You've heard the fitness and nutrition "experts" talking (but not working) as they hang around the weight machines force-feeding unwitting victims with advice. "Dude, if you want to bulk up, you need to wake up at 3 a.m. and chug a protein shake!" "Fill your fuel belt with energy drinks-you'll sprint twice as fast!" Less often heard are the ideas of actual sports nutrition researchers, who work hard to uncover the scientific truth. Pay attention to them, and you'll reap big benefits. Once you separate the hard data from the flabby fables, you'll fuel yourself to achieve personal records, greater gains, and a whittled waistline. Watch out for these myths.
1. If you hit the gym hungry, you'll prep your body for maximum fat loss
Some research suggests that if you exercise while your blood sugar and carb levels are low, your body will suck energy from fat reserves. "This is because the body is low on energy and it will need glycogen to function further," says Dr Kanika Malhotra, senior nutritionist, Healthcare at Home, New Delhi. The key to stoking your fat furnace is managing insulin. Low-glycemic foods (apples, peanuts, peaches) cause your body to release controlled doses of insulin, providing you with a steady stream of energy. High-glycemic foods such as rice, dates, cornflakes and potatoes cause insulin to spike, which can stimulate fat storage.
Fuel Smart First build a base: "Two and a half to three hours before a hard workout, eat a low-glycemic meal of carbs, protein, and healthy fats such as quinoa, chicken, avocado," advises Malhotra. Then, 30 to 45 minutes before you start, grab a low-glycemic, 150-calorie snack, such as almond butter on a wrap or yoghurt with granola.
2. Eating energy goo during a short workout is the best way to fuel it
"Just as a car needs gas, similarly your body needs the right amount of nutritional fuel as well," says Malhotra. If you didn't stick to your fuel-up plan earlier in the day, goo may help. According to a 2013 Sports Medicine review, consuming carbs during a 45- to 60-minute high-intensity workout (such as a series of stomach-churning supersets or intense interval drills) may enhance your performance by helping you fight fatigue towards the end of the workout. But there's a better strategy: eating carbs before exercise prevents your body from tapping its protein reserves, says Malhotra. And it helps you power through your entire workout-not just the finishing stages. Fuel up beforehand, and your brain will be less likely to cry uncle.
Fifteen minutes before a hard workout, consume about 30 grams of easily digested carbs. "However, limit foods that are high in dietary fat such as fast food, eggs and cheese because they take a long time to digest," she clarifies.
3. When it comes to muscle building, it's Whey or the highway
Nutritionists' long thought that you needed all nine essential amino acids to build muscle. That's why lifters scooped up whey, a cheese byproduct that has a full set of amino acids and can be turned into powder. "Due to its strong amino acid profile and ease of absorption, it is arguably the most popular sports nutrition supplement," adds Malhotra. But a 2013 University of Tampa study found that men who lifted three days a week for two months showed similar gains in muscle growth and strength whether they ate whey protein or rice protein powder after workouts. Rice protein isn't complete, but it contains what are now considered the three most important amino acids: leucine, isoleucine, and valine, with leucine as the main driver of muscle repair.
"The bulk of your protein for bulking up should come from food sources for the added nutrients.
Try tossing whey, egg, rice, or pea powder, which all deliver the amino acid trinity, into your shakes," recommends Mumbai based Bashira Khatri, nutrition advisor and lifestyle expert. A 2:1 carb-to-protein ratio helps you absorb amino acids.
4. Antioxidants patch damaged muscles, so load up!
Exercise can produce free radicals-rampaging molecules that may hurt healthy cells. So a pill loaded with free-radical-fighting antioxidants repairs the wreckage, right? "Antioxidant supplements might do you more harm than good," says Khatri. A 2014 Norwegian study found that amateur athletes who took an antioxidant-and-vitamin supplement for six weeks reduced their endurance training efficiency compared with athletes who took none. In another survey of 2014, Spanish scientists saw similar effects in sprinters.
Why? Antioxidant supplements may block the formation of energy-producing mitochondria.
Antioxidants may still protect you from heart disease and cancer. "The best type of antioxidant is highly debatable, but the most researched and readily available are the vitamins A which is found in all red, yellow and green fruits and vegetables and vitamin C found in all citrus and sour fruits," says Malhotra. We suggest two to four servings of green vegetables, two to three servings of starchy vegetables and legumes, and two to three servings of fruit daily.
5. Creatine supplements are good only for serious body builders
The benefits go beyond the bench press: Taking creatine may improve speed-training performance, aerobic activity, and perhaps even neurological function, according to a 2012 study review in the Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition. Why the aerobic boost? The study notes that creatine may raise blood plasma levels and help you use oxygen more efficiently. It's true that your body already produces about one gram of creatine a day and that you ingest additional creatine in animal proteins. But your diet may not be consistent from day to day, so supplement for a constant supply. You'll take in an amount well beyond what you can get from your diet, giving your body a 24x7 fitness boost.
After a loading phase of 20 to 25 gm of creatine daily for the time period recommended by the supplement directions, keep taking three to five grams a day. This will help you derive the most benefits, according to the review (Don't worry because years of research deem creatine safe). "Take creatine with carbs because insulin increases creatine uptake," adds Khatri.