The fitness industry is full of bullshit. I don’t think anyone will contend that point. There’s so much money to be made that companies are incentivized to market their products on increasingly laughable claims. After all, humans have become a vain race, with egos that need constant validation, and there’s no better place to get it than looking in the mirror at a ripped body.
And so while the source of many fitness myths is the supplement companies and fitness personalities who are trying to sell more product, there are also a lot of old school myths still being passed around that are equally inaccurate. Below I’ll cover four common myths, the rationale behind them, and the science that disproves them.
1. Eating carbs late at night will make you fat
The idea behind this popular myth, like many others, is based on pure logic. Carbohydrates are our bodies primary source of short-term energy. At night we’re resting, and thus we don’t need this type of energy. Therefore eating carbs at night will result in fat gain, because our bodies won’t have any use for the carbs so they’ll be instantly turned into fat.
This reasoning is wrong on many levels, but I’ll only point out its two main fallacies. The first one is that our bodies only convert the food we eat to fat when we’re in a caloric surplus—that is, when we’ve consumed more energy than our bodies have expended. Yes, the macronutrient profile of what we’ve eaten can have slight effects on the net amount of calories ingested, but for the most part being in a caloric surplus causes weight gain (1). So if you’re not in a caloric surplus, it doesn’t matter what you eat or when you eat it—it will be burned as energy for your body NOT converted to fat.
The second fact is that our bodies don’t simply turn off at night. Our brain and bodily functions require energy to continue functioning even while we sleep.
2. You can confuse your muscles to make them grow faster
This myth is a more recent one. The idea behind it is that after doing a particular exercise for a while, your body gets used to it, thus rendering it ineffective. By simply switching it out for a new exercise you can “confuse” your muscles and cause them to grow.
This is just silly. Our muscles don’t have brains inside of them.
But when doing a new exercise, we do tend to grow stronger at it quite quickly at first. And this is the “evidence” that supports this theory. However the reason for this initial increase in strength is what’s called neural adaptation: when we perform a new movement for the first few times, our nervous system quickly gets more efficient at performing it (2). So the reason we got stronger was that our brain got used to recruiting our muscles in this new pattern NOT because they were confused and got bigger.
3. There are certain foods that will cause you to gain fat
Whether it’s carbs, fats, fried foods, or donuts—there are plenty of foods out there that people think are “evil” fat-causing agents. But there’s no such thing.
Sure, our bodies may absorb a greater percentage of the calories in particular foods, but the fact is that you must take into account the rest of your diet in order to be able to accurately predict the outcome of eating something specific. For example, if you eat a donut for breakfast and eat a light diet throughout the rest of your day, you’ll likely be nowhere near the caloric amount needed to gain weight. However, if a morbidly obese man consumes that same donut after eating 5000 calories, then it’s probably going to end up as fat. Context, my friends, is everything.
4. Lifting more often will yield better gains
We all know that lifting weights leads to the body’s anabolic response that results in hypertrophy (the synthesis of new muscle tissue). I’m not debating this point. But using backwards logic, people often use this as justification for lifting weights almost every single day.
More lifting = more muscle gains, right?
Wrong. The anabolic period takes place over roughly a 36 hour period after you lift (3). By slamming more and more lifting sessions into this window you aren’t doing yourself any favors. The anabolic processes in our bodies require proper rest and nutrition to work at maximum capacity, not lifting more weights. The take home lesson here is: go hard in the gym, and then focus on resting and eating to recover and build muscle. This way you can go just as hard during your next session, if not even harder.
If you liked this post, check out my book Shredded Beast for a complete scientifically based training program and diet protocol.
1. Feinman, Richard D., and Eugene J. Fine. “A calorie is a calorie” violates the second law of thermodynamics.” Nutr J 3.9 (2004).
2. Aagaard, Per, et al. “Neural adaptation to resistance training: changes in evoked V-wave and H-reflex responses.” Journal of Applied Physiology 92.6 (2002): 2309-2318.
3. MacDougall, J. Duncan, et al. “The time course for elevated muscle protein synthesis following heavy resistance exercise.” Canadian journal of applied physiology 20.4 (1995): 480-486.