6 Bodybuilding Rules You May Need to Break
6 Bodybuilding Rules You May Need to Break

We've all heard the "latest and greatest" from Joe GymBro about the practices you MUST employ if you want to gain muscle, lose fat, increase strength, or attain Greek god status. The purpose of this article is to analyze common OCD muscle building practices and determine if they're impactful enough for the average muscle head who trains drug-free.

Rule #1 – Fasted Training is Great for Fat Burning

Verdict: The average trainee does not need to worry about training in a fasted state. There is no statistically significant benefit.

This OCD practice came about from the theory that hunger pangs signify your body is using body fat for fuel. The followers of this ritual typically debate the actual definitions of "fasted" or "empty stomach", meaning there is no unanimous rule about how long after a meal you are in a fasted state.

This semantic skirmish aside, the proponents unanimously believe that training in this style is optimal for burning as much fat as possible. Let's examine the research:

  • One study that examined the body composition effects of fasted versus non-fasted aerobic exercise in 20 females found that fasted and fed trainees experienced the same statistically significant decreases in body mass, BMI, percent body fat, waist circumference and fat mass and no changes in fat free mass. [1]
  • A meta-analysis of 17 articles found that carbohydrates consumed pre-workout did not improve performance during exercise sessions lasting less than 70 minutes, and for sessions lasting longer than 70 minutes, carbohydrates improved performance ~59% of the time. [2]
  • After 20 males engaged in a 6 week endurance training program, exercising 3 days per week for 1 to 2 hours at 75% of peak Vo2 max, the fat oxidation did not differ between fasted and carbohydrate-fed participants. However, the fasted trainees experienced decreased glycogen breakdown. [3]
  • Another 20 males engaged in a 6 week endurance training program, exercising 3 days per week for 1 to 2 hours at 75% of peak Vo2 max. This study found that the 10 fasted trainees increased "post-exercise dephosphorylation of eEF2", which researchers believe increases the re-activation rate muscle protein synthesis (MPS) after endurance exercise. [4]
  • When scientists measured the excess post-exercise oxygen consumption (EPOC) of six untrained individuals they found that EPOC was higher in fed trainees over the 7 hours post-exercise. It is often thought that a higher EPOC equates to more calories (and potentially fat) burned. However this study concluded that fasted versus fed exercise does not affect EPOC to a statistically significant degree. [5]
  • 12 males engaged in 1 hour of treadmill running at 70% of peak Vo2 max, but found that the fasted training group burned the same amount of fat and did not experience additional hunger suppression (re: consumed the same number of calories) compared to the fed trainees. [6]
  • Although this study examined rats, it found that rats who fasted for 24 hours had increased fatty acid utilization and increased endurance compared to fed rats. [7]

Bottom Line: Each of these studies examined the impact of fasted versus fed (non-fasted) training on aerobic endurance exercise, which is typically performed during a fat loss phase. These studies did not produce a unanimous decision, but it's safe to say that the average muscle head should not worry about training fasted versus fed as the differences are not statistically significant. It would be beneficial to see additional fasted vs. fed studies performed using anaerobic exercise such as resistance training and sprinting.

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Rule #2 – Eat Every 2-3 Hours to Keep the Metabolism Stoked

Verdict: Frequent meals may actually hinder the fat loss process.

This OCD practice came about from the theory that a bodybuilder must eat every 2 to 3 hours to maximize muscle protein synthesis and anabolism throughout the day. Some devout followers will even set alarms at night so that they can consume food during their sleeping phase.

Proponents of frequent feeding are typically convinced that eating more often allows them to eat more calories per day (due to increased metabolism and/or thermic effect of food). They believe that those who only eat 2 or 3 meals per day have a metabolic disadvantage. Let's examine the research:

  • Researchers examined the effect of 6 meals per day versus 3 meals per day on 8 obese males and 8 obese females; despite keeping a ~3000 weekly caloric deficiency for each individual for 8 weeks, both groups lost identical amounts of body weight, fat mass, lean body mass, and BMI. [8]
  • 8 individuals consumed a high carb/low-fat meal (70% carbs, 19% fat, 11% protein) and 10 individuals consumed a low carb/high-fat meal (24% carbs, 65% fat, 11% protein) as one large 1,200 calorie meal or two 600 calorie meals on two separate occasions; meal frequency and meal composition did not affect the thermic effect of food (TEF). [9]
  • When 15 lean individuals (7 male, 8 female) consumed energy balanced diets (re: calories burned = calories consumed) comprised of either three meals or six meals per day; 24-hour fat oxidation was the same across both groups, but perceived levels of hunger and the desire to eat were increased in the six-meals-per-day group. [10]
  • 12 healthy males consumed energy balanced diets (15% protein, 30% fat, 55% carbs) spread across either three or 14 meals per day; researchers found fat oxidation was the same across both groups and the lower meal frequency group experience decreased glucose levels as well as increased rest metabolic rate (RMR) and appetite control.

Bottom Line: For the average muscle head there's no need to eat every two to three hours. If your goal is general wellness, then low meal frequency may actually improve your glucose levels. If you goal is fat loss, then high frequency feedings may actually hinder your results through an increased desire to eat and poorer appetite control. If your goal is lean mass gain and you have a small appetite then high frequency feedings may help, but it will not cause you to burn any more calories per day compared to a low frequency feeding.

Rule #3 – You Need a Post-Workout Shake With Whey and a Fast Digesting Carb

Verdict: Post-workout protein is the way to go, while post-workout carbs may not be needed.

This OCD practice came about from the theory that there's an optimal nutrient profile for your first meal after a weight training session. These followers believe that this first meal needs to be digested as quickly as possible, which means it's typically in liquid form, comprised of fast digesting sources, high in protein and carbohydrates with little or no fat.

If all of those criteria are fulfilled then it's believed muscle protein synthesis and recovery will be optimized. Let's examine the research:

  • 15 individuals performed 15 to 18 minutes of high intensity resistance training, consumed a complex protein beverage or carbohydrate beverage immediately post workout, waited 2 hours, and then performed a series of field tests (T-test, push-up, and sprint). Researchers did not find a significant performance difference amongst each field test across both groups, but found that across all field tests those who consumed the protein beverage had a significant cumulative advantage. [11]
  • 27 untrained males consumed either a protein/carb drink before exercise, post-exercise, or received a placebo before/after exercise; the timing of ingestion of a protein/carb drink not affect muscle damage, function, and soreness. [12]
  • 13 male and 16 female Crossfitters consumed protein/carb drinks immediately post-workout (40g protein/80g carbs for males and 20g protein/40g carbs for females) for six weeks; body composition, mean power, and sport-specific workout performance did not change compared to placebo. [13]
  • A review of past research studies found that 3-4 grams of leucine maximizes MPS, whey protein is an cost-effective way to obtain this quantity of leucine as well as other essential amino acids post workout, a fast digesting carbohydrate (e.g. maltodextrin or dextrose) appears to maximize MPS when consumed alongside a leucine-only supplement, and consuming an essential amino acid/dextrose beverage is most effective for increasing MPS prior to exercise. [14]
  • 8 young resistance-trained participants performed 4 sets of knee extensions and 4 sets of leg press for  8-10 reps at 80% of their 1RM; 4 consumed 10g whey protein/21g fructose and 4 consumed 10g maltodextrin/21g fructose. The rise in MPS was greater in the whey protein/fructose group compared to the maltodextrin/fructose group, which suggests hypertrophy over time due to a positive net protein balance. [15]
  • Protein consumption post-weight training leads to a net positive protein balance, which increases MPS and leads to hypertrophy over time; high GI carbohydrates can increase muscle glycogen synthesis rates by up 61%; a 3:1 ratio of essential amino acids and high GI carbohydrates may increase arterial EAA concentrations 100-400% between 10 and 30 minutes post-ingestion. [16]
  • 40 resistance-trained individuals consumed a post-workout shake comprised of 40g whey protein and either 120g of sucrose, honey powder, or maltodextrin; combining protein and carbohydrates significantly affects glucose, insulin blood levels, and post-exercise MPS but the type of carbohydrate does not have a significant effect. [17]
  • When 19 untrained males between the ages of 18 and 25 years consumed milk (protein and carbs) or a carbohydrate-electrolyte drink immediately post-workout for 10 weeks the milk group significantly increased their bodyweight and fat-free soft tissue mass compared to the carbohydrate-electrolyte beverage group. There were insignificant changes in IGF-1, cortisol, and resting energy expenditure across both groups. [18]
  • Consuming 20g of protein intra- or immediately post-workout maximizes MPS rates and consuming this protein alongside carbohydrates does not further increase MPS rates. [19]
  • Consuming 400ml of a 7.8% dextrose and 1.8% protein-electrolyte beverage increases muscle glycogen synthesis and MPS rates compared to placebo. Such enzymes measured include phosphorylation of Akt, mTOR, rpS6, and GSK3alpha/beta. [20]
  • Three groups, 8 healthy males per group, performed resistance training and either consumed 10g of whey protein every 1.5 hours for 12 hours, 20g of whey protein every 3 hours for 12 hours, or 40g of whey protein every 6 hours for 12 hours. Researchers found that consuming 20g of whey protein every 3 hours for 12 hours yielded the highest MPS during the 12-hour period. [21]
  • A meta-analysis performed by Brad Schoenfeld, Alan Aragon, and James Krieger found that consuming protein 1 hour pre- and/or 1 hour post-weight training did not significantly affect strength and hypertrophy-related adaptations. These researchers concluded that the increased protein intake rather than the timing of the protein intake led to any observed positive effects during the studies they analyzed. [22]

Bottom Line: For the average muscle head there's merit to consuming protein post-workout to maximize muscle protein synthesis. However stacking this with fast-digesting carbohydrates does not appear to increase MPS any further, but may maximize glycogen replenishment rates which may be beneficial for those perform 2x daily weight training sessions or endurance activities in addition to regular weight training. At the end of the day it's more important that the average muscle head consume adequate protein, carbohydrates, and calories rather than worry about the timing and composition of a post-workout shake.

Bodybuilder Drinking Casein Protein Powder

Do you need casein protein powder before bed? NO. But you DO need some form of protein before you turn the lights out.

Rule #4 – You Need a Slow Digesting Protein Like Casein Before Bed

Verdict: Protein before bed is a good idea, but casein may not be needed.

This OCD practice came about from the theory that fast digesting protein sources such as whey protein are optimal pre- and post-workout whereas slow digesting protein sources such as casein protein are optimal prior to bed. Followers believe that the amino acids from casein are digested and released at a slower, more regular, and longer lasting rate compared to whey protein. This slower digestion supposedly will mean optimal anabolism and muscle protein synthesis while you're asleep. Let's examine the research:

  • 16 healthy males performed one session of resistance training, consumed 20 grams of protein and 60 grams of carbohydrates immediately post-workout, waited 2.5 hours, and then consumed 40 grams of casein protein or a placebo 30 minutes prior to sleep. This consumption of casein protein increased muscle protein synthesis rates by 22% over placebo and improve net protein balance. Furthermore the rise in whole-body amino acid levels due to this casein intake remained for the duration of the sleep cycle. [23] Unfortunately this study did not compare casein to whey protein or a whole food protein source.
  • When 12 individuals consumed a casein protein beverage and 10 individuals consumed a soy protein beverage researchers found that glutamate, serine, histidine, and lysine amino acid uptake was higher in the casein protein group, but overall muscle protein synthesis did not differ between the two groups. [24]
  • Three groups of six healthy young males performed unilateral leg resistance exercises and consumed 10 grams of essential amino acids comprised via whey hydrolysate, micellar casein, or soy protein isolate immediately post-workout. These individuals also consumed their assigned proteins at rest; muscle protein synthesis was greater after consuming whey hydrolysate and soy protein isolate during both rest and post-exercise states compared to micellar casein. MPS was 93% higher after whey hydrolysate consumption compared to micellar casein. [25]

Bottom Line:  These studies show that it's beneficial to consume protein post-workout and pre-bed, but casein isn't the best option if you're looking to maximize MPS. Although one study found that casein protein intake pre-bed kept amino acid levels high throughout the night it did not examine any other protein source. The average muscle head shouldn't worry about casein protein consumption pre-bed but rather focus on consuming some protein and perhaps a fat source to slow digestion prior to sleep.

Soy Increases Estrogen

Does soy consumption decrease testosterone and increase estrogen levels? Yes, there is evidence to back this claim.

Rule #5 – Avoid Soy, it Lowers Testosterone and Raises Estrogen

Verdict: Soy has the potential to negatively impact the hormone panel of healthy males.

This OCD practice came about from the theory that soy is devil for the natural trainee as it lower testosterone levels and increases estrogen levels. These followers believe that consumption of soy, even the smallest quantities can trigger these undesirable side effects which can delay muscle growth and recovery, cause mood swings, and affect libido. This audience believes the only way to avoid these side effects to completely avoid. Let's examine the research:

  • 35 middle aged overweight men performed either a 12 week resistance training program without a soy protein supplement, with a soy protein supplement, or did not weight train and participated in a lifestyle education class. Those who consumed a soy protein supplement experienced the largest increases in lean body mass and strength as well as the largest decrease in fat mass. Both resistance training groups experienced no significant bodyweight changes but did see a decrease in waist circumference. [26]
  • A meta-analysis of 15 placebo-controlled treatment groups and 32 reports involving 36 treatment groups found that soy protein or isoflavone intake did not significantly affect testosterone, sex hormone-binding globulin (SHBG), free testosterone, or free androgen index (FAI) in males. [27]
  • An analysis of Medline literature and cross-reference of published data found that soybean isoflavone intake, even at a level higher than the typical Asian male, does not significantly affect total or free testosterone levels. [28]
  • 42 male and female subjects over 50 years of age consumed either 25g of soy protein, 25g of animal protein, or 50mg isoflavones. In females, isoflavones did not affect any hormones measured, but the soy protein increased estrone and lowered dehydroepiandrosterone (DHEA) levels when soy protein was consumed compared to animal protein.  In males, isoflavone intake decreased DHEA whereas soy protein intake increased DHEA compared to animal protein intake. [29]
  • When 10 resistance-trained males consumed 20 grams of whey protein isolate, soy protein isolate, or a maltodextrin placebo in the morning prior to weight training (6x10 squats at 80% of 1RM) for 14 days, the individuals who consumed soy protein isolate experienced decreased serum testosterone but did not experience a change in SHBG or estradiol levels compared to the whey protein and placebo groups. [30]
  • 35 males consumed milk protein isolate, low-isoflavone soy protein isolate, or high-isoflavone soy protein intake; soy protein intake, regardless of the isoflavone quantity decreased dihydrotestosterone (DHT) and DHT/testosterone by 9-15%. [31]
  • 12 males between the ages of 25 and 47 consumed 56 grams of soy protein powder for 28 consecutive days; serum testosterone decreased by 19% and serum luteinizing hormone levels decreased, but both returned to their original baseline values two weeks after subjects stopped consuming soy protein powder. [32]

Bottom Line: Although soy protein is a cost-effective source of high quality protein that can invoke positive body composition changes, it appears that supplementing with soy protein negatively affects the hormone panels of otherwise healthy males. Therefore, the average muscle head should minimize or completely avoid soy protein powder, but not be too concerned if they consume trace soy from other products. However, if one consumes only minimally or unprocessed foods it should be easy to minimize or eliminate overall soy consumption.

Rule #6 - You Need 8 Hours of Sleep to Optimize Hormones

Verdict: Sleep deprivation can negatively impact testosterone levels.

This OCD practice came about from the theory that there's a universal sleep requirement, 8 hours, regardless of age, gender, bodyweight, training history, etc. Followers of this ritual believe that if you sleep any less, then your gains will be compromised due to decreased testosterone levels, decreased muscle protein synthesis and fatigue.

This audience also typically believes more is better; 8 hours is their recommended minimum but if you can sleep 10 hours that's even better because it just means you're creating an even greater anabolic environment for yourself. Let's examine the research:

  • A study analyzing 21,268 twins greater than 18 years of age found that women and men who sleep less than 7 hours had a 21% and 26% higher risk of mortality; those sleeping longer than 8 hours had a 24% and 17% higher risk of mortality. This study also found that the risk of mortality increased by 31% and 39% for men and women who regularly use hypnotics and tranquilizers to fall asleep.
  • A cross-sectional study of 810 individuals between the ages of 18 and 65 found that those who get less than 6 hours of sleep per night are most likely to have metabolic syndrome, followed by those who sleep more than 9 hours. Those who slept 7 to 8 hours per night had the lowest instances of metabolic syndrome. [34]
  • An analysis of the sleep habits of 1,842 Mediterranean subjects found that men slept more than 8 hours per night had higher risk of all-cause mortality and cardiovascular mortality. The women analyzed in this study did not experience the same increases in mortality rates but researchers found that those who slept 6 to 8 hours per night had the lowest risk of these mortalities. [34]
  • One study on 6,413 people 30 to 65 years old found that those living in the subarctic (long and cold winters with short an cool or mild summers) require 8 to 9 hours of sleep to maintain optimal health. Those who slept less than 6 hours per night experience an 80% higher risk of having a BMI greater than 25. Males had doubled risk of having a waist circumference greater than 40.16 inches. [35] This study suggests that sleep needs may be influenced by geographic location.
  • A survey of 1.1 million males and females between the ages of 30 and 102 found that those who slept 7 hours per night lived the longest; those who slept more than 8 hours or 3.5 to 4.5 hours had a 15% higher risk of mortality. Furthermore this study also confirms that regular prescription pill use significantly increases mortality. [36]
  • Lack of sleep, poor sleep efficiency, and few rapid-eye movement (REM) sleep episodes can decrease the amount of circulating androgens, such as testosterone, in healthy men. Testosterone rises during sleep phases, peaks during REM sessions, and decreases when an individual wakes up. [37]
  • A study of 1,312 mean aged 65 or older found that total testosterone was not influenced by age or duration of sleep. Instead, this study found a correlation between lower testosterone levels and poor sleep efficiency (frequently waking up and little time in slow-wave sleep). This study also found that being overweight significantly influences the probability of having poor sleep efficiency. [38]

Bottom Line: The average muscle head should aim for 7 to 9 hours of sleep per night. If you cannot obtain all this sleep in one session consider incorporating a nap if your schedule allows it. Minimize your use of artificial sleep aids, maintain a healthy weight, and practice healthy sleep hygiene so that your sleep efficiency remains high. Overall, sleep deprivation seems to negatively impact test levels and quality of life more so than oversleeping.

Editor's note: If you're worried about decreased testosterone levels due to lack of sleep, stress or age, try supplementing with MTS Barracuda. Barracuda is the most complete and well-dosed testosterone booster and libido enhancer on the market.

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