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Myths vs. facts: 12 bodybuilding nutritional habits in more detail Part 1

Mythen vs. Fakten: 12 Bodybuilding Ernährungsgewohnheiten näher betrachtet Teil 1

Pop-Tarts after training, egg whites and a metabolic boost. There are some strange habits in the world of muscle building nutrition. Find out which ones are legitimate and which ones might be a waste of time.

It's time we took a look at all the advances that have been made in the bodybuilding subculture over the last few decades. Thanks to iron athletes all over the world, we've wasted more egg yolks than any other species ever will and practically exhausted all the protein-rich foods on earth.

But fear not, the new generation of bros out there can now move on to more important topics, like which flavor of Pop-Tarts is best for IIFYM (if it fits your macros) and whether it's mandatory to consume a leucine-rich protein source exactly 30.5605767 seconds after finishing a workout for optimal protein synthesis.

Okay, satire aside. Fitness and bodybuilding devotees have developed some strange (for lack of a better term) habits over the course of evolution and health, fitness and bodybuilding that they believe are necessary to achieve the best possible appearance and performance. But the pragmatist in me wonders "why?" when faced with many of these habits.

Why do bodybuilders throw out the egg yolk and eat only the egg white? Why is sodium inherently unhealthy? Why is a bland, simple, monotonous diet inherently healthier and better for fat loss and muscle building? Why are carbohydrates banned after 6pm (or any other random time in the evening)? Why do most exercisers believe that their bodies will atrophy if they don't eat a meal exactly every 3 hours?

Do these habits make any sense or has the bodybuilding subculture instilled unsustainable and nonsensical practices in people who work out in the gym? Does the human body really work in such a "black and white" way as many of these iron addicts believe?

The task of examining these practices more closely for their meaning is onerous, but I believe it is worth the necessary time to look at these popular bodybuilding and fitness habits with an unbiased approach and examine what truly has a scientific basis and what is just utter nonsense propagated by people with ulterior motives and subjective views.

Let the games begin

This is the nuts and bolts folks - the point at which boys become men and girls become women... Okay, maybe I'm taking this a little too far, but I think you know where I'm going with this. Below you'll find a list of habits that are prevalent in the health, fitness and bodybuilding subculture, as well as a detailed look at whether or not they actually make sense in the big picture of things.

Before you read any further, take a moment to set aside any biases you may have about any habits you practice yourself. I myself was once a chicken breast loving, 6 meals a day eating, Tupperware carrying athlete, but thankfully my open mindedness has shown me that this may not be a necessary lifestyle - not even for bodybuilding purposes. If you're not open-minded and unwilling to accept facts based on scientific evidence despite your prior beliefs, then you're probably wasting your time.

1. the "anabolic window of opportunity" is not closing as quickly as you think

I find it fitting to start with the long-held idea that we only have a limited amount of time after a workout to replenish the body's depleted stores of nutrients. This is undoubtedly one of the most commonly practiced habits in the bodybuilding subculture, with many exercisers downright panicking if they have to go without their oh-so-valuable protein and carbohydrate shake for even 15 to 30 minutes after a workout.

It may come as a surprise to you that you actually have quite a bit of time after your workout (especially if you've eaten a solid meal before your workout ) to reap the physiological benefits of nutrient intake - and when I say "quite a bit of time", we're talking several hours, not just minutes as some people seem to think.

You might be wondering why this is the case. Well, you should consider that if you eat a meal of reasonable size before training, it will take more than 5 to 6 hours before circulating substrate levels (i.e. nutrient levels in the blood) return to baseline. Therefore, the food you ate before your workout will often continue to be used long after you have finished your workout.

In addition, the acute responses to resistance training such as an upregulation of GLUT4 expression in muscle tissue and an increased muscle protein synthesis response appear to persist for hours even if you have exercised in a fasted state (1. 2). However, if you have trained in a fasted state, it would certainly be wise to consume protein/amino acids very soon after training to take advantage of the acute metabolic response to training.


Before you get the idea of starving yourself after a workout, it's worth noting that the bottom line here isn't that you shouldn't eat anything at all after a workout...rather, it's that you shouldn't drive yourself crazy over every nanosecond that passes between your last repetition and your post-workout food intake. Just make sure you're eating a quality protein source for the first few hours after your workout (say 0 to 3 hours, depending on the study you're looking at) and you'll be fine.

2. if you want to do yourself some good...then eat the damn egg yolk too

As alluded to in the introduction to this article, many bodybuilders and health enthusiasts insist on forgoing whole eggs in favor of egg whites. This habit seems to stem from the idea that egg yolks contain fat (and cholesterol) and are therefore inherently useless and unhealthy. However, this assumption is very short-sighted.

Consider this: an egg white is only a few grams of protein with small amounts of micronutrients, while the egg yolk is a very nutrient dense food that contains significant amounts of B vitamins, fat-soluble vitamins (such as A, E, D and K) and is a good source of the essential fatty acid DHA, which is important for heart health.

If you are avoiding whole eggs (and/or egg yolks) for fear of their cholesterol content, then you should realize that scientific research suggests that dietary cholesterol is not as significant a factor as saturated fat consumption when it comes to raising cholesterol levels (3). Some studies even suggest that eating a few whole eggs a day may actually improve blood lipid levels and insulin sensitivity (4).


The main message is that food is much more than just its macronutrient composition and calorie content. The advantage of egg white is that it is low in calories and high in quality protein, but this comes at the cost of a very low content of other nutrients. In contrast, egg yolks have a high nutrient density and are also an excellent source of protein and essential fatty acids.

Of course, egg yolks obviously contain more calories due to the additional macronutrients, but these are not "empty calories". In addition to this, egg yolks will satiate you much better than egg whites due to their fat content.

At the end of the day, don't be afraid to use a few egg yolks when preparing your morning omelette. Remember that when you eat whole eggs, you're getting the best of both worlds - and as an added bonus, you don't have to go to the trouble of separating each egg and worrying that every yellow drop in the pan is going to kill you.

3. want to build muscle? Then forgo a maximum insulin spike and increase insulin levels just a little.

Almost every gym junkie will tell you that you need to eat rapidly absorbable carbohydrates immediately after a workout to elicit a dramatic insulin response. This may sound good in theory, as insulin is a highly anabolic storage hormone and is beneficial for muscle building and repair.

But before you run off in search of the nearest dextrose-laden bottle of Gatorade to wash down your protein with, you should know that an exorbitant increase in insulin levels within the normal physiological range (the response is not linear) does not have many additional benefits in terms of muscle protein synthesis. Scientific research seems to suggest that even if some insulin enhances the muscle protein synthesis response to a food intake, there is a point of satiety beyond which additional insulin no longer produces a stronger desirable response (5).

In addition to this, you should also bear in mind that you can elicit a sufficient insulin response using complex carbohydrates, which do not necessarily have a high glycemic index. This is not to suggest that you don't need to increase your insulin levels, but a slow, sustained insulin response will have pretty much the same benefits in terms of muscle protein synthesis as a rapid, acute insulin response.


Ultimately, insulin does indeed enhance the muscle protein synthesis response to a nominal dose of amino acids, but excess amounts of rapidly absorbable carbohydrates are neither necessary for this nor do they provide any additional benefits (at least in terms of muscle protein synthesis). (6)

As for the carbohydrate source, this will primarily depend on what your overall goal is. I could see a point in using rapidly absorbable carbohydrates for endurance athletes and exercisers who need to replenish their glycogen stores as quickly as possible, or for bodybuilders doing very long training sessions. The other thing to keep in mind is that fructose (found mainly in fruit) is not an insulinogenic carbohydrate source, so you shouldn't rely solely on high-fructose foods (like most fruits) as a post-workout carbohydrate source.

4. the protein conundrum - do you really need 4.5 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight?

Protein, protein, the bodybuilding subculture, the idea that more is always better seems to prevail when it comes to protein. But how much do you really need? Many training methods and programs such as DoggCrapp Training preach that more than 4.5 grams of protein per kilogram of bodyweight is best, but there isn't much scientific research to suggest that you can benefit from such high amounts of protein.

In fact, an evaluation of protein requirements in strength athletes suggests that a more modest amount (around 2 to 2.7 grams of protein per kilogram of lean body mass) is sufficient for optimal 24-hour protein synthesis and nitrogen balance (7).

The key factor to consider in this context is that many bodybuilders and athletes use performance-enhancing substances that can promote nitrogen retention, so more protein will be better for these individuals. However, it is important that exercisers who do not use performance-enhancing compounds do not assume that they need such large amounts of protein either, as they simply will not benefit in the same way.


If you're an avid exerciser who doesn't use steroids or other performance-enhancing compounds that promote nitrogen retention, then there's no reason to consume 4.5 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight (unless you're into foul-smelling, gaseous emissions escaping your digestive tract aka "protein farts"). As mentioned above, scientific research suggests that efficient protein dosing is 2 to 2.7 grams of protein per kilogram of lean body mass per day.

For individuals using steroids or other performance-enhancing compounds, more protein will indeed likely provide additional benefits, meaning that the 4.5 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight makes sense in this case (however, this does not mean that there is no maximum).

The best way is to ensure that you are consuming nominal amounts of protein in conjunction with sufficient amounts of carbohydrates and fats to meet your daily calorie allowance.

5 The rise of IIFYM and Pop-Tarts - say goodbye to these micronutrients

This is one of the more fun topics I like to discuss because people seem to tend to be rock-solid in their opinions-no matter how many scientific facts contradict their view (and I love these heated discussions). If you're not familiar with the term IIFYM, it's a nutritional approach based on the idea that the amount of macronutrients and calories is most important, while everything else contained in the food consumed and other factors are largely unimportant.

Much to the chagrin of all "clean eating" advocates, the IIFYM mantra has - for whatever reason - driven many exercisers to eat more Pop-Tarts (and I'm sure Kellogs loves this).

The most important thing that many people jumping on the IIFYM bandwagon overlook is the lack of micronutrient dense foods and a lack of fiber in their diet. As mentioned above, food is much more than a source of calories and macronutrients and overlooking the need for fiber and micronutrients in the diet is probably not a healthy way to eat. Another problem is that the diets of many of these people contain large amounts of sugar and trans fats and yet these people think they are meeting their macronutrient needs.

In addition, it's important to remember that metabolic rates slow down as we age (and these people often lead more sedentary lives), so the headroom available for high calorie density foods like Pop-Tarts decreases. Things you can probably get away with as a teenager will take their toll in later years of your life. I had a lot of friends who could eat tons of pizza, ice cream and all the "good" stuff in their youth and still stay slim. Some of them have maintained those eating habits and are now quite flabby (and in their mid-twenties).

I should clarify that IIFYM is also no better or worse than many other dietary approaches, as it is simple and very practical. However, my main concerns are that people forget the importance of micronutrients, that they don't eat enough fiber, and that they end up lacking the self-control to eat only moderate amounts of the foods they love and therefore end up stuffing themselves with uncontrolled amounts of it.


IIFYM is not an excuse to ignore the importance of micronutrients and fiber or to eat exorbitant amounts of sugar and trans fats. If you're a health-oriented strength athlete trying to develop rock-chiseled abs, it's highly unlikely that you'll meet your macro and micronutrient needs by relying on Pop-Tarts and protein shakes.

Macronutrients and calories are indeed the most important factors that will determine whether you will gain weight and what you will perform, which is why IIFYM makes sense in this regard. Just remember to eat foods with high nutrient density and to diversify your diet. There's no reason you can't achieve your body development and performance goals while enjoying the foods you like, but do so in moderation - a slice of cake won't hurt you, but a whole cake might.

6. is your metabolism running at full speed?

The typical mantra in the bodybuilding subculture is that you should eat every 2.5 to 3 hours to keep your metabolism running at full speed. However, this is neither scientifically nor anecdotally true.

The theory that you need to eat frequent meals regularly throughout the day seems to be self-perpetuating thanks to mainstream media and high profile bodybuilders extolling the virtues of eating continuously versus eating a few larger meals spaced further apart. But frequent smaller meals don't stimulate your metabolism any more than eating just two or three times a day. Here is the reasoning:

Assuming that the energy/nutrient intake is the same for both diets, the thermic effect of food (TEF) will also be identical - regardless of how the nutrients are distributed throughout the day. For example, let's say you eat 3 meals one day (each containing 60 grams of protein, 60 grams of carbohydrates and 20 grams of fat) and 6 meals another day (each containing 30 grams of protein, 30 grams of carbohydrates and 10 grams of fat). The thermic effect of the food per meal will be higher on the days with 3 meals per meal, but over 24 hours the total thermic effect of the food will still be the same as on the days with 6 meals because you eat fewer meals. Another example would be if you have a whole pizza in front of you. The thermal effect of the food when you eat the whole pizza will be the same regardless of how many pieces you divide the pizza into. You could eat half a pizza at 2 meals or an eighth of a pizza at 8 meals - the overall thermal effect will always be the same in the end.


Don't buy into the idea that eating smaller, more frequent meals will somehow magically increase your metabolic rate more than eating fewer larger meals, as this is not the way the body thermodynamically responds to food. At the end of the day, the total energy intake (and also the ratio of macronutrients) will determine the thermic effect of food - not the frequency of food intake.

These were the first 6 bodybuilding nutritional habits that turned out to be myths and misinterpretations of scientific facts in some respects. In the second part of this article, we will take a look at 6 more common bodybuilding nutrition habits and their truthfulness.


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