Even if you’re totally new to the fitness world, you probably know a thing or two about nutrition. It’s common knowledge that fruits and vegetables are generally “good” for you and that sugary sodas are generally “bad” for you. It’s common knowledge that the foods you choose to eat have a significant impact on your health. It’s also common knowledge that you need to pay close attention to your nutritional intake if you want to achieve physical fitness goals like losing weight or building muscle.
But outside of these “common sense” items, the details get murkier. People are divided on certain issues – and there are a number of common misconceptions about fitness nutrition that simply aren’t true.
Calories In, Calories Out Is All That Matters
When it comes to weight loss and building muscle, it’s a common misconception that calories in, calories out is all that matters. There is some truth to this. In case you aren’t familiar, calories are a measure of energy; the more energy a food contains, the more calories it contains. Your body needs energy for a wide variety of tasks, including basic bodily operations like pumping blood and digesting food, but if you get too much energy, any remaining energy you consume will probably be converted to fat.
If we extrapolate here, low calorie diets are effective for weight loss because they prevent you from storing additional fat and force the body to burn its current fat reserves. High calorie diets are effective for building muscle because they provide you with enough extra protein and energy to convert to new muscle mass.
However, if you focus on calories alone, you’re going to be disappointed. You also need to think about the quality of the food you’re eating, your balance of macronutrients (e.g., carbohydrates, proteins, and fats), and your micronutritional balance.
To Lose Weight, Cut Down on Fat
It makes some intuitive sense that if you want to lose fat, you should cut down on the fat you eat. But your fat intake has little correlation with the amount of fat you store or burn. In fact, there’s some scientific evidence that moderate- and high-fat diets are actually better for weight loss in adults.
As stated in the previous section, fat storage is mostly a result of high caloric intake, rather than the intake of any one specific nutrient. It’s true that fat has more calories than comparable amounts of other macronutrients, but an excessive intake of any food is going to lead to weight gain. Similarly, cutting fat out of your diet doesn’t guarantee that you’re going to achieve a caloric deficit or hit your other nutritional goals.
Small, Frequent Meals Are Better
We all have at least one friend who suggests that it’s better to eat many small meals throughout the day than to eat a single large meal, or even three medium-sized meals. In reality, scientific evidence suggests that meal frequency has little to no effect on energy balance or weight loss.
There are a couple of caveats here. First, it’s true that reducing your portion sizes can help you lose weight. Second, some people are less likely to overeat in general if they break up their meals into small portions throughout the day. If this strategy works for you, go for it – but there’s nothing inherently valuable about distributing your meals throughout the day or eating more frequently.
You Should Avoid Carbs
Carbohydrates can be problematic for a few reasons. For starters, simple carbohydrates like sugar are found in high quantities in a wide range of consumer products. They also tend to taste good without filling you up or adding much nutritional value to your diet. For these reasons, it’s incredibly easy to overeat when you’re eating a lot of carbs. Additionally, eating too many simple sugars can result in metabolic problems, like higher insulin resistance.
Because of this, low carbohydrate diets can be effective for weight loss for some people. But this doesn’t mean that carbohydrates are evil or that they should be avoided entirely. Carbohydrates can be valuable for restoring glycogen reserves and providing energy for your exercise; complex carbohydrates are also valuable for your digestion.
Only Skinny People Are Healthy
This is a tough one, since obesity is universally regarded as being an underlying cause of a multitude of health conditions. It’s definitely true that losing weight is good for your health if you’re currently overweight or obese.
However, you shouldn’t have the mentality that you must be skinny in order to be healthy. Health is a spectrum, and any movement on that spectrum is valuable. If you only lose a few pounds, but you start exercising regularly and eating healthier foods, you’ll be moving in the right direction.
You Should Get as Much Protein as Possible to Build Muscle
Newcomers to the world of weightlifting and bodybuilding understand that you need to eat plenty of protein if you want to build muscle; your body uses protein when repairing muscle tissue and building new muscle mass. Some people take this too far and believe that more protein is always better. In other words, you should be eating as much protein as possible, or eating protein with every meal.
However, studies show that a protein intake of just 1.2 to 1.7 g per kilogram of bodyweight is plenty to build muscle. If you’re 80 kg, getting around 100 g of protein should be plenty. Excessive consumption of protein could result in other health issues, such as kidney malfunction (in very high doses).
These are just some of the nutrition-related misconceptions circulating in the general population. But on some level, all the confusion is understandable. After all, nutrition is a complex topic and every individual will have different nutritional needs.
If you’re feeling overwhelmed by all the possibilities and you aren’t sure what other misconceptions you have, consider working directly with a personal trainer; contact me to find out more information today!
Nathan DeMetz holds degrees in Exercise Science, Business Administration, and Information Technology as well as certifications in strength and conditioning, sports nutrition, run coaching, and other areas. His credentials come from organizations such as Indiana Wesleyan University, Ivy Tech College, Utah State University, and the ISSA College of Exercise Science.
Nathan has 20 years of personal and professional experience in the health and fitness world. He works with people from across the globe, including locations such as Kuwait, Australia, and the USA.
To work with Nathan directly on your personal training goals, contact him today!