Research vs. “Bro Science”: Who Can You Really Trust in this Industry?

In an online space full of so-called “gurus” and online coaches, who can you really trust in this world? This doesn’t only apply to the fitness community either.

This is seen in nearly every niche. Whether in fitness, finance, marketing; the list goes on. There’s good, honorable individuals who truly want to help others for a living. And then there are others who want to prey on the vulnerable and misinformed in order to make a quick buck. Sometimes its intentional, sometimes it’s just pure ignorance. Whatever the reason, it needs to be put to stop.

On the other side of the spectrum, you have actual researchers with a formal education in some exercise science related topic. But just as with the “bro scientists”, you must think critically when evaluating what these researchers have to say as well.

Wait wait wait, you mean I can’t trust them either? No, that’s not what I’m saying either. There are many variables that influence my bold claim (see what I did there?). Let’s dive in!

Fitness Gurus & “Bro Science”

You see that guy or gal on Instagram with the physique you aspire after; rock hard abs, toned legs, small waist, broad shoulders. You get my point. They’re giving you some free content to look at like snippets of their workouts and what they eat in a day. They usually have a caption about why you should do the workout their doing or why you should take the supplement they take. Aha, we’ve found out how they’re getting paid.

Now listen, I’m not saying that wanting to make a living isn’t bad (like I do with this website), but it just makes me sad to see individuals that just getting into this scene get ripped off by people who claim to know what they’re talking about, but aren’t.

Just take a look at the literally thousands of supplement companies out there nowadays. You think all of them are adequately dosed with the highest quality ingredients and that they are looking out for your best interests. No. Of course not. There are very few and far in between. And these “gurus” and usually sponsored by said companies and receive commissions to sell there (usually bullshit) products to you.

A few other things to be weary about when looking at these fitness gurus:

  • They don’t have a formal education on a related topic
  • They don’t cite their references when making claims
  • They don’t hold any certifications related to health or fitness
  • If they’re selling something to you that’s too good to be true, it probably is

They don’t have a formal education on a related topic

Listen, you don’t NEED  a formal education in exercise science to understand the fundamentals and even some of the intricacies of exercise science. BUT, it certainly does help when you’re explaining the finer details, which this field most definitely requires.

A big thing many people miss is that it a formal education helps out a lot when it comes to interpreting the research in the field. Sure, anybody can access most of these articles through free databases online. But it takes a trained eye to spot out key variables in the study, such as:

  • Were the methods/procedures used appropriate for the topic?
  • How were the results analyzed and interpreted?
  • How can this be practically applied to the real world?

They don’t cite their references when making claims

Anybody can just type something and claim it as fact. But, you need solid evidence to backup your facts and claims.

This is where the scientific literature comes in. These must be properly cited in order to back up what you are saying. Because if not, then you’re in for world of trouble when people call you out on your bullshit.

Again, this is also where a formal education plays a vital role. Just like anybody can just type something, anybody can just cite something as well. This is even if the reference doesn’t even match what they’re saying. I’ve gone through some of these fitness blogs and looked at their references and proven this to myself (not going to cite these sources to avoid exploiting them).

You have to know how to interpret the data properly in order to know what exact implications can be drawn from it.

They don’t hold any certifications related to health or fitness

Now, this should be the next best thing to a formal education. In fact, it gives a person brownie points if they pair this with a formal education.

These would include things such as a personal trainer certification, a sports nutrition certification, exercise physiology certification, and the list goes on and on.

For example, a personal trainer certification gives an individual a basic understanding of human anatomy and physiology, as well as Sports Nutrition. Even with this, somebody can most definitely be more trustworthy than someone who just did their research on Google.

If they’re selling you something that’s too good to be true, then it probably is

Oh yes, the biggest culprit of them all. The oh so famous keto only burns fat diet craze is definitely included in this category.  But there are definitely other ones as well.

I’m going to lay a very hard truth on you, what actually works in this field isn’t exactly what I’d call “sexy”.  And by this I mean there’s never really just one variable to be blamed here. It’s hard to package it in a nice, flashy ebook.

For example, going back to keto, many people who are firm believers in this and demonize carbohydrates will put insulin to blame. The raising of insulin is the reason why you’re gaining body fat. This is a much too simplistic way of looking at it.  Now I’m not saying a keto diet is bad , far from it. It happens to work well for many people and that’s absolutely fantastic, but it’s not magic that’s making that happen, it’s often personal preference in terms of what foods they like to eat and what they can sustain as a diet long term.

Another example is when people tell you specifically how to train. This could include making very black and white statements such as “only lifting very heavy weights makes you build muscle and lifting light weights makes you tone”.  Again, much too simplistic for a topic so complex as exercise physiology.

So they’ll make this very strong claim, and then they’ll coincidentally provide you a product that fixes the problem they just addressed. Trust me, nothing in life is ever that simple. The plan you put in place must be calculated and planned by an expert.

Researchers

This is where it gets real interesting.

The research field is ever-expanding to address a wide variety of topics. This is amazing as it helps us to address the many gaps we have in our knowledge about this broad field.  However, just like with our fitness influencers and gurus, there are good and bad researchers and studies.

Lets use an example that’s become very infamous in the exercise science research realm.  The one I’m talking about here is Dr. Jacob Wilson’s study about the supplement HMB. This has received a lot of controversy due to its claims of the results being “better than steroids”, with subjects gaining over 16 pounds of lean body mass over the course of 12 weeks just by taking this supplement. Ironically, he just released a video defending his study, if you would like to watch it the video is below.

You also have to take into consideration something called inter-individual variability. Basically, what this entails is that there are many things that make individuals different from one another; including genetics, age, sex, and our body’s physiological responses to certain stimuli, such as particular nutritional protocols, supplements, and drugs.  Because of this, research can only do so much to standardize these variables

Also, there’s also something that we call in the scientific literature external validity. This refers to how the results of the study can be applied to the real world. This correlates with something called internal validity, which is basically how effective the protocols  are being used to test what is being tested.  The higher the internal validity, the lower the external validity most of the time and vice versa.

Looking at the research is a great way to help us establish the best direction in which to go or where to turn. But also, one shouldn’t take it too literally either.  As the saying goes, what works best for one person may not work well for the other. Utilize the literature for the fundamentals, but also use critical thinking as well to be your own researcher. Essentially, be your own guinea pig. Apply what’s in the research and see if it actually works for you.

Final Thoughts

Unfortunately, clear answers are very difficult to come by these days. It’s hard to know who exactly to trust. Invest in the content of those we have never let you down. Use that intuition of yours to determine what this person’s goal is. Overtime, you can see if they’re in it just for the money, or if they’re really interested in making a difference in your life.

That even includes myself. I can say as much as I want that I care about your best interest, but until I prove that to you (which is what I hope I’ve done) then you really have no idea what my intentions are.

Bottom line; if you mostly see the selling of products rather than the distribution of information at the forefront of this person’s content, then I think you know what their motive is.

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