More Fitness Myths Debunked

This article was first published in The Hindu in March 2018.

When and what to eat; when to work out; which work out for a particular age… there are so many myths in the fitness world. This article tells you what’s right and what’s not.

More fitness myths debunked

Vegetarians cannot build muscle or perform as well as athletes who eat meat.

This is not necessarily true. In a beautiful review of research done on Vegetarianism and fitness/athletic prowess, David C. Neiman, examines the impact of a vegetarian diet on fitness in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.

Carbohydrate and not protein is the first choice as an immediate source of energy during exercise, even weight training. When the body is depleted of glycogen, it begins to break down protein from the muscle to avail energy.

Protein is necessary for repair and growth of muscle during recovery.

It has been found that a vegetarian diet does not necessarily lead to protein deficiency as believed. One does not need to eat protein exclusively from animal sources to reap the benefits. What is required is a variety of vegetarian foods, including different kinds of pulses, lentils, nuts, seeds, whole grains and cereals. Although an isolated plant food source does not contain all the essential amino acids that are required and cannot be considered a “complete protein”, eating combinations of varied plant foods will create the necessary complete proteins.

A vegetarian diet also encourages the intake of a larger quantity of fruits and vegetables, which contain antioxidants that reduce the oxidative stress of exercise.

Protein requirements for recreational weight training to build muscle can be very easily met with a well-balanced vegetarian diet. Protein supplements are certainly not mandatory. Consuming adequate amounts of pulses, whole grains, nuts and seeds will fulfil the recommended amount of 0.8-1.4 gm/kg body weight of protein/day depending on your level of activity.

Your training intensity and strategy determines how much muscle you build with weight training. Consuming protein powders in the hope of building muscle, while not training adequately does not.

Famous cyclist Adam Myerson, body builders like Alexander Dargatz and Andreas Cahling, legendary tennis players Chris Evert and Martina Navratilova, celebrated track and field athlete Edward Moses, Greg Chappell and the late Jack Lalanne, body builder and fitness expert, are all vegetarians or vegans and have magnificent bodies to show for it.

Vegetarianism should not be a reason for an ineffective workout or a well-trained body. The fundamental principle is balanced nutrition; smart training to keep fat per cent at the optimum and strength, stamina and flexibility to the maximum.

The best time to workout is in the morning:

Hard to convince someone who is not particularly a ‘morning person’ of this theory. It is not necessarily true. Every individual has a different body rhythm. Not everyone can jump out of bed and run out the door in their trainers at an unearthly hour. Particularly when starting a fitness programme, try and accommodate it into the most comfortable time of the day for yourself instead of adding further stress by trying to wake up early.

Some people do very well with a mid-day workout while others prefer a late evening routine. A short intense pre-lunch workout may be just right for a working person. By the end of the day she may be too tired to fit in an hour in the gym. Alternately, others may find that working out later in the evening is de-stressing after a long day and helps them unwind and even sleep better (provided it is not too close to bed-time).

Work with your own body, not against it. More important that when you workout, is how you workout and how you feel after your workout and for the rest of the day. If you are going to walk around in a daze all day as a result of an early morning, this may not be the best option for you.

Age is a constraint to working out:

Very often I hear people say they are too old to start working out.

What is “too old”? Today, 40 is the new 30 and 60 is the new 40. Age should never be a constraint to starting an exercise programme, provided you have clearance from your physician and are monitored and guided by qualified professionals.

I was recently most delighted to receive a mail from a reader who says she is in her 50s and participating in half marathons. We don’t often see this in our country. Women, particularly, tend to get complacent after their child-bearing years and settle into a sedentary lifestyle, with perhaps a walk in the park and some gentle yoga to convince themselves that they are working out.

Starting a Weight Training programme as late as the 90s has been found to be beneficial in improving strength, muscles mass and daily functionality.

The motive for exercise changes with age. As children, it is mostly fun. In the 20s, it is typically cosmetic. Prevention of disease is far from even contemplated. One feels invincible, the only concern being, getting into those skinny jeans. And of course these days it is hip to be seen gymming or carrying around yoga mat.

In your 30s, you probably start to think about needing to lose all that weight you gained during pregnancy. If you have been unfortunate enough not to have exercised previously, then the annoying back pains, fatigue, gastritis, depression, mood swings and so on set in and life becomes a chore. Maybe exercise will help, you consider it.

In your 40s and 50s, women particularly, come into their own. They are more confident and able to make decisions for themselves. Societal and family pressure is not a priority. The reality sinks in, as the weight gets more obstinate and unyielding. Lifestyle diseases like hypertension and diabetes may make their appearance. Or at least you consider the possibility that they may. So you begin your journey into fitness. If you are already a veteran, you will be enjoying the benefits.

Later in your life, basic day-to-day functionality is of prime concern. Most people exercise later in life only because they have probably been recommended exercise by their physicians to control blood pressure, diabetes and so on. The incidence of falls and injury due to lack of balance increases and the fear of invalidity and dependence can keep people active.

Point is: one doesn’t even need to justify the reasons to start exercising at any age. It should be a non-negotiable part of your day, just like cleaning your teeth or eating. If you haven’t started already, please do.  

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