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Bro Science vs. Real Science: Debunking Myths in Strength and Conditioning

bro science

As a strength and conditioning coach with over 20 years of experience in human performance, I’ve had the pleasure of visiting training facilities, fitness centers, and gyms across the country. You might be surprised that all those places had people, and people like to talk.


I've heard countless conversations between gym-goers, athletes, and other coaches. Many of these conversations are filled with "bro science"—advice based on personal experience rather than evidence-based practices. While advice sharing often comes from a good heart and is well intended, bro science usually does more harm than good for the exercise science field, especially when people are speaking from yesterday’s news, half-truths, or complete intuition.


Let’s explore the difference between bro science and real science, debunk common myths, and highlight the importance of evidence-based training.


What is "Bro Science"?


"Bro science" refers to fitness advice and practices based on anecdotal evidence rather than scientific research. It's the tips and tricks passed around in gyms, often from one enthusiast to another, without the backing of solid science. Examples of bro science include myths about protein consumption, lifting techniques, and workout routines. These myths persist because they are often based on personal experience, placebo effects, or the popularity of certain fitness influencers.


The Importance of Real Science


Real science in strength and conditioning involves rigorous research, peer-reviewed studies, and evidence-based practices. Exercise science and physiology are crucial for developing effective training programs that maximize performance and minimize the risk of injury. Unlike bro science, real science relies on controlled studies and validated research to guide training methodologies.


Common "Bro Science" Myths Debunked


#1 Eating at Night Makes You Fat



  • Fat gain/loss is determined by total daily calorie intake and exercise, not meal timing.

  • CDC: Total calories burned in 24 hours matter.

  • 2015 meta-analysis (Nutrients): Nighttime meals can improve protein synthesis and have no effect on weight gain in obese individuals with high-intensity exercise.

  • People believe this myth because late-night eating often involves high-calorie foods.


Takeaway: Focus on total calorie intake, not meal timing.


#2 Cardio on an Empty Stomach Burns More Fat



  • The body uses glycogen first, then fat during aerobic exercise.

  • 2010 study: No significant difference in fat/carbohydrate use between fed and fasted cardio groups.

  • 2013 study: No difference in body composition changes between fasted and fed groups during HIIT.


Takeaway: Focus on high-intensity workouts and calorie burn, not fasting.


#3 Lose 1 Pound of Fat per Week by Cutting 500 Calories Daily



  • Weight loss involves the loss of muscle, fat, and water.

  • Overweight individuals may lose more fat, while lean individuals lose more muscle.

  • Resistance training affects lean body mass retention.


Takeaway: Calorie deficit leads to weight loss, but not purely fat loss, especially without exercise.


#4 Maximize Fat Burn with Cardio in the “Fat Burning Zone”



  • Lower-intensity exercise burns a greater percentage of fat but fewer total calories.

  • Higher-intensity exercise burns more calories overall, including post-exercise.

  • Study: High-intensity exercise uses more energy over 24 hours.


Takeaway: Focus on burning as many calories as possible for fat loss.


#5 Tons of Cardio, Cutting Calories, and Avoiding Lifting for Fat Loss



  • Extreme cardio and calorie cuts can lead to muscle and water loss, not just fat.

  • Severe calorie restriction can decrease testosterone, affecting muscle retention.

  • Lack of lifting can lead to a "skinny fat" appearance with poor muscle definition.


Takeaway: Combine healthy eating and balanced exercise, including lifting, for a fit physique.


#6 Get a 6-Pack with Crunches



  • Abs need to be developed, but visible abs require low body fat.

  • Body fat percentage needs to be around 10% for men and 15% for women for abs to show.


Takeaway: Focus on lowering body fat percentage for visible abs.


#7 Eating 5-6 Small Meals a Day Increases Metabolism



  • Study: No difference in weight gain/loss between one large meal vs. five smaller meals.

  • Overall calorie intake in 24 hours matters, not meal frequency.


Takeaway: Focus on total calorie intake and quality of food, not meal frequency.


#8 30g Protein Intake Limit



  • Study: No difference in protein absorption between all-at-once vs. spread-out protein intake.

  • Different proteins absorb at different rates, but there is no fixed limit on protein intake.


Takeaway: Consume protein as needed for your goals without worrying about a specific limit.


#9 Protein Shake Immediately After Workout



  • Anabolic state post-exercise is best for muscle building.

  • Meta-analysis: Anabolic window can last 4-6 hours after high-intensity exercise.


Takeaway: No rush for post-workout protein; you have time.


#10 1-2g of Protein per Pound of Body Weight for Gain



  • Common "bro science" myth with many variations.

  • Actual protein needs vary based on individual factors.


Takeaway: Protein needs are individual; focus on balanced nutrition.



How to Identify Reliable Information


To navigate the sea of fitness advice, it's important to evaluate the credibility of the sources. Look for...


  • Credentials of the person giving the advice.

  • References to scientific studies or evidence-based practices.

  • Continuous education and updates with the latest research.

  • Reliable sources of fitness information include professional organizations, reputable journals, and expert practitioners who prioritize evidence-based training.



The Importance of Distinguishing Between Bro Science and Real Science


1.    Optimized Results

  • Evidence-Based Programs: Real science provides evidence-based training programs to optimize performance and results. These programs are backed by research that has been tested and validated.

  • Anecdotal Advice: Bro science often relies on anecdotal evidence, which may not apply to everyone. What works for one person might not work for another due to differences in genetics, fitness levels, and goals.


2.    Safety and Injury Prevention

  • Proper Technique and Form: Real science emphasizes proper technique and form, reducing the risk of injury. Studies show the best ways to perform exercises to minimize strain and stress on the body.

  • Risky Practices: Bro science can promote risky practices, such as lifting too heavy without proper form, which can lead to injuries. For example, the myth that you must train to failure every session can result in overtraining and muscle strains.


3.    Efficient Use of Time

  • Effective Workouts: Evidence-based programs ensure that every minute spent in the gym is effective. Research helps identify the most efficient ways to achieve fitness goals, whether building muscle, losing fat, or improving endurance.

  • Wasted Efforts: Bro science can lead to wasted efforts on ineffective workouts. For instance, believing in spot reduction can lead to excessive focus on specific exercises without achieving the desired fat loss results.


4.    Sustainable Progress

  • Long-Term Planning: Real science supports sustainable progress through long-term planning and periodization. This approach helps prevent burnout and plateaus by varying the intensity and volume of workouts.

  • Unsustainable Methods: Bro science often promotes short-term, extreme methods that are not sustainable. For example, excessive protein consumption without considering overall nutrition can lead to imbalances and health issues.


5.    Personalized Training

  • Individualized Programs: Real science allows for developing personalized training programs based on individual needs, goals, and physiology. This customization increases the likelihood of success.

  • One-Size-Fits-All: Bro science often promotes a one-size-fits-all approach, which may not address individual differences. What works for one person might suit another, leading to suboptimal results.


6. Holistic Approach

  • Comprehensive Understanding: Real science provides a thorough understanding of how different aspects of fitness, such as strength, endurance, nutrition, and recovery, interact and influence each other.

  • Narrow Focus: Bro science often has a narrow focus, ignoring important factors that contribute to overall health and performance. For example, the myth that "cardio kills gains" overlooks the cardiovascular benefits and overall health improvements from balanced training.


When it comes to achieving your fitness goals, the difference between bro science and real science can make all the difference. Real science isn't just about numbers and studies—it's about ensuring that every minute you spend working out counts toward your progress. It's about minimizing the risk of injury, optimizing your results, and following a plan tailored to your unique needs and aspirations.


Following evidence-based practices isn't just a smart decision; it's a commitment to your long-term health and fitness journey. It means you're investing in effective, safe, and sustainable training.


So, seek out trusted sources, ask questions, and prioritize knowledge backed by research and experience.


Dedicated to your success,



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