Written for the February 2015 edition of Alan Aragon’s Research Review
I’m all for evidence-based health and fitness recommendations, but it’s important to recognize the limitations of aggregate data (gasp!), and acknowledge that many of the things that matter to people who just want to feel better or improve athleticism are virtually impossible to examine adequately with the group-level research that’s become so popular to cite.
In an attempt to move away from broscience, practitioners have embraced empirical research, and it’s tough to dispute that objectivity is superior to subjectivity.
It certainly sounds impressive when scientists describe acute and cellular-level responses to nutrients, supplements, and training. But how do these data relate to real-world health and fitness concerns?
Fortunately, we have chronic outcome data from experimental research, the so-called gold standard for establishing causality, to help us evaluate claims about efficacy. Yet, for various reasons, many of these studies include subjects who have little in common with the folks who might actually use the methods being tested.
Or even worse, the instruments used to measure the outcomes of interest have limited reliability, which renders any conclusion about a potential effect meaningless.
But perhaps the biggest problem is that group-level research inadequately accounts for individual differences in protocol preference, interpretation of outcome, or potential for compliance. Within-group differences are regularly treated as error rather than meaningful sources of information.
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