Women's Fallacies on Training & Nutrition

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    • Women's Fallacies on Training & Nutrition

      This is an article by Elzi Volk in the US. She is a prolific writer and a smart cookie holding two degrees in biotechnology and going for a PhD. She is also a competitive natural bodybuilder... these are her observations of which I must concur:

      Too Little Dietary Protein

      With the exception of some female athletes, the average woman eats insufficient protein. There are many reasons for this.

      Inadequate daily calorie intake. Simply, many women don’t eat enough food during the day. By this very fact, their protein intake is minimal compared to their consumption of other foods, such as carbohydrates.

      Fear of meat. Many women shun the consumption of meat. It is common for a woman to eat red meat only once or twice a week and some type of meat only once per day. The most universal reason for this is their fear of fat, especially in red meat.

      Protein is expensive. Protein is relatively more expensive than carbohydrates. Therefore, women, who are the primary food purchasers in this nation, will restrict their buying of protein-containing foods and replace them with carbohydrate-based foods in order to stay within budgets.

      Exercise increases most nutrient needs. One of the controversial issues in nutritional circles is the adequacy of the RDA for protein to meet the needs of athletes. As some studies demonstrate, athletes who train intensively may need as much as two to three times the RDA, up to one gram per pound of body weight. Several studies with female athletes have shown that few actually intake adequate amounts of calories and nutrients, especially protein.

      Vegetarian diet. A diet that excludes animal protein makes it more difficult to insure adequate supply of all required amino acids for synthesis of body proteins. Balancing amino acid intake from plant sources requires dedication and knowledge of food constituents and how they interact to ensure adequate protein for the body.

      Lack of education. Many women are unaware of how much protein they should eat on a daily basis or what foods contain protein and the amount that they provide. Because of the much-touted association of cardiovascular disease with animal protein, they avoid eating meat and many dairy products. More and more research shows that including lean meats in balanced meals does not increase the risk of cardiovascular heart disease in most individuals, especially if they are active.

      Too Many Carbohydrates

      Most women tend to eat too many carbohydrates in their diet. This appears to be associated with many factors.

      Low-fat diets. Women typically adhere to a low-fat diet in the belief that dietary fat will make them fat. Generally speaking, a moderate amount of dietary fat will not cause an individual to become fat unless their total caloric intake is higher than their caloric output. As a result of the low-fat craze, many supermarket foods are labeled "low fat," but the fat calories are generally substituted with carbohydrate calories. Many women think because it is low fat, it is okay to eat all they want.

      Carbohydrates make you hungry. Although this is consistently debated in nutritional circles, research shows that eating snacks and meals comprised mostly of carbohydrates do not always induce a sense of fullness. Carbohydrates increase serotonin production, a hormone and neurotransmitter that stimulates the appetite center in the brain. Women eating primarily carbohydrates may feel hungry again shortly afterwards.

      Carbohydrate cravings. During certain times of the menstrual cycle, many women experience cravings for carbohydrates. Evidence exists showing a biological explanation for some of these cravings. According to the presented hypothesis, premenstruation and menstruation are accompanied by a decrease in serotonin levels in the brain. Because serotonin affects the mood, women often find themselves beset with mood swings, depression and decreased attention capabilities during part of their menstrual cycle. Carbohydrate consumption may be an attempt by women to increase their serotonin levels and regulate their moods. Basically, women eat carbohydrates to make themselves feel better.

      Very Low Fat Intake

      Fat is considered ‘bad.’ As mentioned previously, women moreso than men, tend to fear dietary fat. The reasons are typically because of the misconception that eating fat will automatically make them gain body fat and the over-hyped association of dietary fat and cardiovascular disease.

      Avoidance of ‘good’ fats as well as ‘bad’ fats. While there is enough research validating the correlation of high consumption of saturated fat with cardiovascular heart disease, women also avoid the fats that are healthy and essential for the body. Mounting research demonstrates that essential fatty acids, such as those derived from fish oils and some plants, are beneficial in several ways. Fish oils have been shown to reduce menstrual symptoms, and a complement of unsaturated fats can reduce inflammation and delayed onset muscle soreness.

      Excessive calorie restriction

      Self-sabotage. Women are typically very self-conscious of their body image. Depending on individual self-perception or athletic goals, women invariably diet frequently to change their body shape. All too often, dieters tend to reduce their daily calories excessively to achieve their desired body weight. Although an initial weight loss occurs, they invariably sabotage themselves by restricting their calories too much. This often culminates in boredom, a decrease in metabolic rate, and subsequent food bingeing accompanied by rapid weight regain.

      [Ed Note from Rossana: also typically this type dieting with all the afforementioned factors involved leads to significant loss of precious muscle tissue...]

      Too Few Daily Meals

      No breakfast. Due to time constraints, many women don’t eat breakfast, especially mothers. They find it difficult to set aside enough time to prepare some type of meal for themselves to start off the day, often substituting cups of coffee for food. While this may help fat loss, it may also backfire.

      One or two daily meals. Working women often eat only lunch and dinner, but there are also many that eat only once a day. This can work both ways: either these women will eat too much food in those one or two meals, or they don’t eat enough calories.

      Night-eating syndrome. Some women may not eat the entire day and binge during an evening meal. Researchers have recently named this the "Night-eating Syndrome." They found that abstinence from food during the day, especially by working women, instills such a hunger when they arrive home that they binge on high-density foods which interrupts their sleep and often leads to stomach distress. On the other hand, some women who refrain from meals during the working day often are too tired to prepare a meal in the evening and munch on low-nutritive foods that don’t supply the nutrients and calories they need.

      Lack of or Excessive Exercise

      There is no doubt these days that physical activity is beneficial to one’s health. While most women are aware of this, there are a few problems.

      Inactivity. Many women often complain that they are too tired or don't have the time to exercise. Our convenience-based lifestyle also contributes to low levels of activity.

      Excessive aerobics. Conversely, there are many more women who think that more is better. Numerous women do copious amounts of aerobic exercise with the belief that more is better. In many instances, women overly increase their total daily energy deficit, lose precious muscle mass, and wonder why they stop losing weight and feel continually fatigued.

      The Fear of Iron.

      Women fear muscle. Most women these days fear muscle; they "don’t want to get big." This is, of course, the most common fallacy I have experienced amongst the female populace. While this fear is partially founded in cultural and sociological influences, it also reveals a lack of realism. Women do not have the same levels of testosterone, the primary hormone that is required for increases in muscle size, and consequently will not gain excessive muscle mass.

      Women fear weight training. Lifting weights historically has been associated with men and big muscles. Interestingly, after women tell me they don’t want to get ‘big’ and they are asked if they want to get stronger, the answer is nearly always, "Yes." Women need to be educated on the benefits of weight training and the favorable changes it can have on the body and the mind. Gaining strength does not require having massive muscles.

      Women want to "tone." Most women do not fully understand what that term means. Since they hear and see it used repeatedly in the media, they think that is what they should be doing: toning. However, most women have no definite conception of what the term means. The term ‘toning’ is erroneously applied to doing countless repetitions with a submaximal weight that does not incrementally challenge the muscle. The weight must be progressively increased for muscles to change and get stronger. Increasing the resistance the muscle must move increases strength or muscle mass.

      Complete reliance on circuit-training machines. Many individuals think that circuit-training machines are all that is necessary for weight training. While they have their place for beginners and individuals with physical limitations, most of the machines do not provide compression loading for increasing bone mineral density, which is important for reducing the risk of osteoporosis. Nor do they incorporate instability to increase a person’s balance and stability, which is required in most daily activities and sports performance.

      Intimidation. Because the free weights are associated with men, many women are unfortunately too intimidated to venture into the free weight area and use free weights. Many men respect the desire and commitment of women who weight train and are generally helpful in imparting advice on exercises.

      Sadly, many of these fallacies originate and are perpetuated by the general media. The television and general fitness and health magazines are filled with misinformation and advertisements for gadgets that appeal to a woman’s sense of worth and self-image. Diet and exercise books abound that misrepresent research and recommend doing ineffective exercise programs. As well, women don’t realize how strong they are and how strong they can be.

      It’s time for women to break the mold and challenge themselves. This can be accomplished by adopting a sensible program of nutrition and exercise. Favorable changes will appear after a few weeks, but a longtime commitment will insure a healthy and pleasant life.

      [note from Rossana: Amen! :)]
    • Thanks for that article, Rossana.

      I know what she means about being intimidated entering the free weights area. Thankfully my current gym is not too bad, but I've been to some where the free weights area is populated by thick-necked men who grunt and groan and sweat and ponce about in their tight shorts.

      Re the weight machines - I'm using a combination of machines and free weights at the moment. I guess the machines are helpful because it makes it a bit easier technique wise. I did have a program once that had a fair amount of free weights and reserved the machine mainly for stuff like lat pulldowns and seated rows and so on - chest, shoulders, triceps, biceps etc etc were all done with free weights. Can you explain the difference a little more clearly that the author of the article? For instance, I do incline leg press, leg extensions and leg curls on machines and can't quite think how I'd do them with free weights (although I know the press is really an upside-down squat...)

    • PS. Re the free weights - I get the bit about instability, encouraging use of stabilising muscles etc - I'm wondering about the compression loading and bone density bit.

      I remember an instructor encouring me to do ab work on a fit ball and saying something about stabilisers ... I said stabilisers be damned, I'm gonna fall on my head!! Most I've ever done with a fit ball is (no weights) squats with the ball between me and the wall!
    • I must say i enjoyed the above infomation, and how true it is!!Some years ago I got caught up with the low fat-high carb way of life, at the time I worked in the fitness industry, mostly teaching aerobics, not really having a weight problem at the time, but yea caught up with body image problems, [never happy with one's self, always wanting improvements], I did a fat loss leaders course and started following the advice given in the course, however I had a huge increase in appetite, started putting on weight, felt bloated, then after about 4-6 weeks I noticed my eyes were getting itchy all the time, my skin was drying up, I got dandruff, was often tired and iratible, but didn't make the connection innitially to the way I was eating, and when I did consider it still wasn't convinced as I believed the guy who run the courses knew all about good nutrition.
      I know how intimadating some gyms can be, I am very fortunate and go to my uni's gym where everyone just seems to get on with their own thing, which really suits me as I have been to gyms in the past where if your not too intimadated to go into the free weight area, there is always some one [usually a guy] who wants to chat..... and for not wanting to be rude.. you talk to them, a pleasant hello is fine, but when it goes on and on, unless youv'e got all the time in the world can be a pain, hence I had to learn to polietly tell people I had to get on with it :)
      Ali :)
    • Thanks for your replies :)
      Complete reliance on circuit-training machines. Many individuals think that circuit-training machines are all that is necessary for weight training. While they have their place for beginners and individuals with physical limitations, most of the machines do not provide compression loading for increasing bone mineral density, which is important for reducing the risk of osteoporosis. Nor do they incorporate instability to increase a person’s balance and stability, which is required in most daily activities and sports performance.
      Miss Becca, what Elzi is referring to are the machines that are used specifically in the circuit area. Normally these are loaded with very light weights to facilitate speed of repetition to obtain a cardio vascular workout during a circuit.
      Or machines that are loaded with counter balance weights that make using it really easy... when you get to the hard bit of a repetition (the sticking point - normally about halfway) the weights counter balance this and make it easier for you to lift. This defeats the entire purpose of lifting weights - it's the hard bit that makes that difference!
      I will say however if you are a complete beginner it is important to build up your strength gradually but a complete reliance on these machines will not develop your stabiliser muscles... more on that in a sec. There is a place for machines in your workout but complete reliance on them is not good.
      For instance, I do incline leg press, leg extensions and leg curls on machines and can't quite think how I'd do them with free weights (although I know the press is really an upside-down squat...)
      Lunges and squats using dumbells or barbells are the alternative. ..
      Back in a moment... will continue to edit this post :) Bathroom and Food is calling :D
      Ok lunges and squats oh and dead lifts... but at PoH we have quite strong debates about whether leg machines are any good... I think they have their place but they can also cause injury - having said that, I am currently using the leg press, leg extension, smith machine and various leg curl machines. But I am also having to work separately on some of my stabiliser muscles.
      Part of the problem with machines is that they sometimes force you into an unnatural pattern of movement which can lead to injury or imbalances. At the same time, I have not seen anyone develop nice legs without machines but I perhaps I will stand corrected.

      Stabilisers and the Swiss Ball
      If you have never heard of Paul Chek then if interested try to do some reading. He is the king of functional exercises which focus on core stabilisation. We have lots of muscles that we aren't working when we do weights but that our body uses in everyday life. For instance, using free weights in a chest press as Elzi pointed out, requires all sorts of stabilisation and balance. The first thing I do when I approach any exercise is to ensure I have my stability and posture right... this means I am focussing on my torso, back, legs first... they all "switch on or off" when I perform an exercise and work in conjunction to help me focus on the body part I am working.

      It would be a good idea for you to incorporate ball exercises into your routine but make sure the person showing you the exercises is qualified to do so... not all gym instructors are. And often there are some basic exercises to master BEFORE you get to the ball. I often see people using the ball at the gym and doing it soooo wrong... you don't need to do 50 reps... actually working up to 10-15 perfectly executed ones is a real achievement.
      I know how intimadating some gyms can be, I am very fortunate and go to my uni's gym where everyone just seems to get on with their own thing
      Sometimes intimidation comes from not feeling secure about what you are doing or getting a "vibe" from people. A gym is like a box of all sorts - you get all types, some you like, some you don't and some grow on you. In my own experience the talkers have pretty average bodies - they are there to feel as if they are doing something but not clear about their goals. I can tell you, if you have a goal in your training, you don't have the time, the energy or the inclination to talk mid workout.

      I know how people may read this, esp from a woman - stuck up butch bitch... but this is their problem not mine. The people who don't have this problem will make eye contact with you, smile and respect your privacy until your workout is over. I have made it a point to introduce myself to people after a workout. I also explain that while I am there, I don't have time for chit chat, but afterwards I am Miss Congeniality.

      I make it a point to meet people with who I feel are ahead of me in terms of progress (after their workout naturally ;)). I certainly don't know it all and nothing ventured - nothing gained :) I have learnt to look for information from all sources.
      I also love my gym because it is a mixed bag of gay and straight men and women so tolerance and judgement are normally suspended except for those that have a bitchy streak anyway ;)
    • Oh dear :-(

      I was reading the article by Elzi Volk posted by Rossana and I'm afraid i am one of those women. Do you know what is annoying now? when your not so diligent in doing your own "real research", you rely on those women magazines to give you solid facts, well now i know what a load of banana vomit they print!

      And i will certainly refrain from saying 'toning'.
    • Banana vomit!

      HAHAHAHAHA! That one's definitely going onto my list of interesting and quirky sayings to amuse one's friends! Along with 'hornswoggled' - I quite like that one.

      Thanks for the clarification Rossana. I guess most of the machines I use are OK - I don't do circuit classes so not sure how those machines feel. I can feel that the machines work for me so far - as a beginner who knows a bit I guess - but I'll look at introducing more free weights as I go.

      Got a sore BUM and sore THIGHS and other bits right now ... can really feel the difference from a workout with short sets of heavier weights. But not so sore as to make general moving around difficult - just the sort of soreness that feels good, that you've done some muscle-challenging stuff :)