Food fallacies – separating fact from fiction on physical activity/exercise

Nutrition, physical activity and exercise go hand-in-hand impacting each other.  When we’re physically active, our bodies require the calorie-yielding nutrients of carbohydrates, protein and fat to fuel our ability to move, build new muscle tissue and supply vitamins and minerals helping regulate various functions. 

Physical activity benefits nutrition by determining the use of the calorie-yielding nutrients, improving body composition and ensuring valuable nutrients enter into our body tissues. 

Combining a nutritious diet with daily exercise and physical activity makes for a powerful dynamic duo influencing human health.

This article focuses on common myths associated with physical activity and exercise. Physical activity and exercise have different meanings even though both involve movement, muscle contraction, and increased calorie expenditure.  Physical activity is defined as “bodily movement produced by muscle contractions that substantially increase energy expenditure.”   Exercise is defined as “planned, structured, and repetitive bodily movement that promotes or maintains physical fitness.”  Let’s take a look at some misconceptions associated with both:

1.    Fallacy: “I’m busy throughout the day therefore I’m physically active”

Fact: Many people feel they are already “busy” with activities associated with their job, tending to children or doing errands.  If the daily physical activity involves movement such as walking up steps, household chores, or gardening, these can be included.  Generally being active is associated with sports or recreational activities of at least 30 minutes on most days of the week.  Ideally you want a combination of both physical activity throughout each day along with a planned exercise routine.  If you’re “busyness” is related to more sedentary activities like paying bills or driving long distances that does not count.

2.    Fallacy: Sports drinks are the best beverage for keeping hydrated for all exercise activities

Fact: If you are exercising less than 60 minutes a day, water is the best beverage to keep you hydrated.  Since there is nothing to break down in water, it rapidly enters into the tissues of the body, cooling you from the inside out.  Sports drinks are mainly for endurance athletes or people exercising more than 90 minutes a day who will be using up their stored muscle glycogen that needs to be replaced.  Sports drinks do provide glucose in the form of sugar to keep up energy needs during an endurance event along with water to prevent dehydration. Sports drinks also provide electrolytes of sodium and potassium to replenish what the body loses when you sweat. 

3.    Fallacy: If you exercise, you can eat whatever you want

Fact:  Not the case.  No matter how hard you are working out, if you slack on your eating habits by choosing unhealthy food, your body won’t be getting the proper nourishment it needs.  Muscles being exercised need key nutrients to help repair injuries and to replace nutrients being utilized.  There’s a saying that goes a healthy body is made 40 percent in the gym and 60 percent in the kitchen.  Consuming a nutritious diet made up of healthy fats, protein, and carbohydrates along with adequate fluids. 

4.    Fallacy:  Protein bars and protein shakes are a good choice for an after workout snack

Fact:  Some protein bars and shakes can be as most live up to their name of being high in protein BUT they tend to also be high in unnecessary ingredients.  Often, protein bars are essentially a candy bar – lots of calories, sugar and fat - making them a not so healthy food choice.  They also can be costly. After working out, your muscles do need replenishment with nutrients, particularly protein. When choosing a protein bar or shake, look for ones with less than 10 grams of sugar and no more than 5 grams of saturated fat. Natural sources of protein would be a better choice -  milk, eggs, meat, fish, chicken, beans, yogurt, peanut butter,  nuts and seeds –they not only provide protein and essential amino acids to repair and build muscles but also various important vitamins and minerals.  The cost is also more reasonable.

5.     Fallacy:  Physical activity is only for heart health

Fact:  Definitely not!  Keeping your heart healthy is just one aspect of why physical activity is important.   There are many other benefits you will gain by being physically active such as reducing the risk of cancer, osteoporosis, high blood pressure, diabetes, obesity, depression, anxiety, insomnia, gallbladder disease in addition to enhanced resistance to colds and other infectious diseases, improved body composition, better self-image and a higher quality of life. 

6.     Fallacy:  Stepping on a weight scale is your best indicator if you are getting in shape

Fact:  The only thing a scale will tell you is how much you weigh and has little to do with how fit you are.  The number that shows up when you step on a scale is just that – a number.  It’s not telling you your percent body fat or water content you are.  Weight can vary throughout the day – weigh yourself only once, first thing in the morning after urinating and before eating breakfast. Your goal is to increase your lean muscle mass and decreases body fat.  If you are lifting heavy weights, you’ll probably notice an increase in weight as muscle mass weighs more than fat.  A good way to tell if your exercise program is working is how your clothes are fitting along with using a tape measure to track progress of waist, hips, arm and leg measurements. 

7.    Fallacy:  Weight lifting or resistance training is really only meant for younger people and will not benefit the elderly

Fact:  Not true.  As we age, our muscle mass is gradually replaced with fat mass leading to a loss of physical mobility impairing the quality of life.  Elderly people should be encouraged to train regularly with weights to gain muscle strength, improve endurance and balance, maintain bone mass, improve posture and reduce the risk of injuries.  When the elderly engage in resistance training, huge benefits are seen in being able to walk farther distances without tiring along with delaying the loss of independence associated with daily living.

8.    Fallacy:  Athletes should be taking a vitamin/mineral supplement to enhance their athletic performance

Fact:  If an athlete is already well-nourished, nutrient supplements will not enhance performance.  Well-trained athletes who have a strenuous workout do require more calories but as long as they are eating sufficient nutrient-dense foods, they will be consuming adequate vitamins and minerals – most athletes do eat more food and with the right choices, they’ll get in the nutrients they need.  However, if an athlete is deficient in a certain vitamin or mineral, that can affect their athletic performance.  If the athlete is restricting food intake in order to “make weight,” then taking a balanced multivitamin-mineral tablet providing no more than the DRI recommended intake may prevent deficiencies. 

Everyone’s fitness goals will vary.  The recreational exerciser may primarily focus on improving health and appearance while the competitive athlete will focus more on enhanced performance in their particular sport.  The important thing is to make exercise and physical activity a daily part of your life along with a healthy diet and watch how doing so improves the quality of your life.