It's rare that I have an issue titling a post, as the title usually pops out of my fingers simultaneously with the idea for the article. The title for this post eluded me, however, as if I were an obese, mustachoied, unwashed child molester, rocking a turgid 4" hard on, chasing the last remaining child through a McDonald's Playland with a leaky bag of opiate laced candy with ten minutes left before the end of the world. This is odd, because hilarity usually comes fairly easy to me, and I know exactly what it is this article is to be, and yet the best I can come up with is "Holy Shit, Westerners Are All Retarded", because holy shit, Western lifters are fucking retarded. Blinded by an endless spate of fad diets, immersed in endless debates about nutrition and buried in mounds of research conducted by people who have no understanding of weightlifting outside of theory, and in the US in particular without a traditional ethnic diet, we're left standing on a desert island with a vile protein shake in hand, staring wistfully across a small strait filled with piranhas and sharks at a party island replete with lifters pushing weights of which we can only dream, drunk out of their skulls, and eating delicious foods. For the kids on message boards with sub 315 squats, the only answer is "DRUGS, LOTS OF DRUGS", because they're giant retarded vaginas with less understanding of what it takes to get strong than my 75 year old ice cream-obsessed, white collar father, who could easily outlift 85% of message board posters simply because he's a fucking man with full grown testicles and a modicum of personal pride.
The missing element in English speaking countries isn't drugs, and though it's partially related to work ethic, that's not it either. Instead, the missing element is the paucity of giant iron kettles constantly filled with stews that are consumed in massive quantities by men who could not fit into their girlfriends' jeans.
That's right- we are not eating enough stew. That is the problem, and this is not a joke.
David Rigert- powered by a hatred of capitalism and copious amounts of borscht.
For those of you with short attention spans, let's run down a quick list of people who traditionally eat stew and their concomitant skill at strength sports:
- Russians and Ukranians. They eat stew by the bucketful, and they probably just recycle their trophies and medals in weightlifting at this point because they've got nowhere to store the fucking things.
- Bulgarians. Bulgarians have, per capita, more trophies in Olympic weightlifting than any other country in history, in spite of the fact that they live in a tiny, landlocked, dour, cold, poor country whose only traditional export is humongous mustaches. Like their former Eastern bloc comrades, they're slurping down wheelbarrows full of stews called moussaka and kavarma 24/7/365.
- Iranians. Persian traditional cuisine is pretty much just kebebs and stew (khoresht) with a variety of breads and rice. For a small country, they have a disproportionately massive number of Olympic medals in weightlifting and wrestling, and have an incredibly long and rich history of strongman and wrestling training called varzesh e bastani that literally could not have existed in a place wherein the diet wasn't centered around their traditional fare. Unlike the Indians, they never gave up on a meat-heavy diet, so they've been able to keep dominating strength sports while the Indians have languished in estrogen-fueled vegetarian weakness.
- Turks. Most of the meals cooked in the home start with meat-rich soup followed by thick stews made with beans and minced meat. If you're unaware, the Turks always do well in Olympic weightlifting, and have wiped the mats with foreign wrestlers since the dawn of man.
- Hungarians. Though you don't think of Hungary when you think of strength sports, Hungary has 20 medals in weightlifting and a shitload in wrestling, in spite of the fact that they have fewer people in their country than live in Paris. Their secret? Goulash by the bucket.
- Sumo Wrestlers. All those motherfuckers do is eat stew and drink beer when they're not training, and they average 412 lbs at 6'2". Yes, they're fat, but science says "so what?", because sumo wrestlers carry more lean body mass than bodybuilders (Kondo). The average sumo carries only 26% bodyfat, which means that that in contest shape they'd be stepping onto the bodybuilding stage at 307.8 lbs.
- Icelanders. Iceland has long been renown for its strongmen, all of whom credit their disgusting fish stew as being the secret of their success.
- Chinese. Though neither soup nor stew is a mainstay of the traditional Chinese diet, Chinese weightlifters eat loads a heavy soup made of chicken and pork ribs, and they're working over the lighter weight classes in Oly lifting like they're mini Mike Tysons hanging beatings on Robin Givens lookalikes.
I realize that due to the fact that no renown author has written at length about the utility of stew, my contention here is likely being viewed with no small amount of skepticism. No bodybuilder has ever touted the benefits of stew, and it's never been said that any phenomenal American athlete credited stew with their success. As such, stew could not possible be in vogue, because nowhere are people more lemming-like than in Western strength sports. As such, my theory begs more investigation. Prepare yourselves for a fact dump that makes your typical deuce dropping in German scat porn seem positively reserved by comparison.
Stewed foods are probably as old as pottery, likely due to the fact that stewing is a very simple way to cook a wide variety of foods, and is perhaps the best method of retaining as much nutrition in the cooked foods as possible. The Scythians, a tribe of man-eating, death dealing superhumans who dominated the Russian steppes for centuries were huge fans of stewing, and would stew their food whenever they weren't sewing their enemies' scalps into horse blankets and capes. As ingenious as they were pants-shittingly brutal, the Scythians were known to cook their food by "put[ting] the flesh into an animal's paunch, mix[ing] water with it, and boil[ it like that over the bone fire. The bones burn very well, and the paunch easily contains all the meat once it has been stripped off. In this way an ox, or any other sacrificial beast, is ingeniously made to boil itself." (Wiki) Ever fans of stewing, one neighboring tribe to the Scythians known as the Issedones would walk their elderly men right into a crock pot and cook them up, then gild their skullcaps and use them as drinking vessels. Motherfuckers back in the day knew how to throw a fucking party.
The reasons behind stewing are simple:
- none of the nutrients generally lost in drippings from roasting or in the water from boiling are discarded- instead, they're either cooked right back into the meat or remain intact in the broth.
- meat loses less weight by being stewed than if cooked by any other method.
- stewing denatures protein, making it far more digestible (hydrolyzed whey is denatured, for instance)
- for those of us who view vegetables as a necessary but horrible evil, you end up eating far more of them in stews than you would otherwise.
- stews can be easily kept hot and reheated.
- acrylamides (cancer-causing agents in starchy foods) are not formed in stewing.
As Ori Hofmekler states, stew is the balls. "History has taught us how to best prepare beef, fish, and fowl. Ancient Romans cooked protein foods in broth. They often mixed fish or meat with veggies, grans and beans all together in one pot.
The popular practice today of barbecuing or grilling meat, which caramelizes or burns its surface, denatures the protein and creates toxins that are widely believed to be carcinogenic"(Hofmekler 73). While Ori might not understand that denaturing protein is often actually a good thing, he has a point- there is a reason the greatest military of the ancient world cooked the way they did- it worked, and it provided the army with the best nutrition possible to ensure victory on the battlefield.
Beyond the above list, there is one other reason that you should be eating a wheelbarrow full of stew daily- history has shown that the biggest and strongest people on Earth eat stew with more alacrity than a dog shows when drinking from the toilet. Stew isn't just food- it's stew-roids. Take, for instance, the example of Icelandic strongmen. These gigantic motherfuckers buck the trend of small bodies leading to long life, as the Icelanders are second only to the Japanese in terms of longevity, and are second in the world for males under the age of twenty. Their secret? A stew called kjotsupafor- a traditional lamb soup made of fatty lamb, rutabaga, onion, carrot, celery, cabbage, leeks, and a fistful of rice. Icelandic strongmen credit this stew single-handedly with their size and strength, and claim that this was the stew that made their Viking ancestors the skull-smashing, cervix-displacing, monastery-burning behemoths they were. Currently, Icelandic strongmen eat Kjötsúpa before, during, and after training, and up to six times per day to fuel their training (Bourdain). If you're curious how it's made, here's a recipe:
2 Tbsp. olive oil
1 tsp. finely chopped garlic
3 pounds lamb, on the bone (thick chops or shoulder … whatever is cheapest!)
1 medium onion, sliced
1/3 cup brown rice (traditionalists use rolled oats as an alternative)
6 cups water
1/2 tsp. dried thyme
1/2 tsp. dried oregano
1/2 cabbage, roughly chopped
3 carrots, diced into 1/2" pieces
1/2 rutabaga, uniformly diced
1 cup cauliflower florets (optional)
4 potatoes, scrubbed well and diced into uniform 1/2" pieces (see alternative note below)
In a large pot or dutch oven, briefly sauté the garlic in the olive oil for 1-2 minutes over medium heat (do not brown). Add the lamb pieces and brown on all sides. Add the sliced onion to the pot and sauté very lightly (about 1 minute), then pour in the brown rice and water. Raise heat to high, bringing the soup to a low boil; allow to boil for 5 minutes, skimming away the froth as it rises.
Reduce heat to medium, stir in dried thyme and oregano, cover pot, and cook for 40 minutes.
Add cabbage, carrots, rutabaga, cauliflower (if using), and diced potatoes. Cook, covered, for an additional 20 minutes, or until vegetables are fork-tender.
Remove meat and bones from pot, chop meat coarsely, then return. Warm for an additional 5 minutes. (Alternatively, some Icelanders will remove the lamb and potatoes from the pot and serve these on a plate, separately from the soup. If presenting the meal this way, chop the potatoes into larger, 1" chunks).
Yield: 6-8 servings of kjötsúpa.
One bowl of kjötsúpa yields the following nutrition:
Perhaps Iceland isn't your thing- you hate vikings, prefer samurai, and are the one fucking asshole on Earth who thinks Deadliest Warrior got it right when they stated a viking would lose 522 out of 1000 fights to a samurai. Let's look past the fact that your parents hate you and want you out of their basement, you were the smelly, paste-eating kid in school, and you likely have never been in a fistfight, yet have a black belt in some kind of useless karate. We can get past that. Really. Actually, we can't, and I hope someone sets you on fire. Despite that fact, you should still be eating stew more often than a 1920's cartoon hobo, because that's just about all sumo wrestlers ever eat, and if you've already forgotten, scientists have declared that sumo wrestlers carry the most lean body mass of any humans on Earth, so it's not as though they're simply giant babies tottering around in diapers.
The stew, of which sumo wrestlers eat prodigious amounts, is called chankonabe, and is comprised of tossed sliced tofu, carrots, cabbages, leeks, potatoes, lotus roots, daikon radishes, shiitake mushrooms, and giant burdock in chicken broth. they wash all that down with massive amounts of beer and saki, then take a nap to allow the massive meal to digest. Chanko is considered a "sort of legal steroid" in Japan- "Of all the performance enhancers used in sports, it's perhaps the oldest and most venerated. Chanko dates to at least the late 19th century, when short-order cooks from Niigata prefecture fixed meals for wrestlers. The word 'chan' (regional dialect for "father") was conflated with 'nabe,' the name for one-pot meals often served at the table. 'It's the main course of a sumo meal,' says Konishiki. 'All the sumo wrestlers have to eat it, whether they like it or not'" (Lidz). Here's how chankonabe is made in Tokyo's Tomoegata:
Tachiyama Chanko-Nabe (Tachiyama's Beef and Chicken Hot Pot)
3 lbs. chicken bones
1 2.8-oz. package abura-age (deep-fried tofu), cut into large pieces
1 clove garlic, peeled
1/4 cup soy sauce
2 tbsp. mirin (sweet rice wine)
1 medium waxy potato, peeled, quartered lengthwise, sliced crosswise, and blanched
2" piece daikon, peeled, quartered lengthwise, sliced crosswise, and blanched
1 small carrot, trimmed, peeled, sliced on the bias, and blanched
1 leek, white part only, trimmed, washed, and sliced on the bias
1/4 head napa cabbage, cored and cut into large pieces
4 shiitake mushrooms, stemmed
4 oz. shimeji mushrooms. trimmed and separated
4 oz. fresh burdock root, trimmed, peeled, and shaved into long thin strips
10 oz. yaki-dofu (grilled tofu), halved lengthwise and cut into 1/2"-thick pieces
1/2lb. boneless chicken thighs. cut into thin strips
1/2 bunch chrysanthemum greens, trimmed
1/2 lb. very thinly sliced prime rib eye of beef
1 lb. udon noodles
Bring a medium pot of water to a boil over high heat. Put chicken bones and fried tofu into 2 separate colanders set in sink and pour two-thirds of the boiling water over the bones to rinse off any impurities and the remaining boiling water over the tofu to rinse off excess oil. Transfer bones to the medium pot and set tofu aside to drain.
Add garlic and 14 cups cold water to pot with bones and bring to a boil over high heat, skimming any foam that rises to the surface. Reduce heat to medium-low and simmer until broth has reduced by one-third, about 21/2 hours. Strain broth into a clean, wide medium pot, discarding solids, and skim off fat.
At the table, set pot on a portable stove in center of table, add soy sauce and mirin, season to taste with salt, and bring to a simmer over medium heat.
Add about one-third of the potatoes, daikon, carrots, leeks, cabbage, mushrooms, burdock, grilled tofu. chicken, fried tofu, and chrysanthemum greens to simmering broth.
Cook until vegetables begin to soften and chicken is just cooked through, about 5 minutes. Add about one-third of the beef.
Simmer until just cooked through, about 1 minute.
Once all the vegetables, tofu, chicken, greens, and beef have been eaten, use a small sieve to pick out scraps. Bring remaining broth in pot back to a simmer, add noodles, and simmer until cooked through, 6-8 minutes. Serve in individual bowls.
One serving of Chankonabe yields the following nutritional awesome:
As though the above information weren't compelling enough, lifters at David Rigert's training camp eat copious amounts of veal broth filled with boiled meat and potatoes, Glenn Pendlay strongly recommends that lifters eat stew as a regular part of their diet, and the Chinese Olympic weightlifting team eats chicken and pork rib soup as a staple of their diets. Essentially, everyone BUT powerlifters in the Western world are eating stew all the live long day, to their great benefit. This is a tragedy for us Westerners, but this tragedy can be averted... with the liberal use of a crock pot and a willingness to depart from the norm. To give you an idea of what it is you're missing out on, here is a bit of the nutritional information for some of the best choices for stew:
Beef Goulash nutrition:
Beef Chili nutrition:
As you can see, stew is pretty much the balls if you're looking for a shitload of calories and a shitload of protein. Properly done, stew can obviate the need for a multivitamin, keep you full, and fill you with the power of all of your viking ancestors currently drinking in Valhalla and awaiting your arrival. For those of you who are still in the "get ripped" phase and not in the "get huge motherfucker" phase of life, stew might not be the best choice. For anyone who's looking to the coming winter months with a twinkle in their eye and an idea about packing on some serious mass and throwing around weights that would seem positively fantastical to the 150 lb. nutritional gurus on the internet- time to start jacking some stew-roids so you can leave the world of bitch mode behind.
Viking up, motherfuckers.
Anthony Bourdain: No Reservations - Iceland (Hello Darkness, My Old Friend). Arc Tv. 30 Nov 2009. Web. 6 Aug 2013. http://livedash.ark.com/transcript/anthony_bourdain__no_reservations-(iceland_(hello_darkness,_my_old_friend))/6630/TRAVP/Monday_November_30_2009/131494/
AP. Japan Sumo Association to crack down on obesity. Dimensions Online. Web. 5 Aug 2013. http://www.dimensionsmagazine.com/news/083958.htm
Chinese Weightlifters Eating in Korea. Youtube. 25 Nov 2009. Web. 6 Aug 2013. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4uYmxb-A4Ag
Diehl, Kari. Kjötsúpa, Icelandic Lamb Soup. Web. 6 Aug 2013. http://scandinavianfood.about.com/od/souprecipes/r/kjotsupa.htm
Hofmekler, Ori. Warrior Diet. St. Paul: Dragon Door, 2003.
Kadokura, Tania. Sumo Stew. Saveur Magazine. Nov 2002. Web. 7 Aug 2013. http://www.banzuke.com/chanko-nabe/
Klokov Discusses Diet. Forum Post. 12 Aug 2011. Web. 6 Aug 2013. http://pendlayforum.com/showthread.php?t=3610
Kondo M, Abe T, Ikegawa S, Kawakami Y, Fukunaga T. Upper limit of fat-free mass in humans: A study on Japanese Sumo wrestlers. Am J Hum Bio. 1994. 5(6) 613–618.
Lidz, Franz. From Soup to Guts. Slate. 30 Nov 2004. Web. 4 Aug 2013. http://www.slate.com/articles/sports/left_field/2004/11/from_soup_to_guts.html
Pendlay, Glenn. Weightlifter's Kitchen w/ Glenn Pendlay - Crock Pot Stew. Youtube. 24 Feb 2013. Web. 6 Aug 2013. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QD_V3urp1eg