Foolproof: Debunking fitness myths 3.0

Scales with a crack and the inscription error, dumbbells on a sports rug, a rally, a joke on April 1 fool's day of laughter

By Tia Norris, April 2020 Issue.

In honor of April Fool’s Day approaching, let’s talk about a few more diet and fitness myths that I commonly hear from new (and experienced) clients. The truth is, most people — and even scarier, many trainers and so-called professionals — simply don’t know what they’re talking about when they discuss diet and fitness. The labyrinth of health is complicated, and the solution to the puzzle is highly individualized. I’m here to illuminate the dark and winding path to ideal health, and to dispel the common misconceptions that I most often hear. Let the myth-busting begin.

Myth: Lifting heavy weights will make me bigger. The only thing that will make you actually gain weight is eating a caloric surplus. Read that again. Similarly, the only thing that will make you lose weight is a caloric deficit. Calories are what matter in shrinking or growing your muscles. You may be able to re-composition and change your look slightly while in caloric maintenance, but the ultimate gas or brake on your size is how much you’re eating. Furthermore, strength training is essential for all athletes, all ages, all conditions! Surely by this point, I don’t need to dive into the ocean of scientific evidence that unwaveringly supports strength training. Take my word for it: lift heavily, lift often, and always pursue getting stronger.

Myth: What works for them, will work for me. I hear, so tragically often, that my clients started dieting or exercising in a particular way only after seeing someone else do it that way … or because Suzy Trainer in Lame-o Magazine told them to do it. DOH! First, check your sources. Does Suzy actually walk the walk herself as an athlete, with scores of different types of clients aside from herself, and does she critically think outside of the silly little textbook that serves solely as the foundation for practice but not the be-all, end-all solution? Likely not. Your body is your most prized possession — without health, you have nothing. Only accept advice from trusted individuals. Second, know that each person is completely unique both in exercise prescription, and dietary guidance! For example: that person who is squatting with knees way far forward, might have an abnormally long femur and that’s the best they can do — you might be built differently and should therefore move differently. Get what I’m saying? Be skeptical and find what works for you.

Myth: Sodium is bad for me and should be avoided. Here’s what you need to know about this complicated but essential electrolyte: first, the more you sweat, the more you need to add extra sodium, and vice versa for the less you sweat; second, sodium/sweat concentrations are highly individual, meaning some people sweat more or less salt depending on their unique biochemistry; and third, not all sodium is created equally (like all supplements) — go for pink Himalayan salt to replace your sweat loss, best. On another note, if you’re drinking lots of water, and working out lots, but still peeing your brains out, consider adding pink Himalayan salt to drinks and foods to help your body absorb the hydration. After all, that’s one of sodium’s main jobs. Water retention is not always bad. As an athlete, you want your cells hydrated adequately, depending on goals.

Myth: To get abs, I need to do hundreds of crunches several times per week.  Girl, stop it … you’re dreaming and you’re wasting your time. The tried-and-true formula for abs is simple in theory, but it just takes too long for most people’s patience. First, reduce body fat through a comprehensive, long term, carefully constructed diet and strength training program that emphasizes building muscle while in a controlled caloric deficit. And second, lift heavy weights on compound lifts (like squats, deadlifts, pullups) with great technique and consistent, maximal core engagement — avoid machines, too much cardio, and too high of reps. 

Myth: Eating late at night is bad for me. Thank God that programs like “intermittent fasting” are catching on, to help cut through the BS on this old wives’ tale. What matters most is your total caloric intake throughout the day (all 24hrs), against your total daily estimated expenditure throughout the day. If you’re eating more than you’re burning, you will gain weight. And vice versa — if you’re eating less than you’re burning. I cannot emphasize the importance of this energy input/output equation enough. That being said, it matters so much less (for most clients) when they eat, versus how much they eat in total. For example, I work until 8-9 p.m. most nights. I keep my calories relatively light throughout the day. I usually eat a 2000+ calorie dinner and then go to sleep within one or two hours after that. Now, of course, I keep my calorie balance in check throughout the rest of my days, and I’m simply not hungry most mornings until much later in the day because of this “backloading” scheme … but it works as long as you balance your energy intake throughout the rest of the day. Talk to a nutrition professional to find what works best for you.

Check your sources. Educate yourself, through verified research and even consider hiring a coach or nutritionist. Experiment, in a controlled way, to find what works best for you. It’s not going to be easy or cheap — make the investments in yourself, and soon you’ll be able to spot the frauds and the myths from miles away yourself.