one method of eating. There is no one way to see results. (Insert your favorite cliche about skinning cats.)
Nor is there one type of routine that should be off-limits. Lifting = good. Running = good. HIIT = good. Dancing = good. Yoga = good. FYI, it’s all good. Some routines are better than others for attaining specific results, but if your goal is to get healthy and enjoy exercise, then nothing is off limits, and everything is golden. Find something you enjoy and pursue it wholeheartedly. Then mix in a little cross-training for good measure. The most important thing about fitness is making sure you’re fitting it in. Ignore the rule-makers, they just make fitness a chore.
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