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“Fit” Busters Episode 2: 5 More Fitness Myths Busted

By: Caroline Daniel

It’s intern Caroline back again to debunk 5 common myths regarding fitness. Prepare to be surprised!

Carbs are bad for you!

Plenty of fad diets of recent years take pride in their near-elimination of carbs; however, for aerobically active individuals, carbs are the body’s main source of energy! Without carbs, you will not be able to perform to your full potential as you work out, whether that workout is resistance training or a three mile run.

Many people will try to tell you that carbohydrates make you gain weight. This common misconception likely comes from the fact that ingesting carbohydrates raises your blood glucose–but this just means that glucose is being transported to your cells to help them produce energy. The belief that carbohydrates make you gain weight is also a bold overgeneralization as carbohydrates come in many shapes and forms. Sure, you can choose to ingest your daily value of carbs through cake, cookies, and other added sugars–but you can also get carbs in the form of fruits, vegetables, and whole grains.

As with any food, these stereotypically “unhealthy” carbs (in the form of added sugars) do not need to be eliminated completely from your diet–the key is to consume them in moderation. If there is any nutrient to keep track of each day, it is added sugars, as these additional carbohydrates are snuck into a lot of unlikely foods (like pasta sauce and peanut butter, for example). The general rule of thumb is to attempt to limit your added sugars to around 40 grams/day–which is much more difficult than it seems. But don’t panic if you pass that number! Eating 60 grams of added sugar one day is not going to automatically equate to weight gain, especially if you continue to lead an active lifestyle.

As a general rule of thumb, active individuals should aim to have their carbohydrate intake makeup 45-55% of their daily calorie intake, with high-level endurance athletes sometimes reaching the 60% mark. As you can see, eliminating or almost eliminating carbs from your diet would have a drastic effect on your energy levels–carbohydrates are almost half of your daily value of calories for a reason. So don’t be scared to trade that lettuce wrap for some wheat bread–your body will thank you during your workout.

You should stretch before your workout.

For years athletes and habitual exercisers were told it was vital they stretch before beginning a workout to prevents muscle pulls and tears. But recent research has shown that stretching isn’t exactly the solution coaches were hoping for. These studies show that stretching right before a workout–and especially a high-level resistance training or sprint workout–can actually impede performance. Jumpers were shown to jump less high, sprinters run slower, and lifters to lift less weight when they stretched before the bulk of their exertion.

The National Strength and Conditioning Association has cited a growing body of research that asserts that pre-workout stretching can have a negative effect on reaction time, running speed, force production, and power performance–ultimately reducing performance in events such as races by around 3%–which, for seasoned athletes, could be the difference between first and last place in a 200 meter dash.

Instead of the traditionally touted “static stretching,” try dynamic stretching before your next workout. As the name suggests, this type of stretching consists of more active movements that limit the micro-tears in muscle that static stretching creates. It also helps to keep you heart rate elevated and blood flowing while you stretch, helping your muscle prepare to produce greater amounts of power and force. Typical dynamic stretching exercises might be walking lunges, A-skips, “butt kicks,” or knee pulls.

This is not to say that static stretching should be completely disregarded. Flexibility is important for preventing injury–just make sure you incorporate the majority of your static stretching after your workout instead of before, when your muscles are already fully warm. This will help you to both maximize the stretches and prevent the injury risk that comes with creating micro-tears in your muscles right before an explosive workout.

Your muscle will turn to fat if you stop working out.

I’m sure you’ve heard this one. In fact, until recently I even believed it. As I was growing up, multiple adults I knew would talk about this one. It made me worry that once I stopped having weekly strength sessions with my cross country team any muscle I had gained would instantly melt into flab.

But it’s not physiologically possible!

On the fundamental level, fat cells and muscle cells are completely different structures and are therefore not interchangeable. Piedmont healthcare puts it nicely: “It would be like turning an orange into an apple.” And as far as I’m aware, magic like that does not exist except in the wizarding world of Harry Potter.

What happens instead is a change in body composition. As you detrain (lessen your resistance training load or stop altogether), your muscle cells begin to shrink (the opposite of the “hypertrophy” that resistance training aids). As a result, your arms and legs look less “toned” because your percentages of fat mass and fat free mass are changing. Additionally, with fewer calories being burned, fat cells will begin to increase in size. Together, these two processes account for the cosmetic changes that accompany detraining.

Fortunately, just one or two quick strength sessions each week can help you maintain your level of fitness and prevent these physiological changes. Diet also plays a huge role in your overall body composition. So if you have to decrease your training load for a month or two–don’t worry about all of your muscle instantly transforming into fat–you might look a bit less “toned” for a while, but with re-training you can quickly rebuild the shrunken muscle cells.

You’ll burn more fat on an empty stomach – so don’t eat before your workout!

A lot of people will assert that not eating before a workout is an ideal fat-burning strategy; however, this is another fitness myth that needs to be busted! The reality is, if you wake up in the morning and go workout without eating anything beforehand, then 80% of your carbohydrate stores will already be depleted. The body will first use up the remainder of this storage, then will start burning muscle, fat, or whatever other source of energy is available.

Not only will you risk burning muscle instead of fat, but exercising on an empty stomach will make it difficult to put in your desired level of workout. Let’s say, for example, you are doing a resistance training workout in the morning and a cardio workout in the afternoon. You decide to only eat a protein bar to carry you the six hours between your two workouts. When you first begin that afternoon cardio workout, you feel a lot more sluggish than you expected and your heart rate seems to be higher than normal with less effort. Re-fueling and fueling in generally are vital parts of the workout process. If you body is not able to replenish its depleted carbohydrate storage, then it will not be able to operate at a high intensity.

So don’t worry about eating before your morning workout–eating will not prevent you from achieving a high level of fat burn. In fact, ingesting light food will likely increase your fat burn compared to ingesting nothing at all because you will be able to work at a higher level for a longer duration than you would otherwise.

Drastic calorie cutting is necessary for weight loss.

You might read this and think–that doesn’t make sense! After all, the key to weight loss is achieving a calorie deficit, right? In order to lose weight, shouldn’t you exercise more and eat fewer calories to increase that deficit?

To a certain extent, yes. Increasing your calorie deficit is the way to lose weight. But consistently under-fueling while increasing your exercise workload can actually prevent weight loss.

Dieting for extended periods of time by “calorie cutting” can drastically slow down your resting metabolism, meaning your body will burn fewer calories in a day. The reason for this is that the drastic cuts in calories cause your body to enter “survival mode” – it doesn’t know when the next substantial meal will be coming, so it must hang on to the nutrients it has for as long as possible.

Additionally, a lot of basic body functions can slow or shut down as a result of consistent under-fueling. These include healing from bruises and cuts, hair growth, nail growth, and, most importantly, immune function. If, in the midst of your weight loss program, you notice yourself getting sick frequently or think, hey, I haven’t cut my nails in a couple of months–then you might be under-fueling.

By under-fueling, you are not helping your body–in fact, you are doing more harm than good. The extreme slowing of your metabolism will ultimately lead to slow weight gain–which might speed up if your under-fueling leads to injury. Instead of cutting calories, try replacing processed foods with whole foods. Limit your added sugar intake, but feel free to splurge on some Oreos when the craving hits you. In the end, your body will function most effectively when you are happy and at peace with yourself. The key to this is not overanalyzing caloric intake–eat when you are hungry and listen to your body’s cues. Exercise takes a toll on our bodies, and without the proper food intake to refuel, our bodies cannot reach their full potential.

So that’s it…five more common fitness myths: busted! Next time you see a shocking statement about fitness or exercise, make sure to take a minute to do some quick investigation–the rumors are always out there, but luckily we have the internet to figure out the truth!

Caroline Daniel is a Student-Athlete running Cross Country and Track at Belmont University while Majoring in Exercise Physiology. She is currently completing her internship at Personal Best Fitness.