Every January, an onslaught of trendy diets and seductive workout programs tempt us with claims of lightning-fast results. Attention-grabbing as they may be, though, many of these gimmicks and resulting misconceptions can prove counterproductive to your health and fitness goals in the long run.
“People are impatient or frustrated with themselves or last year’s lack or progress, so they set unrealistic goals that lead to crazy ideas like running a marathon when they’ve never been a runner, or bench pressing 400+ when they’ve never been in a gym,” says Roger E. Adams, Ph.D., doctor of nutrition and owner of eatrightfitness. “The industry knows this and plays to people’s fears and frustrations, which only leads to more setbacks.”
Well, 2021 is your year to clean up the clutter standing between you and results. It’s time to let go of false ideas about what it means to be healthy and fit. Here, the pros break down nine misconceptions about health and fitness worth kicking to the curb asap.
1. Cardio is the best workout for weight loss
Partaking in medium-to-high intensity cardio, such as running, swimming, or cycling, several times a week is a great way to torch calories. However, it’s not the only thing you should be doing to optimize weight loss. In fact, you’ll lose fat and maintain lean muscle more efficiently with strength training, according to Jennifer Giamo, C.P.T., NSCA-certified personal trainer and founder of Trainers in Transit. “You still get your heart rate up and burn calories with strength training, but you also build muscle, which will keep your resting metabolism up throughout the day even when you’re not working out,” she explains.
Read More: 5 Strength Moves Everyone Should Do
In addition to regular cardio, the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) recommends engaging in strength training (think bench presses, squats, and deadlifts) on at least two non-consecutive days each week.
2. Juice Fasts help Detox Your Body
A juice-only cleanse might give you the sense of “resetting” or “cleaning out your system,” but there is no evidence that your body needs to be detoxified by eliminating solid food. “Your body is naturally efficient and removes harmful chemicals through the liver, kidneys, and gastrointestinal tract,” Giamo explains. “There’s nothing about juice that will hurry that process along,” she says. “In fact, juicing removes fiber from fruits and vegetables, which aids in digestion, from your diet.”
While there’s nothing wrong with incorporating some juice into your routine, it should not be your only source of nourishment. Giamo advises her clients to focus on consuming whole foods, such as fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grains, and fermented foods. (For nutrient boosts, you can consider supplementing a well-rounded diet with superfood powders and green food powders.)
3. Low-calorie foods are always a better choice
Low-calorie foods like vegetables and fruits definitely have an important place in a balanced diet, but so do more energy-dense foods like quality proteins and healthy fats, notes Dr. Josh Axe, D.N.M., C.N.S., D.C., founder of Ancient Nutrition and member of The Vitamin Shoppe Wellness Council. “In order to feel full and satisfied—and to obtain all the essential nutrients you need—it’s important to strike a balance by eating a combination of fiber from complex carbs along with healthy fats and protein,” he says. Ideally, you’d incorporate this balance into every meal.
According to Axe, these types of meals are more likely to keep your blood sugar in balance, control your appetite, and to supply you with nutrients that keep your energy up.
4. You don’t really need rest days
There’s a reason why most trainers include rest days in their clients’ workout schedules. Not only does rest help you relax and keep stress in check, but it also helps you maintain a healthy metabolism, allows your muscles to recover, and prevents burnout and injuries, says Axe.
That’s why he recommends taking a rest day at least once per week. Axe also suggests sleeping the recommended seven to nine hours a night and carving out time for enjoyable, calming hobbies, such as yoga, reading, outdoor activities, and meditation.
5. Core exercises Lead to a six-pack
While abdominal exercises, such as crunches, can help strengthen the six-pack muscles and build lean muscle in the central part of the body, they’re not a golden ticket for washboard abs. “What’s missing from this equation is removing or reducing the layer of fat covering those muscles,” Adams says.
Read More: 5 Signs You’re Losing Muscle, Not Fat
“There is no such thing as spot reduction,” he explains. “You need a healthy diet that reduces calories coming in and an exercise program that increases caloric expenditure to lose fat in that area.” Basically, until you burn more calories than you consume and shed body fat, all of the sit-ups in the world won’t give you a ripped midsection.
6. Building muscle boosts your metabolism enough to make cardio unnecessary
This misconception has been hanging around the fitness industry for decades, according to Adams. While strength training is a must for long-term health and weight loss, your routine still needs a balance. “A gain of around 20 pounds of lean muscle only elevates the metabolism by around 100 calories per day, which is hardly enough to keep you off the treadmill,” he says. “While adding lean body mass does help change your shape, it doesn’t significantly change your resting metabolic rate.” Bottom line: Don’t go cold turkey on the cardio.
7. You’ll only Get results from longer workouts
If you think you have to dedicate 30-plus minutes a day to working out to reap the benefits, don’t curse your crunched schedule and throw in the towel. Some movement is always better than no movement, according to trainer and dietitian Carisa Galloway, R.D.N., C.P.T. “If you only have 10 minutes, go for a tabata or HIIT session, or sneak in a brief walk in between business meetings,” she says. The idea, she explains, is that something is better than nothing. “If you burn 150 calories in a 20-minute tabata, that’s still better than the zero you would burn if you totally skipped the workout,” she adds.
And, just in case you’re skeptical, both HIIT and tabata have been shown to help improve cardio endurance, even if only done for 20 minutes at a time. So you really can get fitter without spending hours at the gym.
8. You need to go low-carb to lose weight
You’ve probably heard some sentiments about how carbs are the enemy throughout the past few years, but they’re actually integral to a well-balanced diet. “Complex carbohydrates, found in whole grains, beans, and vegetables, have many benefits for the human body—with the main one being that they provide you with energy,” says certified personal trainer, nutritionist and weight loss specialist Dominic Anthony, C.P.T. In fact, consuming carbohydrates ahead of moderate to intense exercise has been linked to reduced risk of injury, so if exercise is a significant part of your weight-loss plan, you might not want to quit the carbs. Anthony recommends consuming complex carbs, such as oatmeal, about an hour before workouts.
9. Counting calories is the Simplest Way to Lose Weight
Counting calories has been a popular tool associated with dieting and weight loss for decades, but California-based functional nutritionist Risa Groux, C.N., believes it’s a flawed approach. “We know that weight loss depends on several critical factors, such as thyroid function, blood sugar regulation, and sex hormone and/or cortisol imbalance,” she says.
Basically, counting calories is not as cut and dry as it may seem. Weight loss works differently for different people. Plus, not all calories are created equal. For instance, quality proteins and produce provide your body with significantly more nutrition per calorie than highly-processed products. Focus on quality first and quantity will sort itself out.