Nowadays, it seems that beliefs surrounding the fitness and nutrition world are based more upon fallacies, fairy tales, and pseudoscience rather than hard, relevant, valid scientific evidence.
This kind of belief system is misleading, and it’s frustrating to watch more and more individuals fall into the traps of an industry based around scams and gurus attempting to make a quick buck.
In a previous post, I addressed some of the more common and controversial myths in the world of dieting and nutrition. Today, I’m going to dive into two more nutrition myths, as well as a long withstanding myth revolving weight training.
Let’s get to it.
The Post Workout “Anabolic Window”
In a land far, far away, trainees must get a protein shake down within ten minutes of leaving the gym, or else all of their months of progress will wither away before their very eyes.
But this isn’t fantasy land, and in reality, the post workout “anabolic window” is not as small and elusive as we once thought. First of all, the idea of an “anabolic window” is very attractive to supplement companies, as they tend to use the fast absorbing, vast muscle building properties of their particular product as a selling point. You’ve all heard it before, so I won’t give specific examples.
Another point I would like to bring up about the anabolic window is how often the timeframe changes, seemingly based on bro-logic rather than actual research. Some say it’s five minutes, some say it’s an hour, some say thirty minutes. I say, no one making these claims have any clue what they’re talking about. This is where being able to think critically comes in handy.
The issue with most research looking at the benefits of nutrition immediately post workout is that the training is often done in a fasted state (2). So, this means that the trainee has no circulating amino acids during their training bout, and therefore it would make sense to consume a protein rich meal immediately post workout to bring muscle breakdown to a halt and increase muscle protein synthesis.
However, if you consume a balanced pre workout meal (1-2 hours prior), it should be more than sufficient to negate the needs of nutrition immediately post workout (1).
So, there’s no need to stress about consuming a protein and carb rich shake or meal immediately post workout. I find that it’s very practical to do so in most cases, and there’s certainly no downside. However if you, for whatever reason, cannot get a shake or meal in right away, there’s no reason to stress about it. And no, your biceps won’t fall off.
Take away: if you consume a mixed meal within an hour or two prior to training, the need for nutrition immediately post-workout becomes negligible. Don’t stress about it.
The Dangers/Benefits of Eating Carbs at Night
The carbs at night issue has seemingly made a 180 degree turn over the past couple of decades. In the old school bodybuilding days, it was common belief that if you consume carbs after a certain time in the day, they will automatically be stored as fat.
Now, we know this isn’t true from a physiological standpoint. Carbs, no matter what time in the day they are consumed, will preferentially go towards refilling glycogen stores in the liver and muscle tissue, and fuel for the brain. It is very rare that carbohydrates are converted directly into fat. This process is called de novo lipogenesis, but the concept is beyond the scope of this article. If you want to read more into how different nutrients are oxidized/stored, check out this post by Lyle McDonald.
So we know that eating carbs at night is not harmful. Interestingly enough, people are beginning to believe the opposite. Now, there is some supposed “magic” to eating carbs at night.
The logic behind this revolves around our daily circadian rhythm. Our fat and muscle cells are more insulin sensitive in the morning after an overnight fast (sleeping), and they’re less insulin sensitive later in the day.
The idea is that you want to eat carbs when your fat cells are the least sensitive to insulin, which means they are less likely to be stored as fat. It sounds great on paper, but does it really make any difference? I’m not convinced. While I have discussed my Carb Backloading results in the past, I don’t believe that there is any magic to it. It’s just another way to get the job done.
If the goal is fat loss, eating in a caloric deficit is most important, not the timing of carbohydrates. All things being the same, it doesn’t matter if you eat all of your carbs in the morning or all of them at night. If caloric intake is the same, both groups will lose fat.
The obsession with eating carbs at night is just yet another reason for people to be obsessive and micromanage every aspect of their diet.
I will say this however: eating huge carb-laden meals early in the day can be problematic for some as they tend to cause lethargy and hunger shortly after, so there’s an upside to eating the majority of carbs at night as far as mental performance and hunger control.
Take away: If you like to eat all of your carbs at night, great. If you like to eat all of your carbs in the morning, great. Do whatever you please, there is no magic either way.
Free Weights are Always Better Than Machines
It is a commonly held belief that machines are infinitely inferior to free weights.
Unfortunately, this argument is an appeal to tradition fallacy, and I’ll admit that I’ve used it in the past. People tend to believe something if it’s repeated for a long period of time, and this appears to be the case with the free weights vs. machines debate.
It has become a basic assumption that free weights are superior. However, the research does not offer any kind of substantial evidence that free weights are always superior to machines, and there is still plenty of research to be done in order to make any sort of conclusive claims of superiority.
In my opinion, they both have their place in individual situations. Machines tend to be better for isolating muscle groups, while free weights are superior in terms of training balance and proprioception.
This article by Bret Contreras does an excellent job of looking at both sides of the argument, and it even provides a sample study that should be performed if we want to see which one reigns supreme.
Take away: the jury is out. As of right now, there’s not sufficient evidence for either side of the argument. I tend to use a combination of free weights and machines, and I encourage you to do what best helps you in achieving your goals.
I hope you guys enjoyed this second installment of myth busting.
What do you think is the most annoying training/nutrition myth? Let me know in the comment section below.
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