“You’ve gotta eat big if you wanna get big.” It’s a saying that’s likely existed at least if there have been weights to lift, and it holds just as true now as it did when the ancient Greeks battled for strength supremacy hoisting mindbogglingly heavy stones in the Olympics. Dieting for lifting should be simplicity itself, if the fact that people managed to get jacked enough in antiquity to lift a 315 pound stone one-handed (Bybon did it, in the 6th century BC), hoist and carry the 420 pound Husafell stone of Iceland, lift the 1,060 pound egg-shaped stone discovered at the site of the ancient Olympic games, carry 1400 lb. Viking longship’s masts on their backs and all sorts of other superhuman feats, and dieting for those people was simple. When there was meat, they ate it. Period.
Protein wasn’t even identified until the 19th century, when the Swedish chemist Jöns Jacob Berzelius discovered it in researching “vitalism.” Prior to his discovery, people knew that meat and milk were crucial for building strength and muscle, but they didn’t know precisely why. Frankly, the why of it didn’t matter so much as they benefit meat provided, so it was simply eaten in the largest quantities they could afford. By the middle of the 20th Century, trainers of champions like Vince Gironda and Mr. Olympia Larry Scott were making claims that strength sports and bodybuilding were 90% nutrition, and both advocated extremely heavy protein consumption. Frankly, that claim seems overstated, but even if nutrition is 50% of strength training success, then protein must account for at least half of that. Why? Because the history of human evolution says so.
Human evolution was begun and has been steered almost entirely by our consumption of meat. As we evolved into progressively more Clint Eastwood-esque humans and less orangutan-esque… orangutan, humanity relied heavily on steaks, until Cro-Magnon man was out-fighting, out-hunting, and out-screwing the more jacked
Neanderthals out of existence. Fast forward a bit further, and you
discover that meat continued to take dietary primacy in the cultures that shaped the world, and especially in those that valued physical strength. Juxtapose that against modern “conventional” scientific wisdom, which states that people now eat too much protein and overconsumption of the stuff is pointless in the best-case scenario and deadly in the worst case.
This is, of course, nonsense. Without getting entirely off-topic, one of the major problems in modern medical and scientific research is that reality-based evidence is often overlooked for eminence-based research. The reason mostly lie in funding, as it is the scandalous study that gets published, pushing the studies confirming what intuition already tells us into the shadows or the trash can. Thus, we’re left with a bevy of studies showing that it’s pointless to consume more than a gram of protein per pound of bodyweight a day, all while human history and the diets of the super-strong tell us a very, very different story.
Namely, they tell us that strength success seems to lie on top of a mountain comprised mainly of protein. Certainly, one can jump onto Pubmed and immediately find studies about gut clearance and nitrogen retention, or small clinic trials regarding protein consumption conducted with recreational weightlifters, and conclude that massive protein consumption is totally unnecessary, but not even scientists can provide a unanimous opinion on the subject.
Thus, we’re left again with following the lead of those who have gone before us. The consensus among the fantastically strong and muscular seems to lead us to this- it’s difficult, if not impossible, to find a pre-steroid era strongman (should you feel it necessary to file an objection regarding steroid use and protein assimilation) or bodybuilder who didn’t value protein above all else and eat it in massive amounts. However, the same goes for elite strength athletes of today. They eat protein in amounts that beggar description and stagger the imagination.
Intrigued? You should be. Check out some of the greats and their protein consumption.
Reg Park, who is both Arnold’s idol and the first bodybuilder to bench press 500 lbs., pretty much sweated masculinity the way most hipsters sweat douche. He was so virile that women spontaneously gave birth in his presence, and his steely-eyed glare could break a man’s jaw from across the room. Given those facts, it’s unsurprising that he often started his day with cereal sprinkled with protein powder, slammed over eight pounds of steak a day with only a cursory attempt to chew it, and drank enough Guinness to permanently disable most people every day (Croft).
Frankly, eight pounds of steak per day seems like part of a Chuck Norris “fact”, but given that a pound of ribeye contains at least 100 grams of protein (getting the results of nutrition calculators to agree is more difficult than getting social justice warriors to agree on what’s offensive… unless the proposed offensive thing is “Everything in the Universe”), it’s safe to say Reg Park was doubling his bodyweight of 245
lbs in protein on a daily basis.
If you’re not aware of this man, you must have spent the last five years under a rock. Known by the average lazy person for playing Mountain on Game of Thrones, Björnsson is on track to become perhaps the greatest strongman of all time. Furthermore, in 2015 he broke a thousand-year-old strength record by carrying a 32 foot long, 1433 lb mast from a Viking longship 5 steps. The previous record was three steps, which broke the man’s back and killed him. Björnsson lived and has been setting the strongman world on fire after quitting basketball in 2008. Therefore, the secret to the 6’9″, 400 lb strongman is his diet- Björnsson consumes 13 pounds of food per day, including 850 grams of delicious, delicious protein. Ah, to be a fly on the wall of the gym he’s in when someone starts waxing intellectual about his excess protein consumption…
THE SAXON TRIO
The Saxon Trio were basically the turn-of-the century Dream Team of strongman exhibition. Not only were their lifts about as untouchable as the surface of the sun, but it was essentially impossible to out eat them as well.
“Firstly, for breakfast they ate 24 eggs and 3 pounds of smoked bacon: porridge with cream, honey, marmalade and tea with plenty of sugar. At three o’clock they had dinner: ten pounds of meat were consumed with vegetables (but not many potatoes); sweet fruits, raw or cooked, sweet cakes, salads, sweet puddings, cocoa and whipped cream and very sweet tea. Supper, after the show, they had cold meat, smoked fish, cheese, and beer.”
“Later, in England, as performers, Hermann and Kurt were partial to sweet foods and sugar. They tried very hard to gain weight. Despite sweets and a terrific appetite, sometimes consuming one pound of butter between them, they failed to gain weight; sometimes only a few pounds which they could not hold. Arthur, the oldest, did not care for sweets and butter; even as a child he did not care for
butter. Instead of butter he would use the lard from pork. Hermann and Kurt, in addition to other things, could make two pounds of marmalade and two quarts of very sweet cocoa disappear at one meal. Kurt was the heaviest eater of the three and for breakfast alone he could consume 24 eggs cooked in one-half pound of
After that, their three o’clock dinner consisted mostly of roasted or fried meat, beef, pork, or veal, not much potatoes, plenty of salads with oil just as in their childhood. Sometimes they had vegetables, but always lean meat. Every day they had pudding-Yorkshire, rice, sago, etc., but very sweet. Then there were always raw or cooked fruits and nothing to drink. Sometimes, on one day during the week, they roasted poultry, goose, chicken, or turkey. ‘Many times I ate an 11-pound goose alone. Kurt informed me [Editor’s note: That’s 520 grams of protein and around 6300 calories in a single sitting]. One day during the week they had fried or boiled fish, plenty of butter and toast but no potatoes. At six o’clock they had “tea”. This was mostly raw minced meat with raw onions, German bread, and plenty of butter; sometimes sweet cakes and coffee were substituted.
Their late supper included herrings (when they could get them) and eaten in the same manner they had become accustomed to in childhood. The herrings were sometimes used in salad form; they made their own mayonnaise with raw whipped eggs and oil. Above all, there never was any whisky or brandy at home. Even as children they did not care for milk and as men they developed no taste for it. At ‘tea’ time they very often had whipped cream. They did not care for boiled eggs, instead, they went big for poached eggs with plenty of butter” (Gaudreau).
This means that just in two meals, each of the men, who weighed 210 lbs. or less, consumed almost 200 grams of protein for breakfast, then have “tea’ with raw hamburger and onions, and then a massive, multi-hour meal heavy in meats and cheeses after lifting. Given that the biggest of them was only 205 lbs., it’s safe to say all three were doubling their bodyweight in protein daily while doing their best to fill their bodies with more calories than a McDonald’s dumpster.
Larry Scott, first Mr. Olympia and possessor of some of the most freakish and strongest arms in history, was adamant about consuming adequate amounts of protein. According to the man himself, “Basically I eat a lot of meat, cheese, and eggs. For example, I like cottage cheese and meat-mostly beef in various forms. I eat almost no carbohydrates and very few vegetables. I supplement my diet with Johnson’s Protein” (Training Methods).
If you’ll note the bit at the end, Scott was an early proponent of protein shakes (the best of which would pale in comparison to Cannibal Kraken, by the way), which he would make with Half-and-Half instead of milk. For instance, Scott’s protein shakes would range between 156 and 208 grams of protein each, which he’d chug post workout. Add in another three to four food meals consisting of nothing but meat and cheese (and Miralax, one would suppose), and the 208 pound Scott was certainly consuming 2 grams of protein per pound of bodyweight or more to fuel the growth of his ridiculously outsized 20 inch arms at a bodyweight of only 205 pounds.
Certainly, the number of examples we could examine are legion, from Louis Cyr’s attempts to eat all the food on Earth (he ate six pounds of meat at dinner each day) to Brian Shaw’s 10 mammoth protein-packed feedings of the day to Mariusz Pudzianowski’s unbelievable bacon intake, but I think I’ve made my point. To get big and strong, one must eat like they want to get big and strong. Before you decide there’s just no way you can digest that much protein, realize that it’s
highly unlikely that you’re such a modern human that you’ve lost the ability to utilize the protein in a mammoth steak, and even more than that, every fire needs fuel. If you’re going to set the world ablaze, protein is half the battle.
As the great strength training author John McCallum stated, “you’ve got to eat protein like it’s going out of style.” The greats do it, and science seems to suggest that the more and harder you train, the greater your protein absorption gets. So, train hard and eat harder, because a few extra grams of protein might be all that stands between you and greatness.
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