“Mainstream” fitness facts and myths are full of nonsense and misleading information.
Despite clear ongoing advancements in nutritional science, there are still plenty of old out-dated myths floating around that just won’t seem to go away.
Myths that unnecessarily over-complicate your diet negatively impact your progress and make it far more difficult for you to achieve the results you’re after.
It’s no wonder why 95% of people who begin a muscle building or fat burning program end up falling off course in the long run and never achieve the physique they truly desire.
While I could easily rattle off 20 or more of these nutritional myths right off the top of my head, here are 6 of the more common ones I routinely come across that you should definitely be aware of and understand…
Nutrition Myth #1 – Meal Frequency
“Consume 5-6 small meals every 2-3 hours throughout the day to burn fat effectively.”
For years the conventional fitness wisdom has stated that to maximize fat loss, the best approach is to consume a small meal spaced every 2-3 hours throughout the day.
Even to this day, you’ll still see “reputable” fitness publications putting out articles that promote the benefits of “5-6 small meals per day” when it comes to optimizing body composition.
The idea behind this is that frequent meals will:
A) Keep your fat burning metabolism continually elevated throughout the day by preventing your body from entering “starvation mode”.
B) Increase the number of calories that are burned as heat energy during the process of digestion, otherwise known as the “thermic effect of food” or “TEF” for short.
While constantly “stoking the metabolic fire” seems to make sense in theory, the latest comprehensive research on meal frequency and fat loss have shown that this eating method is doubtful to produce any measurable fat-burning advantage in the real world.
In other words, eating smaller, more frequent meals throughout the day does NOT increase metabolic rate or the thermic effect of food to any higher a degree than larger, less frequent meals do.
It’s been shown that even hefty calorie deficits (along with skipping meals entirely) have no negative effect on metabolic rate for up to 72 hours. In some cases, it can even produce a slight increase of around 5%.
Moreover, the thermic effect of food is not affected by how one’s calories are distributed over a given 24 hour period.
Person A, who eats 300 calories over 6 meals, will generate an equal thermic effect compared to person B, who eats 900 calories twice per day.
Find out what your total daily caloric needs are to support your goals, and then lay out your meals in whatever way fits best with your schedule and maximizes your own personal energy levels, mood and training performance.
If that means 3 meals, no problem. If it means 4, 6 or 8, that’s fine too.
You’ll get the same bottom line results, but without the ongoing stress that comes with having to obsess about getting in a meal every set number of hours during the day.
This piece of advice applies not only to fat burning programs but to muscle building plans as well.
Nutrition Myth #2 – High-Calorie Bulking
“If you want to get big, you need to eat big“
Those wanting to pack on muscle size and strength are often told that they need to “eat big to get big”, and while there is certainly some truth to this, most lifters who are just starting out and want to bulk up as quickly as possible end up taking it way too literally.
Yes, you do need a caloric surplus in place if you want to make gains at the fastest rate, but your body can only utilize a limited number of excess calories on any given day to build new muscle.
Stuffing your face with more and more food is not going to speed up the muscle-building process magically, and any calories you take in beyond that maximum threshold will be diverted to your fat stores.
The goal of proper muscle-building nutrition is to consume just enough calories to optimize hypertrophy and nothing more.
A good guideline for most people is to consume around 200-300 calories above their maintenance level per day.
That way, the maximum percentage of your calorie intake will be used for lean muscle growth, while the minimum amount will end up as body fat.
If you’re gaining much more than around half a pound of total bodyweight per week consistently (or 3 pounds per month at the absolute most), you’re simply going overboard on calories and will need to dial things back.
This is very important because if you get excessively fat during your bulk, it could easily throw your entire plan off track and lead to the typical “yo-yo” approach between constant bulking/cutting that so many guys fall into.
They bulk and put on a large amount of fat along with only a small amount of muscle, lose motivation and quickly go back to cutting, and in the end, make very little to no progress in either direction.
Fitness Nutrition Myth #3 – Calorie Cutoffs
“Eating late at night will increase your rate of fat storage”
As long as you’re accurately hitting your overall calorie intake for the day as a whole based on your goals, consuming a larger percentage of your food earlier or later in the day won’t make any measurable difference when it comes to bottom-line fat loss/fat gain.
The logic that most people use here is that since activity level and metabolic rate decrease in the late-night hours, calories consumed during this period will be more likely to be stored as fat. And while that may be true, it still makes no difference if you have a consistent overall calorie intake in place from day to day.
Keep in mind that fat loss is not an “on/off” switch. Rather, fat storage and fat burning are happening continuously throughout the entire day, and it’s the total of all the fat-storing processes minus the fat burning processes that determine your bottom-line results.
If person A consumes a greater amount of their total calories in the evening while person B consumes a greater amount early in the day, but both consume 2000 calories in total, they’re actually in the same boat as far as total fat loss/fat gain is concerned…
– A greater amount of person A’s calories will be immediately stored as fat (since there is less of an energy demand at that time), but will be broken down and utilized later on when the energy demand is higher.
– A smaller amount of person B’s calories will be immediately stored as fat (since there is a greater energy demand at that time), but more will be stored later on once the energy demand runs out.
So, if you’ve been intentionally starving yourself in the evening and going to bed hungry even though you’d prefer to eat something, you can stop worrying.
Once again, just figure out what your total calorie needs are for the day as a whole, and then if you want to allocate some of those calories to the later night hours, that’s completely fine and won’t hinder your results.
Fitness Nutrition Myth #4 – Post Workout Nutrition
“You need fast absorbing protein and carbohydrates immediately following your workout to maximize recovery”
It’s an all too familiar sight…
Guys and girls walking around the gym with shaker cups full of powder, heading to the water fountain to consume that post-workout concoction within minutes of completing the last rep of their session.
A typical post-workout shake will generally contain a mixture of fast-acting protein and simple carbohydrates, which is then consumed within about 30 minutes after the workout is complete.
Although there is nothing wrong with consuming a post-workout shake, here’s why it ultimately just doesn’t matter either way…
Why You Don’t Need Simple Carbohydrates Post-Workout
Simple sugars are usually added to post-workout shakes for the purposes of restoring muscle glycogen and “spiking” insulin levels to increase the absorption of the protein.
First off, unless you are performing exhaustive endurance work, a standard weight training workout will only deplete glycogen levels by around 30-40%. Even then, there is no need to immediately restore those levels unless you were planning on training the same muscle groups again within the next 12-24 hours or so.
This may be a legitimate concern for athletes who train multiple times per day but not for the average gym-goer.
Resume your regular nutrition plan once you’re home from the gym, and those glycogen levels will naturally replete themselves within a few meals.
As for “spiking” insulin levels… most people don’t know this, but most high protein foods elicit a significant insulin response from the body in the same way that carbohydrates do.
For example, beef has an insulin score of 51, which is around the same as brown rice, brown pasta, or rye bread. Whey protein is also highly insulinogenic.
Why You Don’t Need “Fast Acting” Protein Post Workout
Most people highly underestimate the prolonged, gradual nature of digestion and absorption. It takes many hours for the protein in any particular meal to be fully broken down into its individual amino acid components, released into the bloodstream, and then absorbed by the body.
What this means is that if you already consumed some sort of pre-workout meal within a few hours of beginning your session, the same nutrients from that meal are still being released into your bloodstream even after your workout is over.
For that reason, there really is no necessity to slam a protein shake immediately after your session, nor is it mandatory that that protein source is from a “fast-acting” food such as whey. (Even whey protein itself still requires several hours to be fully broken down and utilized)
Again, there is certainly nothing wrong with including a post-workout shake in your diet plan. If you find it to be a convenient way to get in additional protein/carbs (or if you don’t have much of an appetite following your workouts), that’s totally fine.
However, don’t make the mistake of thinking that it’s somehow mandatory, or that you need to run out and purchase some high-tech, “rapidly absorbing” carbohydrate powder or fancy protein formula to get the best results.
Chicken and rice or fish and potatoes within a couple of hours of finishing your workout will ultimately give you the same effect if you’d prefer to eat a regular solid food meal at that time.
Fitness Nutrition Myth #5 – Protein Intake
“More protein = better results”
Despite what supplement companies trying to sell you their over-priced protein powders may try to claim, you really don’t need that much protein per day to maximize muscle growth.
Many beginning lifters will mistakenly think that since protein is the primary nutrient involved in building muscle, eating more and more protein throughout the day is the key to packing on the size as fast as possible.
However, always keep in mind that while there is such a thing as optimal bodybuilding nutrition, there is no such thing as bodybuilding “super-nutrition.”
In other words, once protein synthesis has been fully stimulated over any given period, consuming more protein beyond that point will not increase your rate of growth.
The vast majority of people will not require 225+ grams of protein daily to build muscle optimally, and most people hugely overestimate how much protein they really need to get the best results.
How much protein should you consume?
Based on a meta-analysis of the extensive research that has been carried out on the topic, about 0.8g of protein per pound of body weight per day seems to be the upper threshold whereby consuming more beyond that amount does not measurably increase muscle growth.
In order to be fully on the “safe side”, my simple recommendation is to consume anywhere between 0.8-1g of protein per pound of body weight per day.
So, if you weighed 175 pounds, you’d aim for between 140-175g of protein daily.
This amount of protein will provide your body with the amino acids needed to fully support muscle recovery and growth without going unnecessarily overboard.
Going a bit higher than this is fine if you prefer it, but just know that it isn’t mandatory.
Fitness Nutrition Myth #6 – Low-Fat Diets
“Eating Fat Makes You Fat”
For years we’ve been told that low-fat diets are the only healthy solution and that dietary fat is somehow an evil, harmful substance that should be steered clear of at all costs.
Just walk into any grocery store, and you’ll be bombarded with package after package of “low fat” and “fat-free” products lining the shelves.
Although it might seem logical that we’d naturally want to lower our fat intake not to get fat, low-fat diets are actually far from the best approach to lose fat and gain muscle optimally.
When your fat intake drops too low, not only does your appetite skyrocket (making it extremely difficult for you to stick to your diet in the first place), but it also throws your hormones out of balance by decreasing testosterone levels, along with negatively affecting brain function and even leading to increases in levels of anxiety and depression.
The reality is that fat is not the enemy – it’s the over-consumption of calories in general, that is.
To perform at your very best and to optimize your overall health and hormone levels, you’ll want to keep your fat intake set at around 25% of your total calories for the day and no less than 20% as a minimum.
Fats contain 9 calories per gram, so you can calculate this by simply taking your total daily calorie intake, multiplying it by 0.25, and then dividing by 9 to get the total grams of fat you should aim for each day.