In Part One of this series, I covered the biggest and most bullshit-laden fitness myths swimming around the Internet today. But when it comes to food, there seem to be more nutrition myths than there are Pokemon.
Well, I didn’t go out and catch all the nutrition myths into tiny Pokeballs, but I did catch the big ones. So let’s forget reading some long ass intro and get into this here shindig.
Myth: Calories Don’t Matter.
I’m not gonna act like there isn’t some nuance here. There is. What people get at when they talk about “calories” is really more or less an attempt to label food as good or bad.
“Hey, if you eat “clean” or avoid foods with sugar, you don’t need to count calories.”
And sure, if you start eating more whole foods and less processed junk — think: potatoes, vegetables, and lean proteins over cookies, chips, pizza, or frozen dinners — you’ll probably lose some weight at first, even if you were not counting calories.
But most of that will likely be water weight and extra fluids your body has been holding onto. If your goal is pure fat loss, however, you have to consume fewer total calories than you burn in a day.
Fact: Calories Do Matter When You Want To Lose Body Fat.
Higher quality foods will always provide more nutrition than lower quality foods. But cauliflower tastes like an aardvark’s asshole, and, if you had the choice, you’d much rather eat an apple pie.
But, what few people out there tell you is that it doesn’t matter WHAT you eat; rather, it matters HOW MUCH you eat. Simply put, there are no “good” foods and “bad” foods.
Let me repeat that again for those in the back who didn’t hear: There are no “good” foods and “bad” foods. Sure, there are “better” foods — spinach, grilled chicken, and a potato will always be better for you than Ramen noodles topped with Cheese Wiz. But guess what? It’s still possible to consume TOO MUCH “good” food and gain fat.
=====> If you eat more than you burn, you gain fat.
=====> If you burn more than you eat, you lose fat.
The more green leafy veggies and lean protein you eat, the better you’ll look and feel overall. But, that doesn’t mean that you can’t enjoy ice cream, pizza, or Cinnamon Toast Crunch ever again. As long as you fit those foods into your TOTAL macro/calorie count for the day, eat ‘em.
Myth: Fresh Veggies = More Nutrition.
There’s nothing better than going to your local farmer’s market and picking up some fresh produce that was picked hours earlier by a farmer. I mean, the only bad thing is figuring out what the hell a bushel is.
Is all that fresh produce picked by Farmer John really that much healthier for you?
Fact: There Is No “Real” Difference Between Fresh And Frozen.
Most “fresh produce” isn’t really that fresh, at least not if you pick it up at your local supermarket. It’s what you would call “postharvest ripened,” meaning that it ripened while in transport.
Frozen produce is usually “vine-ripened,” meaning that it’s picked and then frozen as quickly as possible. A two-year-long study found that there really was no difference in nutrients between fresh and frozen fruits or vegetables.
Basically, choose whatever you prefer taste wise or whatever best fits your budget or lifestyle.
Myth: Muscle Turns Into Fat, And Fat Turns Into Muscle.
I turned a chair into a pint glass once. Well, that sounds insane and silly, right? I mean, wood can’t turn into glass because, well, wood is made of trees, and glass is made from liquid sand. And, both of these are two completely different organic compounds.
So it is with muscle and fat.
Fact: Muscle Cannot Turn Into Fat, And Fat Cannot Turn Into Muscle.
They’re completely different organic compounds, and, unless you’ve aced the Transfiguration spell while you were at Hogwarts, this ain’t happening.
What does happen, though, is that when you don’t use the muscle you have, it atrophies. And, the less muscle you have, the less active living tissue you have—what smarty pants people call your “metabolism.” With a lower metabolism but the same high intake of food, you gain fat.
Myth: The Scale Goes Up Because Muscle Weighs More Than Fat.
What weighs more: 5 pounds of feathers or 5 pounds of water?
The answer? They each weigh 5 pounds. Neither weighs more than the other. 5 pounds is 5 pounds.
Fact: Building Muscle Can Happen While You’re In A Calorie Deficit.
BUT, it’s not going to happen in 1 week, 2 weeks, or even really 5 weeks. Here’s some rough math for you that I stole from my good friend Jason Helmes’s Twitter account. (Thanks Jay, you’re the man [a really freakishly tall man]).
Theoretically, there are 3,500 calories in a pound of fat. And this 3,500 number is what most people use as a reference point when they say you need to be in a 500 calorie deficit to lose an average of 1-pound per week.
But the human body needs around 3,000 extra calories to build muscle. Divide that over the standard 30-day month, and you get 100 extra calories of food per day. And, that’s if your goal is to gain 1-pound of muscle per month. The math doesn’t lie here. You do not need massive amounts of food when you bulk. And, if you’re in a calorie deficit, muscle gain is going to be super freaking slow.
So no, the scale going up is not you gaining muscle, especially if you’re trying to lose body fat. It’s likely a myriad of things: poop, extra water, the weight of having a soul and dealing with your existential horrors, or maybe you got probed by an alien last night.
But since a picture tells 1,000 words, and so far you’ve already read ~2,000, I’m gonna shut the hell up and let the picture below explain it all.
Myth: Cheat Meals On The Weekend Are Good For You.
You worked hard all week, and you were “good” with your diet. So, you deserve to kick back for a couple of days and enjoy yourself a bit. You’ll get back on it Monday. Plus, you read somewhere that cheat days are good for you.
Grab something sturdy my friend, because I am about to blow yo’ mother effing mind.
Fact: Weekends Still Count.
A 2016 study found that “meals from non-chain restaurants contained 1,205±465 kcal/meal…and three of the four most popular cuisines—American, Italian, and Chinese—had the highest mean energy, 1,495 kcal/meal.” Researchers ordered meals from places all over San Francisco, Boston, and Little Rock.
Here’s what they discovered: 92% —NINETY-TWO FREAKIN’ PERCENT— of the meals ordered at non-chain restaurants contained more calories in one meal than many people typically need for one day. All that meal prepping, exercising, and tracking that you do all week can easily get erased in one weekend of eating out 2-3 times.
Now, that doesn’t mean that you can never eat out again. Not at all. It means that if your goal is to lose pesky pounds off your waist, you can’t just be “on it” during the week. You’re gonna have to make the weekend count as well. What you do and how you do it matters as much as when you do it.
Myth: Breakfast Is The Most Important Meal Of The Day—Don’t Skip It.
Growing up you were taught that you needed a hearty breakfast to begin your day. And over the years doctors and nutritionists have backed up this claim up. For instance, one study found that those who skipped breakfast had a higher BMI (body mass index) than those who consumed breakfast every day.
But at the end of that same study the researchers noted that “the data in this review were gathered from observational studies, thus, causality should not be assumed based on these findings.”
Of course, people out there claim that skipping breakfast will crash your metabolism. But, your metabolism doesn’t stop. It’s running 24/7/365. And, if it did stop, guess what? You’d be dead.
Skipping a meal is okay; you won’t die. But, you also don’t need to eat 6 times a day either. Referring back to my point above, in regards to fat loss: It doesn’t matter WHAT you eat, it matters HOW MUCH you eat.
Myth: Intermittent Fasting, The Most Magical Thing Since Unicorns, Will Eat All Your Fat.
I love Joe Rogan. But, Joe pimps Intermittent Fasting (IF) like he’s the first of his friends to ever see a naked woman. “OMG you guys, it’s like the greatest thing ever, you won’t believe it till you see it.”
And yes, intermittent fasting has been shown to have some health benefits. According to a few studies, intermittent fasting has been shown to influence:
- Slowing the aging process
- Boosting your mood
- Improving lipid control
- Enhancing growth hormone secretion (in men specifically)
- Helping remove waste materials from cells
So like, yeah, intermittent fasting sounds pretty badass. And as of now, there aren’t enough studies on humans to understand the long-term benefits of IF. But there is nothing inherently magical about intermittent fasting.
Fact: IF Isn’t Magic, And Total Calories Still Matter.
Intermittent fasting is nothing more than a protocol for total calorie control. Think about it this way:
Let’s say you eat breakfast at 7 am. Then you have a mid-morning snack at 10 am. And then you have lunch at noon. Of course, we can’t forget the mid-afternoon snack around 3 pm that wards off that pesky afternoon crash. And then you end the day with dinner around 7 pm.
Oh wait, you almost forgot that indulgence of ice cream around 9 pm. When you look at all those hours, you’ll notice that you had a “feeding window” of 15-hours.
But if you follow Intermittent fasting, you’d cut that “feeding window” in half (if you follow the 16/8 IF protocol).
Here’s the thing, though. You can still consume a massive amount of calories even while doing intermittent fasting. So, again, it all comes down to total calorie intake. And, if you’re fasting and if your goal is fat loss, tracking what you eat every day MATTERS.
Side note: If you hate eating breakfast, skip it. If you love eating breakfast, keep eating it. Find what works for you. Don’t base your dietary adherence on something a celebrity can’t shut up about. Because if what you’re doing isn’t something you can adhere to for life, then what you’re doing isn’t a viable long-term option for you.
Full disclosure: I use intermittent fasting on days that I don’t work out or when I travel. It works for me on those days because it helps me to restrict the times I eat and therefore I’m better able to control my total calorie intake on those days.
Myth: You Need To Eat 5-6 Times A Day To Stoke Your Metabolism.
Since I just covered intermittent fasting, it would be kind of stupid to even give this one much of a response. Your metabolism is always on. So, it doesn’t matter how much you eat in a day or when you eat in a day, your metabolism will not shut down. If it does, then you’re dead.
Of course, this nutrition myth got propagated because it is true that when you do consume food your metabolism does increase. But, that increase only happens because your body has to expend energy to digest the food you’ve eaten.
Fact: Frequency Does Not Affect Fat Loss, But Total Calorie Intake Does.
Yep. I’m keeping this one short. Fat loss comes down to how many calories you consume in a day, not the number of meals that you have in a day.
Myth: Eating Foods High In Cholesterol Will Kill You.
For decades, dietary guidelines proclaimed that the cholesterol you eat from red meat, shrimp, or eggs would go straight to your blood vessels and clog your arteries, leading to heart attacks, strokes, and other cardiovascular diseases.
But, cholesterol is vital to our survival. In fact, your liver produces about 1,000-2,000 milligrams every day. Cholesterol, an essential building block for cell membranes, helps form a protective sheath that covers nerve fibers. Your body also uses cholesterol to produce hormones like testosterone and estrogen, create the bile you need to digest/absorb fats, and, when that giant orange orb in the sky makes contact with your skin, cholesterol helps produce vitamin D.
Fact: Eggs And Shrimp Are Fine.
According to a major review of all the current research about cholesterol and cardiovascular disease, there is no evidence that dietary cholesterol contributes to the development of CVD. The panel in charge of The Dietary Guidelines for Americans has even proposed removing the recommendations of restricting dietary cholesterol to 300 mg/day.
If you want to know even more about this and why eggs and shrimp aren’t going to clog your arteries, check out this amazing illustration by my good friend, Aadam of Physiqonomics.
Myth: I Can Reduce Fat Around My Abs Or Thighs With Specific Exercises.
If I do 1,000 crunches a day, then I’ll work the muscles around my abs, and they’ll use the fat near them for energy.
Fact: Fat Loss Happens Via Diet, Not By “Certain Exercises.”
God, I wish it were true that you could get a 6-pack in no time thanks to crunches. And if it did work that way, I’m pretty certain no one would have fat fingers with all the texting and keyboard pounding we do.
Spot reduction is a myth. If you want to see abs, you have to crush nutrition, get good sleep, manage stress, and move your body in some way every day. So, one more time for the people in the back:
NUTRITION DRIVES FAT LOSS; WORKOUTS SUPPORT IT.
Working out is the easy part. And, nutrition is the one thing no one ever really wants to examine because, well, you just wait to hear the words that you can’t eat this or that, or that you’re going to have to eat cauliflower at every meal.
Myth: Creatine Is The Devil On The Supplement Market.
The first time I ever saw creatine at a GNC I thought it was a steroid. Shortly after, everyone began to produce articles or news stories about why it was bad for anyone to take. Most sources claimed that creatine damages your kidneys.
Except, it’s not. Creatine is the most studied supplement on the market.
Fact: Creatine Is The Safest Supplement On The Market.
Everyone who lifts weights should take creatine every day. Vegans should take it too.
A 2003 review paper—a scientific study that looks at the data from over 500 studies—reported that more than 70% of the studies found a positive benefit to high-intensity training (HIT) and creatine supplementation. And zero—that’s right, freaking ZERO—of the studies reported a negative effect from using creatine.
What does that mean for you? Well, that means that at best you’re gonna get a boost in strength. At worst, you get nothing. Read here for more about creatine.
Myth: Have Protein 30 Minutes After All Workouts Or Your Muscles Die.
And, the terrorists will win. That’s right, my friends. If you don’t get protein within 30 minutes of your workout, you will lose all the muscle. ALL OF IT.
Fact: Have Protein After All Workouts, And Forget About That 30-minute Window.
This time limit is bogus.
A meta-analysis from 2013 — yes, 5 freaking years ago (Man, this nutrition myth just won’t die) — found that groups who slurped down massive protein after their workouts did not fare any better in terms of building lean muscle mass vs. groups who ate the same amount of protein throughout the day.
Basically, it doesn’t matter if you have a shake immediately after the gym or a meal a couple hours later. What matters most is total protein throughout the day. So, save yourself $7 and skip the smoothie stand at the gym. (Or give these superhero-themed shakes a try at home.)
Myth: Sugar Is The Cause Of Obesity.
Did you know that the average person in developed countries around the world consumes around 53 lbs of sugar each year? Calorie wise, that equates to over 260 calories per day. Well, I guess we all know what’s driving obesity, right?
It’s sugar’s fault. Sugar is bad. That shit is making you fat AF, bro.
Look, when people use the word “sugar,” they’re using it most often as a coverall for “junk food.” And there is surprisingly a lot of sugar in junk foods—Mt. Dew, Gummy Bears, Gatorade. But sugar is more than the white stuff your co-workers swirl into their coffee every morning while bemoaning the fact that you are, yet again, back at work.
Sugar is omnipresent.
- Milk has sugar. (lactose)
- Fruit has sugar. (fructose)
- Beer and whiskey are made thanks to sugar. (maltose)
- Beets have sugar. (sucrose)
Notice anything about the words in parenthesis above?
They all end in -ose. -Ose is the suffix that identifies a natural sugar, be it a monosaccharide, disaccharide, or polysaccharide. Sugar is everywhere; it’s in everything and occurs naturally. Cellulose, the polysaccharide that provides structure to the cell walls of green leafy vegetables, is most commonly known as insoluble fiber. You know, the stuff that makes pooping easier and that you need to consume more of? Yea, that’s a “sugar.”
“But Robbie, when people talk about sugar being bad, they’re talking about added sugar.”
That may be the case, but let’s be honest, rarely is it phrased that way.
When it comes to fat loss, however, total calorie intake trumps all. So, even if you are in a calorie deficit and have foods with added sugar, you will lose body fat. Sugar won’t jack that up.
Myth: Fat Is Bad, And You Need To Eat Low-fat.
Fats play an integral part in producing your bodies hormones, providing the structure for the cells in your body, maintaining healthy skin and hair, regulating body temperature, and providing a fuel source for your body. But, fats also taste really damn good.
Your tastes buds can detect fat, which is why low-fat alternatives to some of your favorite foods often taste like cardboard.
When you look at the data, it’s pretty easy to demonize added sugar as the cause of obesity. But data from the USDA shows that added fat intake has doubled in the last century. Most of this additional fat is coming from non-whole food sources.
Doritos and Twinkies didn’t exist when Woodrow Wilson was President. The only way to get additional fat into foods 100 years ago was with lard or butter. But now, thanks to science, humanity’s extracted fats from vegetables and seeds to create oils that are calorically dense, cheap to produce, and super convenient for adding fat to foods that otherwise have little to no fat content.
Fat is the densest macronutrient; every gram of fat contains 9 calories. So, when you add extra fat to foods, you’re increasing its total caloric content significantly. But low-fat diets vs low-carb (or no sugar diets) aren’t better than one or the other. When equated for total calories, weight loss still occurs no matter what macronutrient is emphasized or controlled. See now how fundamental my first point was many paragraphs ago?
Fact: The Real Obesity Culprit Is Sugar + Fat.
Have you ever heard anyone claim to have a celery addiction? Nope. But everyone will tell you about being addicted to sugar or cookies or ice cream. And, as crazy as that person can sound at times, it makes sense.
You and I didn’t evolve to love vegetables. There’s not a lot of energy (aka, calories) in veggies. But, there’s a ton of energy in honey, animal fat, and nuts. Fats and carbs provide our bodies with the energy it needs to move through the world.
And, this is where processed, highly-palatable foods become dangerous. We’ve engineered foods like chips, cookies, cake, and ice cream to provide our brains’ reward systems with an orgasmic stimulus.
Our modern world is filled with these foods that play on our ancestral DNA, and, because of the expertly combined ratios of fats and carbs in processed foods, we create eating habits that are not easy to change.
So no, individually, sugar isn’t bad for you. And, fat by itself isn’t bad for you. Combining them into processed foods that provide little to no satiety while providing massive amounts of calories, however, is the problem you have to watch out for.
Nutrition Myths Busted
Phew. Holy crap, bro. Between the 11 fitness myths I debunked in part one and the 13 nutrition myths I just debunked, I am le tired. This was a freaking marathon of research and writing. Some of these fitness and nutrition myths make zero sense when examined under the microscope of science. And when you read some of the others, it sounds like some random old dude in the gym just made some shit up off the top of his head and somehow it caught on.
Fitness and nutrition myths will likely never die. So I guess I’ll just have to keep debunking them as they come along.