There are so many nutrition rules floating around in the fitness industry. You may have heard that you must not eat carbs after the sun goes down, or you must never skip breakfast, or you must always slam down a protein shake immediately after your final set. It can be confusing to know which rules are important to follow, and which ones are complete baloney.
Today I will break down some of the most common nutrition rules and myths, sharing my personal experience with each, to hopefully clear up some of the confusion.
1. You must eat 30g of protein with each meal
Let’s start with a rule I actually believe to be true. Many people make the mistake of snacking on high carb/fat foods, such as a piece of fruit and a handful of nuts, and skip the protein. And, no, the amount of protein in 15 almonds is not substantial enough. The first change I make in my clients’ diets is usually to ensure each meal contains a source of lean protein, such as meat, fish, eggs, cottage cheese or protein powder.
Basing the foundation of your meals around protein will fuel your muscle growth and fat loss (which will, in turn, improve your body composition) and keep you fuller for longer.This rule is closely tied to the idea that you should eat 1 gram of protein per pound of bodyweight, which I consider a decent guideline.
2. You must never combine fat and carbs
This rule states that you may have protein and carbs, or protein and fat, but never protein, carbs and fat together. I’m not going to get into the reasons this idea was first brought about (largely due to the fact that carbohydrates stimulate the release of insulin, which primes your body for fat storage), and we could debate it all day, but I do not believe it to be true.
Almost every single meal I eat contains protein, carbs AND fat, and I’m currently in a fat loss stage. Having an apple and almond butter is not going to turn you into an oompa loompa.
3. You must eat breakfast immediately upon waking
There is so much conflicting information out there on this subject. I personally do not eat breakfast until 11am or 12pm – if you can still call it breakfast at that time. Immediately after I wake up, I have a coffee and do a couple of hours of work before eating. This helps me to knock out work at my most productive time of day without being distracted by food, and it also helps when I’m trying to cut weight – by logic, the fewer hours you spend eating over the course of the day, the better.
However, if your goal is to gain weight, I recommend eating as much as possible as often as you can – that typically means eating as soon as you wake up and right before you go to bed. I also don’t recommend intermittent fasting, especially in women, as it can wreak havoc on your hormones.
4. You must eat mini meals every 2-3 hours
The idea behind this is that regular, small meals will fuel your metabolic “fire”. I used to eat like this, and I found it annoying. I was always thinking about my next meal, I constantly had to carry around tupperware containers with me, and I was never satisfied by eating small portions of 300 calories. I prefer eating three larger meals per day.
Studies have proven that eating three meals compared to six meals, for example, has the exact same effect on your body, provided your overall caloric intake is the same. So, in the end, how many times you eat per day should come down to personal preference.
5. You should not eat after 7pm
I wish this myth would die already! Although it is true that your hormone levels vary throughout the day, and that you don’t expend as much energy when you are sleeping as when you are awake, it does not matter what time of day you eat. Again, it is ultimately a matter of how many calories you consume per day.
The earliest I ever eat dinner is 9pm, but most nights it’s closer to 11pm. You bet I am also eating carbs in this meal, too – in defiance of what Dr. Oz may have told me about eating carbs after dark.
6. You must eat immediately after a workout
Gone are the days where I had to down a protein shake immediately after I finished working out. These days, I typically eat about an hour after finishing my workout. Sometimes – gasp! – it’s closer to two. If you can, I recommend eating within 60 minutes of your workout, but you are not going to lose all your “gains” if you don’t.
Verdict: Somewhat true.
7. All calories are created equal
Many proponents of IIFYM (if it fits your macros) claim that all that matters is your total calorie intake and macro balance. If you consume the majority of your calories via “healthy” foods, you will have room to include “naughty” foods such as donuts, pop tarts and Ben and Jerry’s. We have all heard about those people losing weight while eating nothing but McDonald’s.
However, eating 100 calories’ worth of broccoli compared with 100 calories of potato chips does not have the same effect on your body. Not only do these foods affect your hormones differently, but they have different effects on your appetite. Where possible, use common sense and choose food in its most natural state.
8. You must cut out carbs, fat, sugar, gluten, dairy, etc to lose weight
There is no food group that is solely responsible for weight gain. There is no reason to cut out an entire food group, unless you have a medical reason for doing so. In many cases, cutting out food groups can actually make you gain weight (we all know at least one person who thinks gluten-free cakes must be healthy and can therefore be eaten in abundance).
Similarly, cutting out an entire macronutrient (carbs or fats) is not the way to go. Although you may initially see results when you commence such a diet, it is mostly water weight. Your body needs carbohydrates and fat to function optimally, and cutting out either is dangerous and silly.
9. Soy is a health food
Many people replace dairy and meat with soy products, as they believe the latter is healthier. I hate to break it to you, but it’s not. Soy is genetically modified. It contains phytates, which inhibit nutrient absorption, and it also contains isoflavones, which disrupt your natural hormone production.
I usually recommend that people avoid soy if they can.
10. Red meat causes cancer
You may have recently seen a resurgence in headlines claiming that red meat and processed meats such as bacon and sausage cause cancer.
The way I see it is that practically everything is thought to give you cancer these days. You can either spend your life walking around in fear, or you can enjoy your bacon and eggs. Again, use common sense: a moderate amount of these foods will not hurt you.
Which one of these rules do you follow? Do you disagree with any of my verdicts?
PS. My first newsletter went out on Monday. I will be announcing some exciting news in the next one so, if you haven’t already done so, please sign up here to ensure you don’t miss out!