I’m not one to complain, but for a society catapulted to the pinnacle of world power by scientific achievement, we sure do love mystics. Not mystics in the neo-cultural sense that read palms, the stars or numbers to tell the future; I’m talking about the vintage mystics, witch doctors of former times who keenly watched the world and codified observations into a manual for health, happiness and curing the common ailments.
Tribal witch doctors never understood why anything worked, so they couldn’t modify or deviate from their code; they only knew if A happened, do B and expect C. And if C didn’t happen, then it was time to beat something—maybe a person—with a blunt object.
Society’s witch doctors never left the scene, they only fell out of focus, nothing more than a background prop giving atmosphere to the action on center stage. Don’t get me wrong, they played an important role by making keen observations, but without the mental ability to explore these observations, develop hypotheses and experiments to verify, refine or redefine their ideas, witch doctors remained unimportant. That is, until their extreme-makeover in the 21st century. Enter the millennia of the Synthesist.
Despite the cool new name, Synthesist—notice how closely this resembles Scientist—not much has changed. Synthesists, by their own admonition, observe, read other people’s work, talk with experts then create a pseudo-scientific explanation that they can understand. In terms of cognitive science, we can think of this as creating a metaphor: when a true understanding of the world is beyond our grasp, we create an explanation that’s good enough to deal with reality, i.e. we may not understand shit, but we know not to eat it.
All in all, this isn’t such a bad thing. Metaphor enables physicists, mathematicians and engineers to advance their fields and seemingly unrelated ones. Here’s a good example of metaphor. When I talk to the average person who only wants to lose fat, I describe how cells of the body get sugar by telling the person that the body releases insulin, which carries the sugar into cells. I know that this is not how sugar gets into cells—the glucose transporters are responsible for that—but it’s a good enough metaphor for the layman. As long as they grasp this, we can continue the discussion. I would never push the insulin metaphor as truth, even if the metaphor was the best I could do to understand it—which it’s not.
The Synthesist, on the other hand, through hubris, vanity or sheer stupidity does believe their half-baked, mock-understanding is absolute truth; they eat their own shit, so to speak. Helping others understand things via metaphor is fine and dandy, and except for this last problem—eating shit—Synthesists could be an asset to society.
What goes wrong, then? As has always been the problem with witch doctors, they try to impress their tribe by using half-assed metaphors to explain everything. They hypothesize like madmen and once it sounds good enough, they pass it to the masses.
In the olden days, they had enough power and their tribes were small enough that they could drown out the truth by smashing the skull of the more intelligent tribe members with a rock. Today, they have a new tool: the internet. Their excrement travels the globe at roughly ⅓ the speed of light and they try damn hard to make it look like cake. And if you question them, or prove they’re wrong, they start bashing with another new tool: forums.
(I’ve learned that a lack of knowledge in this industry can be measured by how much time a supposed-guru spends trashing someone when they’re challenged and worse, when someone points out what they don’t know—for an excellent example, check out Lyle’s comments on my article Logic Does Not Apply pt. 3).
And all this bullshit and vitriol does one thing: it makes my job really—pardon the expletive—fucking hard.
For example, I speak often about glucose transporters and how to manipulate them to our advantage. Synthesists, unable or unwilling to grasp the situation, explain it in terms of insulin sensitivity and make erroneous, fat inducing suggestions when pitching a plan for lean gains, like eating very low-glycemic carbs post-training. This is not what you should do if you want to avoid getting fat while adding lean muscle, but they can’t understand that. What they do understand is that South Beach is popular, it recommends low-glycemic everything so they will too. Both health and growth have something to do with insulin…so let’s throw all the shit on the wall and see what sticks.
Or, upon hearing that breakfast might be worth giving up, they assume that protein because it’s so awesome, as they say, is always okay to eat. Instead of normal breakfast, their logic goes, eat 30 grams of a fast-absorbing protein. They know that fast-acting protein stimulates growth post-training. And after training the body’s hungry, right? Just like it is when you wake…Eureka, they’re genius. Just give the body the same stuff when it wakes.
It’s bullshit. The hormonal and anabolic milieu first thing in the morning differs drastically from post-training. Thirty grams of a fast-acting protein after training will not stop the body from burning fat. Thirty grams of a fast-acting protein first thing in the morning, however, destroys the body’s fat burning ability as much as thirty grams of carbs and imparts no special muscle-sparing action1-3. If eating first thing in the morning, skip the Muscle Milk at breakfast and go for the stack of pancakes instead…metabolically, there’s not much difference.
It never ends: soy protein is bad, therefore all plant proteins must be bad (not true4-8); if training at 5 pm allows you to eat carbs in abundance all night (Carb Back-Loading™) then training first thing in the morning should let you pig out all day without getting fat (definitely not true-see here); if the Warrior Diet—which forgoes eating all day, allowing only a single huge meal at night—works, then modifying it to include food all day and a feeding frenzy at night must be awesome (good way to get fat—see here); if a Carb Nite® works, then a whole carb day would be bad ass (again, awesome way to get fat—I’ll discuss this more in the next post); and the list goes on and on.
Maybe, at this point, the root of my frustration is clear. Synthesists lack experience, they lack true knowledge and they lack wisdom, but they believe they possess all three in amounts greater than anyone else. They never check if their ideas are true or not; nor do they care. They never say, “I don’t know” or “scientists haven’t figured that out yet,” because they think their guess—and that’s all it is—doubles as fact. Not only do they eat their own shit, but they want you to have a serving too—extra steamy, please.
- Akhavan T, Luhovyy BL, Brown PH, Cho CE, Anderson GH. Effect of premeal consumption of whey protein and its hydrolysate on food intake and postmeal glycemia and insulin responses in young adults. Am J Clin Nutr. 2010 Apr;91(4):966-75.
- Bowen J, Noakes M, Clifton PM. Appetite hormones and energy intake in obese men after consumption of fructose, glucose and whey protein beverages. Int J Obes (Lond). 2007 Nov;31(11):1696-703.
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- Calbet JA, MacLean DA. Plasma glucagon and insulin responses depend on the rate of appearance of amino acids after ingestion of different protein solutions in humans. J Nutr. 2002 Aug;132(8):2174-82.