4 minutes for cross-checking

Can proteins kill you?

Are diets a road to hell?

It is fairly normal that a person who wants to gain muscles will increase his protein intake. It is also normal to be on a diet whilst trying to get lean. Regarding the (missing) credibility of information, both fields are surrounded by quite some clouds of uncertainty. Problem is that the wannabe gurus and lifestyle & fitness magazines will not admit it. They would lose money. They would lose page views. It is their concealment or their lack of information that can count years off of our life span.


Health, diets, fitness – topics arousing heat

The title of Cross-checking I’ve used comes from the old days, when my brother and I used to play NHL 2000. With great enthusiasm we gave massive hits to other players. The shouts about ‘t was a clean hit, goddamnit!” filled the room after receiving a penalty. In this case, it means the absolute necessity to cross-check opinions that we read.

1. Suspect: proteins

‘Bro, do you even lift?’

Can you imagine fitness without proteins? It is said that increased protein intake = muscle gain. Alas the supplement industry. Are you familiar with the rule of thumb which goes more or less as follows: two grams of protein per every kilogram of lean weight to gain muscle? My weight hovers around 80 kilograms, which translates into recommended protein intake of at least 160 grams, daily. Muscle is primarily composed of water (75%), then comes protein with 18,5%. Using the average mass of muscle male body has, I counted that I have some 6,2 kilograms of protein allocated in my muscles. Daily intake of 160 grams represents 58,44 kilograms of protein per year. Nearly 10 times my current volume. Should body use these to create muscle mass, one would get 315 kilograms of pure muscle in twelve months.

There are other issues, too. Some sources (in this case the  “Art of Manliness, ” this article specifically) even suggest that increasing testosterone level (via protein intake), results in faster recovery and longevity.
Let me quote:

“Not only does testosterone itself play an essential role in the tissue formation and protein synthesis required to heal wounds, it also plays an important role in IGF-1 production. IGF-1 (insulin-like growth factor 1) is a polypeptide that works with human growth hormone in the healing process. Moreover, it serves as a general wound-healing stimulant by increasing the rate of cell reproduction near a wound site as well as increasing the rate of skin regrowth.”

So far, so good. However, there are some drawbacks…

According to BBC documentary Eat, Fast, Live Longer, high levels of IGF-1 shift the body into GO mode. Instead of repairing the DNA code of damaged cells, it moves onto creating new ones instead. Hence the higher recovery speed. It also means that the old cells with damaged DNA are left alone, and, as the years go by, they become a backdoor for diseases, including various types of cancer. Further on, the article on Art of Manliness claims that it is precisely the low-level of IGF-1, which is responsible for HIV patients being prone to sickness & slow healing.

One of the reasons men with HIV and other immune-suppressing diseases have wounds that take forever to heal is that their testosterone levels (and consequently their IGF-1 levels) are also suppressed.”

Another explanation presents itself. Via low-level of IGF-1, the body is trying to repair the damaged cells in order to heal the real cause of problems, the HIV, not the symptoms.

Can one get the better from both worlds – a reasonable growth-to-repair ratio? The BBC documentary claims the solution might lie in occasional fasting, which balances the GO mode of regular days of hectic life with ‘service maintenance’ every now and then.

There is more to fasting than just reducing levels of IGF-1. Hunger, on the principle of hormesis, is a stimulant leading to loss of body fat, lower amount of sugar in blood, and possibly to greater brain activity. I personally have the easiest time trying to focus thoroughly for a long period of time while fasting between 20 and 30 hours. (Technical note: I practice fasting usually once a week)

2. Suspect: diet

Let’s cut the crap. There are dozens of diets out there. If someone sells a diet, he should better know about the consequences of various IGF-1 levels. If not, he may have no idea what he’s talking about (I’m pointing at you, protein-based diets).

Because of constant evolution, we are set to eat to what our ancestors ate. And by this I mean your ancestors from Nevada and my ancestors from Bohemia. The difference can be profound. My friend, medicine student, told me, that one can develop new allergies by excessively eating exotic food. Too bad mango!

There’s been a lot of buzz around the Paleo diet in the last couple of years. I don’t know which diet is the right one, however I would like to point out one number as an opponent of “we were not supposed to eat flour/bread/rice/milk” argument. Agricultural revolution took place some 10.000 years ago. Tens of thousands of years before that, the hunter-gatherers used to eat plants, fruits and, if available, meat & fish. Keep in mind that back then getting meat ment a lot of struggle. So, agricultural revolution – our life expectancy got shorter, so did our average height, and new diseases were introduced. Despite that, 10.000 years means 100 generations counting average length of life 100 years, which is clearly nonsense. Even 200 generations is not enough. More than 200 generations of constant adjustment and tinkering. Evolution at its best. Is it possible that we have evolved? Could Paleo diet be a step back?

I am only speculating. This is a cross-check, whilst the answer still remains unknown. National Geographic published amazing article on diets, which talks a lot about this diet allocation. Meaning: what has worked for people of Crete (the ‘Mediterranean diet’) may not work for you, because you lived elsewhere and got used to different menu.

Couple of weeks back, I got my hands on a book called Meat is for pussies, written by a badass vegan.  It is quite intriguing and I may do some experiments based on vegan diet. There is, however, one doubt I cannot get my head around. Vegans are strongly urged to take B12 vitamin supplements, since the natural source of B12 is meat, milk and eggs. What would a vegan do a hundred years ago, when B12 supplements weren’t on the market? Would he eat meat once a month? Or perhaps once in two weeks? Could it be that veganism back in the days was more of a hybrid, rather than pure plant-based? I don’t know.

To conclude – the diet business is a bit tricky. Nevertheless, my dear reader, you and I we both know what we have to do to get healthy. Avoid sugar, avoid sweets & salty crackers, avoid fizzy drinks, and for heaven’s sake give up the fast food finally. – all that crap. This avoidance by itself is a huge step forward. Deciding which diet is the best may wait until then.


As for the conclusion of this post – I am not an expert. I admit that. I am sceptical about my own knowledge. I am also sceptical about magic formulas, which fail to notice the long-run consequences. The article on AoM hit over 4000 shares. Diets and eat-protein-to-pack-muscles principle are all across the board. Rarely though do we hear about the possible, potentially serious downsides. Another article in National Geographic (it seems that I’m becoming NG geek of sorts 🙂 ) pointed out that in 1930s doctors were recommending smoking… there simply was no evidence of causality between smoking and lung cancer. Nowadays we know it may also cause diabetes, large intestine cancer and problems with livers. It is indeed the long run, what makes a difference. Problems will not show up right away. With that in mind:

Don’t settle. Keep cross-checking.

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About Petr Klíma