This is the second part of a two-part series that examines 10 popular bro science myths. To view the first part of this series and myths 1-5, click here.
The myth: "If you want a 6-pack, it's all about crunches."
The facts: The six pack. The ultimate symbol of fitness: often desired, but rarely achieved. This is because most people go about the wrong way trying to get it.
Strength training builds muscle, and over time, your skeletal muscle mass grows and your physique changes accordingly. A strong chest is the result of working out the pectoral muscle group; huge arms are the result of working out the biceps and triceps properly. So, many people naturally assume that in order get a six pack, you need to build huge abs.
To build a 6-pack, your abdominal muscles do need to be developed. But for your abs to show, you should focus on improving your body composition and lowering your body fat percentage. You can have the strongest abdominal muscles in the world, but if they are covered by a layer of abdominal fat, you won’t have much to show off.
Think about your fat as a layer that stretches across your ab muscles. The thinner the layer, the easier the muscles underneath can show. What body fat percentage will reveal the 6 pack? This depends primarily on gender, body type, and a lot of individual variance; but generally, abs will start showing up around 10% for men and 15% for women.
The takeaway: Focus on getting very lean and reducing your body fat percentage for a 6-pack.
The myth: “Eating 3 meals a day is wrong. If you break it up into 5 – 6 smaller meals, your body continuously burns fuel throughout the day, which increases your metabolism so you lose weight.”
The facts: This one sounds like it makes sense. It’s like adding fuel to the fire, right? Instead of throwing on a giant log right away to make a huge fire, you add in smaller branches over time to grow the fire and by the end, you have a huge blaze going that burns the fuel immediately. Can the same metaphor be applied to your diet? Will small, frequent meals turn your body into a calorie-burning furnace?
The truth in this is similar to the first myth in the previous article – what’s important isn’t how often or what time you have the calories; it’s how many calories you have over a 24-hour period. A study in the Annals of Nutrition & Metabolism that looked at healthy people who ate one large meal a day for two weeks and then later ate the same meal spread out over five smaller meals for another two weeks concluded by observing no statistical difference in body weight gain/loss between the two eating styles. 2000 calories over 3 meals is still 2000 calories even if you eat it over 5 meals
This myth is one of those “life-hack” myths that crop up every now and again that promises weight loss without having to make lifestyle changes. Myths like these offer strategies that avoid the hard work and commitment that diet and exercise demand. You know the type because they often follow this formula:
“Just follow this one [insert adjective like: simple, easy, weird, surprising, etc.] rule to [insert desirable body shape or fitness goal] in [insert unreasonably short amount of time].
However, the truth is no favorable change in body composition will occur just by increasing meal frequency if you live a sedentary lifestyle. There is no substitute for diet and exercise.
The takeaway: Instead of focusing on a fixed number of meals, it’s much more productive to focus on what and how much you eat.
The myth: “There’s no point in trying to consume more than 30 g of protein at once. Your body can’t process any more than that, so if you try to consume more than that, your body will just get rid of it and not use it.”
The facts: While it is true that different body types and fitness levels have different protein needs, it is not true that there is a protein intake limit. In a study published in the Journal of Nutrition, test subjects were divided into two groups: one that consumed virtually their entire daily protein allotment in one sitting, and another that spread it out over four meals. As the conclusion of the study, it was shown that there was no difference in protein absorption when comparing pulse pattern (all-at-once) vs. spread pattern (over four sessions).
This myth is particularly common with people who are trying to build muscle as quickly and efficiently as possible. A lot of people believe that protein needs to be spaced out throughout the day so that the body can utilize all of it since different types of protein absorb at different speeds. Although it is true that different types of protein absorb at different rates, there is nothing to suggest that there is a set “30 g limit” at one time.
The takeaway: Eat as much protein as you need for your goals, but don’t stress about arbitrary protein limits.
The myth: “After you finish lifting, you have, like, 30-45 minutes where your body absorbs protein the best. Your body will absorb it like a sponge, and you’ll bulk up faster that way.”
The facts: If you are new to weightlifting, this is probably the first thing that people will tell you about building muscle: right after you finish working out, your muscles are exhausted, and because they are torn from all the lifting you did, they are (somehow) primed for absorbing protein at maximum efficiency.
It is true if you just completed a heavy weightlifting session, you are likely in an anabolic state. This state is best for building muscle. Bro scientists maintain, however, that this magical protein absorbing state has a very short duration – probably no more than an hour – which is why you see people start drinking protein shakes when they walk out of the gym.
This is the so-called “anabolic/metabolic window,” and it sounds just scientific enough to be accepted without question by the average gym-goer. However, in a comprehensive 2013 meta-analysis published by the Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition that examined the existing research surrounding the anabolic window, the authors concluded that if a metabolic window does in fact exist, the duration can last anywhere from 4 – 6 hours after high intensity exercise. This means there is no rush to eat an entire 8 oz steak and wash it down with another 30 g protein shake in 30 minutes.
The takeaway: Don’t worry about rushing the protein shake. You have time.
The myth: “To gain muscle, take your body weight in pounds and multiply it by at least 2. That’s the minimum amount of protein you MUST intake a day in order to gain muscle.”
This one goes hand in glove with #2 and is probably the most famous bro science myth out there. There are many versions, but they all go something like this:
Throughout your day, in order to maximize your muscle gain, you need to consume 1-2 g of protein per pound of body weight. So if you weigh 150 pounds, you are looking at needing to consume 150-300 g of protein every day.
One egg contains 7 g of protein. That’s a whole lot of eggs. Fortunately, this 1-2 g rule is a good old-fashioned piece of bro science that doesn’t hold up.
Here we go:
For starters, according to the American Medical Association, no more than 0.36 g of protein per pound of body weight was required for subjects between the ages of 18-50 to maintain lean body mass. This means for a 160 pound male to simply maintain his lean mass, he would need 57.6 g of protein a day. This could be accomplished by:
And that’s it.
But what about athletes or people looking to increase their muscle mass? In this study of new bodybuilders, who were just beginning programs to put on muscle mass, there was no recorded benefit for consuming more than 0.68g of protein per pound of weight. So if you’re new (which is usually when this myth is learned), you need to consume more protein than 0.36g, but not much more.
Fine, but what about experienced athletes? In a 2006 study conducted with high performance collegiate athletes, the study found no evidence supporting increased lean body mass, strength, or body composition results in subjects that consumed 0.8 – 0.9 g of protein per pound of body weight.
The study went even further and produced another very interesting second finding: if the athletes in the study had increased their overall calorie consumption to their recommended levels, they would have stood to further increase strength and muscle gains.
In other words, including more protein wouldn’t have helped these athletes get bigger and stronger, but including more healthy calories that came from any number of sources would have. Protein is very important, but it isn’t everything.
The takeaway: To gain muscle mass rather than just maintain it, you’ll need to eat more protein--just not as much as you think, and definitely not 2 g per pound of body weight.***
So there you have it. Most bro science focuses on hacks and shortcuts to get the body you want. But most of the time, there’s no better way to improve your health and quality of life than by working out, eating properly, and taking control of your body composition.