Vampire Myths: Bad science that won’t die

I was inspired to write this article when I read Tim Ferriss’ excellent book The Four Hour Body, I highly recommend it to both trainers and trainees. A vampire myth defined is a myth (something untrue) that will just not go away, like a vampire you can’t kill hence the name. Quite frankly I hear many brain dead myths regarding training and nutrition on a regular basis, everyone’s an expert didn’t you know? It’s got to the point where everywhere I go people try to show me their knowledge of training in most cases they just show me their lack of knowledge and logic. When both my Mum and my barber told me about how bad eggs were for me (on seperate occasions in the same week!) my patience wavered. So I’ve decided to execute these Vampire myths once and for all with a swift stake to the heart.

Vampire Myth 1: Eggs increase cholesterol

This is probably the most common nutrition myth and is so far from the truth it’s shocking. Eggs increase cholesterol. This statement is 100% true. However, one key word is missing that turns this statement on its head. Eggs increase GOOD cholesterol! That’s right eggs increase HDL (good cholesterol) not LDL (bad cholesterol). This original study was conducted by a cereal company! It’s no wonder that the conclusions were so negative towards having eggs for breakfast. Also, dried egg yolk powder and not real eggs were used in this study! Not only does nobody eat dried egg yolk powder, but in and of itself, dried yolk powder is toxic to blood vessels because it’s been oxidized. Eggs are a great protein source and cheap. Never use just egg whites alone the yolk actually offsets the insulin response from the white and contains healthy fats. If you’re watching your calories from fats its fine to have say 4 whites with 1 yolk. A note on cereal is that it’s a great way to increase your body-fat! Sugary cereals combined with insulinogenic milk will have your storing body-fat at an alarming rate not to mention have you crash hard one hour later. What really grates me is that the majority of cereal advertisements are aimed at children. If you have kids try replacing their cereal with eggs and watch their performance in school improve.

Vampire Myth 2: Athletes did not need more protein than sedentary individuals and excessive protein damages the kidneys

This myth will just not disappear. The American Dietetics Association (ADA), despite evidence to the contrary, continues to assert that the protein requirements of “normal” people are about 0.4g/lb. According to the ADA, this is estimated to meet the needs of 97.5% of the US population. So if I fit into that 97.5% of “normal people” I would only need 80g per day, that’s roughly 2 protein shakes. Now for obvious reasons I am not going to experiment with the recommendations of the ADA. The truth is your intake is dependent on your goals. Those aiming for muscle hypertrophy need to aim for 1.5g/lb. An excellent review on dietary protein intake for athletic populations concluded that the requirements for athletes are 112-125% higher than sedentary individuals. In terms of high protein diets causing kidney damage I will quote sports nutrition expert Dr John Berardi whom I have a great deal of respect for:

“And as far as the kidney discussion, there is no scientific evidence that a high protein intake will sufficiently tax the kidneys of healthy individuals. If there are prior kidney problems, excess protein may present a problem, so before increasing protein intake considerably, a complete medical exam is in order.”

Vampire Myth 3: Fruit juice is healthy

I hear this one all the time. What people need to realise is that fructose is a fast acting sugar that will spike insulin. I am not suggesting everyone take fruits out of their regular diet completely. However, a large glass of orange juice contains 250kcal and 60g of sugar, that’s 12 teaspoons! If I have a personal training client whose goal is to put on weight I will use some liquid drinks because you can consume a large amount of calories in a very short space of time. My point being high calorie fruit juices are not what you should be having if you’re trying to reduce your body fat. Vegetables contain all the nutrients fruits do minus the sugar. Fruit is nature’s dessert so treat it as such. A good rule when choosing fruit is that the thinner the skin the more nutrients it contains. Fruits with thin skins have to produce more anti-oxidants to protect them from the sun’s harmful rays. I should also state here that there is a big difference in blending your own fruit juice from whole fruit compared to concentrate juices. Homemade juices can form part of a healthy diet however, it all depends on your current body-fat level and how lean you want to get.

Vampire Myth 4: All calories are created equal

A calorie is a calorie right? If you eat 100kcal of starch it is the same as eating 100kcal of sugar….right? Wrong, the hormonal response elicited differs depending on the macro-nutrient (carbohydrates, fats, protein or alcohol). For example, fat is the only macronutrient that will not cause the release of the storage hormone insulin, whereas, carbohydrate will stimulate the release of insulin. In a recent study of the effect of each macronutrient on fat loss subjects were placed on a strict semi-starvation diet of 1000kcal containing either 90% carbohydrate, 90% fat or 90% protein. The carbohydrate group actually gained fat! The protein group lost the most body fat.

The full results are below:

90% fat = weight loss of 408g per day.

90% protein = weight loss of 272g per day.

90% carbohydrate = weight GAIN of 108g per day.

This study proves that not all calories are created equal. While I am not anti-calorie counting, far from it actually, what I am suggesting is that you need to understand how it’s also about the hormonal effect of foods you consume. Your calorie source can dictate your results.

These myths are like bad smells that won’t go away. Misinformed journalists and, unbelievably, some medical practitioners are still spouting some of this incorrect information. Now you know the truth about them the next time someone says “Aren’t eggs bad for cholesterol?” as you’re eating an omelette please set them straight for the good of everyone else!

MikeH profile3 300x199 Female fatloss series: Breaking bad eating habits
Mike Hoad MSc Personal Trainer & Co-Founder of Definitive Physique

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