The Big Fitness Disconnect – How Your Bars, Shakes and “Go Big” Attitude May Be Hurting You


Credit: Flickr Creative Commons, crossfitpaleodietfitnessclasse

There’s a disconnect between health and fitness. Observe trends like the explosion of fitspo, proliferation of obstacle course races, and flocks of jocks eyeing a chiseled physique; Many products, foods and philosophies are focused on achieving this look at any cost, leaving health and long-term health to the wayside. What makes you fit isn’t always what contributes to a healthy lifestyle.

“Go Big or Go Home”

A progressive “more is more,” “no pain, no gain culture circulates on t-shirts, in Instagram memes, and around gym floors. While different motivation works for different people,this culture can create a dangerous platform that encourages the individual to ignore the body’s feedback that it is over-stressed, which can result in:

  • Consistently high spikes of cortisol. Cortisol is known as the ‘stress hormone.’ “While it has many important and beneficial functions, too much of it can throw your body into a catabolic state, causing you to lose hard-earned muscle,” says biohacker Ben Greenfield. “Very high cortisol (hypercortisolic) or very low testosterone to cortisol ratios can be a marker for overtraining, inadequate recovery, lack of sleep, or general life stresses. As you might have guessed, cortisol levels can also be affected by nutrient status.”
  • Elevated levels of hs-CRP. High-sensitivity C-reactive protein (hs-CRP) is one of the best indicators for inflammation in the body. “When you sprain an ankle your body sends more blood to the area of injury. The immune cells in this blood work to rid the body of dead or damaged tissue to make way for healing. Without inflammation, injuries would never heal. It’s easy to imagine inflammation for something big like a sprained ankle; we see the swelling, feel the pain, and wonder how long until our ankle will look more like an ankle again and less like a pineapple. But inflammation can (and does) happen all over the body, at a much smaller scale and this inflammation can cause all sorts of health problems ” said our medical director, Dr. Murdoc Khaleghi. Elevated inflammation is associated with the potential onset of diseases such as cancer, dementia, cardiovascular disease, and many other chronic diseases.

IIFYM/Flexible Dieting

If It Fits Your Macros, better known as IIFYM or “flexible dieting,”was popular among the bodybuilding crowd but has progressed into the general fitness crowd. The increasing popularity seems to have opened the door for overconsumption of processed foods with specific amounts of macronutrients. What we’ve observed is that macro-focused plans like IIFYM can cause you to lose sight of micronutrients, i.e. the vitamins and minerals that play an important role in keeping your body healthy and functioning – from immune system and muscle function, to heart and blood health, and even eye health.


Pre-workouts are a supplement taken before workouts. In a study published in the Journal of International Society of Sports Nutrition, many athletes reported believing supplementation prior to training will result in greater focus, quicker reaction time, and increased power. In addition to caffeine and other stimulants that can trigger a physical reaction in the body, many popular brands include ingredients to help with taste, texture, and shelf stability, and are labeled as emulsifiers. Soy Lecithin, a commonly used emulsifier, is known to cause side effects such as diarrhea, nausea, and abdominal pain.

Protein Powders

Adding taste to protein powder without changing the calorie composition often comes in the form of adding artificial sugars, such as aspartame and sucralose. A recent study published in Nature found that most artificial sweeteners (such as the two we mentioned) pass through the gastrointestinal tract without being digested. This means that when they get to our intestine, they directly encounter our gut bacteria. Since what we eat impacts our bacterial make-up, the researchers investigated whether glucose intolerance might be affected by a change in the bacterial composition due to artificial sweeteners. The scientists began the study by adding saccharin (Sweet’N Low), sucralose (Splenda) or aspartame (Equal) to the drinking water of 10-week-old mice. A control group of mice drank plain water or water supplemented with glucose or with table sugar. After a week, the group getting artificial sweeteners developed marked intolerance to glucose. Glucose intolerance increases the risk of metabolic diseases such as Type 2 diabetes.

Protein Bars & Snacks

Of the popular trends happening in protein and snack bars, a common theme found among many is containing copious amounts of different types of sugar. You’re probably familiar with high fructose corn syrup and its risks by now, but did you also know that manufacturers won’t always stop at just one sugar added? One bar’s ingredient listing contains 5 different types of sugar, for a total of 27 grams, or 7 teaspoons, of sugar. All sugars, regardless of how they are labeled, such as white sugar, high fructose corn syrup, cane sugar, evaporated cane sugar, cane juice crystals, and brown sugar, to name a few, have similar effect on the body in that they produce insulin and raise blood sugar levels. Sugar is digested into glucose and can contribute to inflammation.

FYI The daily recommended allowance from the World Health Organization is 6-9 teaspoons. According to the movie Fed Up, most Americans consume an average of 41 teaspoons – over five times the recommended daily allowance.

Addressing the Disconnect

The truth is that marketing is persuasive and it can be easy to take claims at face-value, and overlook the possible toll ingredients can take on your overall health.

Challenge yourself to ask the harder questions: If a supplement/food/mentality has a negative impact on your well being and is impacting your long-term health – how effective was your choice? Is the short-term gain worth the possible long-term effects?

How to Connect Your Health and Fitness

A common theme among fitness trends today, from FitBits to connected scales, to popular group workouts like Orange Theory fitness, is that they’re being heavily powered by data. Information is power. This calculated approach takes the guesswork out of your effort and results, and quantifies that effort into meaningful information with which you can actually act.

Take a cue from the data lovers by monitoring your health. Having the information will better inform you of how your process is changing your life and health – for better or worse.Once you know where you are on the risk scale, you’ll know what to track, and what lifestyle changes you should incorporate to achieve optimal health.

If you re-test after approximately four months (the time it takes for blood cells to regenerate) you’ll learn how your changes are working.

Be clued into how you’re feeling and find out if what you’re working so hard for is actually working, or leaving a trail of consequences to be discovered later down the road.

How WellnessFX Can Help

We believe that the best way to understand meaningful change in health and wellness is through starting with what’s inside – your biomarkers. Keep your health data in your back pocket.

If you want to get started by testing and monitoring your own biomarkers, our Baseline or even Performance panels empower you to understand and improve your underlying health by combining advanced biomarker analysis with an intuitive health dashboard to track your results. Include a 20-minute nutritionist consultation for personalized recommendations you can implement immediately.

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The posts on this blog are for information only, and are not intended to substitute for a doctor-patient or other healthcare professional-patient relationship nor do they constitute medical or healthcare advice of any kind. Any information in these posts should not be acted upon without consideration of primary source material and professional input from one's own healthcare professionals.