Contrary to popular belief, bodybuilders – especially the successful ones – are not generally ‘meatheads’. Instead, they tend to be highly intelligent, well-read and generally experts on all matters of their health and biology. In order to develop competition winning physiques, they need to know their nutrition and training.
But while most bodybuilders know their stuff, that doesn’t mean they don’t also make mistakes. And particularly when you look at the top tier athletes who aren’t quite winning Mr Olympia just yet, you realise that there are some pervasive myths still circulating that are no longer backed up by the science.
Point is that even if you ask someone in fantastic shape who can bench press 200kg for fitness advice, there’s a good chance they might make a couple of mistakes… And it’s likely that those would include some of these…
Eating Protein After a Workout
When you work out your body produces a series of hormones that instruct it to use protein to build muscle. This is called an ‘anabolic state’ and some people refer to this time as an ‘anabolic window’. In other words, this is a brief window of opportunity during which the body will make maximum use of the amino acids to build muscle.
As such, most bodybuilders will tell you to use a protein shake after you’ve worked out to make the most of that window.
Only there’s a problem: it takes time for the body to digest protein and convert it to a usable form in the bloodstream. So while the body will continue to repair the muscles throughout the day, to make maximum use of your elevated heart rate, vasodilation (widened veins) and growth hormone release, you should actually eat the protein about an hour before you train. Furthermore, this will also help you to increase your metabolism and fat burning subsequently during the workout.
Now in reality this isn’t going to matter too much for most of us as the effect will be tiny. And for the bodybuilders that it would matter for, there’s a chance they’ll be using pre and post workout shakes together. And actually there are some other complex factors to consider (here’s a review of the literature that goes into a little more detail http://www.jissn.com/content/10/1/5). Some people even have an ‘intra-workout shake’ which means they’re taking protein shake during their workouts! Nevertheless, if you had to choose between pre and post, pre would probably actually make more sense! Look up ‘peri-nutrition’ for a little more information.
Bulking and Cutting
Okay so bulking and cutting isn’t ‘wrong’ at all. If you were a bodybuilder competing to be Mr Olympia, then bulking and cutting is probably the only way you’re going to be in with a chance of winning. But that said, if a bodybuilder recommends that you use this technique as well, then you should probably politely decline.
That’s because bulking and cutting isn’t necessary if you want to build a lean and bulky physique: a caloric deficit is required to lose weight, but that’s not to say that you can’t still eat enough protein to build big muscles. And especially if you protect your muscles from being broken down by adding things like MCT oil to your diet.
Not only is bulking and cutting unnecessary for most people who just want to get into ‘good’ shape, but it also places a strain on the body as you are constantly yo-yoing in weight. Those who think it’s impossible to burn fat and build muscle at the same time are mistaken – it takes longer but it’s healthier and means you look good all year round.
Even for some of the top bodybuilders, the splits you see don’t really make much sense and they don’t train the body in the way it is designed to be trained. They work for building an impressive physique, but they don’t really support optimal performance and they can lead to injury as well.
It’s not the split I have a problem with (though most people won’t need a full ‘bro split’), rather it’s the amount of time and energy spent on specific muscle groups.
For instance, most bodybuilders – even the good ones – will dedicate whole days to muscles like the pecs and even the biceps. Despite this, other muscles like the traps and lats rarely get whole days dedicated to them and the entirety of the legs get crammed into a single day.
This is just a skewing of priorities. The biceps are much smaller muscles compared to the pecs and as such they don’t need as long spent on them: it’s as simple as that. Meanwhile the legs should really get trained at least twice a week if you’re giving the pecs or the shoulders their whole own day.
Likewise you also need to think about the type of muscle fibre in each muscle group. The legs and biceps have a lot of type IIa and type IIb fibres which gives them the explosive power necessary for running, jumping and punching. On the other hand the muscles of the back such as the erector spinae contain more slow, type I muscle fibres which excel at long-term endurance. This is important as it enables you to walk with an upright posture all day without getting achy. You need to train the muscles targeting the type of fibres that you most need.
Again this won’t matter too much for most people, but if you’re getting serious and creating a split, make sure that you think carefully about which muscles need more work and how you can best target each of them.
Training Too Long
Another mistake that many bodybuilders will make and pass on to the sponge-like noobs, is working out for too long during each session and potentially not getting enough rest. This is understandable seeing as bodybuilders train for their living often and seeing as they tend to love what they do. Why not train for hours?
Actually though, there comes a point where training for too long doesn’t yield any additional benefits and instead just wastes time. In fact in some cases it may be that training too long has negative side effects and results in the muscles taking too long to heal thus slowing down the potential strength and size gains.
The reality is that there is a ‘MED’ or ‘minimum effective dose’ for getting a muscle to grow, and beyond that there’s not really much use in spending many more hours in the gym. At the same time, if you know how to train efficiently then you can get a better workout into a shorter space of time and thus avoid choosing not to exercise just because you can’t face the idea of spending a whole hour exercising…
Bodybuilders are generally highly smart then and usually they’re right on the money. Still, even the very best ones are sometimes making mistakes or doing things that at least aren’t that beneficial for those new to the gym – so be selective when taking on their advice and make sure to always do your own research as well!