Surprise! You might not be as fit as you think …

    Fitness goes way beyond muscle and fat. Just because you run marathons or do Crossfit, doesn't mean that injury, sleep, or other bottlenecks won't get in the way of optimal fitness (if they haven’t already, that is).

    Think you’re fit? While you might be correct, you might also be missing something important.

    Let’s look at two common examples, and then see if you can improve your fitness levels and body composition without sweating more.

    1. I’m the definition of fitness … I’m a Crossfitter/marathoner/etc!

    It’s difficult to tease apart the fitness impacts of something like marathon running or CrossFit through a scientific study.

    You can’t just randomize a hundred people to run a three marathons a year, and a hundred others to run no marathons. Adherence in the marathon group would be … low.

    When it comes to CrossFit, it almost certainly improves many aspects of fitness, and is even more likely to foster motivation and a sense of community.[1]

    Marathoners are a healthy bunch, by and large. Long-term marathon running is associated with less coronary plaque in both men[2] and women.[3] Running in general seems to provide cardiovascular benefits, increasing in magnitude the more years you run.[4]

    So what’s the holdup with marathon-running and CrossFit? It’s that ol’ Examine refrain: mind your dosage.

    Marathon runners with higher training level have more chronic knee lesions than marathon runners with lower training level.[5] Case reports occasionally pop up of rhabdomyolysis (rapid and dangerous muscle breakdown from overly strenuous activity) after CrossFit.[6]

    Long-term marathon running can increase the risk of heart tissue fibrosis,[7] although the evidence is still mixed as to how harmful this is for most runners.[8] There’s also a small but non-negligible risk of death from actually running a marathon, especially in older males,[9] a group in which cardiac-arrest rates during marathons have been increasing over the past few years.[10]

    Looking fit and exercising a lot doesn't necessarily mean you're fit. In some proportion of those cases, overall fitness (via injuries and possible mortality risk) can be worsened.

    2. Well, my cholesterol is really low, so …

    Cardiovascular fitness is a cornerstone of overall fitness. And since low LDL is a predictor of lower heart disease risk,[11] you might feel pretty proud of your super low LDL.

    There’s a couple problems here though. The LDL that’s reported by your doctor (LDL-C) doesn’t always align with the number of LDL particles floating around (LDL-P), and LDL-P is a better predictor of heart disease.[12]

    But more importantly, very low cholesterol has been associated with higher risk of heart disease in a few different studies.[13][14][15]

    This is a very complex topic though; if you want to learn more, check out our comprehensive post on saturated fat research.

    If you passed your basic cholesterol screening with flying colors, then ... that still doesn't mean you're fit.

    Want to optimize your body and your fitness levels? You don’t need to sweat it!

    What do these two examples above have in common? They look at fitness through narrow lenses. Fitness is not just about working up a big sweat. It doesn’t mean having insta-worthy abs or exercising two hours a day.

    Fitness is a mix of several components:

    • Optimal cardiovascular function
    • Joints that don’t cause you pain
    • Enough muscle and low enough fat to meet your goals
    • Good hormonal balance
    • Sufficient daily sleep to support all of the above

    A lot of people think that you need to exercise more and more if you want better fitness and a better body. Not true!

    The most common bottlenecks to optimal fitness are rarely a lack of training time, but more often things like persistent sleep issues[16][17] or chronic joint pain.[18][19]

    As the evidence has built up over the past few years on ways to address these bottlenecks, we’ve slowly and methodically collected the studies and analyzed them. More than 300 studies later, we combined everything together into a step-by-step blueprint:

    • Address common bottlenecks through targeted nutrition and supplementation
    • Tackle dieting psychology, an incredibly common stumbling block
    • Understand the recent evidence behind popular diets
    • Discover the answers to the most frequently-asked dieting questions we get
    • Address non-exercise movement (like your body positioning at work)
    • Find how best to track your progress and set realistic fitness goals
    • Keep your joints healthy, so you don’t get pain from getting more “fit”

    If you’re that magical unicorn who sleeps perfectly, has perfect body composition and joint health, and is crushing it in every single facet of life, then … congratulations! But for all the regular humans out there, it may be worth checking out our most comprehensive product, the result of years of evidence-collection:

    It’s the only guide out there that thoroughly covers the multiple factors impacting fitness, and also gives step-by-step directions based on the most recent scientific evidence.


    1. ^Claudino JG, Gabbett TJ, Bourgeois F, Souza HS, Miranda RC, Mezêncio B, Soncin R, Cardoso Filho CA, Bottaro M, Hernandez AJ, Amadio AC, Serrão JCCrossFit Overview: Systematic Review and Meta-analysisSports Med Open.(2018 Feb 26)
    2. ^Roberts WO, Schwartz RS, Garberich RF, Carlson S, Knickelbine T, Schwartz JG, Peichel G, Lesser JR, Wickstrom K, Harris KMFifty Men, 3510 Marathons, Cardiac Risk Factors, and Coronary Artery Calcium ScoresMed Sci Sports Exerc.(2017 Dec)
    3. ^Roberts WO, Schwartz RS, Kraus SM, Schwartz JG, Peichel G, Garberich RF, Lesser JR, Oesterle SN, Wickstrom KK, Knickelbine T, Harris KMLong-Term Marathon Running Is Associated with Low Coronary Plaque Formation in WomenMed Sci Sports Exerc.(2017 Apr)
    4. ^Hespanhol Junior LC, Pillay JD, van Mechelen W, Verhagen EMeta-Analyses of the Effects of Habitual Running on Indices of Health in Physically Inactive AdultsSports Med.(2015 Oct)
    5. ^Schueller-Weidekamm C, Schueller G, Uffmann M, Bader TIncidence of chronic knee lesions in long-distance runners based on training level: findings at MRIEur J Radiol.(2006 May)
    6. ^Meyer M, Sundaram S, Schafhalter-Zoppoth IExertional and CrossFit-Induced RhabdomyolysisClin J Sport Med.(2018 Nov)
    7. ^Patil HR, O'Keefe JH, Lavie CJ, Magalski A, Vogel RA, McCullough PACardiovascular damage resulting from chronic excessive endurance exerciseMo Med.(2012 Jul-Aug)
    8. ^Pujadas S, Doñate M, Li CH, Merchan S, Cabanillas A, Alomar X, Pons-Llado G, Serra-Grima R, Carreras FMyocardial remodelling and tissue characterisation by cardiovascular magnetic resonance (CMR) in endurance athletesBMJ Open Sport Exerc Med.(2018 Oct 25)
    9. ^Webner D, DuPrey KM, Drezner JA, Cronholm P, Roberts WOSudden cardiac arrest and death in United States marathonsMed Sci Sports Exerc.(2012 Oct)
    10. ^Kim JH, Malhotra R, Chiampas G, d'Hemecourt P, Troyanos C, Cianca J, Smith RN, Wang TJ, Roberts WO, Thompson PD, Baggish AL, Race Associated Cardiac Arrest Event Registry (RACER) Study GroupCardiac arrest during long-distance running racesN Engl J Med.(2012 Jan 12)
    11. ^Howard BV, Robbins DC, Sievers ML, Lee ET, Rhoades D, Devereux RB, Cowan LD, Gray RS, Welty TK, Go OT, Howard WJLDL cholesterol as a strong predictor of coronary heart disease in diabetic individuals with insulin resistance and low LDL: The Strong Heart StudyArterioscler Thromb Vasc Biol.(2000 Mar)
    12. ^Otvos JD, Mora S, Shalaurova I, Greenland P, Mackey RH, Goff DC JrClinical implications of discordance between low-density lipoprotein cholesterol and particle numberJ Clin Lipidol.(2011 Mar-Apr)
    13. ^Nago N, Ishikawa S, Goto T, Kayaba KLow cholesterol is associated with mortality from stroke, heart disease, and cancer: the Jichi Medical School Cohort StudyJ Epidemiol.(2011)
    14. ^Bae JM, Yang YJ, Li ZM, Ahn YOLow cholesterol is associated with mortality from cardiovascular diseases: a dynamic cohort study in Korean adultsJ Korean Med Sci.(2012 Jan)
    15. ^Ravnskov U, Diamond DM, Hama R, Hamazaki T, Hammarskjöld B, Hynes N, Kendrick M, Langsjoen PH, Malhotra A, Mascitelli L, McCully KS, Ogushi Y, Okuyama H, Rosch PJ, Schersten T, Sultan S, Sundberg RLack of an association or an inverse association between low-density-lipoprotein cholesterol and mortality in the elderly: a systematic reviewBMJ Open.(2016 Jun 12)
    16. ^Mah CD, Mah KE, Kezirian EJ, Dement WCThe effects of sleep extension on the athletic performance of collegiate basketball playersSleep.(2011 Jul 1)
    17. ^VanHelder T, Radomski MWSleep deprivation and the effect on exercise performanceSports Med.(1989 Apr)
    18. ^Hsu CJ, Meierbachtol A, George SZ, Chmielewski TLFear of Reinjury in AthletesSports Health.(2017 Mar/Apr)
    19. ^Sasaki E, Tsuda E, Yamamoto Y, Maeda S, Inoue R, Chiba D, Okubo N, Takahashi I, Nakaji S, Ishibashi YNocturnal knee pain increases with the severity of knee osteoarthritis, disturbing patient sleep qualityArthritis Care Res (Hoboken).(2014 Jul)