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Monday, April 2, 2007

Six Fitness, Health, and Nutrition Myths Exposed


OK, it's time to separate fitness fact from fiction. Here are 6 common health and fitness-related misconceptions and the reasons that they are wrong.

Spot reduction

Myth: 1000 crunches/sit-ups a day will result in a flat stomach.
Reality Check: If you do 1000 crunches a day you will have a ripped set of abs underneath the same layer of fat that you've always had. The only way to reduce fat is to create a calorie deficit (see Energy Balance post) and crunches/sit-ups are a very poor way to burn calories. Unfortunately, you can't choose which fat is going to be burned...your genetics control that. If you want that six pack, you need to strength train your abs, as well as all other muscles, do cardio to burn calories, and watch your caloric intake. To begin to see definition in your abs, men require a body fat level of 8-10%, women require a body fat level of 12-14%. Wondering about your body fat %? Your friendly, neighborhood fitness coordinator can figure it out for you.

Fattening foods

Myth: Some foods are particularly fattening and turn directly into fat when eaten, i.e. cheese, butter, carbs, etc.
Reality Check: Excess calories are fattening. Bodyfat is your body's way of storing excess energy that it can't use upon consumption. If you stop eating excess calories, you'll stop storing fat. Furthermore, if you use more calories than you consume and your body will use up existing fat stores. So why the myth? High fat foods get a bad rap because foods high in fat tend to be high in calories. It's the calories that make you fat, not the fat itself. Thanks to Dr. Atkins, carbs are the new evil macronutrient. They have gotten a bad rap because so many of the foods that we eat are filled with highly processed, low nutritional value carbs, mostly made with white flour and sugar. These simple carbohydrates contain no nutrients so they satisfy our hunger for only a short time before we are hungry again. There is nothing wrong with bread or pasta, but whole wheat bread and pasta are definitely better, more nutritious choices.

Fat free foods

Myth: Fat-free, or reduced-fat foods are always best.
Reality Check: Ah, yes, the Snackwell Syndrome.
If the cookies are fat-free, then I can inhale an entire box of them, guilt-free. Again, it's the calories, not the fat. One Snackwell Fat Free Devils Food Cookie has 49 calories compared to an Oreo cookie which has 53 calories. It's a very small difference between the two...which would you rather have, the Snackwell or the Oreo? Always compare the calories on the Nutrition Label. If the fat-free or reduced-fat product contains at least 10% fewer calories, I'll consider it. I'll also look at the ingredients and check if the fat was replaced by loads of things I can't pronounce. If it contains all sorts of things I can't pronounce, I'll go with the regular product. If the ingredient list doesn't baffle me, I'll get the low fat product. A good example is low fat or nonfat dairy products. They are almost always a better choice than regular dairy. Since the fat in dairy comes from the cream and it is easy separable, nothing else is typically added back in its place.

Toned muscles

Myth: You need to exercise a certain way to get "toned" muscles, i.e. light weights with a high number of repetitions.
Reality Check: Muscles can contract, expand, grow or shrink. That's it. You can't do anything to specifically "shape" or "tone" a particular muscle, only make it bigger. Whatever the shape of the muscle you were born with, you're stuck with it. What people consider "toned" is actually a combination of larger muscles which are more visible due to a lower body fat level. If you want to get "toned", train in a way that maximizes muscle growth and lower your body fat level by doing moderately intense cardio while watching caloric intake. That means strength training with a load that you can complete 8-12 repetitions of any particular exercise with good form, but no more. Perform 3-5 sets of the exercise and when you can do 3-5 sets of 12, increase the load. Repeat forever.

Women and strength training

Myth: Strength training will make women incredibly muscular.
Reality Check: Mention strength training and women immediately visualize pictures of enormous female bodybuilders. Women do not naturally have the hormones necessary to grow enormous muscles. Besides, saying that you don't want to strength train because you might get that big is like saying you don't want to run because you might qualify for the Olympics in the 100 meter dash...as if it were that easy to get those muscles. Strength training provides many benefits for women of all ages including increasing metabolism and increasing bone density, among other things. Try it...I think you'll like the results.

Fat burning zone

Myth: You will burn more fat if you do lower intensity exercise...in the "fat burning zone".
Reality Check: Your body has several "fuels" to choose from as you go about your daily activities. The two main fuels are glycogen, a stored form of carbohydrates and the other is fat. Depending on the intensity of the activity, your body utilizes a "mix" of both fat and glycogen. Lower intensity activities burn a higher percentage of fat, while higher intensity activities favor the use of glycogen as fuel, thus the low intensity "fat-burning zone". The problem is that low intensity activities burn a much lower number of total calories than high intensity activities. Let’s say you go for a 30 minute walk. You might burn 100 calories, 75% or which would be fat for a total "fat" calorie expenditure of 75. Now let’s say you went for a 30 minute run. You would burn about 300 calories, 50% of which would be fat for a total "fat" calorie expenditure of 150...twice as much. So, is low intensity exercise bad? Of course not, but by incorporating bouts of higher intensity, you can burn even more calories and increase your fitness at a higher rate. Besides, exercising in any "zone" is better than sitting in front of the TV while two-fisting Cheez-Its. I like to call that level of intensity the Big Butt Creation Zone.

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CindyPTN said...

The Women and Strength Training myth has always baffled me. But, I started weight training back in Junior High and High School. It's an incedible feeling to be able to go through a workout and feel stronger over time.

Nick Irons said...

Congratulations on being included in the 1st Edition of Fitness for Moms Blog Carnival. I have a similar post called “Top 10 Reasons to Exercise” that can be found at http://marylandpersonaltrainer.com/wordpress/weight-loss/top-10-reasons-to-exercise.

Fit Club Scott said...

Thanks Nick. I enjoyed your post, as well.