The fitness community is covered in a fog composed of anecdotes, broscience, dogma, and myths. Everything is covered, except for a few small sections on the outskirts of the community. Most people never find their way out of the grey cloud surrounding them and into these clear areas. They remain trapped in the fog their whole lives.
You don’t have to look further than your Facebook News Feed to see that the fog is all over the place and spreads rapidly. Social media sites are filled with supplement ads that promise instant weight loss; articles that claim you will gain muscle at a much faster rate if you ingest 30 grams of fast-absorbing whey protein directly after your workouts; and videos that claim to reveal shocking fitness secrets. Unless you make a conscious attempt to avoid the internet and the mainstream press, you will be exposed to the harsh reality of 21st century fitness.
Making our way out of the fog
When I first entered into the fitness community a long time ago, I arrived in a very foggy area. I was led to believe that it’s healthy and wise to eat a lot of cereal grains; that I should eat my first meal of the day early in the morning, regardless of whether I was hungry or not; that drinking a protein shake directly after my training sessions would enhance my workout results and stimulate instant hypertrophy; and that blasting every muscle group once a week is the key to maximizing muscle growth. This knowledge was imprinted in me by fitness blogs and magazines, bodybuilders, the supplement industry, and various gym rats I met at the fitness centers I frequented.
Visibility was so poor that it was almost impossible to see anything else besides the fog. If it hadn’t been for the fact that the fitness plan that grew out of the information contained within the fog didn’t seem to make me healthy, I would probably have stayed put where I was. I would perhaps never have strapped on my boots and set out in an attempt to discover something new.
Now, many years later, I obviously realise that I – like so many other people within the fitness community – wasn’t seeing clearly. My vision was obstructed by conventional fitness wisdom and dogma. I was blind to the truth.
I would have liked to be able to go back and give some sound advice to my much younger self. I’m not sure my younger self would have listened – the collective, loud voices of bodybuilders, fitness models, supplement companies, and fitness magazines would probably have suppressed and overshadowed my own – however, it would have been worth a try. I probably wouldn’t have learned as much as I have if I hadn’t made the mistakes I did, but I would undoubtedly have achieved better results with my training the first couple of years after I started working out. Moreover, I wouldn’t have damaged my health to the extent that I did.
8 things I would have told my younger self if I could travel back in time
If I could go back and talk to and give some advice to my younger self, this is what I would have said:
- The supplements you’re using are doing you more harm than good
Replace protein powders, energy drinks, vitamin pills, and other fancy nutritional products with real, whole foods.
- Your training program is a poor match for the human genetic make-up
Replace your high-intensity, high-volume, imprudent training program with a balanced, species-appropriate program that confers multifaceted fitness and good health.
- Don’t eat in the morning unless you’re hungry
Replace your early breakfast with intermittent fasting.
- Your high-carbohydrate, species-inappropriate diet is harming your health
Replace the imprudent diet you’re eating with an ancestral, species-appropriate diet.
- Prioritize natural movement patterns
Replace machine exercises with bodyweight exercises, barbell movements, and other exercises that are performed in a natural movement pattern.
- Stop obsessing about meal frequency
Replace obsessive compulsive eating (i.e., eating every two-three hours regardless of whether you’re hungry or not) with a meal pattern that adjust itself naturally in accordance with your appetite and physical activity levels.
- Stop obsessing about the number of grams of carbohydrate, protein, and fat you’re taking in
Replace your strict, bodybuilding-style eating plan that contains a per-specified macronutrient ratio with a diet that adjust itself naturally in accordance with your cravings and appetite.
- Base your exercise program around a few multi-joint movements and focus on progressive overload in those exercises
Replace your unstructured, disordered approach to exercise selection with a consistent, structured approach.
This is the same advice I would give any other fitness enthusiast who’s trapped in a fog of conventional fitness wisdom. Instead of looking to the latest edition of Flex Magazine for tips on how you should structure your diet and exercise program, you should look to the scientific literature and the evolutionary health model.
A fit-looking body isn’t necessarily a healthy body
One thing I think eludes a lot of people is that aesthetics and leanness don’t necessarily equal good health. Your favorite fitness model may look really fit, strong, and muscular, but that doesn’t automatically imply that he’s healthy. If he’s stuffing himself with protein shakes and energy bars, eating massive amounts of whole grains, and following an extreme bodybuilding-type training program, then chances are he’s not.
The fact that a fitness program makes you strong, muscular, and lean doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s making you healthy. Sometimes, hypertrophy and aesthetics are produced at the expense of health.
The picture of me to the right was taken at a time when I did a lot of strength training. I was quite strong and muscular back then. I think most people would say I look pretty fit in that picture. Most people would probably also say I look healthy. I wasn’t though. I obviously wasn’t on the verge of death, but I definitely wasn’t healthy. I was pushing my body too hard in the gym, doing more work than it could handle.
Why it’s important to focus on health, not just on athleticism and aesthetics
One of the key things I’ve learned about fitness over the years is that training frequency, intensity, and volume have to be adjusted according to health status. An individual who’s chronically inflamed has a markedly lower exercise tolerance than someone who’s healthy. The former will have trouble recuperating between workouts, he’ll be prone to infections, and his workout results/progress will be poor when compared to that of the healthy person, due to the fact that many of his bodily systems are compromised. He will certainly be able to build some strength, become faster, lose weight, and gain some muscle if he works out; however, his progress will be slow when compared to what it would have been if he was healthy.
I suspect that a lot of fitness enthusiasts would see much better results with their training if they started putting as much emphasis on improving their health as they put on improving their body composition and athletic performance. In other words, if they changed their lifestyle so it better matches the ancient human genome they would not just become healthier, but also fitter, stronger, and more physically robust.
Thanks for reading. Let me know in the comment section if you have any thoughts on the article.