Liver King

It’s been a great week for both fitness and schadenfreude. I don’t know if you’ve heard about the Liver King but you’re about to. Brian Johnson lives in the centre of a musky Venn diagram that spans legitimate advice, high-grift, savvy marketing, and pretty much everything that is wrong with the fitness industry.

Image Source: GQ

I’ve had my eye on Johnson ever since I first heard of him. He seems to be on a lot of… special supplements. Yet, he has denied steroid speculations with Lance Armstrong-level conviction. He also makes tons of money. Johnson is a bodybuilder, fitness influencer, and father to Rad and Stryker. He is also the face of his own brand of supplements. All of the above are fuelled by beef organs.

Supplements remain the best way to generate money in fitness. If you can convince people that they will attain the body of their dreams through buying 50¢ of desiccated liver for $50, then everything else is just a question of selling. You’ve got to sell the dream and sell the volume. These are reciprocal.

The Liver King dispenses mostly good advice. He tells you to sleep well, move often, connect with nature, and work hard, among other “ancestral tenets.” His wisdom is filtered through a hyper-masculine and very American filter. The end result includes “simulated hunts” where you follow a period of fasting with a hard workout and a meat feast. Brand style notwithstanding, it’s hard to get mad at any of this. But the steroids! What about the steroids?

Fitness culture is inextricably linked to PED use. It doesn’t matter whether you follow bodybuilding, Olympic weightlifting, or pretty much any elite-level sport, steroid culture is sport culture. That’s the problem; not that steroids exist but that people think that the results are available to anyone who just grinds hard enough.

One of my great frustrations with the industry is that someone will show up, do the work, and make great progress BUT then compare themselves to someone taking massive levels of exogenous hormones. That happens because fitness influencers aren’t transparent about their PED use. It’s the same as getting butt implants and then selling your glute workouts on TikTok. It’s a false bill of goods that leaves end-users feeling disoriented and unsuccessful.

Image source: Science Direct: Illicit anabolic–androgenic steroid use

The reason that Johnson is in the news this week is that leaked emails show him taking somewhere in the neighbourhood of $12K of steroids a month. Until now, he has denied it. “I’ll be honest,” he told one interviewer, “I take PEDs: I prioritize, execute and dominate every f*king morning.” And I’m sure he does. However, he left out the part where he also gargles human growth hormone.

A little while back, I shared an article on how fitness is like investing. One of my favourite takeaways is that people who just invest in the market consistently outperform those who try to outsmart it. Fads like ancestral diets tend to resemble get-rich-quick schemes. The most reliable approach is the Middle Path. Sleep and eat well, connect with others, move every day. Do hard things—including sidestepping quick-fixes. It’s not sexy. It doesn’t give you veins like ballpark franks. Yet, it is something you can maintain for the rest of your life. It’s what your ancestors would have wanted for you.