Fitness Scientization: More Harm than Good?

by Dr. Mike Israetel | Aug 08, 2023

Why is “Scientization” in Fitness So Problematic?

The term 'Scientization' refers to the application of science to a specific field. In the realm of fitness, this trend often appears in articles and advice from self-proclaimed 'fitness experts'.

Although the scientization process can be beneficial, it is more often negatively employed such as when over-using technical terms and jargon, over-complicating simple ideas, and attempting to over-quantify, over-measure, and over-formalize concepts and practices. 

The most common reason people negatively “scientize” a concept is to attempt to appear more intelligent and intellectual but in reality, lengthy pointless explanations and exotic technical terms make the concepts being shared harder to understand. It also takes away from actual explanations. Every sentence spent “scientizing” a concept could instead be spent explaining the concept well so that anyone could benefit from the information. 

Here are three big ways scientization rears its ugly head in fitness.

Overuse of Studies in Fitness Information

Often the concepts being discussed in general fitness writing are so over-arching and fundamental that only a textbook can really do them justice—not 35 different, scattered studies.

There’s no single pubmed article that covers protein metabolism, muscle growth, or overtraining. But a lot of people are more impressed with tons of citations to complex and data-heavy research. Authors prone to scientize are more than happy to give these data-hungry people what they want! Just cite some studies on diabetic mutant rats, and that's it, your claims are not only intriguingly complex, but also incredibly well-supported. (That’s sarcasm, folks.)

Good communicators cite the textbooks, reviews, and individual studies only as needed, and in that order. 

The Misuse of Technical Jargon in Fitness

Perhaps few things are more impressive than using big words. Electroencephalography. Boom. Are you impressed yet? 

If you speak or write to be understood, you should use words that your audience understands. If you speak exclusively to try to impress people, then you should use big, super-sciency technical terms. Technical terms are fine in context, but may distract a general audience from the overall message.

For example, if you want to say that a supplement will get you more jacked, you can say it will grow muscle and prevent muscle loss, or you could say that it increases the local fractional synthetic rate and reduces the local fractional breakdown rate as measured by radioactive leucine labeling. The latter description provides relevant information for other scientists interested in replicating your experiments where the former is appropriate for basically everyone else, and is much more likely to be understood.

Seek Clarity and Relevance, Always!

Over-explanation of minimally relevant details may be used as a diversion tactic to avoid explaining in a simple and clear way why a certain recommendation is made.

For instance, if you're talking about why a certain diet enhances long-term insulin sensitivity, you might go into a multi-paragraph explanation of pancreatic secretions and insulin dynamics. You might even make a longer foray into Glut-4 translocation and local insulin sensitivity differences. 

What ends up missing in these details is any actual justification or explanation as to why YOUR DIET reduces insulin sensitivity. This tactic counts on readers to be so impressed and overwhelmed by the complicated science of insulin dynamics that they let you slide past without providing the information needed for them to make an informed decision about believing in (and maybe even starting) your diet.

Science is About Concepts, Not Just Terms

The really important stuff in science, fitness-based or otherwise, is the content of the concepts. 

Science is an interconnected framework of ideas. Understanding those ideas and the connections between them is the core of true knowledge. Some very specific concepts cannot be described in simple terms, but most of the most important concepts absolutely can!

Next time you read a piece of “science-based” fitness advice, don't be impressed by big words, just big ideas. Your goal—and the goal of the author—should be for you to gain a practical, real world understanding of the concepts presented.

Want to navigate the science of diet without the pitfalls of 'scientization'? Our Renaissance Diet 2.0 eBook is your answer. This comprehensive guide, founded on scientific research, will help you understand what to eat, when to eat, and how much to eat to maximize your performance and achieve your ideal physique. Whether you're a vegan, training multiple times a day, or preparing for a competition, we've got you covered!