July 20, 2012

The Common Myths of Exercise and Nutrition

I spent my day giving a talk on nutrition and exercise to the most inquisitive bunch I have ever met. In fact, they kept me 30 minutes after the class to ask questions and talk nutrition (ya...I'm that good).

I think the most enjoyable part of my job is debunking all the myths about exercise and nutrition. The shock and awe of it all is almost entertaining for me. There was a bit of this today and I thought I would share some of these with you (my faithful reader).

Stretching after a workout does NOT prevent muscle soreness.
This has been a myth for over 20 years now and people still believe it (including personal trainers and coaches). Microscopic muscle fiber tears cause muscle soreness and there is nothing you can do about it until the muscle fiber mends (usually within 2 days).

Stretching after a workout does NOT rid the muscle of lactic acid.
Lactic acid is a by-product of high intensity training (either intense cardio or resistance training) and arrives at the muscle site; changes the pH levels so it burns (it burns!) and over 24 hours travels back to where it came from. You can always flush it out of the muscle sooner by light physical activity like stationary bike, but it isn't neccessary. 

Lettuce isn't nutritionally significant.
If you are trying to eat more salad for health be aware that lettuce or the light leaves don't have much nutritional value; the dark leaves do. Chop up some swiss chard, bok choy, kale, spinach and even cabbage and you will have a potent mix of cancer fighting greens for salad and stirfry.

Chocolate milk is one of the best post workout meals you can choose.
You have this window of opportunity after you workout (about 30 - 60 minutes) to get the best bang for your nutritional buck. Food combinations are your best bet and they include a carbohydrate (to replenish your glycogen storage), and protein (to help mend tissue and keep you feeling full) and liquid. Chocolate milk has all three (not to mention I haven't met a client yet who argues against drinking it).

Stretching before a workout does nothing.
This myth was debunked over 20 years ago but is still alive and well. Stretching before a workout (while the body is still cold) will not help prevent injuries; in fact, it may increase the risk of them due to cold muscles. Stretching after a workout when the body is nice and warm (holding a stretch for a maximum of 30 seconds) is the best bet for reduction in injury and improving flexibility.

You don't need nutritional supplementation to achieve high performance.
This one is a harder myth to debunk. The gym culture keeps the supplementation industry alive and well (and artifically enhanced) and no one is going to tell them any different. Although there is no real risk with most protein and creatine powders (especially in Canada where the quality control is higher) the powders / pills that promise weight loss and increased energy usually have a stimulant or two in there (the natural kind...from the depths of Africa). The truth? If you eat well and thoughtfully and educate yourself of plateau defeating training methods (especially in the weight room)...you won't need anything that comes in a tub, box, or capsule.

That's all I got for now. Those were the highlights of the day. I find the industry of food and exercise such a fascinating one and one that continues to blow me away.  It seems that a new superfood or exercise is "invented" each day to keep the dieter or exercise enthusiast interested (to the point of purchase, failure, and depression...but then we have the drug industry to pick up the slack in those cases).

If you have any chance of navigating through the snakeoil (while keeping your sanity and good health) I highly recommend exercising your critical thinking skills. Learn how to research, read more about the topic from a reputable source, and question all the crap you see in the media (and in the gym). As public toilets breed germs, the media breeds mythology, ignorance, and complacency (ouch!)....but it's true.

Have a great weekend!

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