The nutrition world is full of misinformation, myths, and bad advice. This is an unfortunate reality that I see firsthand as a Sports Dietitian working with athletes 1:1 in the “trenches”. With the ease of information consumption and the abundance of “gurus” who have no place giving nutrition advice, it is easy for athletes to fall prey to nutrition myths and B.S.
In today’s blog post, I share with you the top 10 nutrition myths that you need to stop believing and avoid letting influence your nutrition and lifestyle. These are myths that simply won’t die but should as they make nutrition for athletes harder - or quite literally worsens the quality of a nutrition plan.
The reality is that there's a lot of nutrition information out there that is simply not correct. I personally see it time and time again and it leads many athletes astray because when you have the wrong information then you're obviously going to be doing the wrong thing. Or you're gonna be going into it with the wrong mindset. Both of these situations are not conducive to long-term success with your nutrition, sport, and/or fitness. That is why it's my duty to address this and reveal the nutrition myths you need to know to avoid in order to more effectively level up your nutrition.
Myth #1: Low calorie diets are necessary for fat loss success
Low calorie diets are super popular because they promise easy and fast weight loss - two buzzwords in the nutrition space. However, going super low calorie (and especially if for extended periods of time) can be detrimental for your recovery, wellbeing, performance, and sustainability of results. Too many athletes under eat and it is typically due to the promotion of low calorie diets as the be all and end all solution. Underrating is a major issue in the athlete world and it’s best to be avoided (CLICK HERE to read about the 5 signs that you are underrating as an athlete).
Myth #2: Low carb is the way to go
Low carb and athletes should be labelled an oxymoron in my humble Sports Dietitians opinion. The reality is that carbs are our primary fuel source and therefore going low carb goes against what an athlete needs to optimise nutrition and fuelling for success. Not to mention the fact that cutting carbs is unnecessary for fat loss (the typical reason low carb is promoted and followed). Quite simply, eat yo carbs!
Myth #3: Supplements can help you fast track results
Supplements are literary supplements-TARY! It’s in the name, yet there has been a general big push for supplements over the years. The reason is clearly money as the supplement industry is a beast of a business. However, that should NOT come at the expense of an athlete's wellbeing and should not promote unrealistic expectations either.
Most supplements are pointless, some are good - but even within the supplements that actually work it is very important to understand they are not a magic solution. Address food first as supplements will at best give you a 1-3% boost - and that is only if your food game is strong. So yes the right supplement can be a difference maker in the right context (1-3% improvement can make or break winning at the elite level after all), but they can NOT fast track results.
Myth #4: Food combining works
Food combining is the idea that you need to combine specific types of foods at specific times and meals to get the benefit of the meal and the optimise outcomes. The truth is that this is complete B.S. There is ZERO evidence to support this and is just another bad ol fad diet lurking its ugly head. Hit it with a mallet and move on, my friend.
Myth #5: Low fat dairy/milk has heaps more sugar
I still to this day do not understand how this myth was created NOR how it continues to be perpetuated within dieting culture. Low fat dairy does not have added sugar (unless its flavoured but that’s like a DUHHHH moment). Don’t believe me? After you finish reading this blog post I want you to go to your local supermarket and grab plain whole milk and plain skim milk and look at the sugar. Feel free to report back with your findings (#yeahscience!)
Myth #6: Fasted training is superior for fat loss
Fasted cardio is the strategy of doing your workout before you eat anything (aka going into your training session fasted). Fasted cardio has been proposed as a superior fat loss tactic and the idea is that the research shows that fat oxidation (aka fat burning) is greater in a fasted training state. However, this is cherry picking the information at it’s (unfortunate) finest.
While fat oxidation is technically greater, this doesn’t mean much unless you are in a calorie deficit to begin with - as you will oxidise more fat but store it just the same if you are eating in a surplus of calories. So basically, you just need to be in a calorie deficit (fasted or not) - and I recommend not fasting as you should fuel your training sessions.
Myth #7: Adding butter to your coffee is biohacking your way to success
This is known as bulletproof coffee - and it is still one of the greatest examples of money grabbing nutrition marketing in my opinion. The idea is that adding butter or MCT oil to your coffee “biohacks” your way to better performance and health. However, there is no research to support the claims made by bulletproof coffee. There is, on the other hand, plenty of proof that the promoters of this trend made MILLIONS off the backs of vulnerable people and the misinformed. So two things you need to know: don't add butter to coffee unless you enjoy that AND if someone says they are a biohacker, run the other way.
Myth #8: Sugar free drinks are poison
“Sugar free soft drinks are toxic because of the fake sweeteners man!!” - Someone who doesn’t understand science and research (or has been unfortunately scared by misinformation).
“Sugar free soft drinks have been shown to be harmless to humans and can be enjoyed in moderation as part of a well structured diet plan”- me, logical Sports Dietitian.
In other words, sugar alternatives are not toxic. These drinks are great ways to enjoy a delicious beverage without the added calories. Don’t fall for fear mongering and always ask a Dietitian first.
Myth #9: Eating 6 meals is better for your metabolism than 3 meals
One of the longest standing belief systems in nutrition is that your metabolism is influenced by how often you get some good ol food down your gob. The idea is that eating 6+ meals (of a smaller quantity), will boost up your metabolism compared to the classic 3 big heart meals a day. However, this isn’t true as the main influencer of metabolism when talking about food specifically is total caloric intake and to a lesser extent, your macronutrient breakdown. The number of meals does not matter so choose the one you prefer and can sustain. I personally, however, recommend between 3 to 8 as a general rule to get you started.
Myth #10: You need to eat clean to be healthy and perform at an elite level
Clean eating is another popular diet strategy that involves being super duper strict with the foods that you eat. To “eat clean”, you generally avoid ALL less healthy foods (the fun foods as I call them) and only eat whole foods. However, the definition of what is “clean” is different across the board which is one of the main issues I have with it as there are no set defined terms for clean eating so it can mean whatever the person in question is promoting as their gospel (CLICK HERE to read about why clean eating is not the answer).
The truth is that eating wholefoods is 100% ideal - but eating ONLY these foods is unnecessary and definitely not sustainable. You do not need to eat clean to be healthy and perform at a peak level - more food flexibility is not only better for you mentally but is also A-OKAY too. Just as my athletes.
As you can see, there is unfortunately no shortage of nutrition misinformation in the nutrition and fitness sphere - and these 10 nutrition myths are simply the tip of the iceberg. However, these are very common ones and avoiding these is a great start to improving your nutrition through the process of informed elimination. I sincerely hope this list has helped inform you and clarified what is right and wrong when it comes to many common topics within the scope of athlete nutrition. Sometimes it’s not just about doing the right things on a plan but it is also about knowing what to AVOID to truly get the most out of your dietary strategy. This list can serve as the stepping stone to a more streamlined, evidence based, and balanced approach to your athlete lifestyle and nutrition plan.
Want help executing the right nutrition strategy?
So if you are ready to take your nutrition to the next level and elevate your performance in a way that doesn’t make you want to punch your Sports Dietitian, then let’s chat.
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Coach Aleksa (Sports Dietitian)
Hi there! My name's Aleksa Gagic - i'm a Brisbane Sports Dietitian & Brisbane Sports Nutritionist. I have 7+ years experience in providing professional nutrition consulting and want to help you learn about the power of flexible nutrition.