Below you will find answers to the most commonly asked questions regarding the fitness and health world. These are questions I have received numerous times from clients and gym members. If you have a burning question please leave them in the comments below – I’d love to help answer them for you.
- Why track Calories?
- Is sugar bad for you?
- Are Diet Drinks bad?
- Is Protein important?
- Should I eat Breakfast?
- Is eating Fat bad for you?
- Do I have to exercise to lose weight?
- How many days should I exercise?
- Using weights will make women bulky?
- How much rest is needed between sets?
- If you stop training muscle turns to fat?
- Weight training harms the joints?
- How do I lose belly fat?
- How fast can I lose fat?
- Is sleep important?
- How much water should I drink?
Why do people count calories?
Tracking or Counting Calories is an exceptionally helpful tool to keep track of specifically how much food (energy in calories [kcal]) we consume on a daily basis. More specifically it is a tool used for control or adherence during a diet phase. This is extremely helpful for anyone looking to lose or increase their current body weight. A record of your daily calories consumed will usually be monitored/tracked/counted alongside your weight – If you are losing weight you are in a calorie deficit, if you are increasing in weight you are in a surplus.
Tracking calories typically records the total calories consumed and the Macros (Protein, Carbohydrates and Fat) in grams and percentages. Consistency is important for diet and this is one of the easiest ways to track your consistent calories and eating habits.
Is sugar bad for you?
No. Sugar is not bad for you no more than an excess of any type of food is bad for you. Sugar gets a bad reputation due to its prevalence in sweet and fast foods (it is also in roughly 90% of supermarket shelf foods as an additive ingredient). Foods containing high amounts of sugar get the blame for causing body fat increases due to their palatability and ease of access or overconsumption. An excess of sugar is linked to increased body fat, diabetes and in some cases cancer. Bottom line: control your intake and you are completely fine.
The UK government recommend a maximum of 30g of free sugars a day, (roughly equivalent to 7 sugar cubes). Children aged 7 to 10 should have no more than 24g of free sugars a day. Children aged 4 to 6 should have no more than 19g of free sugars a day.
Are Diet Drinks bad for you?
No. At least not in a normal consumption amount. Aspartame and other sweeteners have been linked as cancerogenic – but then again you can find links to cancer with lots of foods (red meat, sugar, vegetables etc…). Aspartame, the main ingredient in Diet, or Zero, calorie drinks was linked to cancer when testing on rats. However, the dose in drinks, compared to the amount given to the rats to cause negative adaptions is negligible – in other words it is completely safe in the dosages allowed for consumption. Simply put, they would not be on the shelf if they were dangerous (do your own research, not Facebook or info from Big Mad Andy at the gym). Sweeteners do not register with the body as calories hence why they are low/zero calories and this can be helpful when dieting down to lose weight.
Why is Protein important?
Protein is important for its muscle building and muscle preservation status – not to mention the body is approx. 20% protein. Protein is important for many individuals in sports and weight training exercise, primarily to build muscle that is linked with increases in strength, power and metabolic rate (“faster”). Additionally, higher protein diets are proven methods to help retain muscle (aka your shape) when dieting down. Higher protein diets also elicit higher satiety (make you feel fuller).
Interestingly, protein is registered differently in the body. 100Kcal of protein sources are more realistically registered as 70-80kcal in the body. Due the metabolic process and use of protein in the body roughly 20-30% of protein is disregarded in your overall intake – thus, a high protein diet will help you to maintain low calories when dieting.
Should I eat Breakfast?
Yes and No. The importance of breakfast is purely based on your needs. If you are dieting then you may opt to miss breakfast to enjoy larger meals after lunch time. If you are not a breakfast person then it will not restrict you from making progress. However, for performance it is not optimal to exercise while fasted (on an empty stomach). That being said, people can and do exercise without breakfast and find this improves mental sharpness and performance – it really boils down to your preference.
Interestingly, a study forcing individuals to consume breakfast (previously not breakfast eaters) had actually gained weight – due to over consuming calories throughout the day. Basically what this means is that you should listen to your body, don’t force breakfast if you are not hungry.
Is eating Fat bad for you?
There are many types of fat and the majority of them provide benefits to your body. Eating fat is completely fine and will help ensure your body receives adequate micronutrients (vitamins and minerals) and ensure your endocrine system runs properly. Fats are typically associated with increases in belly or body fat however we know that this isn’t true. Some fats should be consumed in greater quantity than others (monounsaturated and omega-3 fatty acids compared to saturated and Omega-6 Fatty acids) however, it all comes down to moderation.
The bottom line is that Fat does not increase Fat. Fat is important for absorption of many fat soluble vitamins and it helps run our hormones efficiently – there is no need to avoid them. Fat does hold more calories per gram (compared to Protein or Carbohydrate) so fattier foods tend to be higher in calories. Overconsumption of high fatty foods will likely lead to weight gain. Interestingly there is one type of Fat that I would recommend to avoid at all costs – Partially Hydrogenated oils. You can read my in-depth article on the types of “good” and “bad” fats here.
Do I have to exercise to lose weight?
No. You do not have to exercise (in a planned setting like the gym or a sport) to lose weight – exercise is used primarily for health benefits and increasing your daily energy output (calories burned). Your body burns calories every day with or without exercise, speaking, walking and talking are all burning calories. Losing weight is fundamentally based on the process called energy balance and the amount of food you eat. If you eat more food on a daily basis than your body burns then you will increase your body weight. However, if you eat less than your body requires for daily activity you will lose weight. Exercise is not required but it is extremely helpful and beneficial to one’s health.
A -Dave does no exercise and his body burns a daily 2000Kcal (from just living and breathing)
B -Dave exercises and now his body burns a daily 2300Kcal. (from living, breathing plus planned exercise)
With both examples if Dave eats below 2000 Kcal he will lose weight – regardless of daily exercise or not. Obviously exercise will help speed up the weight loss process.
How many days should I exercise?
This is purely dependable on your fitness goals. However, you should find exercise that will keep you consistent (something you actually enjoy). Your exercise routine should reflect your fitness or body image goal. A good place to start is the physical activity guidelines which include:
-Be active daily (move more and sit less)
-2 weights (resistance training) sessions per week
-150 minutes (2 and ½ hours) of moderate exercise, or,
-75 minutes of vigorous exercise.
Keep in mind that these are the minimum recommendations for health – A specific goal or body transformation will require specific training, frequency and intensity.
Using weights will make women bulky?
Simply not true. It will build muscle but the progress to look “bulky” will take years and years of hard work and in most cases that look is through steroid use. If everyone who picked up a weight would look like Arnold Schwarzenegger then why isn’t every gym member massive like Arnold? Building massive amounts of muscle will take multiple years of strict dedication. Weights will help improve your overall strength, including balance, power, coordination, bone density, heart health and confidence, just to name a few. Weights are great and weights are for all.
If you are truly worries about looking bulky or over sizing a particular body part then simply do not train that body part if you see a change you don’t like. Though I guarantee this won’t happen (unless you are a super responder).
How much rest is needed between sets?
This is dependent on your goal. If you are looking to burn as many calories as possible you should look to make the most out your gym sessions and get in as much volume as you can – that may mean that your rest time is relatively short. However, if you are looking to lift some heavy weight and focus on building your strength the rest time will need to be significant to allow for maximum effort – that may mean that you need anywhere between 2 and 5 minutes between heavy set efforts. Below is a general guideline to follow:
Goal based rest time:
Hypertrophy (muscle growth):
15-45sec Rest between sets
45-90sec Rest between sets
90-5mins Rest between sets
If you stop training will muscle turn into fat?
Fat does not turn into fat as it is a different typed of body tissue. That’s like a car turning into dog – it’s not in its ability. If you stop training your muscle mass and strength will slowly decrease – however this will take some time. The only way you will gain fat is if you over consume on your calorie based on your current needs – i.e. you start eating more and your total daily exercise is low. Muscle will not dissolve into fat, or vice versa. Once a certain certain muscle mass been achieved via weight training it takes relatively less effort to maintain than strength and size – compared to building muscle. Best advice is to constantly stay active with exercise you enjoy, push yourself when you can, make progress and make exercise fit into your lifestyle. If you want big muscles it will require strength/weight training and lots of dedication with proper focus on your nutrition and sleep.
Weight training harms the joints?
This is a common fear amongst anybody entering the gym. The truth is – No, but also yes. Proper form and safe execution of exercises are completely safe and actually healthy for your body, your joints, ligaments and your bones. If performed correctly strength training will strengthen your body and joints to ensure you move correctly and safe. Many believe squatting causes knee sheering, arthritis and other related injuries. However, the truth is there is no sign of this amongst retired Olympic lifters (lifting up to 4 times their bodyweight through a squat movement) and in fact they have better long term knee health that other related sports. Jumping, twisting, changing direction quickly, running etc. can put unduly stress on the ligaments and make the joints more susceptible to injury.
Something to consider. Poorly executed form and/or instability or lack of flexibility are the main causes of injury. In an ideal scenario, where perfect form is allowed, the joints are not detrimentally affected. However, the majority of individuals walking into the gym have one or more of the issues listed above. This is caused through long periods of inactivity or excessive sitting and lack of general movement/flexibility. If you push a heavy weight with poor form the question would be ‘when’ not ‘if’ you are going to get injured. I wish I could tell this to 16yr old Scott – my shoulder has still not fully recovered from an old bench press injury (using exceptionally poor form and jumping weights too heavy, too fast).
How do I lose belly fat?
Unfortunately we can’t specifically and only lose fat from our belly – or any other specific site. We do not get to decide where we lose fat from. When adhering to a fat loss diet, our body will lose weight multiple locations at the one time. This is the reason that 2lbs of weight loss is relatively unnoticeable – those 2lbs were taken from multiple sites of possibly your arms, legs, butt, face, chest and back.
Genetics play a vital role in determining where you lose body fat. For example, some people will notice an instant change to their legs when dieting, but not their stomach or arms. For others, they may only lose belly fat and hold the remaining fat in their legs. Do not be discouraged. Belly fat is regarded as “stubborn”. Consider a leaking bucket – belly fat typically represents the last of the liquid to leave the bucket. It’s 100% possible but it will take time and adherance.
How fast can I lose fat?
A healthy range to lose body weight is around 1-2lbs per week. Extreme diets will provide extreme measures including starvation. These “diets” will promise anywhere up to 8lbs off in a week. This is extreme and can be very damaging on the body. A healthy approach is something that is manageable, efficient and healthy for the long run. Extreme diets tend to harvest extreme bounce-backs – typically gaining more weight than what they were prior to their diet. As fitness professional Layne Norton says “The best diet is the one you can stick to and see yourself doing for life”.
Is sleep important?
Sleep is extremely important. Getting adequate sleep will support your recovery, restoration, focus, performance and it even helps determine how hungry we feel. You should aim to get 7-9 hours of sleep per night, every night. Catching up on sleep is not a thing and you should prioritise sleep in the same manner as you prioritise gym workouts and healthy diet. It’s one of the big 3.
In gym and performance context: Poor sleep will affect your maximum potential to recover. Poor recovery means sub-maximal effort/results at work and in the gym (lack of focus, energy and quality of workouts). If you are training at sub-maximal effort you are putting your progress within a handicap – essentially you are extending your time to goal. In addition, poor sleep is directly related to our “hunger hormones” – regular meals suddenly become a little bigger to make us feel “full” and we are constantly snacking to keep the energy high. You can read more on this from my article here.
How much water should I drink per day?
This can vary on who you ask but a good rule is at least 2-3litres per day. Keep in mind, your food will count for around 20% of your daily water intake. And yes, coffee and tea all count, as do fizzy drinks and the like – the majority of these solutions are water. Coffee will not dehydrate you. Ideally you should drink water but it’s good to consider that other drinks contribute too.
Here is a good list to go by based on weight:
55-60kg 1.85 Litres per day
65-70kg 2.15 Litres per day
75-80kg 2.45 Litres per day
85-90kg 2.75 Litres per day
95-100kg 3.05 Litres per day