You’ve Gotta Eat Big If You Wanna Get Big
“You’ve gotta eat big if you wanna get big.” It’s a saying that’s likely existed at least as long as 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 of them advocated extremely heavy protein consumption. Frankly, that claim seems pretty overstated, but even if nutrition is 50% of strength training success, then protein has to account for at least half of that. Why? Because the history of human evolution says so.
Every Which Way But Loose, a movie about a prizefighter and his
hairy vegetarian buddy.
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
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 weight lifters, 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, and 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. The same goes for elite strength athletes of today-
they eat protein in amounts that beggar description and stagger the
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 couch potato for playing Mountain on Game of Thrones, Björnsson is
on track to become perhaps the greatest strongman of all time- 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.
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.
“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 was consumed with vegetables (but not much 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, much butter, 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 but in spite of 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
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 was 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. 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. 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. 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 of
the food on Earth (he ate six pounds of meat at dinner each day) to 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 has to 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
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.
Bryant, Josh. The
M&F “GFH” Diet. Muscle and Fitness. Web. 3 Oct 2014.
Croft, Henry. 100%
British Beef: The Reg Park Story. Gym Talk. 24 Jun 2013. Web.
3 Oct 2014. http://www.gym-talk.com/the-reg-park-story/
Incredible muscle mass: How Sergio Oliva and Victor Richards built
theirs. Strength Old School. 8 Jan 2010. Web. 3 Oct
Gaudreau, Leo. The
Saxon trio: what they ate and how they trained. Natural Strength.
Web. 3 Oct 2014. http://www.bobwhelan.com/history/saxontrio.html
Bill “Peanuts” West. The Tight Tan Slacks of Dezso Ban.
17 Sep 2009. Web. 3 Oct 2014. http://ditillo2.blogspot.com/2009/09/bill-peanuts-west-earle-liederman.html
McCallum, John. Keys
To Progress. Nevada City: IronMind, 1993.
Rheo Blair Protein- How
to mix the protein drink. Iron Guru. Web. 3 Oct 2014. http://www.ironguru.com/rheo-blair-protein-how-to-mix-the-protein-drink
Simone, Mike. Thor
Bjornsson Diet: What ‘The Mountain’ eats for his strongman training.
Men’s Fitness. 7 Apr 2016. Web. 24 May 2017. http://www.mensfitness.com/nutrition/what-to-eat/thor-bjornsson-diet-what-mountain-eats-his-strongman-training
Training Methods of Larry
Scott. Iron Guru. Web. 3 Oct 2014. http://www.ironguru.com/training-methods-of-larry-scott