Welcome to a number of themed articles based on popular media comments and preconceptions that continually are circulated in the popular press. The fitness and nutrition industry is a wacky world where science and opinion are blurred.
This means that opinion often leads fact when there is no relevant science or data. What I am going to do here is highlight where the rumor came from, how it has gained traction and then attempt to smash it with the hammer of fact.
1. Cardiovascular exercise makes you fat….
Where it came from? This myth has been proliferated in the last few years. The concept espoused by a number of American gurus is that cardiovascular exercise causes a fat storing environment. Indeed if you are not interval training you may be gaining body fat this very second. Knowing that you can wrap everything in science the idea is that cardiovascular exercise causes a catabolic, muscle wasting environment resulting in a lower amount of lean tissue meaning a lower metabolic rate and a crushed metabolism from circulating anti-muscle hormones.
The truth? Excessive activity may cause this to happen indeed holding on to lean muscle mass is a prerequisite in all our fat loss plans. However, a couple of hours a week of cardio though won’t cause your metabolism to fall of a cliff.
Does everything need to be an interval? Hell no. In fact steady state cardio can be a good recovery tool for other forms of intense training. What the above statement did is it sent out a negative message that goes against the grain of common sense. With a lot of trainers trying to stand out and be different it meant that the anti-cardio weight loss programme has prevailed even though if you look in to tapping in to different methods of burning energy the best method is always going to be a combined approach. The above approach was highlighted by comments like how many fat people do you see doing aerobics/ Zumba or how many fat joggers do you see? That does not necessarily dictate cause and effect and correlation rarely proves cause, if anything it highlight other aspects such as an individual’s approach to nutrition.
2. Weight training makes women bulky…
Where it came from? Fear, Madonna and Gwyneth Paltrow’s personal trainer Tracey Anderson and in general women’s magazines.
With the Times now leading a campaign that strong is sexy and effectively now the new lean it confuses everyone. Some women don’t particularly care about being strong, they just want to look awesome. If strong is a side product of this then great!
Enter the celebrity trainers highlighting that weight training make your legs bulky. Tracey Anderson gets published in leading news papers highlighting that if you lift anything over 3kg you will be a female hulk- the journalists who write this should be ashamed of themselves and be made to live with Gwyneth Paltrow only eating from her cookbook. A side point this is from Amazon about Gwyneth’s book…
Last spring, after a particularly grueling schedule and lapse of overindulgence, Gwyneth Paltrow was feeling fatigued and faint. A visit to her doctor revealed that she was anemic, vitamin D deficient, and that her stress levels were sky high. He prescribed an elimination diet to clear out her system and help her body heal. But this meant no coffee, no alcohol, no dairy, no eggs, no sugar, no shellfish, no deep-water fish, no wheat, no meat, no soy, nothing processed at all!
Are you kidding me- no wonder she had such a small part in Iron Man- how did she even get to lunchtime. Anyone would look skinny avoiding that much food.
The truth? Weight training will build muscle and shape. If you have a layer of fat covering it you will look bulky. This is not weight training- this is your body fat. Females are in a position that their hormonal status does not promote muscle building as much as it does in males. Therefore you will not get big and bulky. In fact a kg of muscle is considerably smaller than a kg of fat in appearance (consider a tennis ball versus a football).
3. Protein shakes build muscle…. Right?
Where it came from? Look at the front of most sports nutrition products. They usually have a man who looks like a Greek god flexing as if his life depended upon it. It says eat this, look like me. Well done… you got fooled.
The truth? Weight training builds muscle drinking a shake doesn’t. It will give you the building blocks to build muscle as you adapt to training but so do a lot of other foods. It usually depends upon the nutrient breakdown of the shake and whether it is a pure protein shake or a mass builder containing carbs and protein. The take home point is that chugging three of these a day is a great way of getting fat if you are not training. But hey at least you can fill out those tight T-shirts now.
4. Eating fat makes you fat….
Where it came from? The low fat revolution pretty much demonized fat to the level where people preferentially avoid consuming it. Indeed making fat the bad guy meant that you could remove a massive amount of calories from your diet. That’s good isn’t it? Oh and pretty much eating low fat means my cholesterol levels will drop so it’s healthy as well. Saturated fat is bad for me etc. No it isn’t.
The truth? Fat is used to make hormones, hormones tell your body what to do and when to work and when to slow down. Fat plays a role in the maintenance of a number of the body’s systems therefore cutting large amounts of fat out of your diet then can have a negative effect on your health. It also helps absorb and store vitamins which are vital. As a side note eating any macro-nutrient excessively will cause fat gain but it depends upon your whole nutrition make up over a period of time.
5. Eating carbs makes you fat….
Where it came from? In short carbs produce insulin. Insulin causes fat storage. Therefore, carbs = fat gain. This has been popularized recently in varying diets from the Paleo diet, high fat/ low carb as well as Gary Taubes author of the Diet Delusion highlighting that carbohydrates are the root cause of fat storage.
The truth? It’s a compelling case however fat storage is not a singular event, there is an ebb and flow dictated by a number of other things including hormonal activity as well as energy demands from movement. There are a decent amount of studies on low carb diets versus lower fat diets. The issue with a lot of the studies is that protein intake is rarely matched meaning that it is hard to compare. This quote from Alan Aragon highlights a recent study…
Another recent trial compared two 1500 calorie diets, a non-ketogenic diet and a ketogenic one [Johnstone CS, et al. Ketogenic low-carbohydrate diets have no metabolic advantage over nonketogenic low-carbohydrate diets. Am J Clin Nutr. 2006 May;83(5):1055-61.]. Insulin sensitivity was equally improved between the groups. No inhibition of fat loss was seen in the non-ketogenic diet (carb based) despite the fact that it was moderate in both fat (30%) and carbs (40%). In fact, the non-keto group lost more bodyweight and bodyfat than the keto group, although neither of these effects was statistically significant. It appears that any threat of fat/carb combining slowing fat loss is imagination-based.
It appears that carbohydrate restriction can cause fat loss but eating carbs appears to help fat loss. Pretty much highlights a few misconceptions there!
In my next article i’ll answer why “I have a bad back because it is weak” and why your metabolism probably isn’t slow.