If you want to stop wasting your time and ruining your health and fitness progress once and for all, you’ll love this article.
We’ve curated a list of the 121 most frequent health and fitness myths and debunked them with science.
You can filter through the myths by category to read about the ones that apply to you the most.
Check it out
1. Low carb is best for weight loss
The ratio of carbs to fat in a diet doesn’t affect weight and fat loss. Given an equal calorie deficit, you’ll lose the same amount of weight whether you follow a high-carb or a high-fat diet (1)(2)(3)(4)(5).
2. Eating small but frequent meals increases metabolism
A meta-analysis published in the British Journal of Nutrition noted that “studies using whole-body calorimetry and doubly-labelled water to assess total 24 h energy expenditure find no difference between nibbling and gorging” (6).
In other words, it doesn’t matter for your metabolism whether you wolf down all your daily calories in one sitting or nibble on them throughout the day. The effect on your metabolism will be the same.
3. Breakfast is the most important meal of the day
There’s nothing special about breakfast. In fact, “breakfast is the most important meal of the day” was a coined marketing term by Kellogs over a century ago to sell more breakfast cereals. (7)(8)(9).
This marketing campaign has been so successful it’s now become part of our everyday life to suggest that breakfast is the most important meal of the day.
4. Eating after 6 pm makes you fat
Being in a calorie surplus is what causes fat gain, not whether you consume those calories after 6 pm. A six-month study published in the journal Obesity found eating carbs at night didn’t impair fat loss (10).
5. Dietary fat can’t make you fat
Some people believe that as long as you keep your insulin levels low, you can’t gain fat. But that belief is wrong.
6. Protein is bad for your kidneys
Unless you have an underlying kidney disease, high protein diets are not bad for your kidneys, as shown by a 2018 systematic review and meta-analysis published in The Journal of Nutrition (13).
7. Intermittent fasting is the best way to lose weight
There’s no difference in weight and fat loss between intermittent fasting and a regular energy-restricted diet when calorie intakes are matched (14).
8. Hormones are more important for weight loss than a caloric deficit
Energy balance is what determines changes to the number on your scale. If you consume fewer calories than you burn, you’ll lose weight, regardless of your hormonal status.
That said, hormones like testosterone and cortisol do influence whether that weight loss will be in the form of body fat or muscle mass.
9. Overweight people have a slow metabolism
That’s why overweight people have a faster metabolism than those who are of a healthy weight.
10. Skinny people have a fast metabolism
As discussed in the previous myth, the lower your body weight, the slower your metabolism (17).
11. You need to eat more to lose weight
You need to eat less to lose weight. More specifically, you need to consume fewer calories so that you’ll be in a calorie deficit. That’s the key to losing weight (5).
12. Dieting puts you in starvation mode and causes metabolic damage
Starvation mode and metabolic damage don’t exist, as shown in a review study by Anastasia Zinchenko and Menno Henselmans (18).
13. Eating protein causes you to become bulky
Protein doesn’t cause you to become “bulky.” Instead, this macronutrient helps you obtain and maintain healthy body weight. That’s because protein is highly satiating, which helps you control your calorie intake (19)(20).
14. Diet soda inhibits fat loss
In fact, if you drink sugar-sweetened sodas, you’ll likely lose weight if you replace them with diet sodas.
15. There are good foods and bad foods for fat loss
No food is inherently good or bad for fat loss. What matters is whether you’re in a calorie deficit. That’s why, as long as you control your energy intake, you can consume “bad” foods and still lose weight (23)(24)(25).
Some foods, however, contain fewer calories and are more satiating. That’s why it’s easier to lose fat if those form the foundation of your diet. But still, it’s not that those are “good” while other foods are “bad.”
16. There’s a “best” diet for weight loss
The best diet for weight loss is one that allows you to maintain a calorie deficit long-term. Since we all have different schedules and preferences, a diet that may work for somebody else may not be ideal for you.
17. “It worked for them so it must also work for me”
There’s no “best” diet that works for everyone. For instance, intermittent fasting reduces total calorie intake for some people, but for others, the reverse holds true.
18. You can force-feed muscle growth
You won’t build more muscle in a large calorie surplus compared to in a moderate one, but it will cause you to pack on more fat (26).
19. The more protein you eat, the more muscle you’ll build.
The muscle-building benefits of protein top off at 1.6 grams of the macro per kilogram of body weight per day (0.73 g/lb/d), as shown by a 2018 meta-analysis published in the British Journal of Sports medicine (27).
20. High protein intakes cause osteoporosis
21. Losing weight is a linear process
Weight loss fluctuates owing to a variety of reasons, water retention being the main one. For females, their menstrual cycle also influences the number on their scale from week to week.
22. An apple a day keeps the doctor away
While apples are nutritious, there’s nothing unique about them that makes you bullet-proof.
23. You can turn fat into muscle
There’s no bodily process that can turn fat into muscle. It’s like turning an apple into an orange – you can’t do that. But what your body can do is burn the fat and build new muscle tissues.
24. You can look like someone else
Your genetics determines the shape of your muscles and where you store body fat. That’s why you can’t make your body look exactly like that of someone else.
25. Salt is bad for you
While it can be harmful to eat a lot of salt, eating too little of it is as bad or even worse for your health (30).
That’s why it’s recommended to consume at least three grams of sodium per day.
26. If you eat carbs before bed, they’ll get stored as fat
Your body will only store those calories as fat if they cause you to be in a calorie surplus. The problem, therefore, is not carb consumption at night but consuming too many calories in general.
A case in point: a six-month study published in the journal Obesity found that eating carbs at night didn’t impair fat loss (31).
27. Certain foods cause fat gain
An excessive calorie intake causes fat gain. In other words, consuming more calories than you burn (5).
Some foods contain more calories and are less satiating, which is why it’s easier to overeat on those foods. But it’s not that those foods are uniquely fattening. It’s about the calories.
28. You must consume protein immediately after your workout to take advantage of the “anabolic window”
The anabolic window isn’t limited to directly after your workout. Instead, muscle protein synthesis remains elevated for hours after you finish your training.
29. Carbs make you fat
30. You have to eat “clean” to lose weight
As long as you’re in a calorie deficit, you can lose weight even if you consume junk food.
However, “clean” foods usually score lower in calories and are more satiating. That’s why it’s easier to control calorie intake and lose weight if such foods form the foundation of your diet.
31. You can spot-reduce belly fat by doing ab exercises
Spot reduction is a myth. In one study, subjects did four hours of ab training each week for six weeks, but despite those efforts, they did not lose belly fat or fat in general (37).
32. You can’t drink alcohol if you want to lose weight
But since alcohol is calorie-dense and usually consumed with junk food, it’s still best to moderate consumption if you want to lose fat.
33. Anything with “fruit” is good for you
Just because your Ben and Jerry’s contains strawberries that doesn’t mean it’s healthy. The meal as a whole determines whether it’s healthy, not one particular ingredient.
34. Fruit is bad for you
Fruits are some of the healthiest foods. They’re loaded with vitamins, minerals, and phytochemicals. That’s why fruit – alongside vegetables – reduces your risk of practically all major diseases (40).
35. Fresh fruits and vegetables are more nutritious than frozen ones
There are small differences between fresh and frozen fruits and vegetables for a few select nutrients, but overall, they share a similar nutritional profile (41).
36. Egg yolks increase the risk of heart disease
37. Coffee is unhealthy
Coffee supports good health. Some of the benefits of coffee consumption are a reduced risk of cancer, better glycemic control, and better heart health, including a small reduction in blood pressure (47)(48)(49).
38. Dairy is uniquely fattening
The lactose found in dairy may cause bloating among some people, who then misattribute that to fat gain. But bloating is not the same as fat gain.
In randomized controlled trials, increased dairy intakes did not increase body fat levels (50).
39. Dairy is bad for you
Dairy is healthy. A 2016 review paper links dairy consumption to less body fat, more muscle mass, stronger bones, reduced risk of various cancers, and a trend towards better cardiovascular health (51).
40. The body can only absorb a limited number of grams of protein per day
Your body can absorb unlimited amounts of protein. But if you consume more protein than your body needs, it’ll convert it to glucose through a process called gluconeogenesis.
41. You don’t need to count calories if you eat healthy foods
It’s essential to track calories because humans are bad at guessing their calorie intake. We underestimate how many calories we consume by up to 45% (52).
Thus, if you don’t keep track, you’ll most likely consume more calories than you should, which means you won’t lose fat, or you might even gain some.
42. You need cheat days to boost your metabolism and lose fat
Cheat meals and “refeeds” don’t benefit fat loss. One study, for instance, evaluated the metabolic effects of eating at 140% of energy maintenance for three days on a high-carb diet.
Despite that huge calorie surplus, total daily energy expenditure increased by only 7%, leaving them in a 33% net calorie surplus (hello fat gain!) (53).
43. You need pre- and post-workout meals
Total daily calorie and protein intake are much more important than when you consume those nutrients. While it can be beneficial to have pre- and post-workout meals, it’s not necessary (54).
44. It takes seven years to digest chewing gum
According to Healthline, “even with the inclusion of synthetic polymers, gum…won’t sit in your stomach for more than a few days.”
Still, it’s not recommended to swallow gum because it may cause intestinal blockages (55).
45. Juice detox diets cleanse your body
“At present, there is no compelling evidence to support the use of detox diets for weight management or toxin elimination.” That’s the conclusion of a review study published in the Journal of Human Nutrition and Dietetics (56).
46. Organic foods are best for you
Most controlled human research finds no beneficial health effects in organic food (57).
47. Brown bread and rice are better than white bread and rice
One is not better than the other. While brown bread and rice score higher in fiber, vitamin, and minerals, they also contain more antinutrients and may have higher levels of the toxic chemical arsenic (58)(59)(60).
48. You can’t get enough protein if you’re a vegan or a vegetarian
You can, as long as you consume enough high-protein foods like tofu, beans, lentils, and nuts. If you don’t get enough protein through food alone, it’s helpful to supplement with a protein shake.
In that case, opt for a supplement that contains 80% rice protein and 20% pea protein. Those two sources have a complementary amino acid profile, which makes them excellent protein sources for vegans (61).
49. Keto is superior for fat loss
50. You have to eat chicken and veggies to lose weight
You have to be in a calorie deficit to lose weight. Since chicken and veggies are low-calorie and highly satiating, they may help you to be in such negative energy, but it’s not mandatory to consume them.
51. You can’t lose weight if you eat junk food like McDonald’s
You can, as long as you’re in a calorie deficit. Professor Mark Haub, for instance, lost twenty-seven pounds in two months while only eating foods like Doritos, Oreos, and Twinkies, all because he maintained an energy deficit of 800 calories a day (62).
52. Regular sodas are better than diet versions
Because they’re lower in sugar, diet sodas are better than regular sodas.
53. Fast food is worse than restaurant food
It depends on the foods that are served. A recent study showed that restaurant food actually contained more calories per meal than fast food on average.
54. Sugar is more fattening than complex carbs like rice
55. Sugar is more addictive than cocaine
56. Eating bread is like concrete in the stomach
Unless you suffer some form of gastrointestinal distress like Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS), the body has no problem digesting bread.
57. Red meat is “bad” for you
58. You shouldn’t weigh yourself daily if you want to lose fat
You’ll build healthier eating habits and lose more weight if you weigh yourself daily. In one six-month study, those who weighed themselves daily lost significantly more weight than those who didn’t (70).
The difference in weight loss between those who weighed themselves daily (intervention) and those who didn’t (control). Source: Obesity (Silver Spring). 2013 Sep; 21(9): 1789–1797.
59. Soy reduces testosterone in men
A meta-analysis concluded that “neither soy foods nor isoflavone supplements alter measures of bioavailable T [testosterone] concentrations in men” (71).
60. Losing weight is a linear process
Weight loss fluctuates owing to a variety of reasons, water retention being the main one. For females, their menstrual cycle also influences the number on their scale.
61. Vitamins and minerals aren’t important for muscle growth and fat loss – it’s all about the macros
All vitamins and minerals are, in one way or another, involved in exercise performance and your body composition. That’s why you should consume enough of the micronutrients.
Zinc, for instance, has a significant influence on your metabolism and testosterone production. Calcium helps your body burn fat for fuel. And iron is essential for exercise performance (72)(73)(74)(75).
63. Fasted workouts burn more fat
A 2017 systematic review and meta-analysis concluded that “fasted compared to fed exercise does not increase the amount of weight and fat mass loss” (76).
64. Lifting weights makes women look bulky
Look at the cover of fitness magazines to see that weightlifting doesn’t make women bulky. Instead, it helps them lose fat and ”tone” their body.
65. The biggest and strongest guys in the gym give reliable advice
Being big doesn’t mean you know what you’re talking about.
66. If you have abs you know what you’re doing
Just as having a kitchen doesn’t mean you’re a good cook, having abs doesn’t imply that you understand proper nutrition.
67. You must keep changing your workout plan to confuse your muscles
You can’t “confuse” muscle because the tissue lacks cognitive abilities. In fact, changing exercises frequently reduces muscle growth because you’ll be chasing neurological gains instead of muscular adaptations (77)(78).
68. You must do cardio to lose weight
“Aerobic exercise is not an effective weight loss therapy,” as concluded by a meta-analysis published in The American Journal of Medicine. You’re better off lifting weights and optimizing your diet (79).
69. You need to be sore for your workouts to be effective
70. Following the pros will make you big and give you results
There’s no workout program that’s “best” for everyone. Also, keep in mind that the pros structure their entire life around their sport, and that they often use prohibited substances to recover faster from workouts.
71. The pros have secret exercises
72. You can “shape” a muscle
Genetics determines the shape of a muscle. Unless you undergo surgery, you can’t change where a muscle originates and connects to a bone, which means you can’t change the shape of the tissue.
73. You can “tone” a muscle
A muscle can only grow or shrink in size. The primary factor that determines whether a muscle looks “toned” is your body fat percentage.
74. The more sets you do, the better
75. It’s best to train only one muscle group per workout
That’s impractical if you train only one muscle group per workout.
76. HIIT is superior to LISS
77. You need to stretch before your workout
78. Weightlifting stunts growth in kids and teens
The National Strength and Conditioning Association concluded that “there is no evidence to suggest that resistance training will negatively impact growth and maturation during childhood and adolescence” (93).
79. You have to train every day to get results
Most people are best off by training each muscle twice or thrice per week, which is easily doable with a weekly training frequency of three to five sessions.
80. I can’t build muscle/lose weight because I have bad genetics
You just don’t have the fundamentals in check. Optimize those and you’ll see results.
81. Squats are bad for your back
Your spine is excellent at dealing with compressive forces. That’s why squats are safe as long as you maintain a neutral spine position.
But if you’re still worried, switch to front squats – those are even safer for your back (94).
82. Squats are bad for your knees
“Squats, when performed correctly and with appropriate supervision, are not only safe, but may be a significant deterrent to knee injuries.” Those are the words of the National Strength and Conditioning Association (95).
83. Deadlifts are bad for your back
As long as you use the proper technique, deadlifts are not bad for your back. In fact, strengthening your back muscles, something the deadlift does effectively, may even reduce and prevent lower back pain (96).
84. High-rep weightlifting makes you toned
You can’t “tone” a muscle through exercise – you can only make it grow or shrink. To make your muscles looked toned, you’ll have to have a low body fat percentage, which means optimizing your diet.
85. Women should train differently than men
The same training fundamentals hold true for women. Two examples are focusing on big, compound exercises and applying progressive overload.
86. The longer the workout, the better
A short but intensive workout will always beat a longer but lax workout.
Also, doing more sets won’t always produce better results. There’s only a certain amount of training stimuli your body can recover from. If you overreach that limit, you’ll make less or even no progress (97)(98)(99).
87. You should keep your rest periods below one minute
Resting for longer than one minute between sets allows you to do more reps and use more weight. That means you can introduce a more potent growth stimulus to your muscle (100).
88. Once you stop training your muscle turns into fat
You can’t turn fat into muscle. No process in your body can do this. But what can happen is losing muscle owing to detraining while simultaneously gaining fat due to overeating.
89. There’s a “fat loss mode” when doing cardio
There isn’t. What matters is the number of calories you burn.
90. Bicep curls and triceps extensions help you burn arm fat
One study had 104 people train only one arm for twelve weeks. While the subjects lost fat, the workouts did not increase fat loss in the trained arm, showing that you can’t spot-reduce arm fat through exercise (101).
91. Sweating heavily means you burn a lot of fat
Sweating doesn’t burn a measurable number of calories, which is why it doesn’t indicate fat loss.
However, sweating does cause you to lose water, which can reduce the number on your scale temporarily (until you rehydrate).
92. You can out-train a bad diet
You can’t. If, for instance, you eat three extra Big Macs per day, that will increase your daily energy intake by 1,689 calories. To burn that off, you’ll have to do about eight hours of resistance training.
93. Weight training shortens your muscles
Heavy resistance exercises done through a full range of motion do not shorten but actually lengthen your muscles (102).
94. Cardio machines provide accurate readings
Cardio machines don’t account for factors like fitness levels, body composition, and movement efficiency. That’s why they don’t provide accurate results (103).
95. You should do cardio if you want to build muscle
Cardio hurts muscle growth. One meta-analysis, for instance, found that adding cardio to a weight-training routine reduced muscle growth effect size by 36.5% (104).
96. It’s best to keep the tension on the muscle by doing partial reps
97. For optimal muscle growth, you must do between eight and twelve reps per set
There’s no “best” rep range for muscle growth. You can build the same amount of muscle with high-rep training as you can with moderate-rep or low-rep work (107).
98. Weightlifting straps hinder muscle growth
If your grip strength gives out first during an exercise, you can’t stimulate the target muscles optimally. Weightlifting straps can aid muscle growth by helping you overcome this.
For example, you can use more weight and do more reps on the deadlift if you use straps. That, in turn, means you can introduce a more potent growth stimulus to your back and leg muscles.
99. Workouts should be an hour or longer
100. When doing cardio, it’s best to perform it after your workout
101. I’m a hard gainer
You don’t consume enough calories, you don’t train hard and smart enough, or both.
102. Weightlifting belts prevent lower-back injuries
103. Whey protein is bad for you
Unless you can’t tolerate dairy, whey protein is perfectly safe. In fact, it’s a high-quality protein source that’s linked to various health benefits.
104. Creatine is a steroid
Creatine is a natural substance found in a variety of foods, including red meat and fish. While creatine aids muscle growth, it’s not a steroid.
105. Fat burners speed up metabolism
While some compounds like caffeine increase metabolism slightly (by up to around 100 calories per day), these effects are only temporary, and daily use makes you intolerant to the benefits within weeks or even days (121).
106. You need to take supplements
No pill or powder can help you reach your fitness goal without proper nutrition and exercise. Instead, supplements, as the name suggests, are a way to “supplement” your goals.
While supplements may give you that little push that will help you accomplish your goals faster, their possible benefits are small, and they’re by no means necessary.
107. Supplements can make you lose fat
Supplements themselves don’t cause you to lose fat. At best, they can give you a little edge; for example, by reducing calorie intake or enhancing workout performance. But unless your diet is in check, that won’t matter.
108. You need to drink BCAAs to stop muscle breakdown
When you already consume enough protein through food, there’s no benefit to supplementing with BCAAs. It won’t provide any benefits.
What’s more, according to research published in the journal Nutrition and Metabolism, BCAAs from food tend to be more effective at promoting muscle gains (122).
109. CLA burns fat
Only rat studies show fat loss benefits from conjugated linoleic acid (CLA) supplementation.
110. Sleep isn’t that important
Sleep is crucial for your health and figure. One meta-analysis involving 604,509 adults found that bad sleepers are 55% more likely to become obese (126).
What’s more, if you don’t get enough sleep, you’ll carry more fat but less muscle.
One study found that sleeping 5.5 hours per day instead of 7.5 hours increased the loss of fat-free mass by 60%, while it reduced the proportion of weight lost in the form of fat by 55% (127).
111. Stress makes you fat
Stress itself doesn’t make you fat. Acute stress actually aids fat loss by reducing hunger.
But chronic stress can increase appetite and thereby encourage you to eat more, leading to fat gain. In other words, stress doesn’t cause fat gain – overeating does (128).
112. Tracking macros is bad for mental health
There’s no research indicating that macro-tracking is bad for your health.
However, one meta-analysis did found that weight loss programs involving calorie tracking produce, on average, 3.3 kilos more weight loss over one year than plans that don’t (129).
113. “If I had the time, I would be in shape too”
It’s a matter of priorities. Everyone has twenty-four hours in their day. If you truly wanted to get in shape, you would make time for it.
The average American adult, for instance, watches television for four hours per day. Even if you spend only one-sixth of that time getting in shape, you can achieve tremendous results (130).
114. I’m genetically meant to be fat
Nobody is genetically meant to be fat. Obesity was non-existent during hunter-gatherer times.
115. I’ve got thyroid issues so I can’t lose weight
While your metabolism may be up to a few hundred calories lower per day, you still can lose weight by being in a calorie deficit.
116. Having abs means you’re healthy
While having abs tends to signal health, you can be unhealthy while still having a ripped midsection, especially if your body fat percentage is extremely low.
117. More sugar has made us obese
Sugar intake in the US has dropped over the last two decades, but more and more people are overweight and obese.
While sugar can cause overeating because it’s not effective at satiating hunger, it’s not the sole reason people have become heavier.
118. Zero-calorie sweeteners cause cancer
A recent review of studies involving 599,741 participants found no link between cancer risk and artificial sweetener consumption (131).
119. I can’t lose weight even though I eat fewer than 1,000 calories a day
You should lose weight if you consume only 1,000 calories per day. If not, it’s most likely because of one of the following two reasons:
- You consume more calories than you think you do. (Track your calorie intake for a week.)
- You consume 1,000 calories on most days, but occasionally, you undo all the fat loss results by binging on hundreds or even thousands of calories.
120. Muscle weighs more than fat
One pound of muscle weighs the same as one pound of fat. (It’s one pound, after all.) The difference is that fat is bulkier.
One pound of fat is roughly the size of a small grapefruit, while you can compare one pound of muscle to the size of a tangerine.
121. Motivation is the key to success
Discipline is the key to success. Motivation is temporary, but discipline ensures you’ll keep going when things get tough.