Science is a Cruel Mistress
Science. You got to love her. Even though she’s a dirty slut.
Well, ok, not really, she’s rad. (Yes, I know science has no gender, I’m merely carrying on the grand latin tradition of feminizing elements of nature. Yes, I’m seriously as pretentious as I am crass.) But when you have an honest conversation about science, you realize there is only so much we can learn about training and nutrition through traditional means.
As we all learned in elementary school, the scientific method is the process by which we acquire new information. However, the rub here is that when it comes to training and nutrition it’s reeeeeeeal hard to isolate specific variables. Turns out no one is willing to live in a lab and sleep and eat and train exactly the way a scientist needs them to for months on end. Consequently many of the studies we rely on for info are acute in nature and are limited to a specific situation where we can control all the variables. While this isn’t a bad thing and we can still learn a lot, we run into problems when we extrapolate things from an acute study and apply them to real world situations.
A classic example here is nutrient timing (what you eat and when you eat it, in layman’s terms). Yes, if you’re training on an empty stomach, it probably does matter how quickly your body is going to digest the nutrients you get after a workout. This spawned a whole cottage industry of supplements designed to be absorbed quickly: if whey protein digests quickly, wouldn’t it be better to get super fast digesting whey hydrolysates!!! EXTREME!!! HARDCORE!!!
Ooooh… that looks SCIENCE-Y!
Well… not so much. If you train in a fed state like almost all of us do, it’s not really going to matter. At least not to your body. It will matter to the supplement companies’ bottom lines, as now you are not going to be shelling out the extra dough for their EXTREME!!! HARDCORE!!! SUPER FAST DIGESTING PROTEIN!!!
But what about longer term studies? Well sure, scientists do those too, but now we run into the problem of accounting for all the variables that come into play in real world situations. For instance, there are many interesting, longer term studies on the effects of exercise on muscle gain, but when nutrition isn’t tightly controlled (and it almost never is in a long term study) it gets hard to separate the effect of an exercise protocol from the positive and/or negative effects of the participant’s nutritional intake. Not to mention, the ideal study participants are often untrained college students. And since we know almost any style of training will have positive effects in an untrained individual, how can we be sure that study results are relevant to trained populations?
My head hurts…
This isn’t to say that we don’t learn a lot of great things through science, because we certainly do. I know before I really considered how difficult it is to isolate all the variables in a real world situation, I would have thought science was well on its way to telling us everything we needed to know. Turns out, the ads that supplement companies run with doctors in lab coats holding clip boards touting the “university studied” virtues of MEGA EXTREME 2000!!! gave me the wrong impression. And this isn’t even getting into the philosophical argument about science technically being unable to prove anything…
So how do you stay on top of what science does and does not tell us as you pursue a life of health and hotness? For you, maybe it’s subscribing to my newsletter and reading my blog.
For me personally, it’s constant education via books, blogs, webinars, online articles, podcasts, dvds, and seminars. I keep my focus on the 87.5% that the world’s top training and nutrition experts agree on and try not to get too lost in the 12.5% that everyone disagrees about. I check everything against my common sense. I try stuff out in the trenches on myself and my clients and continue to refine my philosophies. And I do my best to keep my mind open and always be willing to listen to a new point of view.
On one level, for someone who’s driven by insatiable curiosity, it’s kind of maddening to accept the limits of what science can tell us. But being a glass is half full kind of guy… I also think it’s kind of beautiful. Mystery is sexy. And most days I’m just so grateful to be alive and run around and play with my friends and have fun and laugh, that I don’t mind at all.
Like Einstein said:
“Whoever undertakes to set himself up as a judge in the field of Truth and Knowledge is shipwrecked by the laughter of the gods.”
And lord knows… I’ll do anything to get a laugh…
Knowledge is power homeys. Keep on learning…
Gratuitous Inspirational Sunset!