Can you tell broscience from real science? | A closer look at exercise and fitness advice.

Welcome to the world of BroScience. – So we’re gonna talk about bicep nuclei, we’re gonna talk about broken rat legs. – All I do is just chug this red drink and then I’m amped up to get a crazy workout in. It’s an internet phenomenon and it basically involves ripped guys giving advice to other guys. – Your performance is not gonna be best. BroScience is so big, these comedians have built a huge following by mocking it. – So you still want to be a powerlifter huh? Well god help ya. O.K. I will. It’s part of an even bigger world of online fitness advice that’s not just from bros. The advice ranges from credible, – Snack between 30 and 60 minutes before a run. To crazy, – You see, I can go deadlift 600 pounds right now. To even crazier, – We’re pulling the waste toxins, impurities, and excess water out of the fat cells. But these videos are also filling a need, because if you want scientific advice that can actually guarantee certain results, good luck finding it. Should you take rest days? Are there suppements you should take? Should you use equipment or free weights? These are seemingly straightforward questions, that Science has had a very hard time answering. So…. we’re left with the bros. I’m Michael Tabb. This is Quartz. Follow us for more episodes. – I’ve heard one guy tell me one time… that he would crush up bread and put it in milk and then drink it because the bread will go through his veins and then expand, making him bigger. Bad fitness advice drives Eduard Checo crazy. He’s a fitness influencer. He founded his company Barstarzz in 2009, and since then it’s grown to 700,000 followers on Youtube and more than a million on Facebook. He earns money from selling exercise videos. Social media has created a phenomenon of fitness influencers, in this world, having a great body can be all the qualification you need. Some actually are legit. But Checo says a lot of the advice is not just wrong, it’s deceptive. – They sell you on some workout programs. They’ll sell you on some supplements and they will tell you this is how they look like this. I think there’s definitely a moral lacking when you mis-promote how you got somewhere using like wraps or teas or whatever. When you obviously took the strongest performance enhancing drug in the world which is steroids. But he’s open about the fact that his own advice is a mix of science and experience he’s gained over the years. – I come up with my stuff with a combination of methods, one way is trial and error, another way is reading and researching and then asking people who are like achieved   the certain goals I want to get. And I think combining those along with trial and error to make sure, you know, because something might work for them and definitely not work for me. Lots of large, reputable studies show that people who exercise typically live longer and have lower rates of heart disease and cancer. Working out improves psychological well-being and fights depression. But if you want specific training or diet plans to achieve certain results, like a faster mile time or chiselled abs by summer the science isn’t very reliable. To understand why, you have to understand a major crisis happening in the scientific community. The crisis isn’t specific to exercise science – it’s affecting everything from psychology to medicine to economics. – People have estimated anywhere from maybe 50 percent to as high as 95 percent of positive results in the literature may actually just be false positives. That’s Dr. Kristin Sainani. And what she’s saying is that 50 to 95 percent of research findings could actually be wrong, depending on the field. The standards of evidence are too loose and a lot of the positive results that you see in the literature are probably false positives. So that means that things we are saying work, interventions we are saying work, may actually not work. It’s part of something called the “reproducibility crisis.” For the past decade or so, researchers have been struggling to resolve a disturbing fact: when experts repeat experiments published in scientific journals, they don’t get the same results. And Dr. Sainani says exercise science is especially bad because lots of the studies are conducted with few participants and many use bad statistics. Sainani points to hundreds of published papers in the field that have used a new and unconventional approach to analyze data. Her research shows those papers often found positive effects, when more reliable methods didn’t. Things get even more confusing, when you look at the $50 billion dollar industry for sports supplements. It’s filled with companies desperate to show their products work, and there’s little regulation over what they can and cannot claim. They’re also paying for research, and for influencers. Being a fitness influencer, you get emails probably weekly. One of the biggest brands contacted me, offered a couple thousand, but it’s just like tea, you know. It’s amazing they can market tea as anything more special than tea. And, like a lot of Broscience, experts say sports supplements generally aren’t that helpful for getting fit. – Most mere mortals out there who aren’t trying to put a gold medal around their neck should try and get their training straight, a little bit of nutrition, probably their sleep, and that’s 95% of the equation. That’s Dr. Stuart Phillips, who helped the International Olympic Committee develop a consensus on dietary supplements last year. The group found that caffeine, that you get from your morning coffee, can help you get a better workout. And a little extra protein may help you build muscle. But supplements are much more likely to be harmful particularly fat burners or testosterone. And since the industry isn’t well-regulated, you could be consuming something contaminated with heavy metals like lead, or laced with other drugs. – It’s one thing to say ‘I’m going to make a conscious choice to take a steroid,’ for example. It’s a whole ‘nother thing to be taking a supplement without the knowledge that it might actually have the steroid in it. The truth is there’s no magic bullet. – I think you’re sold on this dream, like at any point you could just buy something and it’ll make it easier. But it’s wrong. And the sellers of this stuff, they perpetuate this because they become rich. But maybe there’s a deeper reason we keep seeking one-on-one guidance from the people around us. – There’s a kind of camaraderie in the gym that just isn’t really possible elsewhere. Dr. Joe Krupnik did his sociology dissertation at Harvard, on Broscience. – Some of that relationship with people is very primal. You enter into a relation of basic trust with people the minute you walk into the locker room. – I definitely think it’s a connection thing, like you have to have a good rapport and a good relationship with the person who’s giving you information. Ben Lauder-Dykes is a personal trainer, and he sees the appeal. – People portray something on social media and you buy into that person, their personality and what they’ve done, maybe in terms of their fitness or what they’ve done with their clients. And you start to trust them and you trust that advice. And so that’s why it’s difficult, because you could trust someone and they can still give you bad advice. The scientific consensus on exercise is simple and sort of disappointing: the best supplement is just eating a balanced diet. And the best workout is whichever one you’re willing to do consistently. So even if the advice you’re getting isn’t bad, it can still be distracting. – We find like often people’s reaction is inaction. A lot of people are just searching, searching, searching, searching, rather than actually doing what it is they need to do.


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