We set out to analyze the biggest axioms of bodybuilding training and nutrition to determine which ones can help your physique, which ones can hurt it and which ones help or hurt, depending on your approach. Once we brought science to bear on each of these 10 tenets, we stamped them TRUE, FALSE or a more nuanced NEUTRAL, meaning the advice is stated too boldly but contains valuable guidance. So, slip into your lab coat, strap on your safety goggles and tighten up your lifting belt, because it’s time to find out the truth and falsity about bodybuilding’s most prevalent maxims.
MYTH 1O: DON’T EAT LATE AT NIGHT
PREMISE: As much as we may think of bodybuilding as a cloistered subculture, we are forever bombarded with training and nutritional tips from sources far removed from squat racks and posing daises. So it is with this axiom, which is such a ubiquitous feature of the sort of diets Oprah hypes that many beginning bodybuilders dare not breach it, and it breeds confusion about what and when to eat to gain only muscle and not fat.
SCIENCE: When you sleep, you’re on a fast. During that fast, your body is forced to turn to your own muscle protein for fuel, converting those amino acids into glucose. In other words, while you’re in dreamland, you’re experiencing the nightmare of cannibalizing your own muscles. The longer you go before sleep without eating, the more your muscle will be eaten away. That’s why we always recommend that you end your day with a slow-digesting protein, such as a casein protein shake or cottage cheese. Research from the Weider Research Group discovered that trained bodybuilders drinking a casein protein shake right before bed for eight weeks gained significantly more muscle than those who consumed the same casein shake in the middle of the day.
VERDICT = FALSE: We started with the easiest myth to shoot down, for not only is it OK to chow down long after sundown, it’s crucial to eat a protein meal immediately before going to bed in order to feed your muscles the nutrients they need to recover and grow while you sleep. Go with 20-40 grams of slow-digesting protein, such as a casein shake or cottage cheese. If you’re trying to pack on mass and don’t store fat easily, take your protein with about 20-40 g of slow-digesting carbs, such as oatmeal, sweet potatoes or whole-wheat bread.
MYTH 9: YOU MUST TRAIN TO FAILURE
PREMISE: Don’t stop until your muscles stop is like a “No pain, no gain” mantra. Here’s another one: the only rep that counts is the one you can’t finish. In other words, you only stimulate growth by pushing a set to absolute full-rep failure — or beyond — via techniques like forced reps, partials or rest-pause. And thus, HIT zealots are born. This is a popular creed simply because its logic seems irrefutable. After all, if you stop short of failure, won’t you merely do what you were previously capable of doing and thus fail to stimulate growth?
SCIENCE: Researchers at the Australian Institute of Sport (Canberra) performed several studies that lead to the conclusion that for strength, doing one set per exercise to failure — and no more — is optimal. When it comes to growth, however, taking most sets to failure appears to be more effective. There is no direct evidence to support this, but research shows that when you do take all sets to failure and beyond with forced reps, growth hormone levels are significantly higher after workouts than when you stop just short of failure. Since GH is critical for muscle growth, it can be assumed that taking most sets to failure is your best bet.
VERDICT = NEUTRAL: When training strength, take just one set per exercise to failure — no more, no less. For muscle growth, take most sets to failure and beyond with the following tried-and-true Weider Training Principles: forced reps, cheat reps, drop sets, rest-pause and negative reps.
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