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Nutrition Myth Busting: Clar-e-ty Edition



The nutrition and fitness space is jack full of information. The inter-webs give access to a plethora of knowledge regarding just about any topic you can think of as it relates to health and fitness. However, trying to navigate what information is applicable to you or if a claim someone makes is backed by actual scientific evidence or is just them giving you anecdotal “evidence” or trying to sell you something can be rather tricky.


Although there are basic principles to what “works” for most people, usually, there’s a lot of nuance involved that goes into what nutrition protocols might work well for you. This is why we generally encourage people to stay away from black-and-white statements.


Humans are complex. We all have different routines, different preferences, different lifestyles, different schedules, and different goals, and, because of this, we’ve found that blanket statements such as “do this, not that” or “this is bad for you, this is not” aren’t usually beneficial or helpful.


Also, nutrition and fitness are constantly evolving. New research comes out every year, some of which, challenge old beliefs and ways of doing things so it’s important to stay up to date on what the current research says is “right.”


That being said, we’ve decided to debunk some nutrition myths today that we think are pretty outdated and need to die. As the space continues to evolve and change, we’re sure there will be more debunking to do, but we’re excited to share these 5 with you today.


So let’s get into it!


1. Eating after dark causes weight gain


This myth is a hot topic of discussion more often than not. This myth states that eating past a certain time at night inherently causes weight gain. Essentially insinuating that the calorie makeup of food increases every hour after dark.


But let’s think about this…


Will the time of day actually change the calorie makeup of foods?


A banana will have the same caloric value no matter if you eat it at 8 PM or if you eat it at 8:02 PM. Moreover, the calorie makeup of foods isn't influenced by the time at which it's eaten.


However, from a behavior standpoint, we have to look at what types of foods and in what quantities they’re typically consumed after dark or in the evenings.


More than likely, you’re thinking about ice cream, cookies, potato chips, and other higher-calorie/less nutrient-dense options and you’d be correct in thinking so! Because these foods are hyper-palatable (hard to stop eating), we tend to consume them in excess amounts. This is true even if we’ve already had dinner, or aren’t even really THAT hungry.


With that being said, it’s not the fact that having these foods past a certain time is causing weight gain or the type of foods themselves, but the fact that these foods are being consumed in excess amounts AND the behaviors and habits associated with these foods that can lead to weight gain over time more often than not.


For instance, sometimes eating at night or after dinner is just a habit we’ve created once we sit down in front of the TV, or start scrolling through social media. If you normally have a bowl of ice cream or reach for the chips after dinner, until you break that habit, you will continue to do it. Especially if you associate those foods with stress or boredom.


Also, decision fatigue is real! At the end of the day, it can be hard to choose the more nutrient-dense options instead of the quicker, easier, higher-calorie options if you haven’t had that much to eat that day, or don’t have any food prepped or ready-to-go for dinner. Because you're tired or stressed, you’re less likely to stop yourself from mindlessly overeating hyper-palatable foods.


Overconsuming throughout the entire day can put you out of the calorie deficit you’ve created for that day if you're dieting, or put you above your maintenance calories if you're maintaining.


Remember at the end of the day, your overall caloric intake is going to matter MORE than what time of day you consume your calories. This is why it isn’t the time of day, it’s the WHAT and HOW MUCH of the foods you could be eating in the evenings that are contributing to you not achieving your results.


2. The anabolic window


Although this myth has been debunked numerous times in the nutrition space, it’s still pretty prevalent today.


This is, in part, due to the fact that protein is the most under-consumed macronutrient in our society today and arguably the most important. Protein is essential for immune health, building and maintaining muscle, increasing your metabolism, keeping you satisfied and satiated between meals, and literally keeping you alive. That being said, this myth gets a lot of hype in the fitness and nutrition space.


The anabolic window is a term used to describe the 15 to 30-minute window post-exercise during which proper intake of carbohydrates and protein (more so protein) can shift your body from being in a catabolic state (breaking down muscle) to an anabolic (building muscle) one. Aka the process of giving your body energy to put towards recovery and to rebuild post-training.


This myth came about because hardcore “bro-sciencers” claim that consuming protein and carbs outside of this 15 to 30-minute post-training window is basically pointless because you’ve already lost all your gains from said training session. The same “bro-science” birthed the idea that you HAVE to drink your post-workout shake within a certain window, otherwise your session was pretty much unless from a hypertrophy standpoint.


However, the science to prove this post-exercise anabolic window is lacking.


A popular meta-analysis published in 2013 discussed whether protein and carbohydrate timing was of the utmost importance post-workout and if the peri-workout anabolic window for protein consumption is as short as 30 to 60-minutes after the completion of your final set/reps.


What this meta-analysis showed was that subject’s TOTAL daily protein intake mattered more than the timing of their protein post-exercise. More specifically, if you have a steady stream of amino acids coming from protein sources spread out over the course of the entire day.


In fact, another paper published by the same author indicated that consumption of a pre-workout meal can influence the urgency and effectiveness of specific post-workout meal timing. Meaning, if you’re consuming a pre-workout within 1-2 hours prior to your session, there’s some evidence to support that this meal can act as both a pre-and immediate post-workout meal since the digestion and absorption of nutrients for this meal will go beyond your workout window. Of course, this will depend on the size and composition of this meal, but these findings found that we still see maximal muscle protein synthesis and recovery with a protein-rich post-workout meal 1-3 hours post-exercise in an already fed state. Conversely, if you’re training fasted or early in the morning, it might be more advantageous for you to consume a post-workout meal quicker than you would otherwise.


The bottom line here is, we can see that when we have a consistent stream of amino acids coming in via frequent protein feedings (every 4-6 hours), the timing of our post-workout meal is somewhat irrelevant in terms of muscle growth and hypertrophy.


3. Sugar is bad for you


This is a narrative Team Clar-e-t y has been fighting for years and is still fighting full force daily.


Of course, there are foods that should be consumed less frequently and with more mindfulness, but we have to ask the question of WHO is sugar bad for and in what context?


If sugar was truly “bad” for us, why would our bodies primarily run off of glucose aka sugar?

Most carbohydrates that you consume, will get broken down in your body as glucose. It doesn’t matter if this is white rice, potatoes, honey, maple syrup, candy, or straight table sugar.


If we’re discussing reducing sugar consumption for an inactive individual who is overweight and overconsuming hyper-palatable foods already as well as under consuming protein, vegetables, fruit, fiber, etc., then yes. Reducing this person’s sugar consumption could be recommended.


However, if we’re discussing whether or not sugar is “bad” for the active individual who’s training 1-2 hours per day and consuming sufficient amounts of protein, fiber, vegetables, fruit, etc. already, probably not. In fact, this person will probably require more glucose or sugar to fuel their training and lifestyle if they have performance-related goals or require a larger amount of energy to meet their caloric needs for the day.


And on the spectrum of fast-digesting (simple sugars) and slow-digesting carbohydrates (fibrous), consuming simple sugars peri-workout is the perfect time to do so. You want insulin levels to spike because that’s how you get glycogen (glucose) back into your muscles to improve recovery and replenish the energy you just expended during training.


The main reason that sugar gets a bad rap is that when it’s combined with fat it becomes extremely easy to overconsume. It’s not that there’s anything inherently wrong with sugar itself, but that super hyper-palatable combination can become problematic. This hyper-palatable combo is found in baked goods, ice cream, etc.


Because this sugar and fat combo is higher in calories and lower in volume, from a behavior standpoint, consuming an excess amount of these hyper-palatable foods increases the likelihood of us entering into a caloric surplus, thus causing weight gain over time.


In fact, we’ve seen studies in rats, who when given the option to consume the hyper-palatable combo of fats and sugar or just sugar water, will choose the fat and sugar combo, overconsume, and gain excess weight over time. If only given the option to free fed on sugar water, they will not overconsume and drink sustainable amounts.


Plus, we see it time and time again. When we demonize a particular food group or the food itself, cravings for that particular food tend to increase, therefore, making it much harder to practice moderation when those foods are around.


In conclusion, the presence of sugar in one’s diet isn’t the problem.


It’s the LACK of (in most cases) protein, vegetables, fruit, fiber, and whole foods in general.


4. Starvation mode


Another fun myth we’re excited to debunk with you all today.


Starvation mode is the idea that you can enter into such an aggressive calorie deficit that your metabolism will slow down to the point that your body will start to put on fat despite being in a “calorie deficit.”


If you’ve been following us for a while you know that calorie deficit = weight loss, calorie surplus = weight gain, so is it possible to eat so little that you “wreck your metabolism” and gain fat while eating less and less…


In short, nope.


Despite what some fitness guru on Instagram might be telling you, you cannot lower your calories so much that it overcorrects by causing you to gain fat.


In fact, the most well-known study that disproves starvation mode is the Minnesota Starvation Study. In this study, researchers observed 36 men on a nutrition and fitness regime that had them eating roughly half of their caloric needs each day and walking almost 22 miles per week. The study took place over the course of 6 months and participants lost on average 37lbs!


What we can conclude from the Minnesota Starvation Study is that very low-calorie diets when combined with excessive amounts of exercise, DO NOT cause metabolic damage to the point where an individual is unable to lose weight.


Where a lot of the confusion occurs and what is usually the cause of stalled progress vs. starvation mode, is one (or both) of two big factors…


  1. You are actually in a calorie deficit, but your body is adapting by subconsciously moving less. If you recall what makes up how many calories our bodies “burn” in a day, you’ll remember that NEAT, or our non-exercise activity thermogenesis makes up 15% of our metabolism. This is the energy we burn walking, fidgeting, cleaning, and all the other little movements we perform outside of the gym on a daily basis. However, when we are trying to create a calorie deficit and eat less than we expend, our bodies will naturally down-regulate our energy output by simply moving less. This is simply your body being SMART and your metabolism adapting to be efficient using the energy you are bringing in not because you’re in starvation mode.

  2. You aren’t actually in a calorie deficit at the end of the week. Let us explain. Let’s say you work dang hard Monday-Thursday to eat in a calorie deficit by eating as little as possible, but by the time the weekend rolls around, you’re starving, underfed, and eating everything in sight. By eating in a super aggressive deficit during the week to only eat over your maintenance/in a surplus over the weekend, you could be unintentionally putting yourself out of the deficit you’re working so hard to create during the week. Therefore, it’s not the fact that you’re eating in a deficit and not losing fat or are in starvation mode….it’s that you’re eating at your maintenance or in a slight surplus after the weekend brunches, alcohol, pizza nights, etc.


Moreover, starvation mode isn’t a nutritional phenomenon…it’s just a misinterpretation of metabolic adaptation which we’ll dive more heavily into below!


5. Your metabolism is broken or damaged and that’s why you can’t lose weight


This myth is somewhat already debunked above BUT still is a good topic of discussion given it’s not uncommon for us to hear people say or tell us that they’ve wrecked their metabolism or it’s damaged from years and years of dieting or that it doesn’t work.


In short, you cannot break or damage your metabolism. It’s not a bone in your body.


In fact, your metabolism is dynamic and is actually meant to adapt and change throughout certain phases of life, dieting, etc.


When you’re actively pursuing fat loss and in a calorie deficit, metabolic adaptation is a completely normal and natural physiological response the human body created back in the day to feel “safe” during times of famines, food scarcity, etc.


The process of metabolic adaptation is anything that causes a decrease in metabolism during a calorie deficit. From a TDEE perspective, if you lose weight, there’s less of you to burn calories. Meaning, you would have a decreased RMR (aka the bare minimum number of calories your body needs to survive) and decreased metabolism.


Tacking onto that, to lose fat, we must generate a calorie deficit or eat less than our body expends on a daily basis. However, your body actually uses energy to digest and absorb food. This process is known as thermic effect of food. So, when we eat less food while in a calorie deficit, we burn less energy via TEF.


Our exercise and non-exercise activity is also affected by metabolic adaptation. Not only does dieting simply affect how much effort, and therefore, how much energy we expend during our workouts, but, as mentioned above, we subconsciously move less throughout the day while eating in a deficit. Less non-exercise movement = less energy burned.


Because metabolic adaptation is a biological response, we can’t prevent it from occurring. We can, however, implement a few strategies to reduce its impact on our results such as...

  1. Avoiding a large calorie deficit (<20% in most cases) – larger, more aggressive deficits can speed up metabolic adaptation and metabolic slowdown as well as be veryyyyy unsustainable.

  2. Minimizing stress – being in a calorie deficit is already stressful in itself, so minimizing other stressors as much as possible when dieting can reduce the impacts of metabolic adaptation.

  3. Avoiding dropping carbs too low- Low carb diets are allll the rage because they produce rapid WATER weight loss, however, carbs impact leptin wh