Every culture has its myths and bodybuilding is no exception. Like most myths, most are nine parts fantasy and one part truth, though of course, some myths have no truth to them at all. I have spent much of my career attempting to expose myths surrounding bodybuilding and topics that relate to it, such as drugs, nutrition and supplementation etc.
For example, one of my more popular articles that was published “back in the day” in Muscle Media was entitled “Nutritional myths that won’t die” which focused on myths surrounding protein and athletes. Classics such as “athletes don’t need additional protein” and “high protein diets are bad for you” as well as others were covered and debunked.
This article, however, is not about one topic or myth, but random myths that float around and never seem to die. It’s intended to be tongue-in-cheek to be sure, but it’s still a serious attempt to combat various myths that have little or no truth behind them. Some of these myths are generated inside the bodybuilding community and some are generated outside the community, by the general public and or medical community. These are in no particular order, so let’s start with a classic:
Myth #1: “Your muscles will turn to fat the soon as you stop working out – Tissue Alchemy BS”
This is a classic used by those looking for excuses for why they have not started an exercise program and resent those that have. My own mother used to say that to me as a kid when I joined a gym at 14. There is no physiological mechanism by which muscles magically convert to fat when one stops working out for some reason. What happens, however, is that many of the gains in muscle mass will be lost from the lack of stimulation. It’s not exactly earth-shattering news that people who don’t exercise and eat above maintenance calories get fat. So what you have is often a loss of muscle and an increase in body fat due to lack of exercise coupled with excess calories. The next time you see someone who used to be buffed but is now fat, it’s not because his or her muscles some how converted to fat. They are fat for the same reason millions of others are fat: too many calories, not enough activity.
Regardless, what if it were true? That is, is the fear of this mysterious muscles to fat conversion a reason to not start a weight training program? If you stop brushing your teeth, the result is (drum roll) cavities, but that’s not a legitimate reason to never start brushing your teeth! I have gained and lost many pounds of muscle over my life time, and have worked with countless people in all phases of their life, and I have yet to see any muscles convert to fat, this myth of tissue alchemy needs to die now. I have however seen plenty of people who stopped working out and got fat.
Myth #2: “Pros eat ‘clean’ all year round”
This myth can be blamed squarely on the bodybuilding publications who want the readers to think their heroes eat low fat healthy “clean” foods year round. This has often led to newbie types attempting to get all the calories they require for growth from baked chicken, rice, and vegetables. Of course getting – say – 4000 plus calories (or more) from such foods is virtually impossible. This reality often leaves the newbie confused and depressed because he’s not making any appreciable gains attempting to stuff himself to death with foods that are low in calories. It’s very difficult to get 4000, 5000, or even 6000 calories a day from chicken and rice. Now for the reality: off-season I have sat across the table from many a pro eating cheeseburgers, pizza, and apple pie. I know one pro who used to pull over anytime he saw a Taco Bell. Big people require plenty of calories and calorie-dense foods are the only way to get them. As the late, great Dan Duchaine once said regarding off-season eating for growth: “don’t feel bad you ate a cheeseburger, feel bad you didn’t eat three!”
Now I can’t comment on every pro’s diet as I don’t know them all, and I am sure some of them have cleaner diets then others off-season. However, make no mistake: the articles you read about what pros eat off-season and what they really eat are often two different things.
As sort of an ancillary myth, most pros will carry more body fat than they claim off-season when trying to gain new muscle mass. Telling people they eat at Taco Bell and are above single-digit body fat levels does not sell magazines or supplements, so it pays to perpetuate the myth that they are hard as nails all year (with a few exceptions) and always eat “clean”.