5 Muscle Building Myths to Stop Believing
I remember when I was approached by Men’s Journal years ago to contribute to an article titled “What Men Get Wrong About Building Muscle” I was PUMPED.
That’s because, when you work in fitness as a dietitian, the amount of misinformation floating around is NAUSEATING and it’s downright dizzying trying to debunk all of the bs you overhear in the gym.
It’s funny how everyone in the gym is a professor, but hardly any of them are actually swole?
That’s why I put together this list of misconceptions that most commonly have me physically putting hand to face.
1.) More Protein, More Growth
Let me get right to it.
No, the whole "your body can only absorb x amount of protein at a time" is a bonus myth. So, stop believing that.
However, that said, more protein is not better. If you are consuming more than 40 grams of protein in a single meal or shake, your body is going to use that 40 grams for muscle and the rest goes to other body processes.
Studies show that optimal muscle growth happens after we eat at least 20-40 grams of protein. Whenever they fed subjects more than this, there was no additional muscle growth.
I, as a dietitian, would much rather you put those extra calories towards fruits and vegetables. You know...where it will actually do your body some good?
Also, eating so much protein can make you want to literally puke. If you’ve ever received misinformation about eating insane amounts of protein. You know exactly what I’m talking about.
How those 8 protein shakes a day treatin' ya?
Except for special cases, in general, as long as you’re eating in the range of 20 grams (for smaller individuals, like females with a small frame) to 40 grams (for larger individuals, like athletic males with a bigger frame or if you’re trying to lose fat) per meal and snack, you can stop there with the protein intake.
2.) BCAAs Are a Necessary Supplement for Muscle Growth
You know I think one of the reasons I wear glasses is from all of the eye-rolling I’ve done seeing men lug that pink stuff from cable machine to cable machine or influencers on Instagram sipping the damn things before they start every workout video.
Branched-chain amino acids (BCAAs) are a group of three amino acids: leucine, lysine and valine.
There is no evidence that branched-chain amino acids are more powerful than protein from food at building muscle.
So why are they so popular?
It’s because one of these three amino acids, leucine, is proven to be THE amino acid that stimulates muscle growth. However, you can easily get leucine from food protein sources which is way cheaper (and tastier??).
That being said, there are some benefits to taking BCAAs, but none of those benefits include significant muscle growth. Sorry GNC!
3.) Too Much Protein is Bad for the Kidneys
This is a myth that’s on its way out (thank God), but I still included it here because believing it can prevent you from meeting your goals (especially if you’re trying a cutting season).
My background, before I got into fitness and sports, is actually in medical nutrition therapy. I worked in a hospital for three years in my undergrad and 6 months post-grad in critical care.
Why am I telling you this? I know A LOT about food and kidney problems. I literally helped treat them!
Without launching into a full-on renal lecture (any anatomy nerds here?) let me just tell you that YES. A lot of protein can be damaging to your kidneys...if you already have kidney problems.
You usually see these in people that are over the age of 40, diabetic and/or in some stage of kidney disease.
However, if you’re young and with none of these health issues, your kidneys are perfectly capable of processing whatever protein treats you decide to stuff in your face.
And no. Eating a lot of protein now won’t give you kidney problems later. You’re safe!
4.) You Need a Lot of Calories During a Bulk, So You Can Eat Whatever You Want
*shudder* Dirty bulking.
Let me tell you. Seeing all of the ripped dudes on Insta with their entire pizzas?
All of the insanely attractive and fit women about to smash a cheesy looking burger?
Really it is! The problem is: These people are in the maintenance stage of their fitness.
These people you see have already gone through years of the bulking and cutting process to get to the body they want and now they can enjoy whatever they want whenever they want (within reason and, you know, still tons of exercise).
If you are trying to bulk though (and I mean REALLY bulk not just eating chicken tenders and tell everyone you’re bulking to cover your butt) you really shouldn’t be careless with what you are eating.
That’s called dirty bulking. Eating high-calorie foods that are gold to your tongue, junk for your insides.
I know what you're thinking. "But moooooooom, if I need a lot of calories...and pizza has a lot of calories….why can’t I eat it?"
It’s because foods like pizza and burgers are okay every once in a while, but when you’re eating them often and in large enough quantities (which, if you’re bulking, you will be) it causes inflammation in the body.
Fighting off diet-induced (caused by food) inflammation is HARD on the body. So hard, in fact, that the body tends to prioritize that fight over other functions like...building muscle.
In fact, have you ever been injured or sick and when you came out of it you lost a crazy amount of muscle?
That’s because there was a lot of inflammation going on in your body and that harmful activity breaks down your muscle.
SO. Don’t do yourself a disservice. Get your calorie surplus from (mostly) healthy foods, please. Be a clean bulker.
5.) You Need to Change Your Workouts Often to Confuse the Muscles
Some of the downright dangerous exercises I see on social media legit have me peeking through my fingers. For the likes!
It’s okay to put up creative exercises every once in a while to share. I love trying them out when I get bored! But changing up your routine every couple of weeks is not necessary.
I’m not quite sure where the idea that your muscles had a brain and you had to keep it guessing to get gains comes from, but let me just say it’s a fallacy.
Major key: A big part of tracking how successful your muscle gain is going is by tracking your strength. Makes sense, right? If you’re gaining muscle, you should be gaining strength also.
However, if you’re doing a squat one week, a pistol squat the next, and a monkey-legged lunge (okay I made that one up) the week after that, how on earth are you going to be able to track how much you’re going up in weight on your squat?
All you need to stimulate your muscles for growth is progressive overload. And that doesn’t always have to come in the form of more weight (which you don’t want to force unless you want to tighten your muscles and risk injury), changing your reps, tempo and rest length.
If you feel you aren’t going up in weight the way you want to, you can always change one of those factors, but changing up your exercises too often isn’t going to do you a ton of good.
The bottom line? In today's digital age, it seems like everyone who works out for long enough becomes an expert in nutrition and exercise, extrapolating every favorable thing they've done to get results to everyone. This has resulted in so much misinformation floating around the gym, that I had to step in and clear the air. That's why I'm here!
If you want to learn from me exactly how to tailor your nutrition and training to gain muscle the right way, you want to check out my program The Athlete's Method.