Fitness expert debunks common diet and workout myths

Weight training won’t make you bulky and you CAN eat carbs after 4pm: Fitness expert debunks common diet and workout myths and reveals the best tactics to get in shape

  • There are lots of fitness misconceptions out there so it’s hard to know what’s true
  • FEMAIL consulted London-based fitness expert Stef Williams to bust myths
  • Includes idea sit ups will give you abs and ‘not sweating means you’re not trying’

With gyms currently closed in the UK, most of us are relying on virtual home workouts or going out for a walk, run or cycle to keep in shape.

But with so much information out there on what to do (and what not to do) to tone up or lose weight, it can be tricky to decipher fact from fitness fiction.

From not eating carbs before bedtime to avoiding weight training for fear of bulking up, there are dozens of misconceptions and contradictions out there which could potentially be sabotaging our efforts.

To help us get on the right track, FEMAIL consulted London-based health and fitness expert Stef Williams, who recently launched her wellbeing app GLOW.

Here Stef busts the most common diet and fitness myths she’s come across in her career – and offers advice on how to tailor your workout to suit your goals. 

FEMAIL consulted London-based health and fitness expert Stef Williams, who recently launched her wellbeing app GLOW, to bust common workout and diet myths

Don’t eat after 4pm if you want to lose fat 

This is a total myth! There’s no ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ time to eat – all that matters is your total calories consumed in a day, versus calories burnt. 

However, that’s not to say there aren’t benefits to eating some of your meals at certain points in the day based on your schedule. 

I’d always recommend trying to eat one to two hours before a workout (two hours for a larger meal, with more complex carbohydrates, one hour if you only have time for a snack, i.e. fruit) in order to maximise your performance in your workout. 

Eating too soon before a workout will mean the workout feels tougher due to your digestive system working hard to digest your meal, diverting blood and oxygen away from your muscles.

Stef told how it’s a myth that you should avoid eating after 4pm if you want to lose fat – there’s no ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ time to eat

Leave it too long and your body will lack the energy required to perform its best. 

Ironically, if you’re someone that struggles with sleep, eating a meal with a good portion of complex carbohydrates as your last meal of the day can actually improve your night’s rest! 

Carbohydrates help boost levels of both tryptophan and serotonin which aid deeper and better quality sleep.

You need to work out five times a week for fat loss 

OK, let’s debunk this one! You don’t technically need to work out at all to lose fat – as long as you’re burning more calories than you’re consuming. 

However, working out might speed up the process as you’ll be using more calories. 

Stef says carbohydrates help boost levels of both tryptophan and serotonin which aid deeper and better quality sleep

There’s no set time or frequency for how often you have to work out and each individual will see different results due to things such as their metabolic rate, muscle density and so on. 

I can’t stress enough that there are benefits far beyond what you look like with working out, especially at the moment; from your mental health to body confidence and your overall physical health!

Weight training won’t make you bulky, according to Stef

Weight training makes you ‘bulky’ 

No, no, no and – one more – no! It saddens me that this fear of looking ‘bulky’ puts women off lifting weights. 

The first thing to understand is that biologically, for a woman, it’s far more difficult to ‘bulk’ than a man as we have 15-20 per cent less testosterone in our bodies. 

Testosterone is one of the hormones required to build large muscle mass. If you consistently lift weights, apply progressive overload (lift heavier over time) and you’re in a calorie surplus, yes your muscles will grow in size, but it’s not biologically possible to simply pile on muscle overnight. 

Remember that female bodybuilders you see train day in, day out for years, even decades, to have the amount of muscle they do. 

Weight training has so many benefits; not only does it improve bone density and your mood, but it helps you to develop more ‘muscle tone’ and unlike fat loss you can specifically target the areas you would like to grow, such as your glutes.

‘I don’t sweat much when I lift weights so it can’t be doing much’

I hear this all the time and you guessed it – it’s a myth! Sweating is not an indicator of the effectiveness of a workout, or even the number of calories burnt. 

Every individual has their own sweat rate based on a number of factors such as age, sex, genetics and their fitness level. 

Stef says you don’t technically need to work out at all to lose fat – as long as you’re burning more calories than you’re consuming

The only thing you need to focus on is the effort you put into your weightlifting sessions; are you lifting the maximum you can with good form? Are you resting for the appropriate length of time? Are you performing the movement correctly with good tempo? 

All of these can affect your sweat level during a workout.

Carbs make you fat 

Another myth! No single food makes you ‘fat’ and there’s no food that you ‘need’ to cut out of your diet. Everything is fine in moderation and you should treat yourself. 

The only time you need to remove a food is if you’re intolerant to it, have an allergy or if you want to do so for ethical or moral reasons. 

Carbs are amazing and should be your main source of energy in a healthy diet. They help your muscles to recover and will reduce sugar cravings as they release glucose (energy!) into the bloodstream slowly. 

The best carbs for you are the ones you eat closest to their natural state – so vegetables, quinoa, couscous, whole grains and so on.

Sit-ups will give you abs 

Everyone has abs! The question should really be, ‘do sit ups make your abs VISIBLE?’. 

The answer unfortunately is no. 

Sit-ups might strengthen your abs, but how visible your abs are depends entirely on your level of body fat. 

To have ‘visible’ abs, you need to be a certain body percentage, and sit-ups in that scenario could help make them ‘pop’. 

Bear in mind that genetics play some role here too.

Some people will naturally have more visible abs at a higher body fat percentage than others, and where we carry our fat and how it is distributed across our body comes largely down to genetics too. 

Above all, remember that ‘health’ looks different on everyone and every body; having visible abs is not a sign that someone is healthier or fitter than you are. 

I’d recommend incorporating compound movements such as squats and deadlifts that help build a strong core – not just sit-ups – and that will target muscle growth (and fat loss when in a calorie deficit) all over the body.

Muscle turns to fat if you stop training 

Another myth! Muscle and fat are two completely separate and different tissues in the body. 

Muscle is made up of protein, helps to control body movement and acts as a fuel store, giving you the energy you need to move. Your heart is a muscle, just the same as your bicep is a muscle! 

Fat is stored in fat cells, which lie under your skin and on top of your muscles. So you can’t actually turn muscle to fat, or even fat to muscle. 

Yes, you can lose muscle mass when you stop training (called atrophy) but it doesn’t melt away into fat, so do not fear!

Running is great for your mood, but Stef recommends incorporating strength training

Running is the best way to lose fat 

If you’re running a lot but eating more than you’re burning, then unfortunately no – you won’t lose fat or ‘tone up’. 

You need to follow a good nutrition plan too! 

Running is great for your mood and to get out in the fresh air but I’d always recommend introducing some strength training into your routine alongside running. 

Running can take a toll on your joints and your body quickly adapts to the routine, so it may not be as effective in burning calories as you might think!

Fat-burning workouts are best for losing fat 

Sorry guys, this one is a total myth! Our body’s ability to burn fat is dependent on our nutrition. 

When we’re eating less calories than we burn, our body must turn to fat stores as fuel to sustain us. 

So HIIT [high intensity interval training] is no more effective than a strength-based workout if you’re not in a calorie deficit. 

No workout can permanently boost your metabolism; HIIT or strength training can elevate your metabolism for a few hours after a workout but the ‘after-burn’ effect is really over-stated. 

I will say that the higher your muscle mass, the higher your resting metabolic rate, as muscle needs more energy to sustain itself. This can work out at 30-50 calories per day burnt per pound of muscle!

Follow Stef on Instagram – and download the GLOW app here:

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