20 COMMON BODYBUILDING MYTHS DEBUNKED
If you want to separate fact from fiction and get onto the most efficient path to your muscle building goals, then you’ll want to read this article.
There are a ton of common fitness and bodybuilding myths out there. With so many contradicting “facts” about bodybuilding out there, here are 20 bodybuilding myths debunked.
Bodybuilding Myth #1
“Consume a protein shake or high-protein meal directly following your workout.”
This myth is based on the idea of taking advantage of the “anabolic window.”
However, the reality is that as long as a pre-workout meal is consumed within a couple of hours of your session, the same amino acids from that meal are still going to be available even after you finish your workout. Protein digestion is a gradual process, so immediately consuming another meal post-workout is not a critical nutrition strategy that needs to be followed.
The “anabolic window” is where muscles are more sensitive to nutrient uptake. This lasts a lot longer than just 30 minutes or 1 hour, spanning from a few hours to as much as 6 or more hours post-workout.
Rather than overthinking it, get some protein ideally within a couple of hours of your workout, and you’ll be fine. Even if the wait is slightly longer, this is a sufficient timeframe since the essential factor is aiming for enough total protein for the whole day. About 0.8 grams of protein per pound of bodyweight is adequate.
Bodybuilding Myth #2
“Eat big to get big.”
If you’re in a focused bulking phase and want to maximize muscle growth and strength gains fully, then eating a calorie surplus is important.
At the same time, your body can only make use of a relatively small daily surplus to build lean muscle; any additional calories will just be stored as fat.
About 200-300 calories above maintenance is needed for optimized gains. Eating more food to force muscle growth will be counterproductive to your physique in the long run. This will not help you gain muscle any faster, instead causing you to put on excess body fat, which you will have to take time to lose later on.
Bodybuilding Myth #3
“You must eat certain “muscle-building foods” to maximize your results.”
The truth is that proper nutrition is all about the big picture, i.e. the total calories, macros, micros, and fiber you consume for the day from a combination of foods.
Certain foods are generally going to be more calorie- and macro-friendly, but there are no individual foods that you must eat or that will have some special muscle-building effect on their own.
Rather than forcing yourself to eat foods you don’t enjoy, base your diet around the foods you prefer that still contribute toward your total nutritional needs for the day. This will make your everyday diet more enjoyable and increase the chance you’ll stick with it over the long term.
Bodybuilding Myth #4
“There are certain specific exercises you must perform to build muscle effectively.”
You want to include specific movement patterns within a program to be optimal and adequately balanced, such as a horizontal press for the chest, a vertical pull for the lats, or a hip hinge for the hamstrings. However, there are no individual variations of those movement patterns that are essential for gaining significant muscle.
As long as a given exercise safely places the targeted muscle under tension and allows for consistent progressive overload over time, it will ultimately be an effective means of building muscle. Some examples include:
- Barbell bench press
- Dumbbell press
- Machine press
- Overhand pull-up
- Lat pulldown
- Hammer pulldown
Most importantly, focus more on hitting the proper movement patterns, then select the specific exercise variations within those patterns that feel best for you to maximize muscle activation and minimize joint stress.
Bodybuilding Myth #5
“Cardio burns muscle.”
While it is true that performing an excessive amount of cardio can negatively impact your gains by interfering with weight training performance and recovery, a moderate amount of cardio is completely fine.
Moderate cardio will not cause you to lose muscle, and including some form of cardiovascular exercise during the week is recommended for the overall physical and mental health benefits.
Ensure that you don’t perform your cardio immediately pre-workout to avoid pre-fatigue right before weight training, and ideally limit it to 2-3 sessions per week. Cardio can be increased later on if needed.
Suppose you are performing higher volumes of cardio. In that case, calorie intake should be increased to compensate for this so that you’re staying in a net calorie surplus, especially if bulking is your primary goal.
Bodybuilding Myth #6
“Training each muscle only once per week is not an effective way to build muscle.”
Training each muscle only once a week won’t be optimal for building muscle fast compared to doing it one and a half or two times a week, since your muscles don’t require a full week to recover completely.
However, long-term significant gains can still be made with a once-per-week frequency as long as the total volume and intensity are sufficient for the week as a whole.
Keep in mind that just because something isn’t “optimal” doesn’t mean that it’s ineffective, and plenty of lifters out there make significant gains on “bro split” body part routines. If you are training each muscle once a week, you will still get to the same end goal if you’re consistently achieving progressive overload.
But, it will likely take longer to get there compared to something like a full-body routine, upper/lower, or legs/push/pull, where the frequency per muscle is a bit higher.
Bodybuilding Myth #7
“Fasted cardio increases fat loss in comparison to fed cardio.”
This myth has been pretty thoroughly debunked over the years.
Whether you perform fasted cardio or fed cardio, it’s not going to have any noticeable impact on your overall fat loss if your total calorie intake versus expenditure for the day stays the same.
While fasted cardio increases lipolysis (the amount of fat that gets broken down), it doesn’t increase fat oxidation (the amount of fat that gets burned for energy). Ultimately the fatty acids that aren’t used for fuel are re-stored as body fat.
If fasted cardio is a preference, this is fine, but your pre-cardio nutrition strategy should be what feels best for you. When it comes to fat loss, don’t obsess over what happens during short windows of 30 minutes or an hour. What matters is that you’re maintaining a net calorie deficit for the overall day and week as a whole.
Bodybuilding Myth #8
“Delayed onset muscle soreness is an indicator of a successful workout.”
Muscle soreness does indicate that some form of damage has occurred within the tissue, but it doesn’t necessarily indicate that that damage will specifically lead to increases in muscle size and strength.
Any form of repetitive stress can make your muscles sore, whether it’s an intense cardio session or even something entirely unrelated for regular exercise. As a beginner, you’ll tend to get very sore after your workouts, and then over time, as your body adapts to weight training, the soreness is going to subside gradually.
The primary factor for gauging your workouts’ success is progressive overload, meaning that your performance in the gym is steadily improving over time. For beginner to intermediate lifters, one thing to note is the amount of weight lifted and the reps for each exercise.
As long as you’re consistently getting stronger in the gym and putting up better numbers each week and month while maintaining proper form, then that’s what truly matters regardless of how sore you feel in the days after your session.
Bodybuilding Myth #9
“Weight training stunts growth.”
Unless we’re talking about some rare situation where you had a freak accident that broke a bone and damaged an actual growth plate, there’s no evidence that a properly executed weight-training plan stunts growth in any way.
Regarding serious and sudden injuries, weight training itself is very safe. It’s even safer than other everyday activities that teens and younger kids participate in, like sports or outdoor activities.
Assuming you grew up with adequate nutrition, height is just a matter of genetics when it all comes down to it.
Bodybuilding Myth #10
“Eating smaller meals more frequently throughout the day increases metabolic rate in comparison to larger meals eaten less frequently.”
In reality, when total calories are equated for the day as a whole, the specific way you distribute those meals will not have any significant impact on overall fat loss, whether it’s 6 small meals, 4 medium-sized meals, or 2 large meals.
Resting metabolic rate doesn’t change in response to meal frequency and neither does the total daily thermic effect of the foods you eat.
When it comes to fat loss, lay your meals out during the day in whatever way controls your appetite most effectively. This will be the most sustainable and enjoyable for you over the long term.
Bodybuilding Myth #11
“Eating in the later evening hours will lead to increased fat storage.”
As we’ve been discussing, when it comes to fat loss, total calories consumed versus total calories expended for the entire day is what matters, not the specific timing of when those calories are ingested or burned.
While consuming a higher percentage of calories in the evening would produce more immediate fat storage at that particular time, this will still balance out since your body would have burned fat earlier on in the day, as well as during the following morning and afternoon.
Food intake can be cut back in the later hours based on your preferences since eating a considerable meal close to bedtime can potentially interfere with sleep quality. However, this won’t make any difference when it comes to your bottom-line body fat levels.
Bodybuilding Myth #12
“Squats and deadlifts increase testosterone levels, causing you to gain more muscle throughout your entire body.”
Heavier compound exercises do produce a larger increase in testosterone in comparison to smaller isolation lifts.
However, it’s essential to understand that merely “increasing testosterone levels” by itself doesn’t automatically mean that those increases are going to translate to more muscle growth.
For increases in testosterone to have any measurable impact on hypertrophy, those levels have to be elevated by a considerable percentage and sustained over a prolonged period. Resistance training isn’t going to produce a large enough testosterone increase for that to happen.
While squats and deadlifts are great muscle-building exercises that allow you to move a lot of weight and target multiple muscle groups, they don’t produce added total-body gains specifically due to increasing testosterone.
Bodybuilding Myth #13
“Low reps should be used for increasing muscle size, while high reps should be used for improving muscle definition.”
The only thing you can do to your muscles is to make them bigger or smaller overall.
Still, there’s no extraordinary rep range or training technique that’s going to somehow “tone” or “define” your muscles since it’s not possible to spot-reduce fat from specific areas of your body.
Muscle definition is simply a product of building up your total muscle mass levels and then lowering your overall body fat percentage to make the muscles more visible.
So, the only real purpose of weight training itself is to maximize muscle hypertrophy, with diet and cardio used to take care of the fat loss to bring out more visible definition, since fat gets broken down from your entire body as a whole.
Bodybuilding Myth #14
“BCAAs are an effective supplement for preventing muscle breakdown and increasing protein synthesis.”
If you’re consuming adequate protein for the day—around 0.8 grams per pound of bodyweight being enough—you’ll already be getting all of the BCAAs you need to maximize muscle growth.
Adding 5, 10, or 20 extra grams on top of that isn’t going to have any added benefit. This has been shown multiple times in various forms of research. Yet people continue to purchase these supplements, convincing themselves into thinking that BCAAs are helping their muscle growth.
BCAAs will not help fasted training, because you still need the full spectrum of amino acids present if you want to halt muscle breakdown effectively; an essential amino acid blend might be the better choice.
A regular protein option like a scoop of whey would be better, even though you technically wouldn’t be genuinely “fasted” at that point. However, there aren’t any specific benefits for fasted training. Keep in mind that BCAAs and EAAs also contain calories.
So if you’re planning to use either of those for “fasted training,” you might want to use whey since 15 grams of whey has about the same total calories as 10 grams of BCAAs.
Bodybuilding Myth #15
“Intermittent fasting is superior for fat loss in comparison to regular, continuous calorie restriction.”
Intermittent fasting is a perfectly viable way of structuring your diet if you enjoy it and find it easier to stick to.
However, when total calories for the day remain the same, intermittent fasting doesn’t have any unique fat-burning benefits.
Intermittent fasting can be beneficial for some people. When you skip breakfast and restrict your eating window down to only 8 hours or less, you tend to eat fewer calories for the day as a whole, and a calorie deficit is the primary driver of fat loss.
Suppose intermittent fasting helps you maintain a calorie deficit more quickly. In that case, it’s a great option to experiment with, but if you prefer eating regularly spaced meals throughout the day, then switching to intermittent fasting isn’t going to magically improve your results.
Bodybuilding Myth #16
“You need to constantly switch up your workouts to “shock” or “confuse” your muscles into new growth.”
The idea of muscle confusion is a myth as your muscles don’t have a mind of their own and are just responding to the direct tension and volume you’re subjecting them to.
Continually changing your workouts around will be directly counterproductive to your gains over the long term.
When you’re always performing different exercises, different rep ranges, and training different muscles on other days, it becomes much harder to track progressive overload accurately. Progressive overload is the most critical factor in an effective training program.
Constantly switching up your workouts also prevents you from becoming highly skilled at any one particular set of lifts to fully maximize their effectiveness, since you’re constantly bouncing around between different exercises.
A much better approach that can easily make the difference between long-term success and failure is to have a preset, concrete workout plan for a consistent training cycle and maximize your strength gains on that one plan before switching over to something else.
Bodybuilding Myth #17
“Low carb diets are inherently superior for fat loss.”
Protein has a higher thermic effect than carbohydrates and fat, so if you’re currently following a high carb / low protein diet, and then reduce the carbs and increase the protein, you technically will burn more calories through digestion.
However, this difference likely won’t be too significant. In most cases, the real reason why some people do see positive results when they switch to a low carb diet is that when you restrict your carb intake, you end up consuming fewer calories in total since carbohydrates contain calories.
If you take a person who regularly consumes high amounts of calorically dense refined carbohydrates, and then they replace those types of foods with lean proteins and vegetables, it’s no surprise that the weight finally starts falling off.
Also, if these individuals were consuming very little protein before levels were increased, the higher protein content would lead to better appetite control. If a lower carb approach is your preference, then it is fine.
Still, when looking at total calories, assuming you’re hitting your protein minimum for the day, there isn’t going to be any significant fat-burning difference between moderate to higher carb intake.
Most people also find that they do better in terms of overall dietary adherence and training performance when they don’t actively restrict their carb intake to low levels.
Bodybuilding Myth #18
“You must avoid alcohol if you want to gain muscle and lose fat effectively.”
There’s no question that excessive alcohol consumption will be counterproductive to your progress since it’s a source of empty liquid calories that can add up if you aren’t careful.
If you’re also drinking to the point of being hungover, then that can negatively affect your training performance, motivation, and overall productivity.
However, the reality is that if your training and nutrition stay otherwise on track overall, going out with your friends and having a few drinks here and there will be fine, and it won’t detract from your overall results.
It won’t significantly impact testosterone levels, lower protein synthesis, or inhibit recovery like many people claim, so long as you aren’t going overboard. Just make sure to drink responsibly. A weekly average of around 1-2 standard drinks per day for a male should be acceptable and about half that for a female.
Calories should be taken into account. Make sure to rehydrate yourself. If you find that it is noticeably interfering with your overall fitness plan, you need to have the self-awareness and discipline to cut back.
If you can keep things in moderation, then alcohol is not something you necessarily have to cut out completely.
Bodybuilding Myth #19
“Performing direct ab exercises like crunches and leg raises is the key to getting a six-pack.”
Training your abs for hypertrophy helps get a six-pack because it’ll create more visible separation between the ab muscles and cause them to be more noticeable.
However, keep in mind that it doesn’t matter how well developed your abs are if your body fat percentage is too high for them to be visible in the first place.
Ab exercises only target the abdominal muscles underneath the fat, and they do not affect the actual fat stores in and around your midsection area.
Training your abs directly in the gym will improve your midsection and allow your abs to be more visible, even at slightly higher body fat levels. But getting a clearly defined six-pack is primarily achieved through your diet rather than by what you do in the weight room.
Bodybuilding Myth #20
“You can’t gain muscle effectively on a vegan diet.”
For those who are vegan or are thinking about trying out a vegan lifestyle, know that you can still gain muscle mass and strength just as effectively as an omnivore can, as long as you’re getting in the proper total calories per day along with sufficient protein and fat.
Proper nutrition is not necessarily about individual food sources. As long as you put in the time and effort to properly structure your diet and find vegan food sources that allow you to meet your required numbers consistently, there shouldn’t be any issue.
The only thing I would suggest is going slightly higher on total protein for the day. So rather than the typical 0.8 grams per pound of bodyweight figure, push that up a bit closer to 0.9-1 gram.
Try to also get in various sources to ensure that all of your individual amino acid needs are being fully met. This is because most plant-based protein sources have a lower absorption rate than animal sources and will be lacking in at least one of the nine essential amino acids.
There’s a lot of confusion about bodybuilding and fitness, but hopefully these in-depth debunks provided some value to you. Overall, remember to stick to the basics, and do them consistently. Focus on progressive overload, proper nutrition, and consistency, and you’ll be able to form the long-term habits that will help you achieve your bodybuilding goals.
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