How Scientific Studies Lead to Stupid Advice

I was recently referred to this video on the wonders of Hyperthermic Conditioning (i.e. using a ‘sauna’):

To me this is a shining example of the staggeringly stupid pseudo-scientific nonsense that is misleading the body recomposition/transformation industry so horribly (not to mention the fitness, weight loss and beauty industries, among others). It is the typical collection of isolated observations, plucked from unrelated studies, linked together by flimsy connections to incomplete aspects of facts, to draw an incomprehensibly ridiculous conclusion.

Unfortunately this seems to be the standard formula behind all of the backward training and nutrition techniques that are popular these days, despite their abject failure among most users (i.e.  intermittent fasting, TUT training, light weights etc; and virtually every supplement on the market)!

Essentially, in this video Dr. Rhonda Patrick recommends undertaking an action that reduces muscle mass and performance in order to increase muscle mass and performance. Apparently this happens via the body’s self-preserving, protective measures to limit the losses…

… did you get that? To grow more muscle you should cause rapid muscle wastage because then the body will fight to stop the losses. Yes, the advice really is that stupid! Its almost more ignorant than thinking Time-Under-Tension means lifting light weights slowly.

Dr Rhonda Patrick concludes that the damage-limiting adaptations to a damaging stress mean that you’ll wind up with more muscle and increased performance despite the fact that no study actually showed this. She doesn’t consider the muscle loss and decreased performance from the damaging stress because that wasn’t considered in the studies she quotes either. She simply slides two completely unrelated facts together and draws a conclusion. This is the exact same lunatic logic used by proponents of Intermittent Fasting (IF). They similarly recommend you force the body into a state of rampant muscle wastage so that the body adjusts to try to limit the damage…. and therefore you will wind up with more muscle. Its just as sure as 6 + dog = mango.

To grow more muscle you should cause rapid muscle wastage, because then the body will fight to stop the losses. Yes, the advice really is that stupid!

The reason I’m picking on this particular video is because there are just so many examples of tragically bad advice being given on the basis of horribly incomplete information; something I see in virtually ever supplement ad and training article these days. For example, Dr Patrick argues that sauna’s are beneficial because a study showed they resulted in a 1000% increase in prolactin. Prolactin is the estrogen that makes penises flaccid, boobs lactate, minds miserable and bodies fat and water retentive. But Dr Patrick says prolactin is a good thing because its “involved in myelination”. That’s like saying foreclosure is good because its involved with reduced mortgage repayments; just ignore that you no longer have a house! Its true, but it ignores the rest of the picture. And thats the biggest problem with basing actions on isolated facts cherry-picked from scientific studies: it always ignores the big picture.

The way the human body achieves its goal of homeostasis – in extraordinarily simple terms – is through biochemical processes that counteract every single biochemical process; including processes that counteract the counteractions! Basically, as we see constantly in nature, every action has an equal and opposite reaction. Everything has a positive and negative aspect; and both positives and negatives are inextricably connected. So nobody can ever say “do this because this chemical in your body will cause this outcome”. There will always be opposing reaction(s).

Overall change to the human body comes as the net result of slight shifts in balance between billions of chemical reactions. There is no single biochemical ‘override-switch’ that leads to a wholesale wasting of millions of calories of body fat to construct kilos of new protein. If there was, we’d be extinct! Or, if there is, it certainly isn’t something as ridiculously irrelevant and adaptively unrelated as dehydrating in a sauna or snorting L-Leucine. The closest thing there is to a magic-bullet for a perfect body is spending a few years lifting quite-heavy things until you develop the ability to lift insanely-heavy things.

There is no right, wrong or easy way to lose your fat and build limitless muscle. Everything is a compromise. But failure is all that is ever achieved when mankind thinks it can force an outcome by tweaking with the machinery of nature.

Scientific studies and facts can easily be abused to argue any ridiculousness you like, as this video proves so well. Regarding saunas, common sense would tell you that any highly stressful activity that directly forces large quantities of sodium and water out of your system – like, a sauna – is probably going to be counterproductive to muscle growth. Unsurprisingly, that is what we see in the real world.

But if you don’t like common sense or looking at the real world then you can make up a fantastical story of BS using bits of facts and studies to say the exact opposite of the truth. Just read the ads for any American bodybuilding supplement for lessons on how ridiculous stories can be made! Or listen to the argument that young physique athletes should walk on treadmills to lose fat because thats what studies on geriatrics with cardiac disease found. Or that certain rep ranges determine if you build either strength or size – at the exclusion of the other – based on studies using single-leg or arm extensions on Keiser machines and max strength determined by an interview! Truly, there are more absurdly useless studies to misquote than absurdly stupid idea’s you could think up to base on them.

There is no right, wrong or easy way to lose your fat and build limitless muscle. So everything is a compromise. But failure is all that is ever achieved when mankind thinks it can force an outcome by tweaking the machinery of nature. So stop trying to figure out what you will never, ever know about whats going on inside your body and start paying attention to the things you can actually measure and affect: the food you stick in your mouth and the weight you put on the bar!

stop trying to figure out what you will never, ever know about whats going on inside your body and start paying attention to the things you can actually measure and affect: the food you stick in your mouth and the weight you put on the bar!

My strongest advice to everyone I speak to about body recomposition is this:

  1. every time you base your actions on what you THINK you know about what is going on inside your body, you will be WRONG!
  2. being scientific does NOT mean your actions are blindly based on the conclusions of published studies. It means following the scientific method – form an hypothesis, define a method to test it and measure the results to form a relevant conclusion. All you need to do is plan and measure your body, weight training and diet.
  3. everything you need to know to manipulate your body composition can be measured easily: your weight, your body fat %, the food you eat and the weights you lift. Everything else is noise!

 

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