5 Lies About Fitness

Social media can be a dangerous thing. It gives people a public voice who would otherwise not have one. Every day I see popular fitness figures posting stuff that is inaccurate or blatantly wrong. Here’s 5 lies you’re being told.

Lie #1: You have control over your metabolic rate.

Your resting metabolic rate is the amount of energy you need to live. That has been set by millions of years of evolution. You can lift weights as much as you want to try to add muscle mass, but you’re not going to significantly change your resting metabolic rate. Resting metabolism, in terms of oxygen consumption, is 3.5 milliliters of oxygen per kilogram of body weight per minute. In terms of calories, it’s 1,300 to 1,600 calories per day for most people. You would have to add many pounds of muscle to make a significant difference in your resting metabolic rate. When you get older (over 50 years old), you can prevent the decline in resting metabolic rate that occurs with a loss of muscle mass by strength training to preserve lean muscle mass.

Lie #2: Thin people have a faster metabolism.

Try this experiment: Hold five copies of one of my books in one hand and one copy in the other. Which arm is doing more work to hold the books? In which arm is metabolic rate faster? Heavier people have a faster metabolism because it takes more energy to support a heavier weight than it does to support a lighter weight, just like holding five copies of my book in your hand takes more energy than holding one copy.



Lie #3: Your metabolism will be elevated for many hours after your workout is over.

This is highly over exaggerated in the fitness industry. When you do a very hard or very long workout, your body continues to consume more oxygen for some time after because recovery is an aerobic process (called EPOC: Excess Post-Exercise Oxygen Consumption). Things like glycogen resynthesis, body temperature, lactate transport, and acid-base balance all occur during recovery to return your body to homeostasis. However, fit people—the ones who are capable of working out more intensely to induce a large EPOC—recover faster, so their EPOC is less. Also, unless the workouts are done exactly the same way as in the research studies, you can’t expect to get the same results. The fitness industry tends to generalize research findings to fit their agenda (can anyone say “Tabata?”).

Lie #4: Your physical appearance and performance is 80% nutrition and 20% exercise.

I don’t know how or where fitness pros get those numbers, but it’s not true. I’m pretty sure I didn’t get my legs and ass from eating kale salads; I got them from running six days per week for 32 years. If we take two people, and one eats perfectly clean but doesn’t exercise much, and the other trains a lot but doesn’t eat very clean, who is going to look better and be fitter? Truth is, training and genetics exert a greater influence than what’s in your diet. Same goes for physical performance—a person with a lot of talent will almost always outperform a person with little talent and a lot of training and clean eating. For example, if you take someone who can run a 5K in 14 minutes when he is in peak shape (or 16 minutes for a female in peak shape), and then have that person stop exercising for a year, he/she will still be able to run faster than nearly everyone, even though he/she is completely out of shape. For a 14-minute 5K runner, 15:30 would be completely out of shape. Talent matters.

Lie #5: You must strength train to lose fat.

The way to lose fat is to burn lots of calories every day and eat only as many calories as your body needs and not any more. Strength training can add to your total daily calorie burn, but it won’t add enough muscle “to burn more calories all day” as many fitness pros claim. To make your muscles better “fat-burning machines,” you need to alter their metabolic profile by increasing the number of mitochondria in your muscles, because it is inside the mitochondria where fat is burned. Mitochondria are increased from aerobic exercise. The more mitochondria your muscles have, the greater their capacity for fat burning.

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