The Worst Nutrition and Fitness Advice, And What To Try Instead

The internet and world of print are full of health and fitness “experts” who are trying to either sell your their latest product, or sell you on the latest trend that will change your life. There is a lot of really great information out there, but unfortunately, it can be hard to weed through all of the crap to find what you really need. Today let’s look at some of the worst (but widespread) pieces of health and fitness advice, and what you might want to try instead.

No Pain, No Gain– This is by far the worst piece of fitness advice that you can (try to) adhere to. True, when you first start working out, you will likely get sore. But if that soreness persists week in and week out, or causes you to limit activities in your daily life, here’s a news flash: You’re doing it wrong. At the very least, pain from working out is classified as DOMS, or delayed onset muscle soreness. At it’s worst though, pain from working out can signal injury, something that can halt your progress all together. Progress with workouts is not measured by how sore you get or how much your trainer makes you cry. It’s about setting goals and systematically following a program to achieve them. I’m not sore at all after most of my workouts, but that doesn’t mean I’m not doing the work. In fact, pain often leads to “no gain” due to inability to train. Doesn’t sound like good advice to me!

Try this instead: Train smarter and listen to your body. Learn to differentiate between muscle soreness and pain, and never try to “train through” an injury without giving it the proper care.  

You must work your muscles to failure. This kind of goes along with the above advice. Working muscles to failure can be a valuable part of training when it’s used in a very limited fashion. You should not be training to failure during every session, your muscles don’t need to “fail” in order to become stronger. In fact, if you do train to failure often, you are opening yourself up to a huge possibility of injury. Again, your workout shouldn’t take you backward, it should help to propel you forward.

Try this instead: Train with optimal loads and progressions, and take advantage of recovery time. 

Do “X” exercise to tone “Y” area! This is pretty much the mantra of every women’s fitness magazine out there. If you see “6 exercises for toned triceps!” or anything like it, do yourself a favor and skip over that article. You can not spot “tone” any specific area, in fact you can not actively “tone” your body at all. Do you want more visible definition? That comes from building muscle and decreasing body fat to reveal that muscle. There is no magic exercise that will “tone” any part of your body — humans are much  more complicated creatures than that.

Try this instead: Delete the word “toning” from your fitness vocabulary. Go for a whole body approach with both diet and exercise. 

Exercise in the morning before your brain figures out what it is doing. 

I know this is more hyperbole than actual advice, but still. It makes no sense, so why say it at all?

There are two reasons why this is horrible advice. First of all, you should work out whenever you want. Personally, I train much better and harder in the morning than the evening, so that’s when I choose to work out. But I know several people who are the opposite, and that’s ok too. Second, exercising before your “brain figures out what it is doing” is probably the worst idea when it comes to training. Your brain and your CNS have to be awake and warmed up in order for you to have an effective workout. Lifting without “waking up” your CNS first with a proper dynamic workout is asking for both a crappy workout and an injury. No bueno.

Try this instead: Always make time for a proper and thorough dynamic warmup before beginning any training session, and work out when it suits your body and lifestyle the best.  

Breakfast is the most important meal of the day. This one, like many other things related to nutrition and fitness, depends on the person. Some people don’t eat until noon and have beautiful results. Some people need to have breakfast or they end up binging all day. The point is, figure out what works for you and stick with it. Paleo folks telling you that you should be eating chicken and sweet potatoes for breakfast but you can’t quite stomach that idea? No big deal. Don’t get hungry for a meal until well after 11 or 12? That’s fine too if that’s what works for you. There is no magical time of day to eat, and there is no magical meal. Health is determined by the whole picture, not the existence (or not) of breakfast.

And don’t think you need to eat breakfast just to “rev” your metabolism for the day. Metabolism isn’t that finicky, and unless you under eat for a long period of time, you won’t change it. In fact, there are many people (including myself), who believe it can be good for people to go relatively short amounts of time without eating.

Try this instead: Eat mostly whole foods, eat when you’re hungry, experiment with nutrient timing to figure out what works best for you. 

Never eat carbs after 7 pm (or any other arbitrary evening time).  This is such an old piece of advice, but it seems like it will never die. Oprah Winfrey convinced America that carbs eaten after a certain time were exactly what was making us all so fat, and we ate it up (like a big bowl of carbs after dinner). In reality, there are many people that believe now that carbs consumed at night can enhance your fat loss (imagine that!). Plans like Carb Back Loading and Carb Nite Solution encourage carbs almost exclusively at night, and I have honestly seen some pretty impressive results with these. These kind of plans are not for everyone (I failed miserably), but there is something to be said about fueling your glycogen stores at night if you train in the morning. Carbs at night can help to fuel your next gym session, leading to better workouts and maybe more fat loss. So regardless of whether you follow CBL, let’s stop demonizing carbohydrates after sun down.

Another approach that can show great results is timing your carbs around workouts. This can be a little bit easier than CBL for the average person to stick to successfully, and for that I endorse it whole heartedly. If you happen to train at night, please don’t be afraid to try this because of Oprah Winfrey and her shenanigans. Nighttime carbs are just like any other carbs. They are not the enemy.

Try this instead:  Eat a moderate amount of carbohydrates, concentrating the majority of them around the times that you train*. 

*And when you do eat carbs outside of this timeframe, don’t allow that to become an added sources of stress in your life. Really, is it worth it?

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15 thoughts on “The Worst Nutrition and Fitness Advice, And What To Try Instead

  1. Great post! I agree with everything you’ve mentioned. I hate when certain people push the “no pain, no gain” thing because it’s not true. I suppose it’s catchier than “no adherence to a program with smart and safe progressions, no gain”. I also hate all meal timing myths because they don’t even make logical sense (and I’m appalled by the number of trainers/texts that still recommend eating every 3 hours to stoke the metabolic furnace? Why? Why would that make any sense? The thermic effect of the food that I’m eating is the same if I eat my day’s food in one sitting or seven sittings).

    • I know, I really don’t understand why people STILL preach about meal timing that way. Your body will not shut down it’s metabolism if you go a little while longer between meals! I’ve found that with the (very) loose form of IF that I use sometimes, I’ve taught my body (and my mind) to kind of not “need” food every few hours.

  2. Great post!

    I think some believe that you have banks of fat in certain areas. You do crunches and your body responds by visiting the teller at the Abs bank for a withdrawel. Obviously fiction.

  3. Great article.
    I do have to say I am a bit on the fence on the spot toning idea. I think that the phrase is just a bit misused. I spot tone. ie: If I want bigger more shapely guns, I do more bicep work….that’s not to say that simply doing bicep work will cause me to lose fat on my arms (if I need to lose fat). But, If I am already in peak shape, spot “toning” will increase the size of the muscle you are working to “tone”
    Other than that I fully agree with the rest of your points. 🙂

    • Thanks! I do agree with you in a way, and I think it really just comes down to semantics. I think that most people hear “tone” and they think of some magical process that will make them incredibly defined — when in fact, as you stated, it just comes down to building muscle and losing fat.

      • You nailed it right there. That is exactly it. Everyone wants that magical (easy) process to get “toned” 🙂 There isn’t one. What one may find though – once they embrace the hard work, is that they end up loving the hard work more than the end results anyway.
        Thanks for publishing another great article.

  4. Pingback: F&F Friday Favorites: 01.30.15 | Fitness & Feta

  5. This is such a good post, and so true! “Train in the morning before your brain figures out what its doing”..i could not do that! I wake up hungry every day, my first thought is breakfast! Haha 🙂

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