Everything in excess is opposed to nature.
Back in the Cold War days, a useful myth was that of extreme Soviet supremacy. Surely, if the godless communists, hell bent on world domination, were allowed to surpass US military might…well, you get the picture. Author Edward Herman once defined the “Soviet threat” as “a large and formidable beast of prey, the size of whose claws and fangs varied with the demands of the Military-Industrial Complex.” As journalist Ken Silverstein explains: “It’s now virtually undisputed that the menace once attributed to the Red Army was greatly overrated.”
On the topic of overrated, I’m reminded of another America delusion: the protein myth. In the US, the typical adult ingests 100 grams of protein every day — roughly four to five times the amount recommended by scientists not affiliated with meat and dairy corporations. The average American — in his/her lifetime — will consume 12 sheep, 15 cows, 24 hogs, 900 chickens, and 1000 lbs. of assorted animals (like fish). How did we ever develop this idea that more is better when it comes to protein, especially animal protein?
Part of that answer is profit-related, of course, but another part of it is the result of a third popular American pastime: The irrational quest for size. While waif-like models inspire shame, anxiety, guilt, and eating disorders among the female population, those artificially-tanned, oiled-from-head-to-toe, chemically-enhanced bodybuilders smiling at you from the pages of your favorite magazine have the power to wield considerable influence. This is what a real man looks like, they seem to be saying. Envy me. I am a powerful man who commands the sexual attention of others.
“The gyms you go to are crowded with guys trying to look like men,” writes author Chuck Palahniuk in his novel, Fight Club, “as if being a man means looking the way a sculptor or an art director says.” In order to reach that sculpted ideal, the men (and women) Palahniuk refers to are usually doing too many reps using far too much weight while taking way too long of a break in-between sets as they walk around in a permanent lat pose. Add in the wallet-draining habit of downing powders, pills, and potions, and you have yourself an industry founded on the illogical pursuit of mass.
Much like the Military-Industrial Complex…
“Military history is full of trumped-up threats,” Business Week columnist Stan Crock wrote in late 2002. “Time and again in military preparations, fears are raised that later prove unfounded.” Crock calls this gap-ology. A gap, according to Herman, is “a frightening but mythical deficiency relative to some foreign power.”
First there was the 1955 bomber gap. “The Soviets flew Bison bombers repeatedly in a loop over visitors at an air show, giving an exaggerated notion of their numbers,” says Crock. “A worried US military proceeded to build up its air-defense system.”
Another example of taking action based on a wholly manufactured basis is the hyper-ingestion of protein due to the scientifically useless and morally indefensible institution of animal experimentation. Since trying to discern biological trends from human to human is often impossible, what makes us think testing done on a rat will lead to any knowledge about our anatomy and physiology? The breast milk of rats, for example, derives nearly half of its calories from protein. Human breast milk is 5.9 percent protein. Obviously, there’s little useful information to be gained from monitoring the protein needs of rodents. However, many of today’s “experts” are still relying on protein requirement studies done on rats…in 1914.
What about those who believe we need extra protein because we want to run faster, jump higher, or grow bigger and prettier muscles? “Although in the past it was thought that vegetarian and vegan diets might impair athletic performance,” explains Natalie Digate Muth, MPH, RD, “scientists, coaches, and athletes alike now agree that with proper planning a diet without animal products can effectively fuel peak performance.” In addition, the decidedly mainstream National Academy of Sciences has declared, “There is little evidence that muscular activity increases the need for protein.”
But evidence is rarely the primary guiding factor inside a gym. After all, when was it decided that muscular hypertrophy was the ideal and is there even a shred a proof that such over-development has any correlation to health and fitness? The human body has evolved over millions of years to support muscle mass similar to that of, say, a swimmer. Until the Industrial Revolution, humans had little time to use solely for the sake of gaining size. Today, however, we are surrounded by men and women who have piled up enormous muscles on bodies not designed to bear such a burden. Also, the type of training needed to promote and maintain such unnatural mass is not exactly conducive to joint health.
Look around the gym. How many people do you see lifting more weight than they can handle? You know the type: usually men, big arms and chest, equally big gut, thin legs, and not a shred of muscular definition. Not to mention the aching shoulders, elbows, knees all covered in an assortment of Ace bandages. All of them chasing what cannot be caught because it doesn’t exist…like the missile gap.
In 1960, John F. Kennedy gave America the infamous “missile gap” when he claimed the U.S. nuclear arsenal had fallen behind the Soviet stockpile. Upon his election, JFK revealed that a gap indeed existed but it turned out that it was the U.S. that had the advantage. “That didn’t stop Kennedy from launching a nuclear-arms buildup,” adds Crock.
Presidents Carter and Reagan combined to make a late 70s/early 80s contribution to the Soviet threat: the “window of vulnerability.” Based on the faulty assessment of a group of conservative defense analysts, Reagan announced that the Soviets had the ability to knock out America’s land-based nukes in a first strike. “The claims were based on faulty assessments of the Soviet weapons’ power and accuracy — to say nothing of Moscow’s intentions,” Crock explains.
If we chose, we wouldn’t have to rely on “faulty assessments” to figure out how much protein we actually need. The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition says 2.5 percent of our daily calories should come from protein. According to the World Health Organization, it’s about 5 percent. How does that work out in grams? A lot lower than the US average of 100 grams a day, that’s for sure.
“An adult male on a fast only puts out 4.32 grams of urinary nitrogen per day,” says William Harris, M.D., author of The Scientific Basis for Vegetarianism. “Each gram represents 6.25 grams of broken down protein, so under conditions in which some protein is actually being catabolized and used for fuel, only about 4.32 x 6.25 = 27 grams/day are actually needed.” Twenty-seven grams.
Which brings us back to human breast milk. Humans undergo their most rapid growth during infancy and human breast milk has evolved over hundreds of thousands of years to become the perfect food to facilitate that growth. As stated earlier, it derives only 5.9 percent of its calories from protein. So here’s a question for everyone working two jobs just to afford their expensive protein supplements: If we need less than 6 percent of our calories from protein during a time of intense growth, why are we consuming so much protein as full-grown adults?
That’s naturally fully-grown adults…not juiced-up bodybuilding freaks. We look back now and laugh at what once passed for entertainment. Stuff like gladiator contests or even Vaudeville. What will future generations have to say about the artificially-inflated, tanned, and oiled bodies of men and women trying to impress us with their flexing in tiny outfits under the glare of klieg lights — all pretending to represent health? It’s not natural. It’s overkill…just ask that unrepentant Cold Warrior, Caspar Weinberger.
US Secretary of Defense from 1981 to 1987, Weinberger remained unfazed by any evidence of US deception. “In the end, we won the Cold War,” he declared, “and if we won by too much, if it was overkill, so be it.”
A slice of life on Planet Overkill…