THIS MUCH I KNOW:
Some of the “Bro Science” muscle building and fat loss tips out there cause more confusion than they do to provide results.
Fortunately, that’s not always the case. But there are a lot of meathead myths from the Golden Age of Bodybuilding that seem so injected with off-the-cuff hype (amongst other things) that it’s hard to know what can be useful for a genetically average, normal dude like you or me.
Figuring out how to balance the Bodybuilding Bro Science with what works for the average gym-goer and find out what’s optimal can be a real challenge.
Most tend to assume that anecdotes spewed from the mouths of jacked dudes between sets may be too extreme for the average joe who’s just trying to look better without a shirt. But what many don’t realize is that some of the bodybuilding advice is more applicable to everyone than we think.
(A guy you might know – Arnold Schwarzenegger – cautioned that training too much is bad – if not worse – than not training enough; something to remember before you toss a grenade at your adrenals and train with a frequency and intensity that a dude injecting himself with ‘all the steroids’ couldn’t even recover from).
And here’s another wrinkle: some of the dumb, extreme, and ‘myth’ like stuff (things that I often say to ignore) the pros do to look or perform at a high level can be very effective, if used responsibly.
Should we still ignore them?
I say no. Not entirely. Because alotta folks – including the “I’m only using it if it’s proven by science” and the “whatever bodybuilders do won’t work for normal dudes” crowd could use a kick in the ass every now and then.
So after 10 years in the gym, I’ve come to find there are some Meathead myths worth embracing, to an extent.
Here’s 3 of them.
PROTEIN IS KING
It’s not uncommon for bodybuilding diets to suggest 1.5-2 grams of protein per pound of body weight. That means a 170-pound guy like myself would aim for 255-340g of protein per day. That’s a lot of protein.
To eat that much protein day in and day out you gotta make eating a part-time job. Eating that much protein is not only inconvenient, it’s also going to be really freakin’ expensive.
But the bodybuilding crowd swears by protein – something that’s reflected by the fact that protein powder is the best-selling supplement in the world.
But here’s where things get interesting: The RDA for dietary protein is currently set at 50 grams a day. Keep in mind, this is based ‘normal’ people, which was a sample of sedentary people of somewhat normal BMI (18.5-25) with a mixed diet of adequate calories.
So if you’re goal was to just live and you weren’t into training to build a better body or get stronger or more athletic – the RDA is enough.
Just a little bit of a disparity there, huh?
On one hand, you’ve got bodybuilders suggesting 1.5-2 grams of protein per pound of body weight (255-240g for a 170-pound person). Then, on the other hand, there’s the 50 grams suggested as “adequate” by the RDA.
So where should you – a normal dude with average genetics and a propensity to lose your shirt when the weather turns warm – fall on the protein spectrum? My take is the RDA of 50 grams is far too low and the bodybuilding 1.5-2 grams is often too high.
When you go with the RDA of 50 grams, you probably aren’t going to get enough to support muscle growth. Remember, that guideline was set with “normal” people in mind and doesn’t really account for activity, like lifting weights.
When you go with the bodybuilding 1.5-2 grams, consuming protein can start to feel like your job. Most people have issues consuming that much protein day in and day out without significantly altering their lives around a specific eating schedule and spending a ton of money on food or supplements.
For those reasons, somewhere in-between those two recommendations is optimal. In my Elite Coaching Program, ensuring adequate protein intake is one of the first things we cover.
I give two options: Eat two servings of protein with each meal OR consume a minimum of 0.8g¹ of protein per pound of body weight. Either way, you’re gonna end up right around the same place, but the options provide for personal preference and varying eating styles.
The point is, while less than the 2+ grams of protein per pound recommended by bodybuilders, I still throne protein as king in many ways.
The difference is I don’t push the protein because I think excessive amounts lead to greater gains. There’s a buncha other reasons why protein kicks ass for transforming your body.
Here’s a few.
- Protein are the bricks your body uses for all internal construction, be it building new muscle or maintaining existing functions. When you workout and “damage” your muscle tissue, protein helps repair the damage. Research doesn’t support the idea that more is better here, either. As long as you get “enough”, there’s really no benefit of going above and beyond (at least for muscle growth).
- Protein has the highest effect on satiety of all the macronutrients. When you eat protein, you feel fuller longer, as compared to eating the same amount of calories from carbohydrates or fats. When your goal is to lose or maintain your current weight, finding ways to feel full without overeating is probably going to be the #1 battle you face. This is the reason that I advise basing most of your meals around protein.
There’s more that can be discussed about the benefits of protein, but the two things above are massively important, and the reason I emphasize the importance of protein intake.
Bottom line: Protein is important. We can talk about nutrient timing, intermittent fasting, and all of the other hot-topic nutrition stuff all day, but unless you have the building blocks of muscle building taken care of through adequate protein intake, none of that stuff is going to matter.
This doesn’t mean you have to approach protein intake with the same obsession that bodybuilders do or spend insane amounts of money on supplements. Base each of your meals around 2 servings (two palm-sized portions) of protein or aim for 0.8-1 gram per pound of bodyweight per day and you should experience all of the benefits without the drawbacks of going too far over or under.
It’s amazing how many things seem to fall into place when you get enough protein without overdoing it. You get fuller faster and feel less hungry between meals, experience fewer cravings, and generally feel better overall.
TRAIN FOR THE PUMP
When you squeeze a muscle, you feel it working. So it makes perfect sense to start out with the idea that you must work muscles to build muscles.
Bodybuilders are known for an extreme focus on feeling the muscle working on a given exercise rather than just performing a movement.
On a foundational level, I think this makes sense to everyone… decide what muscles you want to get bigger, pick exercises that work those muscles, and make sure you’re actually working the muscle.
But about 10 years ago, during what I call the “anti-bodybuilder” era, the rise of functional fitness did everything it could to stamp out the “bro myths” like mind muscle connection.
The emphasis was taken off of focusing on the muscle – something that was deemed not functional – and placed on performing movements and executing each rep with maximum speed.
This is largely due to the idea that moving weights fast recruits “all the muscle fibers” and is superior to a slower tempo that is necessary to hone mind muscle connection and train for the pump.
But here’s the rub: in my experience, focusing too much on lifting maximum and weight (especially at the expense of form) and moving weights fast too often leads to people slinging weight around with little regard to muscular contraction.
In other words, you do a bench press and hyper-focus on moving maximum weight from point A to point B with alotta speed and forget to actually focus on contracting the pecs – which is the entire purpose of the bench press.
I’ve experienced this firsthand. I got caught up in the idea that all you need for physique mastery is to do a few basic compound lifts and focus on moving the most weight possible with as much speed as possible.
But after a few months of this approach, I actually noticed my muscles had less definition. And as I performed various exercises, I didn’t really feel the target muscles working all that much.
I was mastering movements, not working muscles.
Bottom line: The bodybuilders – the most jacked humans on the earth – had it right (go figure), working the muscle is priority numero uno for physique transformation.
But this doesn’t mean you ditch the efforts to gain strength. The goal is always to get stronger over time, while creating maximum tension within the target muscle and training for a pump.
YOU SHOULD LOSE FAT AND GAIN MUSCLE SEPARATELY AND NOT AT THE SAME TIME
In bodybuilding, this is the concept of “bulking” and “cutting.” It goes that by focusing on just muscle gain or just fat loss in a given time frame, you’ll see better results than if you tried to lose some fat and gain some muscle at the same time.
Why the lay folk reject this concept: the idea of bulking and cutting is centered around the idea of an “on” and an “off” season. In other words, it’s a tool competitive bodybuilders use to maximize their presence on stage.
That’s a different game than trying to build a lean, muscular body for everyday life. And that’s the reason I often steer folks away from the extreme and recommend a “recomp” approach where the goal is to build muscle and lose fat over time.
There’s also the issue of steroids, which skews the ability to decipher whether or not bulking will lead to more muscle for the natural trainee. All in all, I don’t buy into the idea that traditional bulking, where you stuff your face with “all the food” leads to more muscle gain.
It didn’t play out for me in a positive way in real life. And there’s not scientific evidence to suggest major excesses of food lead to more muscle. So bulking isn’t an ideal approach.
Similarly, cutting isn’t ideal because it’s an extreme approach meant to put someone in peak condition to compete on stage It’s a short term look. Getting to 6% bodyfat is a whole different game than getting to 10-12% (which is plenty low enough for most to see good ab definition and look great without a shirt).
When you throw all of the bulking and cutting stuff up on the wall, not a lot of it sticks for the non-competitive dude just trying to build an ideal male body.
But this doesn’t mean we toss out the concept of separating the pursuit of fat loss and muscle gain altogether.
When pursuing fat loss and muscle gain separately holds up for the genetically average dude: When you’re first starting out with quite a bit of weight to lose (20+ pounds), focusing on just fat loss is a fantastic idea. Get close to desired level of leanness first and then focus on recomp long term.
This doesn’t mean you have to follow the extreme protocol of a “cutting” approach, but understanding that you need to take care of fat loss first is the important take away.
Bottom line: Get lean first, then build muscle. If you’ve got 20+ pounds to lose, get rid of the excess fat and then switch to a muscle building/recomp focus long term. Fat loss is a much quicker process than muscle building – especially if you’ve been working out for more than 6-12 months.
So embrace the separation of pursuing fat loss and muscle gain to begin with and then, once you’re at or near desired level of leanness, switch to a more moderate recomp approach.
You definitely don’t want to fall into the cyclic bulking and cutting approach popular in bodybuilding. That’ll just leave you yo-yoing back and forth between skinny fat and fat. Lose the fat once, then worry about building muscle.
The ‘Meathead Myths’ outlined above have caused alotta confusion for more than a few gym-goers, myself included.
I’ve experienced the protein fear that arises when you start to think more and more protein is the answer. I’ve dropped (perhaps wasted) hundreds of $ of supplements to hit my daily goals.
Sure, some people get so focused on getting a pump and end up spinning their wheels with the pink weights from the group exercise room in the name of “focusing on the muscle.”
And yes – many of us have wasted years bouncing back and forth between bulking and cutting with little show for it in the end.
But at the core of these ideas are principles that hold up in the real world, for real people, if applied correctly and with a nugget (or two) of discernment. Our goal is to distill the useful parts of these strategies to further our pursuit of a stronger, leaner, and more muscular body.
Come at it as outlined above and you’ll experience most of the positives without being weighed down by the negatives.
¹This recommendation is based on:
• Lemon et al. (1992) found no differences in muscle mass or strength gains in novice bodybuilders consuming either 0.61g/lb or 1.19g/lb over a 4 week period. Based on nitrogen balance data, the authors recommended 0.75g/lb.
• Hoffman et al. (2006) found no differences in body composition, strength or resting hormonal concentrations in strength athletes consuming either 0.77g/lb or >0.91g/lb over a 3 month period.
• Tarnopolsky et al. (1992) observed no differences in whole body protein synthesis or indexes of lean body mass in strength athletes consuming either 0.64g/lb or 1.10g/lb over a 2 week period. Protein oxidation did increase in the high protein group, indicating a nutrient overload.
• Walberg et al. (1988) found that 0.73g/lb was sufficient to maintain positive nitrogen balance in cutting weightlifters over a 7 day time period.
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