What, exactly, is the relationship between energy, resources, and growth in life?
This year, my curiosity about bodybuilding has been re-ignited.
It astounds me at how big and powerful a human can become with with enough knowledge, dedication and effort.
As a teenager. my heroes were men like Arnold Schwarzenegger. My favorite superheroes were The Hulk, and Superman - men who had tremendous size and strength. If anything defined masculinity for me, that did.
But I had lots of other heroes as well - Isaac Asimov, Socrates, Aristotle, Albert Einstein, Nicola Tesla, Isaac Newton - these were also men who I deeply respected, and aspired towards - giants of intellect, curiosity, and creativity.
It's not until recently I noticed that all these men - the bodybuilders, scientists, and philosophers - had something in common.
They share my value of growth.
Each of them seeks to become the most that they can, with the resources available to them.
Titans Among Us
These people embody the upper end of growth, what it's like to develop yourself to a level that seems... superhuman.
So what enabled them to grow so far in their respective areas of expertise? How did they become so much bigger, and go so much further, than everyone else?
What does it take to become a Titan?
Genetics certainly play a role. Not everyone has the opportunity to be an Einstein. But if you know the story of Einstein, then you know that he struggled with basic algebra. He couldn't drive a car. He had "limitations" that most of us would have thought...
... Clearly he has less potential than an average human.
And while many thought that Arnie was just a genetic mutant- the bodybuilders of today show that he's definitely not unique in this regard. Most men have the ability to achieve this level of growth - he was just one of the first to prove it, and show what could be done.
Certainly the knowledge of how to grow, and the discipline to pursue this path relentlessly are absolutely essential.
But there is one key thing that I've tended to overlook...
No matter how smart, skilled, dedicated, or genetically gifted you are, there is one critical thing you need to grow big...
Learning to Eat Big
In a broad sense, I am using the word food to describe the resources, knowledge, and energy needed to enable growth.
The more you have, the more you can grow.
To show this dynamic in action, let's talk about actual food and muscular development as our first example.
My own personal challenge in developing my physique is that I tend to pack on weight easily. I find it difficult to trim. Perhaps I have a slow metabolism, but I always felt somehow I must be eating too much.
No matter how healthily I eat, or how little I eat, I seem to gain weight.
"My goal is to trim up and build muscle."
I explained this to my nutrition coach Tyrone - himself a bodybuilder of very impressive physique.
He carefully reviewed the food journal I'd kept over the past week, so he could see what I was currently eating.
I'll never forget his words...
"Whoa, you need to eat way more."
My brain was reeling-
... no, wait, you must have misunderstood me, I want to lose weight ...
But Tyrone understood my goals perfectly.
Straight away, I was confronted with a huge missing piece in my own physical self development plan.
If I wanted to grow big and lose the fat, I needed to eat more.
That seemed ridiculous to me. At that time, I was eating three square meals a day and trying to keep all of my foods very healthy and regular. Tyrone wanted me to double my food intake.
Ty clearly understood some metabolic dynamics that I didn't - and he had the physique to prove it.
Anabolic ( Growth ) v. Catabolic ( Survival ) States
Let's borrow a few fancy words from the biological sciences.
In physiology, the body can be said to be in one of two states-
- Anabolic state centers around growth and building — the organization of molecules. In this process, small, simple molecules are built up into larger, more complex ones.
- Catabolic state is what happens when you digest food and the molecules break down in the body for use as energy. Large, complex molecules in the body are broken down into smaller, simple ones. This process is almost the reverse of anabolism.
Note the key distinction here- it's all about energy.
When you have a consistent surplus of energy coming in from the outside, growth is possible.
When that energy stops, or drops too low, your body goes into survival mode and has to consume its own resources, therefore it conserves energy by going into low-power mode, and storing as much as possible.
Look at the natural world around you-
- You are most energized after a good meal, both physically, and mentally.
- Most plants & flowers open to absorb sunlight during the day, and then close up to conserve heat at night.
- Bears hibernate during the winter, when food is more scarce, and the winter temperatures require more energy to survive.
- Even the laptop I am currently typing on is in low-power mode right now, because it's not plugged in.
Living systems on Earth have evolved this on/off dual-state nature to a high degree, probably due to Earth's dinural day/night cycle. Most living systems are most active during the daytime, when energy is plentiful, and sleep at night when energy is scarce.
But whatever energy-related patterns influenced the our evolution- here's the key thing to understand-
In general, you are only in one of those two states- you are either growing, or you are surviving.
It's day, or it's night. It's summer, or it's winter. You are fed, or you are hungry.
Let's return to our bodybuilding example, and what I learned from Tyrone. Even if you have zero interest in bodybuilding, seeing this principle in action on the physical body will help you understand how it applies to other areas of your self-development.
Muscle is expensive to maintain. It consumes a huge amount of calories, so you body will only build & keep muscle when you have plenty of calories available to burn.
If those calories fall below that level needed to sustain your muscle mass, your body will not only discard the muscle quickly, it will start building fat.
In short, your body is smarter than you think, and it's wired for survival, not for looking buff.
Stop and think about that - this is important to understand.
Eating massive amounts of food means my body follows an entirely set of functional patterns. It engages in a growth plan.
- It allows me to build muscle, because my body can afford it.
- It allows me to lose fat, because my body can afford it.
- And my metabolism and energy levels skyrocket, because my body can afford it.
And all of that can happen, simply by eating an abundance of good food.
How much good food?
An average adult male human needs about 2,500 calories to maintain.
Professional male bodybuilders typically eat 5,000 to 8,000 calories per day, with some reporting as much as 30,000 calories a day ( which is probably absurd, don't try this at home, kids ).
Obviously you don't start eating this way tomorrow...
It's built over time.
The intake of food increases as you gain muscle, and your metabolism requires it to sustain growth.
And, eating, by itself would not cause that transformation, it needed to happen in conjunction with a solid, consistent gym routine.
This new understanding about food was mind-blowing. I dove into the plan, six (6) meals a day, and quickly could see the positive effects - both in muscle gain and in fat loss.
I had a whole new understanding of my body.
Resources Enable Growth
But as much as I'm talking about Food and muscle here, this is not actually the point of this article.
This is the key learning - resources enable growth.
When resources are too scarce, your body and mind automatically behave in a different way, focused on conserving energy.
What allows a tree to grow big? Good water, sunlight, and great soil.
What allows a lion grow big? A whole lot of gazelle.
What allowed Arnie grow big? FOOD. And some beer.
As Humans, we are natural systems that function on these same principles.
And even if we've never stepped back to think about it, we apply these principles every day.
Humans congregate in cities, because cities offer resources...
- Money, in the form of jobs.
- Friendship, sex and companionship through the resource of other people.
- Warmth and comfort in the form of accommodation options, electricity, and food.
- Safety in the form of people, and authorities.
In fact, I think that this natural pattern of how resources enable & promote growth applies deeply to every area of our self-development - intellectual, social, skills development, everything.
Want to be smarter? What are you reading? What experiments are you conducting? Who are your mentors? Who do you spend your time with? What is the quality and quantity of resources-that-can-make-you-smarter?
Want better relationships? What type of people are you hanging around? How much time are you spending with good people, who interest you? How honest, vulnerable, and connected are you in those relationships?
Want your life to be better? What exactly are you feeding it, in terms of people, friendships, relationships, experiences, and new opportunities?
Eating Big for Intellectual Growth
My best personal example of "eating big" for intellectual growth is BROJO.
Starting about 5 years ago, I surrounded myself with people and resources that challenge me intellectually- particularly on self-knowledge, and my understanding of psychology and sociology.
In the beginning, I ate small, and didn't grow much.
But as I pushed that, my "eating" habits have changed drastically, and my hunger for more good food has grown with it.
What used to be a one-book-a-year-maybe lifestyle, is now more like 15 to 20 books a year, and hundreds of articles and videos as well.
But I had to make that decision, that I wanted to grow.
How are you feeding yourself?
Good luck and EAT BIG.
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How You Eat Matters
What is "food" anyway?
Nelson Mandela is undeniably one of the giants of social & political knowledge and yet most of us would say that the "resources" he had were limited.
Here's the thing- his time in prison could have crushed him, and yet for him, it was "food." It taught him human nature, justice v injustice, it taught him how to confront fear. As terrible as that experience must have been, he used it as food for a massive level of intellectual and social growth.
Nature & Circadian Rhythms
Certain animals have evolved a nocturnal pattern to take advantage of the hunting & hiding advantage that darkness affords.
Resource Availability & Growth in Nature
If you look, you can see the fundamental dynamic between energy & life everywhere in the natural world.
The energy resources of the natural world are sunlight, water, food, heat.
- 99% of all life lives at the surface of our planet, Go down 10cm into the soil, and the microbe count decreases dramatically.
- Most life in our oceans is in the sunlight layer.
- Lush forests exist where there is the most sunlight, and the most plentiful water, such as in the equatorial Amazon basin.
- Wildlife is most rampant, where there is food available, and scarce where there is not. The largest life forms required the largest food sources- such as dinosaurs required giant vegetation, and the Haas Eagle required the Moa bird.
Too Much Energy
It's worth noting, though not really part of this discussion, that in the natural world, it's possible to have too much energy. Earth itself is a great example of this, it's just the right distance from our sun, known as the "Goldilocks zone"- not too near, where it would be much too hot, and not too far, where it would be much too cold.
I think this pattern, too, can be seen in nature.
More on Bodybuilding & Food
- You Are Are What You Eat | Tips for Clean Gains
- How The Dutch Giant (7.2 ft/2.18m) gained 70 kg in 8 years
Just to slam home this understanding of adequate resourcing for your growth, let me show you this video of bodybuilder Fouad Abiad ( IFBB Pro ) cooking and eating his six daily meals.
Many bodybuilders will tell you that the hardest part of bodybuilding is the huge quantities of food they have to eat. They are always eating.
The videos I saw were astounding. Show the video of the world's largest Dutchman show the video of the Arabic chef. In a word, if you want to grow big, you must eat big. those resources, the quality and the quantity of resources. The quantity and quality of resources is essential.