Pain And Gain In Vain

You should stop going to the gym. This advice is probably contrary to everything you’ve heard about health, but let me start by asking you a simple question: why does no one smile at the gym? Aside from the occasional flirting that goes on near the triceps extension cable, everyone looks utterly miserable.

They’re literally counting the repetitions they have left until they can hang up their dumbbells and hit the showers. Going to the gym just isn’t fun. Then why do we do it? Perhaps we have no other choice. Trapped in a college culture in which we’re taught that the strength of our abs is more important than that of our hearts, the gym appears to be the only viable option to fitting in.

Going to the gym doesn’t take any skill; it just takes time. And it’s for this reason that I don’t believe in a linear correlation between the amount of respect I pay a person and the size of their muscles. Gym-culture is actually quite animalistic. I plead for you to look at the gym from a different angle than what college has force-fed you. What purpose do big muscles serve if most gym-goers don’t even know how to change a tire? I can’t help but remember asking a friend whom I know to frequent the gym if he’d be interested in joining me for some rounds of basketball. To my utter bewilderment he sternly replied, “I don’t do cardio.” He obviously doesn’t lift for his own health. So assuming that he lifts to draw in the ladies, what’s going to happen when he can’t even catch the thief who stole his date’s purse?

It’s time for you to know something about me: I once was a gym-goer. But I had a purpose. I was on the UC Irvine Rugby team before a knee injury last fall quarter forced me into early retirement (no pension was collected, unfortunately.) I had two main reasons for hitting the gym: one, all corniness aside, I felt it incumbent upon myself to be in the best shape possible to represent my university on the field, and two, being underweight on the field meant being targeted by heavy hitters.

I like to think the former was the more salient of the two motivators. So I’m not saying that the idea of the gym as a one-stop-shop for exercise is a bad idea. I just don’t think people spend their time there for the right reasons, i.e. as Carly Rae Jepsen would say, it’s not always a good time at the gym.

Eventually, people get so busy with their careers that they just won’t have the time to do something for which they don’t have love. My advice is to pursue a sport or labor-intensive hobby, like gardening, that you’re passionate about and before you know it, you’ll pack on the muscles you seek.

But the gym’s influence reaches far beyond the sweat-stained floors of a single room and into very many of our kitchens. I’m not sure if you’re aware, but there’s a large portion of gym-goers that are addicted to post-workout shakes. As an athlete at the high school and collegiate levels, I’ve had several coaches and teammates argue that the recovery shake one takes post-workout is more important than the workout itself. But conducting on-campus research in nutritional physiology and learning from several UCI faculty members who study exercise recovery have taught me that this dogma couldn’t be farther from the truth.

It’s of course intuitive that you’d need to consume more calories than normal in order to build muscle.
But heavy-lifters at the gym are under the impression that recovery shakes alone contain the magical molecules that are necessary for muscle growth. Those molecules are amino acids (also conventionally known as protein) and they’re found in almost everything! Eating meats or beans are more than sufficient sources of amino acids. Furthermore, I doubt that medieval soldiers, for instance, would refuse to tire themselves in battle unless they were promised post-workout shakes.

And maybe I’ve been watching too many historical dramas, but they’re portrayed as being pretty cut. Recovery shakes are a recent trend that Schwarzenegger popularized when he ushered in a golden age for weight lifting that kick-started its popularity. Research has only begun to show that excess protein ingestion can cause kidney damage. Furthermore, because most of these post-workout supplements are not FDA-approved, we have little information about their long-term effects. And because I started with a question, I’ll end with one too: how much would you put at stake to look good? Happiness? Long-term health?

Faisal Chaabani is a fifth-year neurobiology major. He can be reached at