The world of nutrition is like a theme park full of fun-house mirrors and slick-talking Carnies.
'Nutrition Land- Where Nothing Is Ever As It Seems.'
In this strange and frustrating world, everything is contradicting, nothing makes sense, and just when you think you have it figured out, you find out you've been doing it all wrong.
And you can forget about finding something decent to eat.
Unfortunately, it's designed this way. The more confusing Nutrition Land is, the easier it is to package and market bullshit.
To eliminate some of that confusion, we're clearing the air on 7 nutrition myths that make burning fat and building muscle harder than it needs to be.
Myth #1 Starvation Mode
Starvation mode actually exists, and therefor, isn't completely mythical. Though, the chronicles of starvation mode are hugely exaggerated.
The legend goes something like this:
If you don't eat enough calories, not only will your body devour your muscle like a dragon devours a sacrificial goat...
...you'll also stop burning fat all together.
And to make sure you never disrespect the tyrannical spirit of starvation mode ever again, you'll gain more fat than you had before.
Luckily, this is the fabric of myth. The real story goes more like this:
To lose weight, you need to consume fewer calories than you burn. In order to do that, you need to increase the calories you burn (through exercise and daily activity) or decrease the calories you eat through food.
When your body realizes you're eating less calories than you burn, it doesn't consider the fact you're trying to look and feel like a Greek god(dess). All it knows is energy demands aren't being met, and in order to keep this machine up and running, it needs to make some moves to restore balance.
Your body does this by increasing your appetite, and decreasing energy levels.
This means if you decrease your calories too much too soon, your energy will tank, your appetite will sky rocket, and the process won't be sustainable. You'll also run the risk of more muscle loss than is necessary.
But the idea that your body holds on to fat, or even causes you to gain more?
Not even close.
As long as you're in a calorie deficit, you'll lose weight. You'll continue to lose body weight until your current calorie intake doesn't create a deficit any longer, due to a smaller body and less demand for energy.
Creating a caloric deficit of around 20-25% is good practice for long term sustainability, muscle retention, and energy levels. But it has nothing to do with this mythical creature they call starvation mode.
Reference: Minnesota Starvation Experiment
Myth #2 Don't Eat Past 7 pm
It's like The Witching Hour, only with food.
Some people believe we shouldn't eat past 6 pm. Others say 7 pm. Some reckless individuals claim 8 pm is the cutoff point.
But everyone agrees, if you eat your food too late in the evening, it's going to be slathered on your body like jelly on toast. Probably by the time you wake up.
What a shitty way to start the day.
This myth is based on the idea that if you eat your food early in the day, you'll use it as energy as you go about your business. But if you eat it before bed, your body has no use for it, therefore, onto your ass it goes.
Fortunately, your body isn't that petty. It doesn't care when you eat your food, as long as you're eating good food in the right amounts (calories in vs calories out).
Whether you eat your last meal at 4 pm, 7 pm, or 1 am, doesn't matter.
Go ahead and eat that fancy late-night dinner. It's all good.
Reference: Influence of meal time on salivary circadian cortisol rhythms and weight loss in obese women.
Myth #3 Eat Breakfast Or You'll Die
It's true. You'll die. But it's more to do with the temporary nature of life, and nothing to do with breakfast.
The idea behind the breakfast myth is this: when you wake up from 8 hours of restful sleep, your metabolism has somehow screeched to a halt, and the only way to kick start it is by eating breakfast.
Therefore, if you don't eat breakfast, you won't burn fat as efficiently as possible.
How this myth came to be, I don't know. But we do know the metabolic effect of eating breakfast (or any one meal) is minimal. Whether you eat your first meal as soon as you wake up or wait several hours before eating; when it comes to fat loss and your metabolism, it doesn't matter.
What matters, and we keep coming back to this, is eating quality food in the right amounts. Whether you eat those foods at breakfast or not isn't important.
With that said, there are some studies that show people who skip breakfast eat more calories by the end of the day due to being hungry, causing them to over compensate.
On the other hand, there are studies that show skipping breakfast has no effect on total calorie consumption.
What does that mean for you?
Find what works for you. Whether or not you eat breakfast should be based on how you feel, how you perform during your day, and what makes hitting your goals easier.
Reference: A randomized controlled trial to study the effects of breakfast on energy intake, physical activity, and body fat in women who are nonhabitual breakfast eaters
Myth #4 Carbs Make You Fat and Sick
Carbs vs. Fat: The Archaic War Fought Under Our Noses, and Into Our Mouths.
If you were born before the 90's, you remember when fat was evil.
Not only did fat make you fat (I mean, c'mon. How can something called fat not make you fat?), it was also the cause of every disease known to man.
Then the tide shifted. We realized fat wasn't so bad, and despite it's phonetic kinship to the fat stored on our body, it didn't actually make us gain weight.
It turns out fat is great. It helps us absorb nutrients, optimize hormones, and makes us feel full and happy.
Sorry about the 15 years of hate.
But if fat isn't making us gain weight, what is?
We tend to keep a torch in one hand and a pitchfork in the other, and if we don't have a beast to hunt and kill, we'll make one.
If fat's not making us fat, it must be carbs. Death to carbs.
And here we are today, running from bread and pasta like it's a death sentence.
If you eat carbs, you're just asking for inflammation, illness, and an inflated waist line.
Is there truth behind this low-carb craze? Could it be that carbs have been making us gain weight all along?
The short answer: Nah
As much as we like to vilify nutrients, carbs are not the reason we're over weight and sick.
That's not to say low-carb diets can't work. They can, just not for the reason you might think.
Cutting out carbs doesn't provide any magical fat loss benefit, but it does limit the foods you can eat. Since most of the foods you mindlessly snack on happen to be high in carbs, eliminating these foods means you're consuming fewer calories overall.
Think about it. When was the last time you accidentally ate an extra porterhouse steak while watching TV?
But you can knock down a bag of double stuff Oreo's before you stop to blink.
The problem isn't the carbs themselves. The problem is the excessive calories we eat when we demolish that bag of chips.
Carbs provide a host of benefits. Most notably, they're a dynamite source of energy. Eaten in the right amounts, they'll help you build muscle and feel strong.
But when you eat more calories than you burn, you'll store that excess energy as fat. This is true whether that energy takes the form of protein, carbs, or fat.
Reference: Energy expenditure and body composition changes after an isocaloric ketogenic diet in overweight and obese
Myth #5 Eat Every 3 Hours to Burn Fat
There was a time when I would do everything in my power to eat every 3 hours, and the consequences of not doing so were frightening.
I even brought 3-4 meals with me everywhere I went.
As the myth goes: If you don't eat every 3 hours, your body will think it's in a famine. To prepare for these challenging times, it's left with no choice but to stockpile fat all over your body.
Seriously. You had 3 hours before your body started pleading like Jon Snow, mumbling something about winter coming, begging Daenerys to eat some food before the White Walkers show up and cause the whole Kingdom to gain weight.
This one sounds a lot like Myth #3: Eat Breakfast or Die, and the answer is the same.
It doesn't matter how often you eat. What matters is that you eat quality food in the right amounts over the course of the day.
This means you can eat 6 meals, 1 meal, or any number in between. As long as you're eating quality food in the right amount, you're fine.
Which is good news for us, but even better news for our hunter- gatherer ancestors. Imagine the pressure of trying to spear that saber-tooth bear before your three hour window runs out?
Reference: Meal frequency and energy balance
Myth #6 You Can Only Absorb 30 Grams of Protein at a Time
Myths with arbitrary numbers attached to them are my personal favorite. They're much more authoritative than they would without that line drawn in the sand.
Luckily this idea is a fairy tale, like Snow White or The News.
There have been studies done to find out how much protein we can absorb in one shot, and that upper limit has not yet been found.
So fire up the BBQ, grill some meat, and never let an imaginary line in the sand hold you back again.
Reference: Protein feeding pattern does not affect protein retention in young women
Myth #7 Coffee Dehydrates You
Tell me there's a limit on how much protein I can absorb and I'll laugh it off.
But mess with my coffee? Now we've got an issue.
Listen, I love coffee, and believe it truly is the nectar of the gods.
But there's a nasty rumor about coffee that states you have to drink 2 cups of water for every cup of coffee just to break even.
According to this rumor, the dehydrating effects of coffee are nothing to play with, and drinking more than one cup per day is comparable to being stranded in the Sahara desert for 70 days and nights.
Like the 6 myths before it, the legend is far scarier than the truth.
Coffee contains caffeine which is a diuretic, and this causes you to drop a little extra water during your bathroom break. But it doesn't dehydrate you, and you don't need two cups of water to replace it.
In fact, on top of being a delicious and potent way to start your day, coffee has a net hydrating effect.
Sure, nothing beats pure water for staying hydrated, but coffee can contribute to your hydrating efforts.
One more reason why coffee is amazing. Still, make sure to consume coffee moderately (1-2 cups per day).
Reference: No Evidence of Dehydration with Moderate Daily Coffee Intake: A Counterbalanced Cross-Over Study in a Free-Living Population
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