Understanding Scientific Fitness Studies

Scientific fitness and nutrition studies and their results are often exaggerated or even misrepresented in the media. We’ll tell you how you can stop being misled by such headlines!

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Why it is so important to be able to read studies correctly

You have probably read about the groundbreaking results of scientific studies in the press or on social media.

However, nutritional recommendations, in particular, are often misrepresented or incorrect. An analysis of nutritional recommendations in British newspapers shows that 69% – 72% of the recommendations are inadequate or unsupported.

The results of studies are often used to promote the effectiveness or quality of certain products or training methods. So that you know in the future which reports you can take seriously and which headlines misrepresent the results, we will explain how to correctly evaluate scientific studies.

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The structure of scientific studies and what you should pay attention to

As a rule, studies or “papers” follow the same structure.

Summary

In the beginning, there is the “abstract”, in which the most important facts of the study are summarized. Since the authors have to describe an often complex context in just a few sentences, the abstract can often be misleading. So it’s not enough just to read the abstract of the research.

Introduction

In the introduction, or “Introduction”, the framework of the work is set out and defined which question the study should answer and why.

Method

In the method part of the work (“Methods”) the design and the participants of the study are discussed. This part is at best very detailed and you can deduce where the study has its strengths and limitations. There are a few things to pay attention to in this part:

  • Demographic data: The information about the participants (age, gender, …) of the study tells you how relevant the research is to you or your family/friends.
  • Disturbances: They give you information about whether, for example, people had to be excluded from the study and if so, why.
  • The study design: Here you can check what type of study it is and how meaningful the results are. You will also learn important details about the duration of the study and the subject of the study (e.g. the use of dietary supplements or training programs).
  • The “language” of statistics: Significant does not mean equally important. Scientists usually speak of STATISTICALLY significant effects. However, this does not mean that the effects are also important. It is, therefore, possible that an effect, although statistically significant, is so small that it is irrelevant in practice.

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Results

The “Results” represent the primary result of the research. While it’s tempting to jump straight to this part from the summary, that’s exactly what you shouldn’t do. This often leads to incorrect conclusions that are reproduced in public. You absolutely must have read the methods section of a paper before you look at the results.

When evaluating the results, you must also pay attention to the following points:

  • The dropout rate: In every study, especially long-term nutritional studies, there are subjects who disregard the guidelines or drop out of the study. You should always pay attention to the dropout rate of a study.
  • The size of the changes: It can happen that the changes in the results appear very large at first, but are in fact much smaller. This can be due to the fact that the results section z. B. involves a subgroup analysis in which another statistical test was performed on a smaller group.

Discussion of the results

In this section, the author explains the relevance of his work and how the results should be interpreted. It is important that the research results of a single study represent only a small piece of the puzzle of an overall picture. In this part, the strengths and weaknesses of the research should also be discussed in detail, you should definitely question this critically.

In order to get scientific evidence for something, it is often not enough to just look at a single study. For example, if you read a single study on the effects of weight loss capsules for burning fat, in which the researchers can see increased fat oxidation, 100% of your research indicates that the effect is actually there.

But if you read ten other studies on the same topic and only one of the research can show an effect, you get a different overall picture in which you find that weight loss capsules have no effect when losing weight.

This detailed research is very time-consuming but ultimately saves you from investing in weight loss capsules.

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Conclusion

Reading and understanding scientific studies properly takes a lot of time. Because if you want to get a real picture of the effectiveness of a training program or dietary supplement, reading the summary of a study without knowing the method and results of the research is not enough.

Reading a scientific study correctly usually costs you hours. As a single person, being able to read and evaluate every newly published study is almost impossible.

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