- If you have ever spoken to someone who is ripped, you may have heard some rather outlandish scientific claims
- This is what's called "bro science" - rumours that are spread based on what the gym "bros" have done
- While character evidence is useful, it also does create some pretty crazy myths
- Sam Whitaker counts through 5 Workout "Bro science" myths you should ignore
I’m not saying I stay up reading research studies until the early hours, but I do spend time following the work of evidence based people many, many times more knowledgeable than I am - Lyle McDonald, Alan Aragon, Martin MacDonald, Danny Lennon, Eric Helms and Team Shredded by Science to name just a few.
Following the likes of the above people has taught me a lot over the last 4-5 years.
More recently, I’ve decided to expand my knowledge further and enrol on the SBS Academy. As at the time of writing, I'm pleased to say I've passed the module 1 exam and am currently enjoying module 2.
I’m also eyeing up the Mac Nutrition University course as well, once I've finished the SBS Academy.
As my knowledge has improved over the years, it's made me realise how silly & ridiculous some of the things I used to believe are and, what makes it worse, that I used to actually tell people.
Even though I feel more confident and knowledgeable after learning from the above resources, the more I learn, the more I realise how much more there still is out there for me to learn.
I think this realisation is important in any field.
The moment you think you know everything, the moment you stop growing and improving. And if you're completely closed off to any new information, the worse off you'll be for it.
Imagine if scientists in the 1900's stopped researching and making new discoveries because they thought they knew everything... We’d have no smart phones, no air-conditioned cars and no internet!
I like to think of the first year or so in my fitness journey as my ‘bro’ years.
Most people, I think, have a ‘bro’ year or two when they first start out in the fitness industry.
Most of the information and 'knowledge' in the first year(s) usually comes from fitness magazines, the most jacked guy at the gym, or just poor online sources.
If anyone is unsure of what I mean by ‘bro’ years, I’m referring to something dubbed ‘bro science’.
"Broscience is the predominant brand of reasoning in bodybuilding circles where the anecdotal reports of jacked dudes are considered more credible than scientific research." - Urban Dictionary
"Bro, you gotta slam 40-60 grams of waxy maize plus 20 grams of BCAA within 7 seconds of finishing your last set of squat rack curls. Otherwise, you'll go straight catabolic." - Bro science in action.
The above is attributed to Alan Aragon. (His monthly research review, the AARR, is one of my favourite resources by the way).
So I thought it’d be fun to go back and look at some of the things I used to believe and the mistakes I made, to hopefully help educate people and free them of these 'bro-isms'
So here goes…
Bro Myth #1
Gluten should be avoided, by everyone!
I think this must have come from the paleo crowd.
I was quite the paleo advocate back in the day and used to preach the whole, 'only eat what our ancestors would eat' deal.
I don't want to get into the paleo diet on the whole here, even though I could.
I'll just focus on the gluten free thing, seeing as though the term gluten free is becoming more and more widely used.
And, in some cases, incorrectly becoming synonymous with 'healthy'.
Obviously, if you have celiac disease it’s vital you avoid gluten and there's no getting around it.
Also, as I understand, some people do have genuine non-celiac gluten sensitivity, so these people would also be best avoiding, or at least limiting gluten consumption.
However, the people in the above groups are in the minority and most people do not need to avoid gluten containing foods like the plague.
A lot of people think they are sensitive to gluten, but actually aren’t.
Maybe they just want to be special.
Or maybe they just like over paying for ‘healthy’ gluten free muffins.
By avoiding gluten, you potentially cut out many foods that are beneficial to human health.
You also run the risk of running into difficulty when eating out at restaurants or at family gatherings etc.
Do you really want to be the guy who has to ask if every dish on the menu contains gluten or not, and if it has been prepared near gluten containing foods if you don't have to?
Maybe you do.
Maybe you would like the special attention… But in my opinion, creating unnecessary obstacles and complications around food will only hinder your health & weight loss goals in the long term.
Take home point - Gluten isn't the poison many would have you believe. There are certain people who'd do better avoiding it and some that absolutely must avoid it, but they're the minority rather than the majority. Don't make things harder for yourself than they need to be.
Bro Myth #2
You just need to 'eat clean'
Through lack of education more than anything I think, I would exclusively eat ‘clean’ foods and never eat ‘bad’ foods.
When I say I never ate ‘bad’ foods, what I mean is I just avoided ‘bad’ foods until my cheat day.
Then I would eat as much as I physically could.
Almost to point of feeling really sick.
And this was supposed to be 'healthy'. Hmmmm...
Over time, I began to understand that there weren’t any inherently bad foods and that it's possible to consume some of the foods I thought of as 'bad' more regularly, fitting them into my daily/weekly calorie goals.
Getting rid of the urge to binge on these foods at the weekend, improving my results and my relationship with food.
I adopted a more flexible approach and the calorie tracking app/website, MyFitnessPal became my best friend.
To start with I'll admit, I went a little too far the other way, trying to hit my calorie & macro targets bang on.
This lead to some anxiety around food when it came to situations where I couldn't accurately measure what I was eating.
This wasn't ideal either.
However, I'm pleased to say that now I’ve reached a happy middle ground, where I track things most of the time and just aim for ball park figures, which seems to work well for me.
Making use of the benefits of roughly knowing how much I'm eating but also allowing me some flexibility to enjoy eating out, parties etc.
Take home point - You do not need to 'eat clean' and avoid 'dirty' foods to be healthy and lose weight. Don't view foods as good or bad. Foods aren't good or bad per se. They should be viewed in the context of the rest of your diet.
You can include some 'bad' foods in your diet.
Bro Myth #3
Carbs are the enemy
I used to think that eating carbs was the primary thing that made people fat.
I had 'carbophobia'
I'm not sure where this one came from actually, perhaps something I read in a magazine once and it just seemed to stick.
So, for a while, I followed a low carb diet.
After not making much progress, I then moved to no carbs after 6pm. The thinking behind it being that carbs aren't actually that bad, as long as you don't eat them late at night because you wouldn't have chance to ‘burn them off’.
Which is utter rubbish, frankly.
Ironically, I tend to eat most of my carbs in the evening these days. And no, not because of carb back loading ;) I just like to eat a lot in the evening when I'm relaxing with family/friends or sat in front of the TV, so save a lot of my calories for the end of the day.
As I've become more knowledgeable, I've realised that carbs aren't inherently fattening, and that it’s overall energy balance that is the number 1 factor in dictating body weight changes.
However, if reducing or cutting out carbs leads you to reduce the number of calories you eat then yes, it's good method for weight loss.
But don't take this to mean that everyone has to go low carb to lose weight.
Similar to the point I made regarding avoiding gluten, putting unnecessary obstacles in the way, like avoiding all carbohydrates, will likely hinder your long term weight loss & health goals.
Take home point - Reducing your carb intake can help you lose weight but only if it causes you to consume less overall calories. Not because carbs are bad or fattening and need to be avoided. Some people will do well on a low carb diet, some people will not. Don't make things harder than they need to be by creating unnecessary obstacles.
Bro Myth #4
Every day is chest and arms day
Okay, so this isn’t a myth as such, but it’s a very ‘bro’ thing to do.
When I first started lifting weights, I would never train legs, only upper body.
Which, considering the prevalence of guys wearing skinny jeans, is still an issue for many have.
I don’t think I consciously avoided training legs. The thought just never crossed my mind, which is ridiculous thinking about it now.
Even when I did start to train legs it was only about 3 sets, twice per week.
I thought the paltry bit of cycling & running I was doing at the time was enough for legs and didn't want to over-do it. (I actually chuckled to myself writing that. Oh how naïve I was)
Fortunately, now I realise the importance of training lower body and have 2 full sessions in the gym dedicated to it. Which I would recommend most people do.
And now I'm proud to say that I cannot fit into a pair of skinny jeans, even if I wanted to.
Also, on a related topic, make sure you train the muscles behind you and not just the ones you see in the mirror.
All of your back muscles, rear delts, glutes & hamstrings all need as much, if not more, attention as your chest & arms. Not only to create a balanced physique but also to prevent strength imbalances that could injury.
Take home point - Train your whole body, including your legs and the muscles groups behind you. Just because you can see them in the mirror doesn't mean everyone else can't see them. And guys should not be able to fit into skinny jeans.
Bro Myth #5
Cardio kills gainz
I went through a phase of thinking any sort of steady state cardio would cause muscle loss.
I’m not sure where I picked this up from, but I was pretty worried of losing muscle mass if I did much cardio, particularly steady state.
Now, I realise that provided you give your muscles an adequate resistance training stimulus, eat enough protein and fuel your training sessions, any muscle loss from cardio exercise will be minimal to none.
That’s not to say there’s zero interference effect from cardio that could impact muscle mass growth mind you.
If you wanted to put on the absolute maximum amount of muscle mass possible, then a lot of cardio probably isn’t a great idea.
However, for most people (myself included), the difference is miniscule.
Over the last year I’ve got the road cycling bug and regularly cycle 100+ miles a week and I haven't noticed any negative effect on muscle mass.
Granted, this is a sample size of one, but the science seems to support this fact - particularly when it comes to cycling.
In fact, my legs have improved if anything, likely due to the high volume of cycling so much.
Take home point - As long as you don't take things to the extreme and start marathon training on 800kcal/day, your precious muscle mass will probably be OK.
If you're wanting to be on the Mr Olympia stage and/or care about building the absolute maximum about of muscle possible, you might want to limit your cardio to incline treadmill walking bro… But for most people, cardio isn't going to kill your gainz!
When I first thought about writing an article on this subject, I asked some other fitness professionals about their ‘bro’ years and what ideas they bought into that they now realise a bit silly.
Mike Sweeney RD gave me with such a great, detailed answer, I turned that into a blog post itself, which you can read here!
So, there we have it! 5 bro myths that I was guilty of believing and, more embarrassingly, used to preach to other people.
Hopefully by sharing these with you, you won't make the same mistake.
I'd be interested to know if you disagree with me and think any of the above aren't actually myths. Or if you have any of your own 'Bro myths' you were guilty of believe in your 'bro' years.