So, where did you hear it? On a popular health forum, from an fitness blogger or your gym buddy?

Today, there are a variety of places to receive health information – especially sports nutrition information. In the fitness industry, there are lots who are willing to give their take on how to manage your diet around your exercise. It’s great that so many people in this industry care about nutrition, but at the same time, we have to be critical of where we’re receiving this information from. How credible is the source? Is there research to back this up? Is it based on science and body physiology?

To help you out, we dived into the research so you don’t have to.

Myth # 1: You Can Out-Run a Bad Diet

I know you’ve heard it before (I’ve heard it far too many times) – “I’ll just work out extra this morning, in order to make from for my big night out tonight.”

There is an overwhelming belief that bad eating can somehow be rectified by a tough workout.

Unfortunately, we tend to overestimate how many calories burn during training session and underestimate how much food we eat. While a night out could have you consuming more than 1000 calories in one swoop, most training sessions will only burn a few hundred calories, even if it was a high intensity session. In fact, many things are involved in how many calories we can burn including age, size, body composition, intensity and time. Despite there being these numerous contributors, most people tend to be able to “out eat” how much they can burn.

I’ve encountered a few distance runners recently who can’t seem to get rid of the weight – even though they regularly run over 40 K a week! They definitely had some diet improvements to make.

Think of exercise as an accessory to diet. It allows you to build muscle and add to overall energy expenditure, which helps to shape the body, but it is your daily dietary habits that will really influence your body composition. If you are in a chronic caloric surplus, you will most probably put on weight even if you incorporate some exercise.

Myth # 2: Not Eating Before A Workout Will Burn More Fat

Although some people will say they cannot eat before training or work better fasted, the actual rate of fat burning has not found to be enhanced from training on an empty stomach. As an example, a study by De Bock and colleagues (2013) found no difference in fat oxidation when comparing a group of moderately active males doing an endurance program in a fasted or fed state. In other words, the rate of using fat for fuel was not significantly different between men who ate before training and those who did not.

Additionally, some studies have even suggested that for some people, training at a moderate or intense level in a fasted state may actually hinder weight loss due to fatigue and potential muscle loss. If, in a fasted state, you are too tired to train at even a moderate intensity, you will not reap the benefit of your training because you simply cannot put in 100% of your effort. As intensity is an important component of muscular development, it is crucial that individuals use strategies that enable them to give the greatest amount of effort when exercising. If that strategy involves eating a meal beforehand, which is the case for many people, that would be the best way for them to achieve their exercise related goals.

Think of exercise as an accessory to diet. You can’t outrun a bad diet.

Myth # 3: Lots of Protein Post Workout is Required to Prevent Muscle Loss

Protein is wonderful for appetite and blood sugar regulation, muscle repair and growth – this list goes on. However, I’m afraid that we overestimate how much protein we actually need sometimes.

It is often the case that people believe that you need to consume copious amounts of protein, specifically whey protein, directly following a workout or they will suffer muscle loss. This theory is unfortunately misleading for a few reasons.

Although it has been found that protein soon after training provides benefits for protein muscle synthesis, more protein than a typical serving does not serve much benefit. A review done by Stark and colleagues stated that an important component for muscle building is ingestion of leucine and that 3g is all you really need for maximum protein synthesis. So in other words, if all you need to reach is 3g you’re wasting your money consuming 2-3 scoops of protein in your post workout shake because it will not enhance muscle synthesis any further. On the topic of protein shakes, leucine is not only found in whey, in fact, many studies have found that protein from whole food sources provide the same benefits as a supplement if an appropriate serving is consumed. As an example, if a person wanted to have a serving of a lean protein post workout, they would reap the same benefits as if they were to have a scoop of whey in water.

Protein shortly after a training session has been found to be optimal for growth but a typical serving of protein, whether from a supplement or whole food is all you need.

Myth # 4: You Should Take A Pre-Workout For The Best Workouts

There’s no denying the surge of energy pre-workouts supplements will provide you before your workout. Should you always be taking one before you hit the gym?

The literature is very inconsistent with this one. Pre workout supplements are often a mixed of amino acids, creatine, caffeine, pump enhancers and other various stimulants and they have become fairly mainstream among the younger generations. Many of the ingredients alone have been shown in studies to have advantages for performance. For example, caffeine has been found in a number of studies to increase the time to exhaustion and reduced feelings of fatigue in endurance-based exercise, however, in higher intensity, the results have been inconclusive.

Due to the pre-workout supplements used in studies containing different ingredients of various concentrations, it is very difficult to get an accurate assessment of their benefits on overall performance. Furthermore, even when ingredients were evaluated independently, the results lack consistency. So, overall, this one appears to be left up to the individual and how it makes them feel. Do you need a pre-workout supplement to have a good workout? No. Could it provide some stimulation if the person is already fatigued or perhaps a push to increase their intensity? It’s possible.

Caffeine can increase the time to exhaustion and reduced feelings of fatigue in endurance-based exercise.

Myth # 5: You Can Spot Reduce Fat

Despite so many of us wanting this to be true, the idea that fat can be lost in targeted areas is simply not supported by scientific studies. It would be great if doing sit-ups could cause a loss of fat in the abdominal region or that doing a few bicep curls could help loose some stubborn arm fat but this is simply not the case. Fat loss appears to be a whole body process where a chronic caloric deficit allows for fat to be utilized and lost. The specific areas that fat will be lost from, however, is not up to us, but instead, is determined mostly by our genes. What this means is that for some people, the last place for them to loose adipose tissue may be their hips and thighs, while for others, it may be their lower back and abdominal region. Although this may sound discouraging, it is simply how the body works. We are ultimately in control of what we eat and how much energy we expend, which than allows for fat loss to occur, but it appears that we have little control of where that fat will be lost from.

By Chelsea Cross, BASc (C) and Nicole Osinga, RD, BASc, MAN

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