There’s a lot of wild health and fitness advice on the Internet. From the explosive Liver King tirades about blowing up your bed and sleeping on the floor (to toughen yourself up) to the more sedate rumours like red wine is good for you (cheers, Lebron), it can be a minefield sifting the wheat from the chaff. This in mind, we spoke to some fitness professionals to ask them how you can tell if something is suss or smart. Here’s what they said.
In terms of judging online sources, Alex Thomas, founder of the Sports Nutrition Association, told DMARGE his rule of thumb is to see how willing they [any given source of online nutrition information] are to say that they don’t know something.
“How willing are they to say I was wrong about something, or this research came out so I’ve changed my position.”
“If they’re an influencer and they’re a mum and they’ve got some really good ideas about school lunches, I probably wouldn’t listen to them on exercise or how to squat or deadlift correctly because chances are [the knowledge] doesn’t cross over.”
“Vice versa, someone amazing at lifting techniques is probably not going to know how to help their kids with their homework.”
A lot of people were taken in by The Liver King due to a lack of basic nutrition literacy (and because balance is a boring theory to sell), Alex explained.
Alex called bullshit on a number of Liver King’s claims last year (before it even came out that Liver King was on steroids), saying the idea that eating tissue from a specific organ (like an animal’s liver, or testicles) then goes into the same corresponding tissue in the human body is nonsense.
“He can’t cite it [the double label isotope testing] because it doesn’t exist, but people believe it.”Alex Thomas
“It’s disingenuous to say I eat moose testicles and [because of that] I look like this.”
Though Alex said liver and other wild foods can be good for you, they are far from a magic solution to your nutrition goals. According to Alex, eating something like liver “just means you can get minerals.”
“Some will get [those minerals] through fruits and vegetables, others will get it through liver, others through a vitamin and mineral supplement – it just comes down to preference.”
However, if you don’t enjoy eating liver or bull testicles, it doesn’t make sense to eat them, Alex says, seeing as there are other ways to get the name nutrients.
Alex then moved on to the carnivore diet, which Joe Rogan has experimented with, saying there’s some merit to it in that it cuts out junk food, but that due to the lack of long-term data on cutting all fruit and vegetables out of your diet, he does not recommend it.
Though Alex said that people always respond to certain things in different ways (saying for some people caffeine doesn’t negatively impact them at all, but for others it has a real detrimental impact on their lives) so he understands that for a few rare individuals (like Mikaela Peterson), they may find salvation in the carnivore diet, for most people, at this point in what the research tells us, he says it is best avoided.
“We have no long term data to suggest The Carnivore Diet actually healthy for you and we have data to suggest avoiding plants long term is really bad,” Alex said, referencing the treatment and prevention of really chronic diseases.
“It’s still speculative at the moment but I’m going to say for the majority of people it’s not going to be good for them.”Alex Thomas
“Liver has got good sources of essential minerals but like anything, if you have too much it’s not good either.”
We’d love to see Alex hash it out with someone like Dave Asprey, who make a living from questioning the mainstream and loves to provoke his audience with wacky claims like “plants want to kill you.”
Even if you go carnivore but without eating the particularly processed meats like ham and sausage (say you were to stick to grass fed steak for every meal), Alex says on this diet “you’re not having as many grains or fruit and vegetables which help with digestion” and for this reason says he would recommend most people stay away from it.
He compares the 1-2 servings a week that are recommended in the WHO official guidelines vs. the 28 odd servings a week you would be having (of meat) on a carnivore diet and says that “regardless of quality, 14-28 times more than the weekly recommendations… personally I wouldn’t be doing it.”
That’s a debate for another day though. Getting back to how to stop yourself getting fooled by dud nutrition information, Ben Lucas at Flow Athletic told DMARGE: “Be aware that everyone wants to sell something and a diet is one of those things that can make someone a lot of money. A lot of people will carve out a point of difference just for the sake of it so they can stand out.” For this reason, Ben recommends seeing a nutritionist or dietitian if you are not overly knowledgeable.
He added: “If you have a basic understanding, read up on what you see. Take everything you read with a grain of salt. There is more than one way to achieve your goals, read a few opinions and cherry pick the bits that make sense and are safe.”
Finally, jumping back to Alex, he summed up the situation as all about education: “A lot of it comes down to a lack of education and understanding about nutrition. You see someone with a point of difference who posts some very thought-provoking content, he [The Liver King] also has 1.7 million followers which can make people curious. Someone who wants to look like him and who doesn’t have a great understanding of nutrition and how their own body works could be intrigued. That is how people fall for these types of figures.”
In terms of organ meats specifically, he said: “Organ meats can be nutritious, but they should be consumed in conjunction with a balanced diet. They are rich in B-Vitamins including B12 and folate, iron, magnesium, selenium, zinc and Vitamins A, D, E and K. As they are high in protein, they are great for helping you retain muscle mass, they can keep you fuller for longer and they include a lot of iron which is good for your energy levels.”
“Organ meats can be high in cholesterol though and they are quite fatty. If not consumed with a balance diet that is high in plant matter it can be hard to digest. A balanced diet should be rich in plant matter (fruit and veggies), lean proteins and healthy carbs/ wholegrains. I wouldn’t eat organ meats every day.”
He added: “The Liver King was very clearly always abusing steroids. A lot of his claims at BS with a mix of basic concepts such as prioritising recovery and eating well. He also most likely has serious body image issues and an eating disorder. He would be in really good shape (not the same, but still really good shape) regardless of the steroid abuse because he trains intensely twice a day, six days a week. And then when he doesn’t train he ‘has to’ (in his own words) walk 11 miles per day, and make the day physically active.”
“That combined with the fact that he is wealthy to the point where he can train so hard that he is so exhausted and needs a nap, and has the luxury to then take a rest/ nap to help him recover as needed, highlight s a degree of privilege he has that most of his followers wouldn’t have, which is another reason why he is not a role model and shouldn’t be given airtime he has been receiving.”
He added: “That is why it is important to choose a coach, trainer or nutrition expert who is accredited. For example, someone who is accredited by the Sports Nutrition Association, which is an organisation that operates worldwide, would have appropriate education, they are made sure and audited every year about the best practices in nutrition, including sitting examination every year in these audits to stay accredited.”
“It is an organisation that exists to stamp out the misinformation and dangerous advice that has so often been shared. They educate, accredit, regulate the profession, while also having a publicly available Sports Nutritionist database where clients can find their best sports nutritionist fit.”
“Check to see if the person who you are looking to take advice from is accredited with a recognised organisation for what they are talking about (not an orthopedic surgeon talking about nutrition etc.). Also, take advice with a grain of salt. Often on Instagram, content creators will take a point of view to stand out and be noticed. Recognise that and don’t necessarily take everything they say as the right way to do things.”
There you have it. Food for thought.