10 Myths About Muscle: Tested and Researched

Today we will do a mix between mythbusters and fitness writing, science and muscles; all in one, which will help us learn how to build muscle fast and quickly. The goal here was to do an in-depth analysis of some of bodybuilding’s biggest myths about training and nutrition to find out which ones work and which don’t. After using the powers of almighty science, they each received a verdict of true, false, or neutral. Adjust your pocket protector, get out the graphing calculator, and put on your seatbelt folks. It’s go time.

Myth 10: Don’t eat in the middle of the night

Premise

While we may feel unique, tips about training and nutrition come from places far out in left field from the likes of Oprah and Seventeen magazine, from people who have never seen a squat rack in their whole life. This is a myth that comes from those flowery places, confusing even serious bodybuilders about late-night eating.?

Science

When you are asleep you don’t eat which technically is a fast. When you are fasting in your sleep, your body starts using muscle tissue for fuel, digesting amino acids into glucose. While you’re having nightmares about monkeys, your body is eating itself alive. The more time between your last meal and the time you go to sleep the more muscle will be burned when you lay down. This is why slow-digesting proteins before bed are a great idea. Casein protein shakes or cottage cheese are two good examples.

Researchers found that drinking a protein shake immediately before bed for a period of eight weeks helped subjects gain a significant amount of muscle in comparison to a normal routine where the shake was eaten during the daytime.

Verdict

This was the easiest one to figure out. Beyond just being OK to eat at night, it is really crucial to give your body some protein to eat at night. Twenty to forty grams of slow-digesting protein before bed is a good choice, and an equal amount of slow-digesting carbs like oatmeal or wheat bread will help.

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Myth 9: You have to train until your muscles fail.

Premise

The old ‘no pain no gain’ phrase is a way of saying that you shouldn’t stop until your muscles are worn out and fail. Some say that you shouldn’t stop until you get to a rep that you cannot finish. The point of these sayings is that you have to experience full-rep failure in order to gain muscle. This is what many proponents of HIT believe.?

Science

Australian researchers did studies about this, and concluded that doing one set per exercise to the point of failure is optimal without neeing to go to full-rep failure and beyond. For growth it appears that going to the point of full-rep failure is more effective although there is not any solid evidence to prove this completely other than measured increase in growth hormones. Growth hormones are essential for growing muscle, so the correlation makes sense.?

Verdict

If you are training for strength take just one set per exercise to the point of failure and no more. To build muscle you can take most of your sets beyond failure with something called the Weider Training Principles. They are drop sets, forced reps, cheat sets, rest-pause and negative reps.

Myth 8: Sugars are bad.

Premise

Similar to the myth about late night eating, the idea that sugar is bad is one that comes from a general public consensus. Everyone knows that eating skittles will rot your teeth out of your head and make you grow large supple man-boobs and a bulbous gut. No bodybuilder wants that.?

Science

Sugary foods cause insulin levels to spike when you eat them. This in turn causes muscle to take that sugar up (from the glucose flowing in your blood) and put it away as glycogen stores. Unfortunately insulin also causes fat cells to take that same sugar and make it into fat which additionally dulls down fat burning. So partially it is true that eating sugar is bad for a majority of meals. The right time for sugar is immediately after a workout. The sugar that goes into your blood is great for refueling tired muscles and allowing them to replenish glycogen stores.

The key thing is to cause the insulin spike when you want it, at a time where it will be stored by the muscles rather than by fat. If you time your sugar intake correctly, the insulin is also able to help turn on the protein synthesis process which grows muscle.

Verdict

Sugar is both a good guy who can help drive protein into muscle cells and a bad guy who can cause you to gain fat. Avoid sugar except after a workout when you can eat 40-100 grams of sugar-laden foods or drinks along with your 40 grams of protein shake.

Myth 7: Your body is only able to digest 30 grams of protein from each meal.

Premise

For reasons unknown, this myth was popular with bodybuilders in the 80s and hasn’t gone away since. The point about eating frequent smaller portions throughout the day is sound, but such a huge and specific generalization about everyone’s ability to digest protein is a bit much.

Science

Your ability to digest proteins is reliant on the abilities of your gastrointestinal tract, your body’s needs, how much protein you ate recently, and how much you are getting from carbohydrates and fats. Research done on old French women showed that eating an equal amount of protein spread throughout the day was more effective at promoting protein synthesis than eating the same amount of protein at once in the middle of the day.?

Verdict

There is in fact a limitation on how much protein your body can digest at a given time, but trying to say that 30 grams is true for everyone is incorrect. The idea that you should eat six meals instead of three is a good one, but the goal should be to spread protein consumption out across the whole day. 1 to 1.5 grams of protein per pound of body weight is a good figure to aim for when spread across six meals. If for example you weighed 210 pounds, that would mean you would be eating between 35 and 52 grams of protein in each meal.

Myth 6: Building muscle and losing fat at the same time is impossible.

Premise

Logically you would think that eating more calories to build muscle and eating fewer calories to lose fat would be opposing and mutually exclusive acts. You would be justified in thinking that you can only do one thing at a time. This mentality has sprouted millions of bulking cycles, and many cutting cycles.?

Science

While it is true that it is difficult to build muscle when you are restricting calories enough to lose fat, it is not impossible. It is possible to do this when your protein intake is high enough, carbs are cut and you eat enough protein at least four times a day. There has been research done by the University of Connecticut about low-carb dieting that resulted in subjects losing a large amount of body fat while still gaining lean body mass.

Besides watching what you eat, supplements that help build muscle are good. Amino acids, creatine, and arginine are all good choices to include.

Verdict

You can lost fat and build muscle at the same time, just like you can run your belly and pat your head at the same time. By eating the right way, it is doable, and you will accomplish both of your goals.

Myth 5: Doing cardio after lifting.

Premise

A lot of people get on a treadmill or elliptical after lifting because they like to do their least favorite things first. They get the bad stuff out of the way before going and doing the easy cardio. The idea is that you are doing as much as you can to build muscle, and then doing something to avoid flab. Somehow though, you might still feel as though something is not right about this.?

Science

In Japan, researchers discovered that performing cardio after weight training caused a significant increase in fat burned when compared to doing the cardio first. This may be related to a higher level of growth hormone correlated with lifting weights first.

Growth hormone serves the dual purpose of stimulating muscle growth, and releasing fat to be consumed as energy.

Verdict

Go ahead and do cardio last, because it is the best way to do things! Science backs this method up fully for building muscle and losing fat efficiently.

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Myth 4: Dietary fat is not good.

Premise

The only thing as avoided by bodybuilders as much as sugar is fat. In fact, fat is probably held in even worse regard than sugar. Bodybuilding diets place a huge emphasis on lean protein sources like chicken and turkey, and a lot of people instinctively shy away from anything that lists fat in its nutrition facts.?

Science

There is only one type of fat that is actually evil – trans fat. Trans fat is made by us humans and machines, and besides being bad for you it increases muscle breakdown. Saturated fat is hardly the baddy it is made out to be, and you actually need to have 10% of your total daily calories from it in order to promote testosterone levels. Also, you need to get 30% of overall calories from fats, because lower levels have been shown to decrease testosterone.

You should aim to make a large part of this monounsaturated fats from things like avocados and nuts and omega-3 fats from things like salmon and trout. Both these types of fat are not readily stored as body fat, but they are very easily burned during a workout.

Verdict

Run away from trans fats, but make sure you get roughly 30% of total calories from fat with about a third of that being saturated fat, a third from monounsaturated fat and a third from omega-3 fat.

Myth 3: Stretching before training.

Premise

Exercise experts parrot this myth so frequently that you would hesitate to even think it’s a myth at all. If you don’t read fitness magazines you might not even realize there has ever been any debate about the merits of pre-workout stretching. ?

Science

Despite what many people may believe, there has been no study done nor research that has shown stretching before a workout does anything to reduce injury at all. On the other hand there is research showing that doing static stretching before training can reduce strength. Researchers have also shown that increased flexibility comes from stretching after a workout, not before. Given these facts, you would think that the myth is busted. However, there is also still research that shows that dynamic stretching (high kicks, arm circles and other high speed movements) before a workout does in fact increase both power and strength.

Verdict

Cut out the pre-workout static stretching, save it for after you’re done with your session. Hold each stretch for around thirty seconds, and if you really must do a pre-workout stretch make sure it is dynamic rather than static.

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Myth 2: Growth only comes from heavy training.

Premise

Just like the idea about training to the point of failure, you would expect this idea to come out of a dark smoky gym with torn posters on the wall extolling the virtues of heavy training for growth. Everyone feels the need to “man-up” and train heavy, but how few reps and high of weights actually count as heavy? It’s different for each person, what is heavy training to you won’t be heavy training to Arnold. From here we can agree heavy is a function of the amount of weight which you can only do a few reps of. Training heavy then must be doing as many of these low-rep sets as possible, and is it really best for muscle growth as you would think??

Science

It is true that sets of under eight reps are best for strength, the research confirms that, but that is not the case for muscle growth necessarily. Low-rep sets train the nerves to fire muscles faster and more in sync which is a key component of muscle growth. The problem is that so few reps don’t stimulate metabolic change effectively in order to build muscle. In order to stimulate the necessary metabolic action you should do sets of eight to twelve reps. By doing more reps, you will help to increase metabolic byproduct production in the muscle – things like lactic acid – which will stimulate growth hormone production. The increased presence of metabolic byproducts in the muscle will also bring water into the muscle which will stretch it and trigger the growth process.?

Verdict

Training heavy is not only unnecessary for growth, it is not as effective as doing higher numbers of reps. A moderate range of eight to twelve reps is a good middle ground, while still having some high and low rep sets in the mix. Try to keep it balanced, but with the majority of sets falling in the middle range.

Myth 1: Training when sore is useless.

Premise

One of the most widespread myths related to bodybuilding is also a very logical one. Delayed onset muscle soreness, also known as DOMS, is the ache you feel the day or two after an intense training session. If DOMS is your body saying that your muscle cells are broken down from the last workout, training again would not make sense, right?

Science

DOMS is a symptom of the natural processes of muscle recovery and growth. A study showed that when people exercised two days after an intense workout (one which gave them DOMS), while still sore, their levels of cortisol were significantly lower than the first workout and their free testosterone was marginally higher. Cortisol is a hormone that halts muscle growth, so being at lower levels is a good thing. This all adds up to mean that they were in a much better anabolic state after exercising despite having DOMS from a recent workout. On top of that, the researchers had subjects do heavy negative rep curls in order to induce soreness in the biceps and then repeated the exercise two and four days after that.

The result was that there was no real difference in strength, range of motion, soreness or chemical indicators of muscle damage (plasma creatine kinase). What does this mean? It shows that back-to-back-to-back intense training did not do more muscle damage.

Verdict

It has been researched and shown that you generally need to have 48-72 hours between workouts in order to recover fully before working out again. This is nothing to do with being sore, and holds true whether you are sore or not.

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