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Fairytales from the gym: The copycat program


Story time.

Once upon a time fitness nutrition was all about carb loading. Endurance athletes were king and they needed a lot of carbs to fuel their long, punishing training regimes.

People who wanted to be fit, but weren't professional athletes followed their lead and ate loads of carbs. But they weren't running for 8 hours a day, I was too young for the fitness world then but I imagine they were doing something like this for an hour a couple of times a week.


So funnily enough, fuelling your body like an endurance athlete, when you aren't an endurance athlete isn't a great plan. What happens is you take on too many calories which your body helpfully stores as fat. Also people started interpreting "carbohydrates" as highly processed starches and sugars, rather than wholegrains and vegetables. So then people started saying that carbs were terrible and we should perhaps cut them out completely because they made people fat.

So then people started saying, "let's eat loads of protein and fat, because it's carbs that are bad, not fat". And that was great for some people, but for others it was just the pits, because people are not all the same in terms of physiology or activity. Also, once again, when these diets were originally tailored for athletes to fuel specific training schedules, the general populus who tried this were taking in the fuel for a regimen they weren't taking part in (or were only doing a small part of) and the excess fuel was..... stored as fat.

It makes sense that when we are inspired by athletes and admire them, that we might choose to train like them, or eat like them. But the gym myth I want to consider today is the idea that you can take a selective part of a pro's balanced training regime and expect a scaled version of their results.

Let's take a common example. Body builders train super hard in the gym, every day. They do a lot of damage to their muscles and many take some form of hormone supplementation to accelerate muscle growth. As a result they need to consume a lot of calories to fuel their workouts and enable them to bulk up. They also need a lot of protein to build and repair muscle fibres. They tend to eat very carefully balanced diets but to ensure that their protein needs are met, they consume protein supplements (often shakes). They eat an unusual diet to fuel an unusual lifestyle.

Now the guy who turns out to the gym 2-3 times a week is living a lifestyle far closer to "usual" than "bodybuilder". If that guy starts consuming 6 protein shakes a day, is he going to get bodybuilder results? Probably not. He's consuming 6-1200 calories of expensive drink. Either he is going to be over his calorie needs - in which case it is wasted or stored - or he'll not be getting enough of his calories from fats and carbs, potentially missing out on the micronutrients that come with those. It would be much better that he ate balanced meals including fresh veggies and a portion (or 2) of protein with every meal, and perhaps added on a shake after resistance training.



There's nothing wrong with protein supplementation, but it is a *supplement* which means you need to be sure that you are eating a healthy, balanced diet to start with and just using the shakes to "top up" when you need it.

The point I'm trying to make here though isn't about protein shakes, or any specific regimen. I mean to highlight that it is not appropriate to take a small sample of a programme and expect it to work. If you want those results, you can't pick out the bits that look appealing, because they work only as part of a greater whole. And you can't necessarily clone someone else's programme and expect it to work for you in exactly the same way - we are all individuals. 

That's why Personal Trainers like me work primarily with individuals, to understand their unique circumstances, along with the measures that they are willing and able to implement to get the best results possible.

It's great to have idols and people to look up to. It's fascinating to find out how elite athletes train and fuel their training. It's also fun to chat with other fitness fans and find out what is working for them. If you are looking for the best plan for yourself as someone who exercises for fun and health, then your best starting point is the general guidelines for healthy living, and small adaptations from thereon.




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