15 Nutrition Myths You Want to Know…Allow the Experts to Tell
By Chris and Eric Martinez
Please view this short introduction
Question: What do you feel is the biggest nutrition myth out there today? (Choose 1 myth and depending on the myth, please state why and how it affects people and what can they do to stray away from it?)
One of the biggest myths in bodybuilding is that you need to do hours of low intensity cardio pre contest to get “shredded.” While low intensity cardio will help you lose fat, our research (Wilson et al. 2012) demonstrated that low to moderate intensity cardio decreases muscle mass in a dose dependent fashion. Meaning the more you do the more muscle you lose! I am thoroughly convinced that bodybuilders lose much of their hard earned muscle during contest prep from such strategies. So what is the answer? Ten to thirty second all out, balls to the wall interval training. And when I say 10 to 30 seconds I mean you should nearly reach failure on each interval. That means if you do a 20 second all out sprint, your legs cannot move for even 1 more second. You literally should be wondering if you can make it through the whole interval!
Research demonstrates that one 30 second all out sprint can cause such an energy strain on the muscle that it is forced to up regulate mitochondria (Little et al. 2010), which is our body’s fat burning machinery. In fact, our recent meta analysis showed that high intensity, supramaximal efforts caused you to lose far more fat than traditional low to moderate intensity cardio. And what’s wonderful is that your total time doing the cardio is 1 to 2 all out minutes as compared to 30 to 120 minutes of low intensity cardio. But the most important thing for bodybuilders is not just losing fat, it’s maintaining their mass and density that they gained in the off season. What my lab has recently found is that intense sprints actually increases muscle size. And we used direct measures of the quadriceps to investigate this question. This study will be presented at the NSCA national conference this coming July. Stay tuned!
Little, J. P., Safdar, A., Wilkin, G. P., Tarnopolsky, M. A., & Gibala, M. J. (2010). A practical model of low‐volume high‐intensity interval training induces mitochondrial biogenesis in human skeletal muscle: potential mechanisms. The Journal of Physiology, 588(6), 1011-1022.
Wilson, J. M., Marin, P. J., Rhea, M. R., Wilson, S. M., Loenneke, J. P., & Anderson, J. C. (2012). Concurrent training: A Meta-Analysis examining interference of aerobic and resistance exercises. The Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research, 26(8), 2293-2307.
Dr. Jacob Wilson, Ph.D., CSCS*D is a professor and director of the exercise & sports nutrition laboratory in the department of health sciences and human performance at the University of Tampa, Tampa Fl. Jacob has published over 70 peer-reviewed papers, and abstracts on sports nutrition, supplementation, and resistance training in athletic and clinical situations. His research has covered both the cellular and molecular responses to supplementation and nutrition, as well as the whole body changes in muscle size, strength, and power. Dr. Wilson is also a proud member of the International Society of Sports Nutrition and National Strength and Conditioning Association, and President of the website Abcbodybuilding.com
I feel the biggest myth is this idea that there are magic ‘clean’ foods that you can eat however much you want of and look great, but if you touch any ‘bad’ or ‘processed’ foods no matter how much you will instantly turn into a butterball.
For example, A study conducted by the Institute for Nutrition and Cancer Research (INCR) discovered that 78% of adults agreed with the statement “the kind of foods you eat is more important than the quantity of food you eat” in regards to weight management.
While it is true that certain foods can influence your thermogenic output (aka TEF thermic effect of food) this is mostly due to their protein/carb/fat and fiber composition.
For example, eating a high protein, high fiber diet is much more thermogenic than eating a low protein low fiber diet. But as long as you reach your protein and fiber goals, the foods you use to do it are far less important.
Now that being said, in order to eat a high protein, high fiber diet you will need to eat a lot of ‘clean’ foods by default. But the point is, you can still achieve great body composition by eating foods that are ‘outside the box’ if they fit your macronutrient and fiber goals. Simply eating the same foods day in and day out in an effort to ‘eat clean’ can cause people to become very disordered with their eating especially when they eat any amount of ‘unclean’ food which typically can trigger a binge.
Self monitoring and cognitive restraint are the most important things in determining the effectiveness of a nutrition program, not magic foods as evidenced by data from multitudes of cohort studies of thousands of people showing that self monitoring was the #1 factor in losing fat and keeping it off. Dismiss this idea that there is a magic list of foods that you can eat however much you want of and lose fat. This is a lie. You will need to put in the work of monitoring what you consume in terms of your macronutrient intake, but you will be rewarded with results and sanity.
Dr. Layne Norton has a PhD in Nutritional Sciences and a BS in Biochemistry. He is a professional bodybuilder and powerlifter and owns BioLayne LLC, a consulting company specializing in preparing elite bodybuilders, models, and athletes for events by providing nutrition and training programs. He can be contacted at www.biolayne.com
The biggest nutrition myth in my mind is the idea that a person must consume protein within 30 minutes of exercise to see muscular adaptation from that exercise bout.
Although this is known as “fact” in many circles, the scientific basis for such a claim has little data to support it. In fact, the idea that all muscular gains are lost 30 minutes after completing an exercise bout unless food is eaten doesn’t seem to make sense from any biological perspective.
Esmarck et al. 2001 is the most commonly used citation to support this “window of opportunity”. That study took older untrained men (74 years) and had them resistance train for 12 weeks. One group had 10g of protein immediately post and the other group had 10g of protein 2 hours later. The group that had protein immediately post exercise saw increases in muscle size, however, the other group saw no change in muscle mass. The fact that one group exercises for 12 weeks and saw no increase in muscle mass whatsoever should be a red flag because resistance exercise has been shown to increase muscle mass in numerous studies (elderly included) not giving protein immediately post exercise.
Recently, a well-controlled study by Erskine et al. 2012 presented data in untrained healthy men (23 years) who worked out for 12 weeks. One group consumed 20g of whey protein immediately post exercise and the other group consumed a placebo. In addition, participants were instructed to consume only water in the 2 hours before and 1.5 hours after each training session. What they found was that the muscle size and strength gains following exercise were identical between groups. This means that consuming protein immediately post exercise did not offer any additional benefit.
The point I am trying to make is that there is nothing magical about placing all of one’s focus onto one meal during the day. There is nothing wrong with consuming protein immediately post workout, however, it is important to understand that it will not hurt ones muscle gains if they wait until they get home or even later to eat a meal. The focus should not be on one meal, it should be on all meals. A person should focus on consuming adequate protein, carbohydrate, and fat at each one of their meals. Specifically, one should focus on maximizing their muscle protein synthetic response about every 4 hours and recent data suggests that distributing protein evenly throughout those meals is beneficial. I would then place their training between anyone of those meals.
For example, if a person’s eating schedule was
Meal 1: 8am
Meal 2: 12pm
Meal 3: 4pm
Meal 4: 8pm
I would recommend that they work out anytime between Meal 1 and Meal 4. This strategy focuses on hitting sufficient macronutrients at all meals not just one meal.
In conclusion, there doesn’t appear to be anything magical about consuming protein immediately post exercise for improving muscle size and strength. However, although the data doesn’t support this “window of opportunity” it will undoubtedly stick around as “fact” by those who wish to believe it to be true in the face of evidence directly to the contrary. Remember that all meals are important, not just the post-workout.
Esmarck et al. “Timing of postexercise protein intake is important for muscle hypertrophy with resistance training in elderly humans.” Journal of Physiology (2001), 535.1, 301-311.
Erskine et al. “Whey protein does not enhance the adaptations to elbow flexor resistance training.” Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise (2012), 44(9), 1791-1800.
Jeremy Loenneke is a PhD student in Exercise Physiology at the University of Oklahoma. He has previously earned a Master’s degree in Nutrition and Exercise Science from Southeast Missouri State University. He is also a competitive bodybuilder and powerlifter and proud member of Team Norton and the DRG.
Unfortunately there are too many! One myth that comes to mind that’s relevant to your audience, is the concept of ‘eating clean’. While there have been several recent eloquent discussions of clean eating vs. if it fits your macros (IFYM)
(seeHERE and HERE, there is another piece to the puzzle. Clean eating is finding and eliminating foods (sometimes healthy ones) that your body doesn’t agree with. For example, think to a time when your gut has been distended (i.e. bloated) or when you (or blame it on someone you live with)- has had terrible gas – this stench is not completely normal or healthy. Finding the culprits can give you that extra body composition boost.
Let me explain; I have an affinity for broccoli – turns out these delicious little trees result in an acute inflammatory reaction in my gut and small intestine, which is known as food sensitivity or the inability to fully digest food stuffs. These ‘toxic’ food molecules accumulate within the bloodstream kicking your immune system into overdrive in the attempt to eliminate the particles from the blood. While this may seem trivial, overtime this can result in feelings of fatigue, gas, bloating, mood swings, migraines, and diarrhea. In extreme cases it can exacerbate conditions of arthritis, asthma and other autoimmune disorders.
You may be putting on your ‘this doesn’t affect me hat’ but in reality it probably does play a small role. Let’s put this into perspective, 3 out of 4 (75%) people have sensitivities to dairy, 1 in 3 (33%) are intolerant to yeast, 1 in 7 (15%) respond to gluten, and 35% of individuals have a sugar sensitivity.
As active individuals trying to achieve the best physique, food sensitivities may be hindering your health while you’re trying so hard to manipulate Mother Nature. More so, these food sensitivities are often caused by a lack of variety- those foods that you eat everyday – like broccoli.
Science even supports the idea that chronic activation of sensitivities- inducing low-grade inflammation may be a cause of weight gain and insulin resistance. Almost all (98%) of participants in a Baylor Medical Center study following their individualized sensitivity diet demonstrated an improvement in body composition and some weight loss (1). Even more science supports the use of following and individualized food sensitive friendly diet, one study reported enhanced fat loss, while maintaining muscle, on food-sensitive-free diet compared to subjects on a similar uncontrolled isocaloric diet (2).
The good thing is food intolerances are easy to fix by modifying your diet- eliminating those foods- for a few months- to which you have a severe and moderate reaction to. Within a few weeks your immune system will be running smoothly, upgrading your mental and physical health. The challenge to you is to discover your food arch nemesis- you never know, your favorite whey protein shake, egg whites, and beloved coffee could be your downfall.
1. Akmal, M., S. A. Khan, and A. Q. Khan. The effect of the ALCAT test diet therapy for food sensitivity in patient’s with obesity. Middle east journal of family medicine. 7, 2009.
2. Cabo-Soler, J. R. Comments on Diets in Esthetic Medicine. In 14th Mediterranean Day of Esthetical Medicine and Dermatological Surgery. Venice, Italy, 1995.
Abbie Smith-Ryan, PhD, CSCS*D, CISSN. Dr. Smith-Ryan is an Assistant Professor at the University of North Carolina Chapel Hill, specializing in research related to body composition, sports nutrition, and high-intensity interval training. She is a scientific advisory board member for the ISSN, NSCA, and for the Center for Applied Health Sciences. She also practices what she preaches as a former collegiate athlete and an advocate of healthy physiques.
Mike T Nelson-
The myth that you can only use 30 grams of protein at once does not seem to die easily. Despite multiple shots to the head, it is like a Zombie coming back from the dead routinely.
Let’s speculate that you can NOT use more than 30 grams of protein at once, just for fun. You and your buddies go to a nice steak house and you order up a nice 12 oz porterhouse steak which clocks in around 80 grams of protein. You are a bad ass dude who likes his steak, so you man up and eat all of it at once as you high five your buddies upon your man vs. food completion. If you can only use 30 grams, where does the other 50 grams go? Do you see a huge steak-looking poo in the toilet the next day? Seriously, where did it go?
It is a total myth that you can only “use” 30 grams of protein at once. I believe the confusion aries when we look at protein intake and muscle growth. It is true that the muscle building response (measured acutely as muscle protein synthesis aka MPS) will max out around 20 grams of a whole intact protein such as egg (Moore DR et al.2009). In that study, there was no statistical difference in the 20 gram vs. the 40 gram group when looking at MPS. The extra protein was oxidized (used) by the body and did not contribute to an increased rate of MPS. However, another study by Yang et al. in 2012 showed that 40 grams of whey was better than 20 grams in an older population; so age may be a factor.
This makes sense when we look at the real world too. If eating 2xs more protein resulted in 2xs the muscle growth, you can bet I would be upping my protein intake tomorrow, along with many dude brahs everywhere. But it does not work that way since the muscle growth response to protein intake is not linear and at results in diminishing returns over time.
Protein response over time
Adding in 2xs more protein will not result in 2xs the muscle growth, but this does not mean your body can’t use more than 30 grams at once. Protein is essential and serves many other functions in the body other than just making your muscles bigger. Being able to only use 30 grams at once is a total myth, so order up a big slab of dead cow and enjoy.
Yang Y, Breen L, Burd NA, Hector AJ, Churchward-Venne TA, Josse AR, Tarnopolsky MA, Phillips SM. Resistance exercise enhances myofibrillar protein synthesis with graded intakes of whey protein in older men. Br J Nutr. 2012 Nov 28;108(10):1780-8. doi: 10.1017/S0007114511007422. Epub 2012 Feb 7.
Moore DR, Robinson MJ, Fry JL, Tang JE, Glover EI, Wilkinson SB, Prior T, Tarnopolsky MA, Phillips SM. Ingested protein dose response of muscle and albumin protein synthesis after resistance exercise in young men.Am J Clin Nutr. 2009 Jan;89(1):161-8. doi: 10.3945/ajcn.2008.26401. Epub 2008 Dec 3.
Mike T. Nelson has spent more than a decade of his life learning how the human body works, specifically focusing on how to properly condition it to burn fat and become stronger, more flexible, and healthier. He’s a PhD Candidate in Exercise Physiology. He holds a BA in Natural Science, and an MS in Mechanical Engineering (Biomechanics).
He’s an adjunct professor and a member of the American College of Sports Medicine.
He’s been called in to share his techniques with top government agencies like DARPA.
The techniques he’s developed, and the results Mike gets for his clients have been featured in international magazines, in scientific publications, and on websites across the globe.
Get more information on him athttp://www.miketnelson.com
Myth: The belief that there is one perfect way of eating.
There are also social differences. Daily schedules, family situations, occupations – even simple food preferences – all influence a person’s ability to thrive in a pre-contest season. This next sentence is self-serving, I admit, but I don’t know how someone without the education or experience necessary to truly understand the physiology at hand can not understand that they’re in over their head. Most of the time the worst that can happen is a person doesn’t make the progress and achieve the result they want, but I have seen very bad outcomes including permanent health problems.
The myth is that everyone can fit into a particular mold. Diet X, Y, or Z is the best for everyone. As I tell clients, it’s a process not a program, it’s management, not magic. It takes someone who can walk through the entire process with the competitor and make the right changes at the right times. That is a foundational problem. There are certainly some problems out there with specific theories and with many practices; this is a broad question, but I’d start there.
Joe Klemczewski, Phd
Licensed Physical Therapist
Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist
Drug-free Pro Bodybuilder
Founder, The Diet Doc LLC
The biggest myth is that ‘overconsumption’ of protein is going to do something bad to your kidneys or your bones. The evidence on renal health and high protein diets is quite clear: if you don’t have kidney problems then more protein is not going to hurt your kidney function! Even the WHO/FAO and the US/Canadian DRI reports agree on this. Insofar as bone health is concerned so long as your getting adequate calcium and vitamin D protein will actually actively enhance bone formation and will NOT promote bone loss. It’s time to put these big myths to bed in my view. Also, excess protein is not converted to fat since only 2 amino acids can lead to fat synthesis!
Stuart M. Phillips, Ph.D., FACN, FACSM
Professor, Department of Kinesiology at McMaster University
Adjunct Professor, Medicine (Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation)
Associate Member, Graduate Faculty in Medical Science (Cell Biology & Metabolism)
Biggest myth is that you shouldn’t eat after a certain time at night. As a result people try to eat dinner super early, then are starving at night or wake up in the middle of the night starving. It’s more about the choice you make when eating at night and spreading food out over the day. Eat every 3-4 hours of balanced meals and high fiber snacks.
Head of Nutrition and Sports Dietitian at IMG Academy
I think that the biggest myth still remaining in some circles is that starchy carbohydrates somehow magically create body fat.
While insulin levels are certainly higher when more carbs are consumed, the fact remains that you cannot create fat out of air. If you’re in a calorie deficit, you aren’t suddenly going to sprout love handles because you decide to enjoy a bagel after your workout.
Of course, getting adequate protein is important for body composition change. Veggies are important for nutrients. And healthy fats are critical. But fearing carbs is basically locking yourself in a dietary prison of deprivation for no good reason.
Hands down – ‘eating too much protein is harmful to your kidneys.’ I’ve heard this one since my undergrad days at the American University in the mid-1980s. My nutrition professor said it. What a dope. And now it’s still promulgated by many who work in academics as well as those outside of it. Why this myth has more legs than a caterpillar is anyone’s guess. Perhaps folks are too damn lazy to read the scientific literature. Or perhaps some are just not very bright. There is such a lemming mentality in the nutrition field that very few (except of course those who are part of the ISSN) are willing to buck the trend and think differently. The way to avoid the pitfalls of ignorance is to 1) read, 2) read, and 3) read THE SCIENTIFIC literature!
Jose Antonio, PhD – CEO of the ISSN
I have to choose just one? Nutrition myths (read: sensationalism) these days run the gamut; “carbs make you fat, high protein diets and cholesterol are bad, supplement ‘X’ will get you bigger and stronger,” etc. etc. The laundry list of what’s “good” and what’s “bad” is getting longer by the day.
On the bright side, however, is that the evidence against such nutritional mysticism is mounting, and the forums for which people can obtain scientifically sound information against these claims are growing. Moreover, there is a strong movement for more open-access, online journals where people will be able to freely access scientific publications and be better informed. The only downside to this is that most people are “abstract scientists” or just plain, old terrible critical-thinkers and can’t decipher between a quality publication and a hole in the ground. Similarly, but more understandably, is that a lot of people don’t have the proper background or educational training to actually read a scientific publication. So in the realm of nutritional mysticism, the sword is double-edged. But that’s enough of my ranting; let’s focus more towards the initial question.
In my opinion, what is the biggest nutritional myth? Being a student of nutritional science as well as someone who works with athletes and the lay public from time to time, the nutrition related myths are usually one or the other: sports related or health related. Sometimes there is some overlap, but for the most part the athletes I’ve talked to aren’t concerned about how to reduce their sodium intake to reduce their risk for cardiovascular disease. Given that your readers are more prone to be on the sports/performance side of the fence, I’ll address those concerns. That being said, the biggest sports/performance related nutrition myth that I’ve encountered is probably the famed post-workout “anabolic window.”
This theory is based on the assumption that muscle tissue is the most receptive to post-workout nutrition – that being the ingestion of carbohydrate and protein for the purpose of muscle protein synthesis (MPS) – immediately (or as close to immediately) following a workout.
This is generally based on acute data showing greater increases in MPS alongside the ingestion of protein soon after a workout when compared to isocaloric protein ingestion at some later time (~1-4hrs later); however, even this data is equivocal, not to mention that the longer-term data does not jive with the majority of the acute research, and essentially tells us that as long as adequate protein is consumed by the end of the day, muscle protein accretion will be the same had your buddy been pouring a ready-made shake into your mouth upon finishing your last rep at the gym. Nevertheless, bodybuilders and gym goers everywhere translate the acute data information into the dogmatic fact that you MUST consume protein within ~30minutes after your workout or you risk not optimizing MPS.
As fate would have it, there was a recently published study showing that resistance exercise leads to intestinal injury which in turn attenuates the digestion and absorption of protein ingested shortly after an acute bout of exercise . Although the researchers did not measure muscle protein synthesis, making the practical applications of delayed protein dosing theoretical, the implications are there that the ingestion of protein immediately after a workout may not be the most optimal time due to impaired digestion/absorption possibly leading to less MPS. This flies in the face of years of nutritional guidelines (and fitness dogma) concerning optimal muscle gaining nutrition! However, while remaining skeptical, this new piece of evidence just goes to prove (or at least pokes at) the fallibility of dichotomous thinking; in that rigid, inflexible dietary beliefs (i.e. dogma) are almost always flawed to begin with.
As to why and how this myth affects people; most people are easily taken in by nutritional mysticism when it offers them the key to their fitness goals; be them vanity or performance related. Unfortunately, and more towards the vanity-side of things, this typically manifests itself as strict dietary adherence (sometimes bordering neurosis) for fear of not maximizing muscle gain. What most people don’t realize is that the key usually lies within overall adequate nutrition and a properly structured training regimen more so than it does with nutrient timing per se. In a word: Balance. People can stray away from such pitfalls by visiting websites that offer scientifically sound information. For starters, a non-exhaustive list would be websites and blogs run by people like Alan Aragon, Matthew Perryman, Dr. Layne Norton and Lyle McDonald. Weeding through the BS takes time but is highly rewarding once you’ve attained “enlightenment.” Frequenting the sites I listed above will most certainly help you to better navigate the mucky waters of fitness/nutrition related gimmickry.
As I continue to tell clients that I work with, people who care the most about nutritional minutiae are usually the ones who should care the least, and those that do wind up being taken in by nutritional mysticism are, more often than not, worse off than when they knew nothing at all.
1. Wijck KV, Pennings B, Bijnen AAV, et al. Dietary protein digestion and absorption are impaired during acute post-exercise recovery in young men. Am J Physiol Regul Integr Comp Physiol. 2013 Jan 2. [Epub ahead of print]
Dylan Klein is currently finishing his Nutritional Sciences, Dietetics degree at Rutgers University. Next fall he plans on starting a graduate-level degree in either nutritional science or kinesiology. Dylan has experience as being a Student Nutritionist for the Rutgers and Princeton Football teams, the Rutgers Army ROTC program, and the lay public, both in person and via e-mail correspondence. For more information about Dylan and his work/services, you can find him online or e-mail him with questions using the website and e-mail address below.
I don’t think there is one “biggest” nutrition myth. There are a lot of myths, and each is just as misleading as the rest. Most of the myths aren’t life-threatening per se, but they can lead to compromised nutrition intake as a result.
Some of the nutrition myths that perpetuate the public today include:
- Cholesterol from egg yolks being bad for your heart health
- Calorie counting (both that calories don’t count, and that they are more important than nutrition quality)
- Fiber being essential for healthy bowel movements
- There is one diet plan to suit every person on this planet (be it paleo, organic, low-fat, low-carb, high-protein, etc)
- That fat needs to be limited in the diet
- That increasing protein intake is the answer to all dieting woes
- Breakfast being important for everyone all the time
- Coffee is an unhealthy beverage
- Humans not being “designed” to drink cow’s milk
- Everything can be eaten in moderation
To just look at one of these myths, I’d like to discuss fiber for healthy bowel movements. A lot of people think that if they’re constipated (more often than if they have loose bowels) that it’s because they’re not eating enough fiber.
However, ironically, adding more fiber for many people can actually cause more constipation and discomfort, but this is often due to the types of fiber (carbohydrate food) sources chosen. Oftentimes, constipation is more of a function of foods that contain poorly digestible carbohydrates that cause fermentation in the gut, leading to gas and gut dysmotility. Foods that contain these types of carbs have been coined FODMAPS, due to their content of “Fermentable, Oligo-, Di-, Mono-saccharides and Polyols”. These include wheat, beans, and apples, to just name a few. And, these are often foods people turn to (like whole wheat bread) to combat constipation. But, it backfires and they wonder why their symptoms have gotten worse.
When constipation hits, look at removing sources of these FODMAPs from the diet before blaming poor fiber intake. There are plenty of fiber-rich foods low in FODMAP carbs that can help people eat foods that are beneficial for intenstinal bulk and elimination without causing more problems.
Cassandra Forsythe holds her PhD in Exercise Science and Nutrition and is a Registered Dietitian – an expert in nutrition and health.
She has published to nationally known books for women, “The New Rules of Lifting for Women”, and “Women’s Health Perfect Body Diet”. She has also been featured in major magazines such as Oxygen, Women’s Health, Men’s Health and Delta Sky Magazine and is an Advisory Board member for Women’s Health magazine, PrecisionNutrition.com and Livestrong.com.
In Connecticut, she runs her own group fitness facility, Fitness Revolution Vernon, which has transformed the bodies of hundreds of women and men across the state through proven exercise and nutrition methods. You can find out more about Cassandra and her fitness facility atwww.cassandraforsythe.com
The Myth of “Good” and “Bad” Foods
I think one of the most pervasive, and possibly detrimental mind sets is that of seeing foods as either “good” or “bad”. This is a rather seductive way of looking at foods because it is simplistic. Look at a food, identify it as friend or foe, and then go with the “good” option not the “bad” option and you’ll be healthy, fit, lean and sexy! It’s that easy! But of course, that’s not the case.
One of the problems with this mindset is that it fits perfectly into the behavioral paradigm that leads to obesity in the first place; the all or nothing mindset. One thing I find to be a commonality among folks who struggle with weight gain and permanent weight loss, is that they lose the middle ground. They bounce between being “on the diet” and falling off the band wagon and lapsing into cycles of overeating. We have no problem losing weight, we have trouble keeping the weight off. We crash diet and lose 20-30lbs in a few months, and then it all comes back on when we can’t maintain the crash diet approach.
All or nothing Black and white mindsets ignore the concepts of magnitude and frequency which are all important when it comes to long term change. Of course 1g of sugar eaten every 2 weeks will not have the same effect as 100g of sugar eaten daily, but we love to label sugar as “bad”. Even water consumed in massive excess can lead to hyponatremia and death. Sugar is not good or bad, and neither is water, they just are what they are and without attention to magnitude or frequency, labels like “good” or “bad” are misleading.
We tend to be overly reductionist in our approach to nutrition. Originally, we believed fat was the singular cause of the obesity epidemic. When the low fat craze had no impact on preventing the worsening of the obesity epidemic, we went the way of the low carb craze, and folks started consuming fat with abandon. When this didn’t turn the trend of waist expansion around, we decided that it’s not just fat or carbs, the causes are specific types of carbs and fat; specifically sugar, high fructose corn syrup and trans fat are the culprits!
The need to blame singular nutrients highlights the all or nothing, black or white attitude that is in and of itself one of the roots of unhealthy eating behavior and consequently obesity. Again, it comes down to seeking balance. The concept of balance in nutrition is inclusive of the concepts of magnitude and frequency that are needed for long term lifestyle change. Balance recognizes that it is not the small piece of chocolate that you had that wasn’t on your diet plan that was the problem, it was the carton of ice cream you had afterward!
The meal plan foods are “good”, and a piece of chocolate is “bad” and once you’d crossed over from “good” to “bad”, you said: “Screw it! I already blew it, I might as well just have cookie dough ice cream until I puke!” That is the all too common result of the all or nothing mindset in action. On the other hand, a balanced approach realizes that a small piece of chocolate is only ~100 calories, and will make a minuscule difference in terms of weight loss over time. In fact, a balanced meal plan might even allow for a daily range of calories, so that the following day could be reduced by 100 calories. Even more shockingly, a balanced meal plan might even include a piece of chocolate (blasphemy I know)!
There are truly VERY few foods that are actively bad for you. Most of the foods that we identify as “bad”, are simply low or devoid of micro-nutrients, minerals, fiber and other things like phytochemicals and protein that can be beneficial for you. These foods only become a problem when they occur frequently and with enough magnitude (frequency and magnitude!) to replace a significant enough portion of your diet that you become deficient in beneficial nutrients.
Once our nutrient needs are met, we don’t get extra credit for eating more nutritious food! It’s not as though we have a health food critic living in our esophagus that has a control box that he switches from “get leaner and healthier” to “get fatter and unhealthier” every time he spots “good” or “bad” food. Thus, a healthy diet should be inclusionary vs. exclusionary; focused around including healthy foods, not excluding “unhealthy” foods. Meet your nutrient needs, and feel free to eat things that you may have traditionally seen as “bad” in moderation; so that you are still meeting your allotted caloric intake for your weight loss goals. Don’t make the mistake of looking at foods as “good” or “bad!” Good diets can include “bad” foods and bad diets can include “good” foods. Don’t get too caught up with what you have for lunch, because it is not a singular choice that will determine the success of your health and fitness goals, it is the balanced lifestyle you commit to long term!
Eric Helms MS, FNS, CPT, PES, CSCS
Professionally Qualified Natural Bodybuilder, Raw Powerlifter
Team 3DMJ Coach
Eating at night makes you fat. You have to cut carbs after a certain hour to drop fat. You must go to bed unsatisfied, craving food, suffering, wanting to gnaw off your significant other’s arm, etc., if you want get lean.
To put it bluntly = total bullsh*t.
Trying to cut calories at night goes completely against our evolutionary instincts, natural desires, and social patterns. That’s why it rarely works as a baseline diet plan in the real world, off the magazine pages.
Starving on lettuce leaves and low-carb shakes at night, and somehow pretending you’re cool with that, is a miserable way to diet. Only a very small percentage of athletes can make this work as their standard, everyday plan. Even then, a lot of them can only make it work during their in-season, go crazy during off-season binges, and rebound/yo-yo.
Lets take a step back for a second. Make no mistake, while we can argue over optimum dietary approaches into eternity, consistently hitting the right calories and macronutrients will always be the most important step in achieving ANY by composition goal.
At the end of the day (or I guess more appropriately, week), you have to be in a calorie deficit, with adequate protein to support lean muscle mass maintenance, and with the right amounts and ratios of energy nutrients (carbs and fats) if you want to be moving closer to your beach body goals.
No miracle diet structure or food distribution pattern can make up for that. What they can do is make your diet plan as practical and sustainable as possible, SO YOU CAN consistently stay within your pre-determined calorie and macronutrient limits.
Eating at night doesn’t make you fat. Eating too much/too many calories over the entire day makes you fat. If you’ve eaten large and/or frequent meals throughout the day, and then eat another large dinner on top of that, chances are you will overshoot your daily calorie needs and gain fat. It’s the total food intake not the distribution that is the problem.
If you eat lighter during the day and are active, chances are you enter dinner in a relatively large calorie deficit with depleted energy reserves, and even a large meal with a significant amount of carbohydrates will be used to restore energy reserves first, before spilling over into fat stores.
Here is a research study that talks about the benefits of such a pattern:
Sofer et al. 2011. Greater weight loss and hormonal changes after 6 months diet with carbohydrates eaten mostly at dinner. Obesity (Silver Spring) Apr 7. [Epub ahead of print]. Click HERE to see study.
THE FAST & FEAST DIET STRUCTURE
Choosing the appropriate meal frequency and food distribution pattern — FOR YOU — is about making your plan as realistic and functional as possible. There is no one Right Way. Multiple approaches can work. Modern fitness approaches can work great, as many professional fitness athletes have proven, and often write about in the magazines. I have followed such plans myself with great results.
But like I said already, these plans are impractical for most in the real world, and are based more on spandex tradition rather than scientific necessity. There are equally effective alternatives.
Human beings evolved on a fasting and feeding cycle. We spent the majority of our existence fasting or eating lighter during the day while actively tracking, hunting, and gathering our food. We spent the evening relaxing and feasting on the majority, if not all, of our daily food intake.
Following this type of structure is an easier plan to stick to for most people, because it goes with our natural instincts and social patterns. Thus, what I’ve found in my own business is that adherence and success rates have increased dramatically amongst a wide variety of demographics when switching them over to this structure.
But its more than just theory, there is some science to my claims as well.
A. Da Physiology
This structure controls insulin and blood sugar levels, and maximizes fat burning hormones and cellular factors (GH, cAMP) during the day. This ensures that you are optimally burning fat for a large portion of the day. It also improves energy and cognitive function.
The nightly feast maximizes muscle building hormones and cellular factors (cGMP, mTOR). And with depleted energy reserves and damaged muscles from training, you’ll certainly be ready for a chow down, throw down.
Think of it as two distinct nutritional periods. During the day hours you are in a fat burning, energy production mode. During the evening hours you trigger a hyper- anabolic, muscle building, nutrient-storing mode. You recover from the demands of the current day, and fill up the tank to prepare for the demands of the next day.
B. Da Psychology
Our brains work on a sacrifice/reward pattern. Most people find it relatively easy to cut calories and make better food choices during the day, as long as they know they can eat a larger meal at night, and get to end the day satiated and satisfied (at least in the kitchen, the bedroom is your own responsibility). This is way more effective than large lunches that lead to rebound hypoglycemia and energy crashes, and tiny dinners that lead to starvation-induced, junk food binges.
GIVE IT A SHOT
You can keep slaving away at a plan that produces mediocre results for you at best, or is so miserable you only “DIEt” and get in shape once every 4 years, or you can give something else a try — something that you can maintain indefinitely.
Biggest nutrition myth out there today is that there is one single best nutrition program for everyone. It’s not paleo, low fat, low carb, high protein, vegan or anything else; there are pieces of all that are beneficial to most, but staking your claim on a single best approach like it’s a religion is certainly not a good one. To stay away from it I’d stick to nutrition basics – veggies and protein with every meal, small portion of grains/beans/fruit.
Christopher Mohr, PhD, RD, CSSD
Mohr Results, Inc
Be sure to check out these other articles by some of these experts:
- Want to Build Muscle and Lose Fat? Lets Ask the Experts How its Done…
- Want to Learn How to Squat? Lets Ask the Experts How its done…
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