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Thursday, April 25, 2013

Review: Man 2.0: Engineering the Alpha

Man 2.0 Engineering the Alpha
by John Romaniello and Adam Bornstein

"Why are you reading that?" was the first question that popped out of my wife's mouth when she saw this sitting on our dining room table.

It was a fair question, I guess.

The answer goes like this.

I've been follow Roman's blog/Facebook page for a while, after hearing a couple of Fitcast interviews with him. I like a lot of his ideas, at least on a philosophical level, but I hadn't really ever looked at any of his products. After hearing another interview with him and his co-author (again, on the Fitcast), the idea behind Engineering the Alpha made it sound interesting enough to pick up.

The sales pitch, apparently, was "a lifestyle book masquerading as a fitness book."

Having read it, I think a more accurate pitch might have been "a fitness book masquerading as a lifestyle book masquerading as a fitness book."

Let me explain. No, there is too much. Let me sum up.

As I understood it, the book was designed to be a guide to transforming your life, using exercise and diet as a vehicle for that transformation. The idea was to structure things based on Joseph Campbell's monomyth concept, which provides a framework for a zero-to-hero kind of journey (and yes, I know, that idea has been disputed, but run with it). By following this model, the book ostensibly would show you how to transform your life into the best possible version of it that you could have.

On paper, the idea is interesting. The execution, for me, was a little disappointing.

While there is a little bit of lifestyle and personal exploration advice, the bulk of this book is really just a diet and exercise book. It's not a BAD diet or exercise book, but that's mostly what it is. The philosophy fills a couple of chapters early on, and then kind of fades into the background. Most of the rest of the book just assures us that by following the plan outlined in the book, you'll transform your body, optimize your hormones, and then your life will get better.

It feels a little Underpants Gnomish, at times.

The major focus of the book is the idea that most men's hormones are out of wack, and that imbalance leads to a variety of problems and issues. Roman and Bornstein present a program of eating and exercising that is designed to re-balance and optimize your hormones.

The diet is mostly an Intermittent Fasting approach, combined with some good food choices and carb cycling. For those who have not heard of it, Intermittent Fasting that has been floating around the net for a while, mostly thanks to the efforts of Martin Berkhan and Brad Pilon. The idea, in short, is to cycle windows of eating with windows of, well, not eating. Most of the eating plan in this book calls for a 16/8 split, where you fast for 16 hours, then have an eight-hour eating window. There's also some longer fasts thrown in following cheat days, which seems like an interesting way of balancing things out.

I've heard about Intermittent Fasting for years, though I've never really tried it. I get the idea, but I honestly don't think I could fit it into my lifestyle. It seems to be an eating pattern that makes a lot of sense if you don't have small children. I've tried to wrap my head around it a few times, but I cannot think of where I could reasonable put an eight-hour feeding window into my life. Granted, that is a personal bias...the scheme seems to work for lots of people, and it might work for you as well.

The training stuff is, well, training stuff. A lot of density work, some strength stuff. It all seems plausible, certainly.

I don't doubt that following the diet and exercise plans in this book would get you good results. I think my disappointment comes from the fact that I was expecting more. Having heard Roman speak and read some of his blog, I think he's got some very insightful ideas about life, and they didn't come through well in this book.


Upon further reflection, I have a really hard time recommending this book to anyone. The reality is that, while it's not bad, there are other products that are superior. Ross Enamait's Never Gymless still tops my list as the best "one-stop shop" for a generic, non-equipment specific fitness book (Infinite Intensity is excellent too, but NG has the nutrition section, so it wins on that score.).

If you really want info about Intermittent Fasting, Martin Berkhan and Brad Pilon have lead the way on those subjects for years. Of course, that's all 'Net based, but Pilon has a book, if you want to read it. If you really want a hard copy book with some IF in it, Engineering the Alpha will give you that.

Again, the book isn't awful. If a friend or family member told me they bought it and were planning to follow it, I wouldn't try to stop them...but I'm not really convinced it's as brilliant as the five star Amazon Reviews would have you believe. If you want a one-stop shop for a fitness book, look elsewhere.


Nick said...

Am I being a bit thick here and thinking you cannot have an 8 hour eating window out of 24? It only means skipping breakfast regards Nick

Jake said...

"It only means skipping breakfast."

Yes, yes. Sounds so simple, doesn't it?

Here's the problem. I am a combination stay-at-home dad and self-employed entrepreneur. As a martial arts and self-defense coach, my work generally requires that I work at times when most people are not working. I do the bulk of my teaching on evenings and weekends, with the occasional weekday client if I can find a sitter for my son.

What that means is that, for our family, breakfast is often the only meal of the day we are absolutely guaranteed to have together. Lunch is usually a solo affair, though I will sometimes eat with my son. Depending on the week, we may get upwards of two, or downwards of zero dinners as a family.

So, yeah, it sounds very simple, except that skipping breakfast is completely incompatible with my life.

Add to that the fact that my days are often extremely long (530am-10pm, roughly), and it makes the whole "feeding window" even less practical. If you think I'm going stop eating at 2 in the afternoon, and keep teaching and training for another eight hours, you're out of your mind. Especially since, on the nights where I can, I do want to have dinner as a family.

I'm sure intermittent fasting is great for a certain population, but I am not part of that population.

Mike M. said...

Wow, disappointed to say the least about your review. You admit you didn't try the diet, came up with a bunch of excuses on why you didn't try the diet and yet you think you're qualified to review the book?

Jake said...

This is my blog. The only qualifications I need to write a review of something is for me to have read it and to have an opinion on it.

In this case, I have done both things, so, yes, I'm totally qualified.

Certain activities fit into my lifestyle, and others don't. The diet presented in Man 2.0 does not fit my lifestyle. Simple as that.