Maybe you’ve overheard this conversation at the gym — a slightly ripped guy and a skinny newbie begin talking, and the one with more muscles starts offering his insight. He drinks such-and-such brand of muscle building supplement. He does this many reps, with this much weight.
That’s all useful info for the guy just starting out at the gym, but how much should he take at face value? Information freely offered from non-reputed sources is commonly known as “broscience” (initials: BS). Largely based on personal experience, these recommendations may have worked for one person, but might be ineffective or even harmful to another. And what was once solely a locker room phenomenon has gone viral, thanks to online forums and the free dissemination of this “information.”
Before adopting any diet, supplement, or workout regimen, it’s important to distinguish between broscience and established fact. That’s easier said than done. If you’re talking to a random guy in a gym or reading posts on a forum, err on the side of caution. Check their credentials. Do they have a degree? Do they work in the industry? If you’re reading an article, are they widely published?
A working knowledge of a few of the most popular broscience myths can help out significantly when sizing up the credibility of your source. Watch out for these common misunderstandings.
- Anyone who talks about converting fat into muscle. This can’t be done! We build our physique by: (a) Cardiovascular exercise that burns stored fat. (b) Lifting and resistance exercise that builds muscle. It’s quite simple, but it’s not a direct conversion. If someone mentions converting fat into muscle, that’s a red flag that they’re not well-informed.
- The idea that working out a particular body part will ‘spot’ trim the fat there. This doesn’t work. Fat burns proportionally throughout our body. Ab crunches will not burn a greater proportion of belly fat than butt flab. But, ab crunches will build the muscles underneath the belly fat, helping you look (and feel) better once the fat is burned away.
- Any sort of ‘get ripped quick’ scheme! Yes, there are highly engineered supplements that can work wonders for your body, but they only work in conjunction with exercise and lifting. If anyone is recommending an energy supplement to you, be cautious and do your research. Ephedrine, caffeine, and aspirin are not sustainable ways to build muscle. You are working out with your long-term health in mind, right? Remember that.
Of course, scientific understanding often changes. Credible sources have supported the concept that carbohydrates and fat shouldn’t be eaten in the same meal, due to an insulin spike from the carbs that would cause the dietary fat to be stored as body fat. Although a high-carb, high-fat meal isn’t necessarily healthy for anyone, science has since shown that a moderately mixed diet can actually produce more fat loss than following a strict plan of separating ‘fat meals’ from ‘carb meals.’
The problem with ideas like this are that they gain traction in gyms before we fully understand the science behind them. Some bodybuilders limit their water and sodium intake before an event, believing that they can stack their carbohydrate levels in the process. Our bodies are just too smart for this kind of nonsense. Remove sodium from your diet, and the body is going to increase its production of the hormone aldosterone, which promotes water retention.
Still, it’s amazing how popular these ideas can be, and how quickly they spread. Avoiding water goes against everything we’ve been taught since day one on the playground. Use common sense! If a piece of advice seems to counter what you’ve always understood to be the truth, do your research before making changes.
To start, it only takes a few minutes to ask a trainer at the gym for their advice. No, many of these guys and gals aren’t sporting doctorates in nutrition and physiology, but believe me, they’ve heard more broscience than us after-work gym rats can imagine. Make friends with a trainer you trust at the gym, and use them as a first filter for anything you’ve read online or heard from the guy working out next to you (especially if he’s on a new ‘no water’ plan!)
All of that said, there is plenty of viable information to be taken from your neighbor at the gym. Honestly, who do you trust more — the super fit looking guy who is always full of energy and preaches the virtues of his post-workout protein shake, or the pencil thin scientist who hasn’t exercised in years but spouts out numbers saying the protein shake isn’t effective?
Follow your instinct. Check out your sources. Most importantly, listen to your body and build muscle for the long term.
About the Author: Brett Warren is a biochemical research scientist based in Boston, Massachusetts. He puts his expertise to work on a daily basis by developing sports supplements for Force Factor. Brett loves weightlifting and working out at the gym almost as much as he loves his job. In addition to his work with Force Factor, Brett spends lots of time with his family hiking, biking, and enjoying the outdoors.
photo credit: sxc.hu