In the world of optimal nutrition and weight loss there are misconceptions aplenty. We spoke to Dr. Jinger Gottschall, research and science advisor for the American Council on Exercise, who clears up the confusion by spelling out some facts about diet and exercise.

Read on and you’ll discover:

  • Tips on what and when to eat to maximize athletic gains
  • Information on safe and effective weight loss
  • Examples of adequate protein from a plant-based diet
  • The advantages of chocolate milk post-workout.

Myth #1:

If you exercise regularly, eating quality food is paramount. The timing and size of your meals is much less important.

Not true says Gottschall. “Quality nutrients are important, but so too is the timing of your eating. The benefits you get from exercise are maximized when you eat every three to five hours. The most critical meal is within an hour of finishing your training. You should always ensure you have 0.3g/kg of protein within two hours. This means, that if you’re 64kg (140lbs) you should have 19g of protein within two hours of completing your training.”

Myth #2:

If you want to lose weight while maintaining the energy you need for regular exercise you should aim to lose no more than one pound per week.

This is an appropriate estimate but it’s certainly not right for everyone, says Gottschall. “The maximum amount is based on your total body weight. You should aim to reduce your total mass by no more than one percent each week. If you weigh 200 lbs, the maximum recommended loss per week is two pounds.”

Myth #3:

The ideal way to increase weight loss is to minimize fat intake.

Not at all, says Gottschall. “There are some vitamins, such as vitamins A, D, E, and K, that can only be absorbed with dietary fat, and we need these important vitamins to support everything from vision and immunity, to bone density and heart health. Saturated fats – as found in beef, lamb, pork, cream, butter, and cheese –­ should be limited to less than 10 percent of your total intake. While you don’t want to consume too much saturated fat, try and steer clear of low-fat and no-fat alternatives, as these typically include added sugars and processed ingredients.”

Myth #4:

High-fat, low-carbohydrate diets (like the Keto and Atkins diets) are ideal for weight loss as well as improving cardiovascular fitness.

This type of eating is typically not sustainable, advises Gottschall. “Limiting carbohydrates is helpful only for short-term weight loss and blood sugar levels. Most people find they are unable to stick with this type of eating for longer than six months. These high-fat diets provide greater saturated fat and insufficient fiber. They can also lead to a reduction in your athletic performance when it comes to high-intensity training."

Myth #5:

Plant-based proteins will not provide all of the nine essential amino acids necessary for optimal performance.

Not true. “You can get all nine essential amino acids from the following plant-based protein sources: tempeh, tofu, seitan, soy milk, and whole grains such as quinoa and buckwheat,” says Gottschall. “Eggs, cow’s milk, yogurt, and cheese are also all great protein sources. You can also pair brown rice with beans, or peanut butter with oats, to get all nine essential amino acids.”

Truth #1:

Drinking chocolate milk after exercise will maximize the benefits of your training.

“Chocolate milk is ideal for the effective maintenance, repair, and synthesis of skeletal muscle proteins. This is because dairy proteins contain the amino acid leucine, which stimulates the production of the human growth hormone (HGH). It is important to remember, the whole food protein you get from egg, beef, pork, poultry, and vegetable sources will always be superior to powder.”

Truth #2:

Carbohydrates are the most adaptable energy source for exercise and the key fuel for your central nervous system.

This is a reality, says Gottschall. “Carbohydrates can support exercise over a large range of intensities. Carbohydrates can be utilized by both anaerobic (high-intensity) and oxidative (low-intensity) pathways. They are superior to fat as they drive a greater yield of energy per volume of oxygen.”

Truth #3:

The sugar in fruit is different from the sugar in candy.

This is certainly true, says Gottshall, who explains that natural sugars are found in fruit as fructose and in dairy products as lactose. Refined sugar comes from sugar cane or sugar beets as sucrose. “Your body metabolizes the sugar in fruit and milk differently to how it metabolizes refined sugar. To maintain a healthy diet adults should keep their intake of added sugars to less than 10 percent of their total daily calories.”

Truth #4:

You need a mix of soluble and insoluble fiber in your diet.

“Yes, soluble fiber and insoluble fiber offer unique benefits,” says Gottschall. “Soluble fiber, which dissolves in water, improves digestion, reduces cholesterol, and modulates blood sugar. Oats, peas, beans, apples, citrus fruit, carrots, and barley are all good sources of soluble fiber. Insoluble fiber promotes bowel health and regularity. You’ll find insoluble fiber in whole wheat flour, wheat bran, beans, cauliflower, beans, and potatoes.”

Keen to pick up more tips for shaping an optimal diet?
You can read more about how to design a healthy plan here.

Jinger Gottschall, Ph.D., is a research scientist and science advisor for the American Council on Exercise (ACE). She earned her doctorate in Integrative Physiology with a focus on physical activity and nutrition. She has led numerous studies into the effectiveness of various exercise regimes and works with Les Mills to test both the safety and intensity of LES MILLS programs, helping ensure exercisers get the best results from the time they spend training. In addition to her research roles, Dr. Gottschall is also a Les Mills Instructor and fitness studio founder.