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Five fitness myths busted

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We look at some of the most common fitness myths and find the facts


From exercising on an empty stomach to shunning carbs when the sun goes down, we expose the myths that might be hindering your fitness goals.


Myth 1: Cardio burns more fat than lifting weights

Fact: You need to build muscle to burn the fat

Every 1.5kg of muscle you add to your frame boosts your metabolism by 6 to 8 per cent and burns up to 400 extra kilojoules a day. "You end up burning more energy post-exercise because the more muscle mass you have, the more energy it takes to keep you alive," explains exercise scientist and nutritionist Liz Dene. So do we amp up the cardio or reach for the weights? "You have to do a combination of both," Dene notes. "Doing a mix of resistance training and interval training will burn the greatest amount of energy." For a fat-busting workout, try a circuit-training routine that combines sprint intervals with a series of weight-bearing exercises like medicine ball squats, push-ups and boxing with light weights.


Myth 2: Working out on an empty stomach burns more fat

Fact: You won't have enough energy to exercise 

A study conducted at the University of Leuven in Belgium found that cyclists who trained on an empty stomach burned a slightly higher amount of fat than those who ate beforehand. However, this study and another published in Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise discovered that fasting subjects trained at a reduced intensity and for 30 minutes less than those who ate prior to working out. The bottom line is: you end up burning fewer kilojoules overall if you don't eat because you don't have the stamina to make it through your workout.

"You don't have to sit down to a big breakfast," says Dene. "It can be just something small like a handful of nuts, a spoonful of yoghurt or fruit, something that doesn't upset the stomach."


Myth 3: Eat smaller meals more frequently to lose weight

Fact: It's the number of kilojoules that counts, not the number of meals

The theory behind this myth is that eating mini-meals regularly keeps your metabolism firing, helping you to burn more kilojoules.

But many fitness experts now warn that constant grazing can lead to overeating. A study published in the journal Obesity found that eating frequently didn't improve overweight subjects' appetite control or perceived fullness. The researchers concluded that mini-meals aren't the best strategy to combat obesity but believe that they can benefit athletes who require a regular supply of energy.

"It's all about the total amount of energy you consume throughout the day," says Accredited Practising Dietitian Trent Watson, spokesperson for the Dietitians Association of Australia. "If you have less energy than you require, you'll lose weight. And if you have more energy than you require, you'll gain weight, whether that's in three or six meals a day." The bottom line is: be wary of the total number of kilojoules you eat, regardless of when you eat them.


Myth 4: You can't avoid gaining weight with age

Fact: Lifting weights can help keep the weight off

It's true: your metabolism burns 2 to 5 per cent fewer kilojoules every decade after the age of 40. But that doesn't mean you're powerless against middle-age weight gain. "Anyone can maintain their weight throughout their life," says Watson. "When we age, we tend to reduce the amount of time we're physically active and the intensity at which we exercise."

Our metabolism slows as a result of losing muscle with age; however, regular strength training is the key to boosting muscle mass to avoid the kilo creep. And the sooner you get started the better. Aim for at least three 30-minute sessions of weight training each week.


Myth 5: Avoid carbs after 6pm


Fact: Carbs don't know the time

Those poor carbohydrates have been demonised in the diet world, but the fact is that the time of day you eat them (or anything else) has absolutely no effect on your waistline. The food doesn't "stay in your stomach" and magically convert to fat while you sleep.

"The digestive system doesn't know that it's 6pm," Dene explains.

"People might find this works because it makes them more accountable [of what they're eating]. All of a sudden, they're choosing not to sit down to a big bowl of pasta and they're having healthier alternatives. But at the end of the day, it's about the total number of kilojoules you consume," Dene says.


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