As with any field of study there are overstatements, assumptions, misinterpretations of evidence and science, and general “flabby facts”. Fitness myths related to nutrition, exercise, and general health are prolific in the health and fitness industry. Consequently, exercise professionals invest significant energy in properly educating clients about the facts. Though such dissemination can be challenging, this is a worthy investment and – quite honestly – a necessary aspect of the job. In fact, it’s one of my favorite parts of client and student interactions: helping those I’m working with reframe their thoughts and uncover the truth. Doing so leads to better results inside and outside the gym.
Let’s examine five common myths we need to kick to the curb.
Fitness Myth #1: When it comes to exercise, more is better.
The Reality: Sometimes more is just more – not better or more effective. Exercise and physical activity should prioritize joyful movement and client goal alignment. An effective routine need not be time-consuming (unless there is a performance goal associated with the program such as marathon training, ironman competitions, etc.), overly complicated, or feel arduous. Programming lengthy workout routines that span six days a week can have the opposite effect than what we intend. Clients can experience burnout, injury, poor sleep/recovery, and a waning interest in pursuing their intended goal. Keep it simple and efficient.
Fitness Myth #2: You can eat whatever you want if you exercise regularly.
The Reality: Balance is key.
I hear this myth frequently. Exercising regularly and intentionally does not give one a license to eat recklessly or thoughtlessly. Exercise requires appropriate fuel to meet the physical demands placed on the body to perform at specific levels. While an individual who burns a high number of additional calories beyond their resting metabolic rate might have the ability to consume more calories (and still maintain weight and lean tissue) than someone who burns little to none, they should still consume nutritious foods mindfully. Physical performance and mechanical work require useful fuel. You wouldn’t consider putting a substandard gasoline source in your car. The same goes for the human body. Eat a balanced intake of a variety of foods – including those treats and more energy-dense foods.
Fitness Myth #3: If you aren’t sore, your workout didn’t count.
The Reality: Presence of delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS) is not correlated with muscle growth or increased strength.
It’s normal for someone to feel sore in the 24 to 48 hours following a tough workout bout. However, soreness is not an indicator of effectiveness. The more fit someone is, it’s possible the level of DOMS will be greatly reduced. Further, different types and styles of workouts place different levels of stress on the body. Some will cause soreness if it’s an exercise or style a client isn’t familiar with. Educate your clients about what soreness means and what it doesn’t mean.
Fitness Myth #4: You need a pre-workout drink.
The Reality: Pre-workouts don’t always have optimal ingredients and not all ingredients are appropriate for everyone.
Preworkout supplements and drinks come in all varieties and their ingredients depend on the brand. However, many pre-workout drinks are a combination of sugar (or artificial sugar), caffeine, and beta-alanine. Each ingredient serves a different purpose (supposedly).
First, beta-alanine is a naturally occurring amino acid (non-essential) that has a role in the production of carnosine (another naturally occurring protein building block). Carnosine’s function is related to muscular endurance. Sugar, we know, can provide quick energy and sugar alcohols are there for flavor and palatability. But, sugar alcohols can cause digestive issues and stomach upset. It would be ill-advised to experiment with a pre-workout substance on race day if an individual is not familiar with the effects of artificial sweeteners. Caffeine is a well-known powerful ergogenic aid (and one of the most socially acceptable); it has an interesting effect on an exerciser’s perceived effort level.
In short, a higher intensity or greater duration can be tolerated by the individual. This doesn’t mean caffeine is for every individual as it has unique effects for everyone but can certainly help with energy and focus. I, personally, enjoy some caffeine (not in a pre-workout drink) before my morning workouts.
Is a pre-workout drink or substance necessary? Not really. It is important that clients understand that these drinks or powders fall under the “dietary supplement” category. This means they aren’t subject to rigorous regulatory oversight (not like food and pharmaceuticals are).
Fitness Myth #5: If you stop working out, muscle will turn to fat.
The Reality: Muscle cells and fat cells are uniquely different and are not “interchangeable”.
If an individual stops working out and caloric intake isn’t at weight maintenance level, weight gain is possible and muscle tissue may atrophy from disuse. However, muscle cannot turn to fat and fat cannot turn to muscle. Instead, body composition shifts, and the ratio of lean to non-lean tissue changes. It’s as straightforward as that.
While this is not an exhaustive list of all the fitness myths we will encounter, it is a list of the most common we are likely to hear when working with clients. Continue to engage with these important conversations with your clients and individuals unfamiliar with the science of food and fitness. It’s up to us to deliver quality education and factually represent the science that guides our daily practice.