Many of you will have heard the term broscience thrown around over social media and have a gist of what the term stands for. Everyone who has been involved in the pursuit of muscle gain and/or fat loss would have been guilty of broscience at least once in their lives; I certainly have. As such, the purpose of this article is to try and sum up the differences between science and broscience. In doing so, it will hopefully convince you that some of the things you’re currently doing in order to reach your body composition goals are pointless or ‘bro’. The elimination of these unnecessary practices will therefore make your life easier with respect to attaining whatever goal(s) you may have. To keep this article short, and because I’m a nutritionist, this article will focus primarily on aspects of nutrition, as opposed to the training side of things.
So, what is ‘broscience’? According to Alan Aragon’s 2008 Urban Dictionary entry (that remains top of the page), broscience can be defined as:
“The predominant brand of reasoning in bodybuilding circles where the anecdotal reports of jacked dudes are considered more credible than scientific research.”
He then proceeds to give us an example:
“Bro, you gotta slam 40-60 grams of waxy maize plus 20 grams of BCAA within 7 seconds of finishing your last set of squat rack curls. Otherwise, you'll go straight catabolic."
Although accurate, I feel that this definition doesn’t encompass all forms of broscience. Specifically, taking scientific research or physiological mechanisms out of context. Or, just fitness myths in general. For example, many recommend avoiding carbohydrate post exercise with the rationale that it will lead to an increase in growth hormone, which will promote muscle hypertrophy. In reality, as highlighted in my previous article where I reviewed Carb Back-Loading, physiological variations in GH are likely to make negligible difference with respect to muscle gain. In fact, getting a meal in post workout (PWO) would be far more anabolic that going without food. As a small dose of common sense should lead you to the same conclusion, this is a fine example of where a little ‘knowledge’ may actually prove to be detrimental.
Though there are several definitions for economy, in relation to the title and the theme of this post, it is defined as,
“The careful management of available resources.”
In this instance, ‘resources’ refers to money, time and physical and mental effort. As such, being economical would be to reach goals with as little financial, time and physical and mental effort investment as possible. I’m not sure there are any among you who’d want to spend more time and money than you have to in order to reach a goal, right?
Does broscience work?
Though I hate to admit it, in many instances, broscience does work, but not for the reasons given. Firstly, many will succeed because of their great bodybuilding genetics or drug use, and are able to 'get away' with less than optimal training and nutrition. In other words, many succeed in spite of themselves.
Conversely, many physique enthusiasts will succeed equally well with a ‘bro’ approach compared to if they were to eliminate their ‘broness’ and stick to evidence-based practises. So in essence, what these people are doing is using a lot more resources (time, energy, money) for no additional benefit. These people are doing most things RIGHT, but are also doing many things WRONG. Things that don't necessarily hurt their progress, but at the same time, don’t help matters either.
Below, I have highlighted some differences between aspects of my current nutrition and a ‘bro’d’ up version. It’s noteworthy to include that macronutrient intakes across diets remain the same in order to make my point. It's also worth highlighting that I’m training for muscle gain and strength, so it's appreciated that things would vary somewhat if I was an endurance athlete.
Bro’d up version
Average daily macronutrient intake
PRO:200g | CHO: 300g | FAT: 80g
PRO:200g | CHO: 300g | FAT: 80g
Average daily micronutrient intake (from food)
Average daily fibre intake
4-5 meals per day
6-8 meals per day
Mixed meal (predominantly carbs and protein) consumed 60-90 minutes pre-exercise, a coffee/some caffeine if I feel it’s needed
Meat & nuts consumed 60-90 minutes pre-exercise to get your ‘neurotransmitters firing’, pre-workout supplement (e.g. NO Xplode)
During exercise nutrition
Water or cordial with water
30-40g of BCAA tablets with water or other drink
Post workout nutrition
Mixed meal (no set limit on fat)
Hydrolysed whey (with added glutamine and vitamin C) consumed within seven seconds of finishing last set of squat rack curls, with added leucine and dextrose to ‘spike’ insulin. Followed by a protein and carbohydrate meal (NO FAT)
Other nutrient timing specifics
All carbs post workout (Carb Back-loading style)
Foods to avoid
None specifically, man made trans fats would be consumed very sparingly
Wheat, gluten, dairy (whey is fine), fruit, sugar (dextrose is fine but only post workout), high glycaemic index carbs (fine post workout though), anything processed at all (except supplements), anything that tastes good, omega-6 essential fatty acids
Whey protein concentrate or isolate, vitamin D, fish oil (3g of EPA-DHA/day), creatine monohydrate, magnesium citrate
Whey protein hydrolysate, vitamin D, fish oil (10g of EPA-DHA/day), Kre-alkalyn, magnesium citrate, ZMA, tribulus, BCAA tabs, leucine, dextrose, maltodextrin, D-aspartic acid, melatonin, greens powder, acai berry, l-carnitine, CLA, vitamin C
Keeps n-6:3 ratio within 1:1-4:1, balances potential renal acid load (PRAL) by consuming alkaline foods to offset the acidic ones and eat clean
As you can see from the above table, the cores of these diets are the same (i.e. same macronutrient and fibre contents, similar micronutrient content, both sandwich their training with protein). However, the ‘bro’ version contains many unnecessary details such as consuming 6-8 meals per day, eating meat and nuts breakfasts (the concept of which was reviewed here), spiking insulin post-workout, indiscriminately avoiding certain foods, consuming 30g of fish oil per day, balancing PRAL and n-6:3 ratio, consuming glutaimine, pre-workout supplements and other supplements with little to no scientific backing.
It’s also worth mentioning that the ‘bro’ version contains some supplements / protocols (e.g. BCAA supplementation and Carb Back-loading), which MAY, at best, provide very little benefit over the evidenced-based approach (assuming that total macronutrients, micronutrients and fibre are matched between diets). By little benefit, I mean <1%, which is impossible to detect with current methods of body composition. At the same time, some of the features of the bro diet may actually be counterproductive for muscle and strength gain when compared with the evidence-based diet (e.g. the post-workout vitamin C and excess n-3 may impair training adaptations and immune function, respectively; Kre-alkalyn is a less effective yet more expensive than creatine monohydrate).
Getting to the point…
So what we have with the ‘bro’ diet is a lot of extra time and money invested for no apparent overall benefit (though it may not hurt progress either). In other words, it’s a waste of time, effort and money (they are uneconomical). These people use a shotgun approach to nutrition instead of being diligent and selective in their practises. The Bruce Lee quote “Absorb what is useful, discard what is useless, and add what is uniquely your own” couldn’t apply more.
As alluded to above, this added effort is fine for the elite physique athlete who has to cover every theoretical base (even if it isn’t supported by research), but for the general public, attempting to stick with such a routine would almost certainly hinder compliance and cause confusion due to its unnecessary over complication. There is nothing ‘hardcore’ about suffering, wasting money and making things more complicated than they have to be, yet there seems to be a sense of pride among many who do exactly that. The “no pain, no gain” mentality is so engrained into many peoples’ beliefs, that they cannot comprehend achieving the same end result with less expense and more freedom to enjoy life.
The beginner’s downfall
It must be remembered that although the broscience approach highlighted in the table above ‘works’ more or less equally well as the evidenced based approach (albeit it at a much higher cost), it may actually leave beginners spinning their wheels. In many instances, I have seen the focus on such minute details lead to a complete lack of focus on the bigger picture (consistently nailing macronutrient, micronutrient and fibre goals spread across a reasonable number of meals, whilst remembering to sandwich the training bout with protein). It is these basic practises, which allow the contribution of nutrition to the specified goal (in this case muscle/strength gain) to be at over 95% of its potential. Indeed, focusing on these minute details may have some benefit, but when they impede on the bigger picture, you are shooting yourself in the foot.
Hopefully, this article has demonstrated that many of the things that you do, or think you should do, are largely unnecessary. In doing so, it aimed to highlight where you should focus the majority of your time, effort and money. It is commonplace amongst broscientists to oversimplify their interpretation of the research (if they pay attention to it at all), yet ironically, overcomplicate their message. On the other hand, a sign of a good applied practitioner is one that understands the complexities of science, but is able to form simple (yet accurate) messages based on the weight if the available evidence. This combined with a pinch of common sense, they are able to make things as easy as possible with regards to implementation. Though training goals can still be achieved with less money, time and effort investment, it is difficult for many to comprehend, but is absolutely true. Some may even prefer to carry the notion of being ‘hardcore’ as a badge of honour. However, unlike money, your time and effort can never be replaced, so why waste it?