You need to put what you learn into practice and do it over and over again until it’s a habit. I always say, ‘Seeing is not believing. Doing is believing.’ There is a lot to learn about fitness, nutrition and emotions, but once you do, you can master them instead of them mastering you.
One of my biggest pet peeves about the fitness industry is the sheer amount of BS circulating on social media and on the web. Some BS is about exercise, some is about nutrition, and all of it is fear-mongering, with the clear purpose of persuading those who don’t know any better to buy the latest diet shake or pill.
However, there are already a lot of very competent people who bust myths and take down social media charlatans on a regular basis.
So, instead of focusing on the rubbish, I want this article to contribute to shedding light on some non-rubbish aspects of fitness that Karen the Herbalife Ambassador or Mark the Jacked Fitness Guru don’t want you to know, lest you stop buying into their lies (quite literally).
So here are three things no one (or not many, anyway) will tell you about fitness.
1. Fitness is simple (not easy!)
To lose fat, you need to eat fewer calories than you consume. You can also increase your energy expenditure by moving more, so you don’t have to reduce your calories excessively.
In order to preserve muscle mass while dieting – and, if you’re a beginner or you haven’t worked out for a few months, perhaps increase it a little – it is recommended to engage in regular resistance training and eat an appropriate amount of protein.
To build muscle, you need to eat at least the same or a little more calories than you consume, that is about 10-20% above maintenance. Protein and resistance training are still incredibly valuable to accrue muscle size.
To improve your diet, you should aim for lots of water and other fluids, at least five daily portions of fruit and vegetables, an appropriate amount of lean protein, complex carbs, and dietary fat.
It would be a good idea to consume whole grains and wholemeal varieties of complex carbs; to aim for more unsaturated fat, especially omega-3, and less saturated fat; and to vary your food sources to get an abundance of vitamins and minerals.
Does this mean that nothing beyond the basics works? No, it doesn’t.
It means that mastering the basics is the true key to success. Everything else is a bonus, which requires you to have the basics down first in order to benefit from it.
For example, it might be true that eating most of your calories earlier in the day might have a better impact on body composition than eating at night. We don’t have enough evidence yet, but what we do have seems to suggest this.
Does this mean that, if you’re a shift worker, you’re doomed to never achieve your physique goals? Of course not.
If you focus on the pillars of healthy eating, you will succeed.
If you can add a bonus or two, that’s great, but they aren’t deal breakers.
2. You don’t need to follow a meal plan to lose fat
Countless times, I have heard people say they can’t lose weight unless they’re on a meal plan.
The first time I was thirteen, and one of my friends was on a strict diet plan. She was losing weight, but she didn’t enjoy any of her meals. Eating became a chore for her, and she felt lost without those specific rules.
She also often went off the plan and criticised herself for “failing again” and “eating everything in sight”.
More recently, someone got in touch with me for online training and said they had been following a meal plan for the past couple of months and had seen good results.
However, the plan was a little complicated to put into practice with a job that sometimes keeps them busy twelve hours a day for five days in a row.
The thing is, meal plans do work (when designed by someone who knows what they’re doing).
There is one fundamental caveat: they work as long as you follow them, because they don’t teach you anything.
They take all the guesswork out, telling you exactly what to eat, how much to eat, and when to eat it. If you do it, you lose weight.
However, you may not know why you are losing weight, what to do to maintain those hard-earned results when the diet ends, or what to do when you can’t follow the meal plan to the T.
What happens when you go out with friends? On holiday? At Christmas dinner?
Without this knowledge, you just stop following it. Then you beat yourself up for it and begrudgingly “get back on track”… or just give up altogether and revert back to your old habits.
That’s my beef with meal plans (pun intended). They can be nutritionally perfect, suit your lifestyle without a fault, and even be enjoyable.
But, as soon as you deviate from them, you’re back to square one.
On the other hand, learning the principles on which those meal plans are built will give you the tools to maintain the weight loss – or any other diet-related goal you might have – for the rest of your life.
Not only that – you will be able to eat what you want, how much you want, when you want it, and still get the results you’re after.
So what are these principles? Surprise surprise (not), they are the same listed under the first fitness truth in this article.
3. Burning fat doesn’t mean you will lose fat
“Do this exercise to burn fat!”
“Take this pill to burn fat!”
“Wear these workout clothes to burn fat!”
If you’ve never seen at least one of these claims before… Well, I’m happy for you. Unfortunately, I wasn’t that lucky.
Some of these statements might be true, others might be codswallop. Either way, it doesn’t matter, because you might not have to burn fat in order to lose fat.
And here I pause to listen to the sound of minds being blown.
Seriously, though. What does “burning fat” mean?
Your body utilises either carbohydrate or fat for fuel during exercise, depending on a variety of factors, like the intensity and duration of the workout, the type of energy system used during the workout, your current fitness level, and your diet.
Even if you did use a lot of fat for energy during a certain workout, your body has complex compensatory mechanisms, which would act to ensure you burn more carbohydrate later.
The key point is, if you are eating less energy than you expend (calorie deficit), then the amount of fat or carbohydrate you might be using at any given time will not make or break your diet.
At the end of the day, calorie balance is what matters most for fat loss or weight gain.
So stop worrying about whether you’re burning fat or carbs on your walk to the supermarket. Master the basics.
If you follow me on social media or if you’ve been reading my articles for some time, you might think that I tend to repeat the same basic principles – those stated in this piece – over and over again.
You are not wrong.
When it comes to nutrition and exercise science, there are only a handful of concepts that have been proven true by both research and real life experience over and over again.
The social media influencers who advertise a new “revolutionary” solution to your fitness problems every month are just trying to make a profit.
There isn’t anything wrong with that. We all need to make money somehow. However, know that this is what they’re doing, so you won’t be surprised when their product doesn’t yield the results you were hoping for.
It might, but it might not.
The fundamentals mentioned in this article, on the other hand, will always work.
In Future Episodes:
How does a complete beginner start their fitness journey the right way?
Is there any fitness-y claim you aren’t sure about? Let me know in the comments below!
A personal trainer who likes superheroes, bread, lifting weights, and studying “fitness stuff”.
Want to work with me? Check out my services!