WTF MyFitnessPal?


The initial plan was to write a post this week about the importance of relationships, but upon receiving an outrageous article from one of our clients this morning, we decided to change course and address the issue head on.

The article, “How Long Does It Take to Lose Muscle,” was written by Lauren Bedosky and published on the MyFitnessPal Blog.

If you’ve been in the health and fitness space for any period of time, you’ve likely heard of the MyFitnessPal (MFP) app. The app is an incredible tool for tracking macronutrients, counting calories, and referencing food. In fact, we utilize the app in working with nearly all of our one-on-one nutrition clients. The popularity of the app has absolutely enhanced the reputation of the MFP brand, but as you know, popularity and credibility are not synonymous. For example, think about mainstream health and fitness magazines such as Men’s Health, Women’s Health, Shape, Muscular Development, etc. These publications are incredibly popular, but often, the articles lack evidence and credibility. It’s not uncommon for authors to cite studies with insignificant sample sizes, biases, flawed designs, and correlations, not causations. In other words, the evidence rarely supports the claims.

Now, it’s time to take a closer look at the article in question, “How Long Does It Take to Lose Muscle.”

First and foremost, we must admit that Lauren picked a fantastic title. If you’re a fitness enthusiast, it’s nearly impossible scroll past that headline. Second, to be clear, the purpose of this blog post is not to attack or undermine Bedosky. Rather, our goals are to increase awareness regarding these types of publications and educate you on how to identify credible, reliable, and evidence-based claims.

The article begins by providing context for the discussion:

“While not ideal, many of us have to pause our workout routines from time to time. Whether you’re stressed, sick, injured, going on vacation or just need a break, there are plenty of reasons to take time off from exercise.”

The first thing that you need to understand is that taking a break from training is NOT a negative action. At Ballistic Performance, we not only program deload weeks, but when speaking with clients, we often recommend taking time off when the demands of life exceed their physical and mental bandwidth. If you’re stressed, take some time to reset, reorganize, reevaluate, and relax. If you’re sick or injured, hell, you absolutely need to rest, and if you’re on vacation, it’s more than okay to take a few days off and enjoy the experience. The phrase, “while not ideal,” implies that taking time off from training is a negative action and that it moves you away from progress, but quite frankly, that’s complete bullshit.

The article continues by stating:

“If you don’t train at all, you may start losing muscle mass after 72 hours, says Michele Olson, PhD, a professor of exercise science at Auburn University in Montgomery, Alabama.”

Here are the problems with that statement:

  • It’s not a direct quote from Michele Olson
  • There are no citations to support the claim
  • The information is later disregarded in support of a different statistic

The placement of such a polarizing and shocking “statistic” at the beginning of the article is no coincidence. It grabs your attention, sparks your interest, and prompts you to keep reading. However, it’s completely irresponsible and misleading to introduce a claim that appears to have little-to-no supporting evidence.

Not even five sentences later, the article states:

“Although you start losing muscle mass after 72 hours, you probably won’t notice any losses until you’ve gone 3–4 weeks without training.”

Again, there is no citation to support the statement that you start losing muscle mass after 72 hours, and better yet, now Bedosky is claiming that noticeable losses likely won’t occur for 3-4 weeks. So why even include the 72 hour figure? What was the purpose of incorporating that data? Regardless of Bedosky’s intent, here’s the truth, 99% of people who read this article aren’t going to remember the fact that it actually takes 3-4 weeks for significant muscle atrophy (i.e. muscle loss) to occur. They’re going to become transfixed on the 72 hours. They’re going to tell their friends, family, and training partners about the 72 hours. They are going to believe that missing 3+ days of training will result in the loss of their hard-earned “gains.”

Next, the article outlines various factors that contribute to muscle atrophy (i.e. muscle loss). There are several factors associated with muscle atrophy, but Bedosky condensed the information into four categories (which we loved – it’s always better to keep things simple):

  • Training Age and Consistency
  • Nutrition
  • Chronological Age
  • Sex

In our opinion, this was the most accurate section of the article. Thus, we are not going to dive into further detail.

Bedosky closes that article with “The Bottom Line.” In this section, Bedosky states:

“How quickly you’ll lose muscle once you stop training depends on different factors, but in general, you’ll notice losses in 3–4 weeks.”

Again, what was the purpose of including the 72-hour claim? Why incorporate such a shocking “statistic” and then completely disregard the information in the article summary? In our opinion, the answer is simple: click bait. Bedosky wanted to grab your attention, lure you further into the article, and create a sought-after publication. We’d like to give Bedosky the benefit of the doubt, we’d like to believe that she didn’t purposefully mislead and misinform readers, but regardless, it was completely irresponsible to include such information, especially without properly citing her source(s).

So, here is our “Bottom Line”

  • Popularity and credibility are not synonymous
  • Publications often cite flawed, biased, and inadequate sources
  • It’s easy to take evidence out of context to support illegitimate claims
  • It’s OKAY to take rest days and get outside the gym
  • You’re NOT going to lose muscle mass in 72 hours

Audit the content and information that you consume, seek out experienced, knowledgeable, and credible individuals, and if something sounds outrageous or too good to be true, that’s definitely the case.

Here are a few tips on how to identify credible, reliable, and evidence-based claims:

  • Research the brand/company
    • Products/services offered
    • Company story/mission
    • Core values/beliefs

  • Google the author, coach, or influencer
    • What is his/her background, education, experience, etc.

  • Check the citations in the article
    • Research should have been conducted in the last 5-10 years
    • Sample sizes should be large
    • Ideally the research studies are Meta-Analyses, Systematic Reviews, and/or Randomized Controlled Trials

As they say, “Don’t believe everything you read on the Internet.”


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