Hi there, it’s Mehdi Yacoubi, co-founder at Vital, and this is The Long Game Newsletter. To receive it in your inbox each week, subscribe here:
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In this episode, we explore:
Let’s dive in!
🍽 Reassessing Protein Intake
I found this episode to be a great reminder of how much protein you should be consuming.
Quantity of protein:
Weʼre still aiming at the prevention of deficiency as opposed to the optimization of processes that are important.
Although exercise is the primary stimulus for muscle growth, nutritional support is important too, especially in the form of protein from either animal- or plant-based foods. The current recommended dietary allowance for protein intake is 0.8 grams per kilogram of bodyweight (about 0.36 grams per pound) per day, or about 68 grams for a 150-pound adult. Nutrition experts established this guideline several decades ago, based on evidence from nitrogen balance studies – assessments of the net balance of protein metabolism in the body drawn from estimates of nitrogen losses that occur via urine, feces, sweat, and other means.
Unfortunately, nitrogen balance studies are woefully inaccurate due to incomplete collection and overestimation of losses. Adherence to the current guidelines might be insufficient to meet needs. Based on findings from more recent studies using stable isotopes, which more accurately assess muscle protein anabolism and catabolism, Dr. Phillips believes that eating 1.2 to 1.6 grams of protein per kilogram of bodyweight (about 0.5 to 0.7 grams per pound) is likely optimal for muscle protein synthesis, especially as one ages.
The timing of protein intake in relation to exercise may be less important than once believed. Most athletes have heard of and live by the concept of the "anabolic window," a hypothetical period post-exercise during which nutrient intake is crucial to obtain optimal results and maximize performance. Proponents suggest that eating a protein-containing meal 15 to 60 minutes post-workout is essential. In the past decade, however, these ideas have been called into question, as evidence has demonstrated that muscle protein synthesis is not as time sensitive in response to exercise challenge as once thought.
Concerns about the protein source – animals versus plants – are likely unfounded. Whereas plant-based proteins were formerly considered inferior to animal-based ones, Dr. Phillips believes that food processing techniques, such as cooking, sprouting, or fermenting, make the proteins in plants more bioavailable, negating any differences. Similarly, emphasis on specific amino acids within protein, particularly the branched-chain amino acids, which include leucine, isoleucine, and valine, is probably not necessary.
Why this matters more than you think:
But later in life, the equilibrium of anabolism and catabolism wanes, creating an imbalance in muscle protein turnover. This imbalance can contribute to sarcopenia, the loss of muscle mass and strength that accompanies aging – at a rate of roughly 1 percent per year, translating to a 1 to 3 percent loss in strength or power. Many factors contribute to this imbalance, including a sedentary lifestyle (due to injuries or lifelong habits) and dietary insufficiencies, often the result of a reduced appetite in old age. A lesser-known contributor is anabolic resistance, a reduced sensitivity to the key stimuli – exercise and food – that promote muscle building.
😞 Unhappiness after Covid
I came across these graphs last week, which paint a picture I’ve seen in many other places: unhappiness is skyrocketing, especially in the previous two years.
It seems that the numbers are highly dependent on social groups:
Among young adults, different groups had different levels of unhappiness even before COVID. Thus, for example, only about 6% of married people said they were “not too happy,” versus 16% of unmarried young adults. However, the better question is how has happiness changed within various groups: did married people and unmarried people see the same spike in unhappiness in 2021? What about men and women, or liberals and conservatives? The GSS contains a wide variety of control variables, making it possible to compare the typical prevalence of unhappiness for a given group of young adults before COVID (in this case, 2012-2018) and after it (2021). Figure 2 below shows the share of each group who were “not too happy” before and after COVID, after controlling for each of the other variables listed.
It left me wondering: what is causing this?
I got some interesting responses, including:
Instagram (I agree with this)
Covid lockdowns and lack of social connections
Perceived lack of control/helplessness
Mimetic desire. Everything is relative. Relative is infinite on social media.
Too much choice, too many decisions
What else do you think could be the reason? Let me know!
🧠 Better Thinking
🖼 Notes on Taste
I greatly enjoyed this article on taste. It manages to explain an idea that’s usually very hard to explain.
Taste is a word I’ve been hearing a lot more lately, and I think it’s because we’ve broadened its application from the world of the aesthetic to the world of the practical. Taste has historically been reserved for conversation about things like fashion and art. Now, we look for it in our social media feeds, the technology we use, the company we keep, and the people we hire.
When I ask people what they mean by “taste,” they’ll stumble around for a bit and eventually land on something like “you know it when you see it,” or “it’s in the eye of the beholder.” I understand. Words like taste are hard to pin down, perhaps because they describe a sensibility more than any particular quality, a particular thing. We’re inclined to leave them unencumbered by a definition, to preserve their ability to shift shapes.
But I don’t think we have to. And for the past several months, I haven’t been able to resist the urge to try to articulate taste. This comes, in part, from a place of wanting to be precise — now that the term is such a frequent and varied part of our lexicon, it runs the risk of losing its meaning. But I also believe taste is something we can and should try to cultivate. Not because taste itself is a virtue, per se, but because I’ve found a taste-filled life to be a richer one. To pursue it is to appreciate ourselves, each other, and the stuff we’re surrounded by a whole lot more.
⚡️ Startup Stuff
⛏ On Hard Work
I’ve covered the topic of hard work a few times in the newsletter, but every couple of months, the subject comes back on Twitter, and I’m always surprised that working hard has become controversial.
This week, Ryan Selkis was the instigator:
What I see is that there are a lot of people trying to convince themselves that working hard isn’t necessary. I couldn’t disagree more. It’s not a sexy answer, but it’s the reality. Don’t take it from me; listen to the founding teams of all the greatest, generational products you use daily. I liked Kevin Systrom’s framing around smart work vs. hard work (I highly recommend watching it (from 1:49:00 to 1:58:00.)
He explains that it’s very “cocky” to believe you know what “working smart” is. Many people are pretty smart. Assuming you can win by simply outsmarting people is pretentious, in his opinion.
Hard work is a competitive advantage. And even the belief that hard work is a competitive advantage is itself now a competitive advantage.
Finally, this isn’t to say everyone has to work hard. It’s simply to say that your intensity should be aligned with your ambition.
📚 What I Read
The long-awaited book is finally here. I just started it today.
A network state is a social network with a moral innovation, a sense of national consciousness, a recognized founder, a capacity for collective action, an in-person level of civility, an integrated cryptocurrency, an archipelago of crowdfunded physical territories, a virtual capital, and an on-chain census that proves a large enough population, income, and real-estate footprint to attain a measure of diplomatic recognition.
A great piece on how cities can shape your ambition:
Great cities attract ambitious people. You can sense it when you walk around one. In a hundred subtle ways, the city sends you a message: you could do more; you should try harder.
The surprising thing is how different these messages can be. New York tells you, above all: you should make more money. There are other messages too, of course. You should be hipper. You should be better looking. But the clearest message is that you should be richer.
What I like about Boston (or rather Cambridge) is that the message there is: you should be smarter. You really should get around to reading all those books you've been meaning to.
When you ask what message a city sends, you sometimes get surprising answers. As much as they respect brains in Silicon Valley, the message the Valley sends is: you should be more powerful.
That's not quite the same message New York sends. Power matters in New York too of course, but New York is pretty impressed by a billion dollars even if you merely inherited it. In Silicon Valley no one would care except a few real estate agents. What matters in Silicon Valley is how much effect you have on the world. The reason people there care about Larry and Sergey is not their wealth but the fact that they control Google, which affects practically everyone.
On how influencers become brainwashed by their audiences:
Audience capture is a particular problem in politics, due to both phenomena being driven by popular approval. On Twitter I've watched many political influencers gradually become radicalized by their audiences, starting off moderate but following their increasingly extreme followers toward the fringes.
One example is Louise Mensch, a once-respectable journalist and former Conservative politician who in 2016 published a story about Trump's alleged ties to Russia, which went viral. She subsequently gained a huge audience of #NeverTrump #NotMyPresident #Resist types, and, encouraged by her new, indignant audience to uncover more evidence of Trump's corruption, she appears to have begun to view herself as the one who'd prove Russiagate and bring down the Donald. The immense responsibility she felt to her audience seems to have motivated her to see dramatic patterns in pure noise, and to concoct increasingly speculative conspiracy theories about Trump and Russia, such as the claim that Vladimir Putin assassinated Andrew Breitbart, the founder of Breitbart News, so his job would go to Trump ally Steve Bannon.
An excellent piece on “luxury beliefs.”
The same story can be seen reenacted on the topic of early COVID alarmism. Turns out both the “xenophobes” and Balaji were right. The Vox middlebrow was very wrong indeed.
This phenomenon also partly explains the iconic midwit meme:
The middlebrow see themselves as elite by virtue of not being normies, while the true intellectuals/counter-elite are able to agree with the normies’ conclusion when they’re accurate, despite at times disagreeing with their reasoning.
This is why, in order to change someone’s beliefs it’s important to not merely address the substance of the belief. It’s more important to consider how prestigious the belief is, how prestigious the people who believe it are, and how hard it would be for normies to discover and/or believe in it.
🍭 Brain Food
Your monthly dose of Eugene Wei’s articles. I’m re-reading them continuously as they’re the bible for our work on social media at Vital. Here he warns about the potential vicious cycle a social network can enter in, once it stops being the “hot new app.” This is another reason why utility-based social networks are so powerful (they’re built on a backbone of utility — there is a single-player mode that adds a significant utility to your life, and it’s not only about other cool people being on it.)
Why do social network effects reverse? Utility, the other axis by which I judge social networks, tends to be uncapped in value. It's rare to describe a product or service as having become too useful. That is, it's hard to over-serve on utility. The more people that accept a form of payment, the more useful it is, like Visa or Mastercard or Alipay. People don’t stop using a service because it’s too useful.
Social network effects are different. If you've lived in New York City, you've likely seen, over and over, night clubs which are so hot for months suddenly go out of business just a short while later. Many types of social capital have qualities which render them fragile. Status relies on coordinated consensus to define the scarcity that determines its value. Consensus can shift in an instant. Recall the friend in Swingers, who, at every crowded LA party, quips, "This place is dead anyway." Or recall the wise words of noted sociologist Groucho Marx: "I don't care to belong to any club that will have me as a member."
The Groucho Marx effect doesn't take effect immediately. In the beginning, a status hierarchy requires lower status people to join so that the higher status people have a sense of just how far above the masses they reside. It's silly to order bottle service at Hakkasan in Las Vegas if no one is sitting on the opposite side of the velvet ropes; a leaderboard with just a single high score is meaningless.
🎥 What I’m Watching
💊 “We NEED a Male Birth Control Pill”
This was an excellent breakdown of the idea of a male birth control pill by MPMD. TL; DW, it’s impossible to get such a pill without almost castrating a man and bringing his Testosterone levels so low that it wouldn’t make any sense.
It’s also an important video to understand the side effect of the female birth control pill. It can potentially be way more detrimental than most people realize.
A comment I liked:
I was shocked when I recently saw that study about male birth control people were getting excited about where the "only" side effect was a significant reduction in testosterone. I'm all for finding new solutions to these things, but so many people seem way too casual about the effects of dramatically altering crucial hormones - it's great to see you cover everything in such detail when so many people are wrongly brushing these concerns aside as "paranoia", this is serious stuff being done to the body and should not be taken lightly.
🏋️♀️ On Overtraining
A recent tweet from my friend Jeddi pushed me to cover overtraining here:
Here are a few videos for you:
The bottom line is that it’s very, very rare to actually be overtraining, and saying “training more 3/4 times per week is overtraining” is nonsensical.
🔧 The Tool of the Week
Continuing my exploration of vertical social networks this week, I played a bit with Greg, a utility-based social network focused on growing plants. It’s a well-done product.
In the words of Rex Woodbury:
Another example of a utility-based social network is Greg, an app for plant care. Greg serves a real purpose: the app uses machine learning to predict the water needs of your plant 🪴 Without Greg, my plants would no doubt have died a painful death months ago. But Greg is also social: you can share photos of your fiddle-leaf fig, and admire the health of your friend’s bird of paradise. For any proud plant parent, these social features are catnip to keep you returning to and engaging with Greg.
🪐 Quote I’m Pondering
The way you do anything is the way you do everything.
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