Top 5 Myths about Gaining Muscle
Along with there being myths about losing weight, there are also myths about gaining muscle. These are generally the two goals in the fitness industry, and there is a lot of incorrect information out there about both. Everything in the fitness industry, whether it be losing weight, gaining muscle, nutrition, definition; it’s all based on science and the way the body functions. No two people are alike, which makes every ones journey a little bit different. The best results come from listening to your body; trying different approaches to determine how your body works and what tactic will get you to your goals most efficiently.
One outsized goal in the fitness industry is gaining muscle/size. This can be very difficult, and most often cause people to start doubting their goals and their progress because it is a slow process. No one builds muscle at the same rate or even in the same way. Many do not know that muscle growth actually begins at the cellular level. When muscles are put under stress (lifting weights), the muscle fibers actually break apart, which in essence leads to repetition failure or less weight lifted at the end of a workout. This disruption causes satellite cells to be activated, which move to the damaged muscle tissue and latch on. This leads to increased cross-sectional area or hypertrophy (size). Overtime the satellite cells regenerate, or multiply, and therefore either stay attached to the muscle fiber or return back to their resting state to prepare for the next trauma. When the cells attached to the fibers, they form new protein strands and therefore increase the size of the muscle fiber and become another nuclei that can be used in protein synthesis that will in turn create more contractile proteins. So in simpler terms, muscles are not built by increasing blood flow or lifting as heavy as possible. They are build be breaking down the muscle and giving it time to rebuild.
A lot of online blogs/websites use “bro science” which is basically uneducated people talking about their approach to lifting and it isn’t always correct. Sometimes it is definitely reliable information, and sometimes you could absolutely injure yourself if you follow what they say. Below are a few common misconceptions, or myths, about gaining muscle!
1. Consuming more protein builds more muscle
False. Consuming large amounts of protein is not going to build large amounts of muscle for you, sorry. Eating a while balanced diet with a surplus will though! Bottom line is this, muscles are made of proteins and in order for muscles to recover and synthesize these proteins, they need amino acids. Amino acids are the building blocks of life. There are essential and non-essential amino acids. Essential amino acids are made in the body, while non-essential amino acids need to come from protein in our diet. Therefore eating adequate amounts of protein will allow the muscles to rebuild quickly and efficiently, but science says we only need .9-1.5g protein per pound of body weight. Anything over that is just excess and can either just be burned off or stored as fat. So in turn, yes protein builds muscle, but eating 400g of protein a day is not going to benefit you more than eating 200g (depending on body weight). Along with adequate protein, we also need carbs and fats to build muscle. These nutrients will give you the energy to get you through your workouts and also energy at the cellular level to repair the damaged tissue. So yes, eat your protein but eat your carbohydrates and fats too for optimal muscle growth!
2. Free weights build more muscle
Do free weights build muscle faster?Free weights are a great way to build muscle mass, but they aren’t the only way. When using free weights, more muscles are being activated because they need to help stabilize the movement. This makes them more complex and may allow you to burn more calories and incorporate more muscles, but it doesn’t necessarily mean they build more muscle. Sometimes actually isolating a specific muscle can build it more often than complex movements. With this, it puts more stress on that muscle and therefore breaking down the muscle fibers (which begins the muscle building process). So when you are looking to build a certain muscle or even all muscles for that matter, make sure you incorporate both free weights and machines to get the most well-rounded workout and muscle fiber breakdown.
3. Just keep doing the same workout every week
Or not. The science behind building muscle means putting enough stress on it that you actually make small “tears” in the fibers that they have to rebuild bigger and stronger. If you continuously do the same exercises, with the same weights, in the same order; you will not achieve what you are looking for. In the beginning, you will make leaps and bounds towards your goals, as when you initially start weight training you are “shocking” your muscles and thus breaking them down at a faster rate. When you continue to do the same thing over and over again, you reach a plateau and stop gaining both strength and size because the muscle is not under enough tension to actually cause breakdown. So change your weights, and change your routine; because when you try different things, your body has to adapt to these and thus creates the best results!
4. Muscles are created during hours at the gym
Again, false. You do not need to spend hours on end training in the gym to get the muscle growth and size that you want. Muscles are actually created in your bed while your sleeping, and it the kitchen while you’re eating. It has been proven that rest and refueling is actually the most beneficial part of a training regimen. Lifting the weights is what breaks down the muscle fibers and tissue, but the food and the rest is what actually gives the muscle time to recover and grow. If you don’t give them enough time to recover, you will continue breaking down the same fibers without allowing them to fuse with satellite cells and grow bigger/stronger. So before you get the into the mindset that you have to put in hours a day at the gym, remember that you actually need to put in hours of sleep and lots of whole foods to build the body you want!
5. Everyone gains muscle at the same rate
This is actually quite a complex statement. Yes, everyone gains muscle by lifting weights and putting the body under stress. But, not everyone gains muscle at the same rate. Some can gain faster, some shorter, some with heavy weights and some with light weights. There are three different body types (or somatotypes), according to William Herbert Sheldon. These include endomorphs (curvy, easily store fat, large bone structure), ectomorph (tall and skinny, hard to store fat and gain muscle), and mesomorph (muscular, thin waist, wide shoulders). So yes, some body types are predisposed to store fat and some to build lean body mass. This, however, does not mean that our genetics determine everything about our image. There is only a 200-300kcal difference in the metabolism speed-scale, so whatever you do outside of your genetics is up to you. If you are someone who needs more calories for energy, you have to be more conscious of what you eat, if you’re someone who needs less calories to expend energy, you can likely eat a lot of whatever you want without storing much as fat. This also goes for muscle. We have three different types of muscle fibers, fast-twitch (IIa and IIx) and slow-twitch. Slow-twitch fibers can sustain longer bouts of aerobic exercise because they can carry more oxygen, and thus don’t need as much carbs and fats for energy. This would be someone like a marathon runner. Fast-twitch (IIb) fibers carry less oxygen and can only sustain short bursts of anaerobic activity, because they use glycogen for energy. This would be someone like a powerlifter or sprinter. Fast-twitch (IIa) have a mixture of both slow-twitch and fast-twitch. Overall, those with fast-twitch (IIb) fibers are more likely to easily put on muscle mass because of the way the body uses glycogen for energy. But have no fear, muscle fibers can be changed by the type of training you do. If you train with running and long duration, you will build slow-twitch fibers. If you train with weights and quick bouts, you will build fast-twitch fibers! So yes, people build muscle at different rates based on their genetics, but if you try hard enough you can change your fate!
I hope you now know not to listen to any of the above ideas about the “right” way to gain muscle. It is about SCIENCE, INTENSITY and BODY TYPE. Do not get sucked into the misinformation and damage your muscles or joints permanently because you tried to deadlift 500lbs because a bodybuilder told you that’s how to do it. Find someone who is educated and follow them, or reach out to them. MOST professionals in the fitness industry that know what they’re talking about are more than happy to help out and share their knowledge with others. It’s not a secret, and we don’t make people pay for advice (usually). So just reach out to someone if you have questions, and do your research on SCIENCE based articles/blogs. Happy Gaining! (: