Health & Fitness Experts Weigh In
By Hailey Hensgens Fleming
Picture this. You’re plugging away at the gym, completely confident in your technique and fitness routine, which has been impressed upon you since middle school P.E. Well, you were confident until you look to the right to see someone doing the exact opposite of what you are. One of you is doing something wrong, but who?
For many of us, this scenario is all too familiar. Although we live in the Information Age, there seems to be a persistent knowledge gap when it comes to our health and what we should or should not be doing. From fitness routines and technique to diet plans, we often fall prey to several common myths that can sabotage our health goals. So, how are you to separate the myth from reality? As we close in on a new year, a few experienced local trainers are helping us do just that by shining some light on these misconceptions, including the truth behind building muscle and losing fat.
MYTH: The more you sweat, the more calories you burn.
Just because you leave the gym drenched in sweat does not mean you worked out any harder than the person who leaves with only a light sweat. “Genetically, some people are just big sweaters and some aren’t. It’s based on the individual,” explains Dextria Sapp, the Director of Fitness at the City Club at River Ranch. Rather, she says your focus should always be on giving your best, “If your output is more than your caloric intake then you’re going to lose weight.” Kallie Landry, a 10-year fitness instructor and owner of The Gym in New Iberia, adds that the type of workout can also effect how much you sweat. “Cardio may make you sweat more or differently than weights make you sweat, so I wouldn’t say that’s a good indicator,” she reasons. “Sweat is a great thing, and it’s great to sweat, but you do not have to in order to prove you’ve had a good workout.”
MYTH: The more time you spend in the gym, the better.
Several gym goers fall victim to the idea that better results will come from a long, drawn out gym session. To the delight of busy people everywhere, Landry says nearly the opposite is true. “It’s definitely quality over quantity,” she explains. “So, it’s better if you have 30 minutes and you give 100 percent of your 30 minutes rather than if you go for an hour and a half, but you take a five minute rest between every set.”
Valerie Riggs elaborates, explaining that in her 24 years as a fitness instructor, technology and fitness training have come so far. As a trainer at Dynamic Health Club, she often utilizes HIIT, high intensity interval training, with her busy clients in which you exercise hard for fifty seconds and take a ten second rest. “You take ten good exercises for a full body workout and do that for three rounds. You get your cardio, you include weights to get your weight training in there and then you’ve completed a whole workout in thirty minutes,” she explains. “And, if you only have fifteen minutes then pick five good exercises and hit it hard for 15 minutes. Anyone can do that.”
MYTH: Crunches are key to a slim midsection.
Unfortunately, doing those fifty crunches alone each morning will not get you the six-pack abs you’ve been dreaming about. As it turns out, there’s a reason behind the common quote, “Abs are made in the kitchen.” Landry elaborates, “You can do crunches or planks every single day, but I can’t see your abs if there’s a layer of fat in front that we didn’t burn off.” She continues, “Abs are going to require three things. The first thing is your diet, including cutting out alcohol and sugar; second is cardio and the third is weights. Weights and cardio will burn that off, but I won’t be able to see what you did with your crunches unless you take care of it in the kitchen first.”
MYTH: Cardio is the key to burning fat.
Cardio haters rejoice because this is, in fact, a myth. According to our fitness experts, although a very important part of a fitness regimen, cardio should not be the only component of your workout plan. “You definitely do not have to spend an hour a day running to lose weight,” says Landry. Instead, she advises that cardio should be combined with strength training to optimize fat burn, “Muscle really does burn fat and raise your metabolism, and so you don’t have to do huge cardio sessions. You should mix it up and have some cardio and some strength.” Further, Riggs even advises against a workout dominated by cardio, “If all you do is cardio then you’re just going to eat away the muscle and it’s that muscle that burns fat.”
MYTH: You must load up on protein to feed muscle growth.
This myth has often been circulated among those doing strength-training exercises leading to a daily overconsumption of protein, which can actually be detrimental. Riggs explains that while protein is necessary for muscle growth, it is not the only factor and the amount needed can vary from person to person. “Your muscles need protein, carbs for energy and good fat in order to stay healthy and grow,” she says. “A regular person working out three days a week and doing cardio five days a week should get .8 grams of protein per pound that they weigh. For body builders it’s one gram times your body weight.” Riggs also explains why more protein is not always better, “You have to be careful how much you’re taking in. If you take in too much protein your body will get rid of the protein it doesn’t need and it can cause kidney stones.”
Sapp also advises to look at your source of protein and consider options like lentils and other legumes as opposed to animal protein. “Look at all options when it comes to protein intake, learn your body and figure out what your body handles better,” she says. “Everyone is different.”
MYTH: Lifting weights will bulk you up.
According to our fitness experts, this is one of the most common fitness myths they encounter and almost always a concern voiced by women. However, Sapp reassures us it is false due to women’s biologically lower testosterone levels. “We only have so much testosterone. There’s no way we could ever gain that much muscle mass,” she says. “That’s why female body builders use steroids, because we are not physically capable of building that level of lean muscle mass.” Rather than shy away from strength training, Sapp advocates for its benefits, “You’re building bone density and your foundation, but you’re also tapping into those fat sources. If you’re building lean muscle then you’re replacing body fat.”
Riggs adds that the type of muscle growth is dependent on the type of weight lifting done. “There are three ways to lift weights,” she explains. “You have strength training, hypertrophy training and you have endurance training. A lot of my ladies do mostly strength training in which you use a medium weight with about 10 to 12 reps and three to four sets. That is going to help you build muscle but it will not make you bulk.”
MYTH: Stretching before exercise reduces risk of injury.
We all remember beginning grade-school P.E. with a series of stretches to loosen up before our daily activity, but new technology has proven that may not be the best way to start your workout. Instead of static stretches, like reaching for your toes, experts are recommending dynamic stretches to warm up your muscles. “We don’t believe in just stretching before the workout. You should do a dynamic stretch to start and it should be a lighter version of the exercise you’re about to perform,” Landry explains. “If you’re going to go for a run, you should jog first. If you’re going to do calisthenics, or a boot camp, you should do a mild version as a warm up.” Furthermore, Riggs even advises against all stretching prior to weight training as it weakens the muscle and can actually leave you prone to injuries. Save the static stretches for after the workout, especially if you’re lifting heavy.
MYTH: Carbs should be eliminated from your diet in order to lose weight.
Everywhere you look there are low carb diets that promise results and, too often, we are tricked into believing that abandoning carbs completely is the best weight loss plan. After all, if there are no carbs to burn then your body burns fat, right? Wrong. Riggs offers some insight, “Your body needs carbs to fuel a good workout. It will not burn fat instead of carbs. It will burn muscle, because it will not have any energy if you do not take in any carbs.”
This does not mean you can go crazy on those muffins you’ve been eyeing. Sapp explains you must choose complex carbohydrates over simple ones, “You should avoid carbohydrates like white breads, pastas and baked goods.” Instead it is advised to stick to a healthy, well-rounded diet with healthy proteins, fats and complex carbs to achieve your goals.
MYTH: Exercise can erase bad eating habits.
We’ve all had the thought, “I can have all the pizza I want. I did get my cardio in today.” It may seem to make sense; you’ve already burned the extra calories you’re taking in. But, besides the fact that most people grossly overestimate the number of calories they burn in a workout, Landry explains why it does not, “Yes, it helps, but you cant go crazy with food and think you’re going to fix it in the gym because you can’t. You can do more in the kitchen than you can in the gym.” She advises for everything in moderation, but also adds that a workout rewarded with a slice of pizza will never be as effective as one followed by a healthy meal.
MYTH: Shakes are the best tool for weight loss.
Meal replacement, protein shakes are rather enticing for someone on the go, but they aren’t all they’re cracked up to be. Landry laughs as she says, “I call it astronaut food. A lot of them are premade with chemicals and a lot of sugar and preservatives, so I don’t believe in drinking them all the time.”
Sapp adds, “Read those labels. If there’s more than ten grams of sugar then skip it and wait until you get home.” She explains the added sugars in protein shakes basically nullify the benefits of the protein they’re marketed for. Instead, she advises to keep healthy snacks on hand; like an apple or banana, with natural sources of sugar, or eating a handful of cashews, which are a good source of fat and low on the glycemic index. It’s also recommended that if you must go with premade shakes or bars, only use those with five ingredients or less.