The protein mist(e)ak(e).

I’m here to talk about one question:

Why is the governmental Recommended Daily Allowance for protein so freaking low if you want to build muscle?

And why are the following answers so different?



I fix the diet, then I go to the gym. Every time. It never works the other way around. If I go to the gym first, I feel like shit, then I think about what I’ve been eating, then I fix my diet, and then I go to the gym.

Let me explain why I’m talking about food. I have a history with food.

I’ve been obsessed with weight loss, metabolism, and diet since I was 19, and my grandfather helped me lose ~90 lbs in 6 months – from 297, to 206.

I did it by, at the start, completely restricting my diet to Atkins. I lost 30 lbs in the first month. It was totally ridiculous to me that I could just change what I ate day to day and lose so much weight. Almost the entirety of that 90 lbs loss was done walking for 10-20 minutes per day and eating mostly fewer than 20g carbohydrate per day.

I used ketosis strips to test my urine to make sure I was in deep ketosis, which forces the body to burn fat first before using any other sources of energy. If the strip turned purple, I was good, but if it turned yellow, then usually I’d eaten more carbs the previous day and had screwed it up, so I would redouble my efforts to eat right.

This whole time, I had a goal weight: 211 lbs, I thought, would allow me to weigh into the Navy, where I had scored a perfect-ish score on the ASVAB and seemingly had my pick of Enlisted jobs, even interesting classified ones.

Once I stopped full Atkins after a year or so, some of the weight came back, but fortunately, I worked on adjusting my lifestyle, so that my weight hovered between 223 and 232 for about 10 years.

Then, at 28, I had a bad medication reaction, and gained about 50 lbs in ~1-2 months. Then I lost about 40 of it through, again, dieting well, but this time, I was also biking about 20-40 minutes about 3-5 days per week, going to class. The weight came off in just a few months. Then I stayed at 213 lbs for a full two years. It was the happiest time of my life, when I really thought I had beaten my eating disorder.

Then, I graduated from university – and instantly gained about 30 lbs on a night shift job. All my good dieting habits were reset by being alone all night while working, having no one to reinforce healthy eating habits. One secret to my success when I was at school was to associate mostly with people who ate healthy “for me,” and also I surrounded myself with as many athletes as possible come mealtime, not because I was an athlete, but because I admired their food knowledge and habits.

One of my closest friends at Stanford was an elite powerlifter, who was even more obsessed with proper nutrition than I was. He would go down the aisles of a grocery store, pick out something unhealthy that looked delicious, walk around the supermarket with it for a while, and then put it back on the way out, just to exercise discipline.

He was also one of the smartest people I’ve ever met – he puts his diets in spreadsheets and phases, incredibly complicated lists of foods, amounts, and timing, as well as supplements timed with lifting. At his peak, he was burning 8-10,000 calories on lifting days, and would eat two deep dish pizzas after lifting. And still be running at a deficit.

Most normal people don’t want to be elite like that, that would be too much. But also, most normal people want to be at least average fitness level – they want to look at least okay naked, and not disgust their partner or potential partners. Most normal people also have no idea that the vast majority of weight is lost in the kitchen, and the vast majority of muscle is built in the gym.

What I didn’t mention was that, during my most extreme time of weight loss, I was only walking 10-20 minutes a day. Almost the entire rest of the time, I was sitting in front of a screen playing World of Warcraft or delivering tech support to confused HP customers or writing with a limited number of writing partners. I was completely sedentary except for that 10-20 minutes. That was the first four months at least, before my body even felt like doing anything anyone might call working out. Then I stepped on an elliptical after my military recruiter tried to get me to jog – with an attractive woman – and my cigarette smoking habit and my crappy lung capacity meant that wasn’t happening.

So that 90 lbs? I imagine I might have burned, uh, I don’t know, 5-10 lbs of that weight off through actual exercise. The rest was the diet.

By the way, notice that I counted walking as exercise. It is! Walking, especially at a brisk pace, is almost as good as jogging, and much less high-impact. It’s a great start to a fitness habit, or at least it was for me.

Walking to music, walking in nature, walking through walkable parts of a city or the country. I even walk uphill on a treadmill sometimes these days when the weather is bad. I don’t like running that much, although I ran my first mile at age 30, and ran my first 5k at 31, although it was a 5k on a treadmill. My best 5k time is something like 28 minutes. My average 5k time over the life of my running career was something like 33 minutes. That’s 11 minutes per mile, about – more of a jog, really.

Now, I love biking. It gets the glutes going, ladies appreciate the butt, it keeps my legs toned, it’s a green form of transportation. In terms of my workout routine, I have been neglecting my upper body, so this month I’m going to resume weight training, because nothing fixes my posture like weight training. I’m going to resume extremely basic weight training, and do it with good form, and it will involve 5 exercises: squat, bench, deadlift, military press, and I’m not sure about the fifth yet because I haven’t read Starting Strength in a while.

I also like hiking now, which is kind of like extreme walking. I hiked as a child, but didn’t really again until I was about 29. The most extreme hiking I’ve done is the Incline in Colorado Springs, which is a 1.76 mile hiking trail with approximately 1800 feet in elevation gain, followed by a 4.5 mile downhill windy trail that is sometimes fun to jog a little.



But it all starts with getting good clean protein and plenty of low glycemic carbs to add to the delicious fruits our bodies love. And way too much water, as a tallish person (5’11&1/2). And greens. And generally just not being a child about my food.



Future blog posts may include:

Why is the governmental Recommended Daily Allowance for fiber so freaking low?

Why is the governmental RDA for fat so freaking low?

Why is the governmental RDA for carbohydrates so freaking high?

Why is there no way to discern which types of carbohydrate are in foods on the shelf?

What are some healthy macronutrient balances?


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