“With great power comes great responsibility.” Thanks, Uncle Ben. The line may be taken from the pages of a comic known for its red and blue hero, but it carries an air of truth in the real world. Take the people who live and breathe nutrition and fitness, for example. In this sub-culture, rumors spread like wildfire and misinformation bounces from an office worker’s cube to the VP’s desk in less than a day. The same person who shouts, “Why are you eating all those eggs? A study said they cause cancer!” can spout “You should eat six eggs a day for your heart’s health,” just a few months later. The fact of the matter is that information changes, and we’ve come a long way from the 1950s FDA study that concluded “fat in the food is fat on the body.” With such a wealth of advice and misinformation ready to confuse us, here are three simple mistakes people make with both food and fitness — starting with the tasty stuff.
Not enough protein. Let’s face it, this is number one in every mistake list. Hell, the FDA only recommends fifty grams for anyone over the age of four. It doesn’t break it down by body composition, gender, or even age. Fifty grams is on the low end for a woman with no fitness training, so it’s way too little to maintain any sort of mass on a guy. You should be getting about a gram per pound of lean body mass. For me, that’s 165 to 170 grams of protein per day. Over three times the FDA’s rather ludicrous recommendation.
Too many carbs. Low and behold, another effect of that great 1950s study — the overconsumption of carbohydrates. Listen, I get it. Carbs are important for energy and usually found in the most delicious foods. But to be the basis of an entire diet? That’s heinous. Fats and proteins are far more important, especially when trying to lose weight. Your body needs to process your body fat and the best way to do that is limit the fastest metabolizing nutrient. Keep your carbohydrates towards the end of the day, or after your workout, to maximize your body’s natural insulin processes.
Being too strict. This might be controversial, but something I’ve learned after years of trying to lose weight is that being too strict with my diet is a recipe for failure. Cheat once in a while — just on your diet, though. It keeps things fresh and interesting and gives you something to look forward to. I’m the first to admit that chicken, veggies and rice every day is one boring as hell nutrition plan. Instead, mix things up and plan each day ahead — it’ll ensure that you don’t destroy all the progress you’ve made with a visit to Krispy Kreme.
Diet isn’t everything, though. Mistakes are just as easy to make in and around the gym. Here are three of the most common.
No cardio. I’ve put this one first because I’m guilty of it. I loathe cardio. I’d rather walk across a bed of nails, with a loving poke from a cow prod waiting for me at the other end, than jog a mile. Sadly, though, it’s important. The heart is the most important muscle in your body — it pretty much runs everything. It’s the Oprah of organs. So, you need to run to make sure it runs well. A short session of HIIT (interval training), no more than 15 minutes long, is enough to burn extra body fat and keep your heart healthy. Even something as small as ten minutes of walking can significantly reduce your risk of heart attack.
Too Much Cardio. On the other end of the scale, do too much cardio and you’ve stopped benefitting your heart and body. All you’re doing at this point is subjecting yourself to mental games and putting your body at risk of stress injuries, like fractures and tears. For general fitness, you don’t need more than 3 sessions of cardio a week. The more intense the cardio, the better. Studies show high intensity cardio burns more fat post-workout and leads to a bigger increase in oxygen efficiency than low intensity workouts over longer periods of time. It’s simple. Work harder for less time and you’ll feel a greater benefit.
The Mental Game. Not being in the right mental state for the gym is the easiest mistake to make by far. “I worked out yesterday, I should take the day off.” “I don’t want to over train, it could hurt my gains!” “There’s no way I can lift that weight!” Quit lying to yourself. Develop tricks to get yourself into the right mindset if you have to. When I get home, even if I don’t want to go to the gym, I put on my shorts. After the first leg goes in I’m in routine mode, and the next thing I know I’m warming up. Don’t worry about failing a lift, there are ways to fail without hurting yourself — and no one gives a damn if you can’t bench something. You’re doing more than your roommate watching reruns of The Golden Girls, so get in there and just Get. It. Done.
Then go home and watch reruns of The Golden Girls, naturally.