Your body hates you

As I'm fond of saying, your body hates you. Actually, that's backwards, your body loves you. It loves you so much that it will do everything in its power to keep you alive even if that means keeping you small(er) and fat(ter). Because to your body, that gives you a better chance of survival. That you want to do something different doesn't matter as far as your body is concerned.

I want you to put this book down and go look in the mirror for a second. Don't get so caught up in throwing most muscular poses that you forget to come back. What you just saw is perhaps the most complicated machine in existence. Over millions of years (or 7 days, depending on your personal cosmology), it has developed ways of adapting to just about anything that you can throw at it.

This most complicated machine, your body, the one that hates you (but really loves you) still thinks that you're living the rather plebeian existence of our ancestors. Our modern lifestyle has only been around for the last couple of thousand years or so, far too short a time for our bodies to adapt. As far as your body is concerned, you might as well be a paleolithic man named Og (no jokes about the mental capacities of athletes, please) living on the plains.

Let's look at the implications of this by trying to see things from your body's perspective. For the most part, your body has one overwhelming goal which is to keep you alive long enough to have children and ensure the survival of your genes. Everything else is pretty secondary to that goal. So what does that mean? Again, a few things.

First it means that your body needs a nice space-efficient way to store scads of energy. That's to get you through the times when there isn't food available (as it frequently wasn't prior to the advent of 7-11). That energy store exists, it's called bodyfat, and your body thinks it's great. Fat is space efficient, easy to store, doesn't take much energy to sustain, and can hold an unlimited number of calories. If your fat cells get full, your body can even make new ones to store more incoming calories. The new fat cells are a lot harder to get rid of then they were to gain, by the way, which is a very good reason not to get too fat in the first place. Bodyfat is truly an ideal way to store energy.

From your body's perspective it looks like this: If food becomes unavailable, the more fat you have, the more likely you are to survive long enough until food becomes available again. In societies with seasonal food availability, being able to store a lot of fat when food was plentiful was the only way to get through the times when it wasn't. The extra fat also helped keep folks warm during the winter. No central heat or Gortex parkas back then.

In many societies people would fatten up in the summer so that they could survive through the winter and repeat for as long as they lived. Now, we just stay in one long fattening cycle (if you're a powerlifter, you can call this a bulking cycle and not feel guilty) without a break.

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That's at the root of the modern problem of obesity: constant availability of high calorie, high-sugar, high-fat foods. Decreases in daily activity is the other big part. Though our genetics are the same as they were 10,000+ years ago, our environment has changed drastically.

Lean individuals would have been at a big disadvantage hundreds of thousands of years ago when getting your next meal wasn't as simple as driving down to the local fast-food restaurant. Folks who didn't fatten up wouldn't have survived the food shortages, for the most part, so their genetics usually got weeded out of the pool. This probably isn't true for ethnic groups that lived in areas of the world where food was available year round: those are the ethnic groups that tend to stay lean pretty naturally.

The people who could store fat the best, who were most likely to survive the famines, were the ones who survived and passed on their genetic code down the line to us. In our current society, bodyfat is just a health-risk, not a necessary element to keep us alive for the most part. This fact is clearly shown in the survival times of lean versus obese folks during total starvation. A lean individual may die after 60 days of total starvation while an obese individual may make it for six months or longer. Extreme leanness is generally incompatible with survival if food becomes unavailable. I'll come back to this in a bit.

But what about muscle, that's useful right? You've got to be able to kill stuff to survive and that means muscle. Yes and no. Although it's wonderful to imagine Paleolithic man taking down wild animals with his bare hands like in all the "Tarzan" movies, it's more likely that man used his bigger brain to outfox animals when it came to hunting. Our brains are staggeringly large (relative to our bodyweight) than those of other animals; most likely we used our brains to compensate for relatively less muscle mass.

So while a modicum of muscle was necessary for survival, and our ancestors are thought to have had more muscle than the average American couch potato (which isn't really saying much), excessive muscle mass was probably a liability. Sure, you need enough to get around and get food but anything more than that is basically dead weight. In the wild, with the possible exception of impressing a potential mate, an 18 inch arm wouldn't have been much of a benefit. If anything, it might have slowed down your spear-throwing a bit.

In contrast to fat, muscle requires a lot of energy to build, requires a lot of energy to sustain, and doesn't provide much energy when it is broken down. Even then, your body will happily break it down when you diet. My point is that you run into an equally difficult set of adaptations occurring when you try to push your muscle mass beyond a certain point.

The end result of all of this is that, to your body, which thinks it's still on the plains eking out an existence, being fat and small are beneficial, because they meant greater survivability. Our physiology reflects this which makes things really suck for folks who want to be bigger and leaner. In short, we're fighting against millions of years of evolution and adaptation to reach our goals of bigger and leaner. Usually, the body wins.

Now, you may be thinking that I'm full of it already, because you can look at any magazine and find many sterling examples of individuals who are both huge and lean. They are called pro bodybuilders. There are a few reasons why the images in the majority of the magazines aren't very relevant to the rest of us. First and foremost, pro bodybuilders (or athletes in general) have better genetics than the rest of us. They are the genetic elite. This isn't some type of personal grouse or whine, simply a statement of fact and reality. If you had their genetics, you wouldn't be reading this book.

If you look at pro bodybuilders in their early stages, they are still typically leaner and bigger than the normal individual. From a physiological standpoint, they probably have higher than average testosterone levels and don't overproduce cortisol. Thyroid levels are probably optimal or close to it, helping to naturally optimize metabolic rate, fat burning and protein synthesis.

They have good skeletal muscle insulin sensitivity and tend to put calories into muscle more effectively (i.e. they partition calories towards muscle instead of fat). They probably have fewer fat cells than most people and that fat is evenly distributed (although even female pros have problems with lower bodyfat). When they diet, they don't have as many problems with metabolic slowdown. Their evenly distributed fat comes off easily and, since they can use fatty acids easily for fuel, they don't lose as much muscle when they diet. All of these factors contribute to their success.

We can contrast that to the average individual who could have any number of potential metabolic defects that prevents them from reaching their desired goals. Testosterone might be on the low side of normal, cortisol production is elevated, thyroid or nervous system output may be low (meaning a lower than optimal metabolic rate). Skeletal muscle insulin sensitivity is low which means that excess calories get pushed towards fat cells more effectively. When these folks diet, the brain tends to overreact, lowering metabolic rate (which probably wasn't optimal to begin with). Fat loss slows to a crawl. Difficulties mobilizing bodyfat, along with problems with testosterone and cortisol, lead to increased muscle loss. I could keep going but you get the idea.

I'm not just telling you this to depress you; consider it more of a reality check to make you aware of what is and isn't possible. My point is that pro bodybuilders (hell, pro athletes of any sort) are the genetic elite. You are not like them and they have advantages naturally that you don't. Most importantly, trying to mimic what they do, or expecting their results, can only lead you down an endless path of frustration.

100 Bodybuilding Tips

100 Bodybuilding Tips

Bodybuilding requires commitment. It is a totally different lifestyle that entails letting go of old habits and adopting new ones. You cannot go into bodybuilding and be half- hearted about it. It is a test of strength, self-discipline and willpower. Start only when you are sure you can commit time, effort and energy. Learn tips like this one and 99 more.

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