Tuesday, 14 February 2012

Where do you get your advice from? Who should you listen to?

(No, the answer to both questions in the title is not "Michael Darren"!)

We've all been there at one stage or another, overwhelmed by all of the information you hear on exercise and nutrition. Much of what you find online and hear from fellow gym-goers can be conflicting and leave you none the wiser. Much of what I over hear in the gym is complete non-logical waffle; but it leaves the person listening nodding along and me worrying, saying to myself "PLEASE don't tell me you listened to that and took it on board!"

So, which is complete nonsense? Which has an element of truth? Which has been slightly altered in translation and doesn't quite make sense? And which is the golden nugget that you'll hang on to for years to come and regurgitate to everyone you train with?

Here's a few things to consider next time someone offers you some insightful words of wisdom...

What is their activity level like compared to yours?
The results experienced by someone previously inactive are likely to amplified compared to someone already living an active life. For instance, if someone who hasn't exercised in years loses weight from walking two nights per week, that’s great for them. But... it's unlikely to have a significant impact on the results of someone already active if they were to add it to their regime.

What other factors contribute?
This very same, newly active person might attribute all of their success to these additional walks, but in reality, there is likely to be a number of other aspects impacting their success. Particularly when you consider the impact that exercise has on "Executive Function" Executive Function is the process by which you make important decisions in your life, be it work or health related. Research has found that exercise can have a positive impact on the Executive Function, ie: If you're active, you're more likely to make more concise, decisions on important issues. Active people are more likely to make better decisions in terms of food choices, additional activity and other crucial issues that may impact their results. There are often FAR too many contributing factors to a person’s success to contribute it all to one thing.

Is it a magic pill?
Be cautious of ALL magic pills? Yes, I take supplements and yes, I feel they assist with my training, recovery, exercise preparation and results. BUT, they're just part of a bigger structure. As above, just consider the factors that may have also contributed to this new success outside of what you're being told. Ask questions, dig deep, you might be surprised what you find.
"Honestly it's just one pill a day, I've lost 10lbs... I have been eating a little better too... and changed my training a bit... and started a new class each week..."
Before you know it, this magic pill becomes a very small part of the picture.

Is exercise their job?
Particularly with regards to supplements and nutritional information, there is lots of information shared on behalf of full time athletes, group exercise instructors and body builders or physique models. However, while these guys might be at the top of their game and have physiques and athletic ability that you marvel at, their lifestyle is likely to be COMPLETELY different to yours; as such, so are their dietary requirements. For instance, I recently read a feature on the Wigan Rugby League team and their pre-season preparation; their forwards were on a diet of 4000 calories and were registering an average body fat percentage of 8.5%! Great results!!! BUT, their training is very specific, as are the micronutrients making up these 4000 calories. Try and maintain your own makeshift 4000 calorie diet and I'd suggest your body fat percentage would NOT resemble these single figures.

Can they relate to your issues?
If you're working with a personal trainer or have a training partner with a completely different body type then some of their "What works for me.." advice might not be applicable to you. For instance, if you're struggling with excess body fat and your personal trainer is a natural ectomorph who struggles to gain size or add body fat, it's unlikely that they can relate to your dietary issues and needs. Be wary when they compare your lifestyle and training to their own, you are very different people. A more educated person WILL be able to help you (don't JUST listen to people who are a better version of you), but be sure that they've factored in your differences and not just getting you to do as they do and expecting the same results.

What condition are they in?
When someone gives you advice from their own regime and approach, I always consider "What nick are they in?" If they're using sentences which start with things like "What I do..." and they themselves don't seem to have benefited from it, do you REALLY want to buy into this person? This is not to say that you should always judge a book by its cover; there are plenty of older, slightly overweight strength and conditioning coaches that have a made a successful career offering advice to some of the fittest athletes in the world and bought them great success. Take on board what people tell you and learn from their mistakes and efforts, but try to filter through their advice which they claim to practice themselves but clearly hasn't produced results for them. You wouldn't visit a fat nutritionist would you?..

Who wrote what you're reading?
Be wary when reading information on supplement and nutrition information that the article might be a tidy PR attempt to indirectly promote a product. Having worked as a PR professional for a number of years, I've seen that many of the articles you read are opinion pieces, ghost written by a PR professional and attributed to an athlete or experts in order to position them as a "industry thought leader". However, some of these are paid for or in conjunction with other advertisements within a publication. If the piece mentions specific products which they endorse or sell, be wary!

Where's the science?
I hear ENDLESS folk in the gym sharing their "knowledge" with fellow gym goers. Whether it's something they've read, been told, overheard or concocted themselves, much of it is nonsense. Exercise and nutrition is a science. Always ask them the science behind their concept. Can they explain it in terms that you and they understand? Or do they just use words they've heard and don't fully understand? Does it make sense?

If in doubt, Google it...
So you're not sure about what you've read? Or what you've heard from someone at the gym? Google it! There are plenty of articles, research and reviews available online discussing training, supplements, nutrition and everything you could possibly be interested in. However, don't just take the first response you read, look at a few sources and gauge the general consensus (preferably backed up by science). For instance, you might find different views on supplements, dosages and their effectiveness depending on if you read it on a bodybuilding forum or a general nutrition/health and vitamins forum. Take your time, have a look around.

In summary...
Some of what you hear may be true yet won't work for you. Likewise some of what works for you, may not work for others. If all diets worked for everyone, then there wouldn't be a diet industry, there would just be "A diet" that we'd all follow. Some diets are nonsense, some are "fad-ish" and in years to come research picks their tangibility apart and some are suitable for different people depending on their age, gender and level of activity. We're all very different; but, if you run through the questions above next time you're handed a "golden nugget" then hopefully you should be better informed to decide if it's for you.

Don't knock it 'till you try it...
Saying that... next time you're offered advice or knowledge and the answer to all of these questions below is "NO"...
- Is it just obviously wrong and inaccurate? A ludicrously, unstructured concept or suggestion?
- Is it potentially dangerous?
- Is it potentially expensive?
- Will it take a huge amount of time and commitment to follow?

Then why not try it out yourself? It might be just that nugget you need. It would be a shame to ignore it at first glance without further research and experimentation! #AlwaysLearning

Don't forget to follow me on Twitter (@MichaelD_PT) and subscribe to my YouTube channel 

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