The Long Game 79: Burn, Uncertainty, The Reading Obsession, Positioning

🌇 Building a Vital Future, Hardware Wallets, Strength, Limitless, Seed Oils, and Much More!

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:

Here are some small updates from us at Vital. More is coming very soon!

📣 We are hiring at Vital, help us build the “Strava for Health.” We are now looking for:

  • Senior Backend Engineer (Python, Django)

  • Senior Frontend Engineer (Flutter)

Find all our openings here.

We are offering $1,000 in Bitcoin if you refer to us a candidate we end up hiring.

In this episode, we explore:

  • Burn: New Research Blows the Lid Off How We Really Burn Calories, Lose Weight, and Stay Healthy

  • Uncertainty

  • The reading obsession

  • Positioning

  • New cities

  • Strength training

Let’s dive in!

🥑 Health

🔥 Burn: New Research Blows the Lid Off How We Really Burn Calories, Lose Weight, and Stay Healthy

I read Burn by Herman Pontzer recently, and I highly recommend it. It helped me fix many misconceptions I had about food, exercising, and calorie expenditure.

Here are a few notes on the book:

  • You are what you eat—literally.

  • The body is made up of thousands of different, interacting molecules. These include enzymes, hormones, neurotransmitters, DNA, and more. Very few of them arrive in the body in usable form through our diets, however. Before they can be put to use, they have to be converted. 

  • This is the work of cells that pull useful molecules circulating in the bloodstream through its membrane and then convert those molecules into something else.

  • The work of these cells is what keeps us alive. But it requires a lot of energy. Metabolism is what keeps the body active, “burning” the food we eat and unlocking its energy for this purpose. 

  • Metabolism is a measure of the body’s energy use. Energy consumed is always equal to work done and the heat gained. This is a fundamental law of physics, so, naturally, it also governs the human body. 

  • “Metabolism” is another way of saying “energy expenditure.” Whichever term we use, we’re measuring the body’s fundamental activity. If we add speed into the equation, we can determine its metabolic rate – the energy the body expends every minute to fuel its cells’ work.

  • To measure energy expenditure, you need to follow the CO2. When the body burns energy, it emits CO2, primarily through exhaling.

  • Metabolically, we’re just like our ancestors. The author explains that we aren’t burning fewer calories than our ancestors. By studying the Hadza in Tanzania, he shows that Hadza men eat and burn around 2,600 calories a day while women get through approximately 1,900 calories a day. That’s exactly the same amount as men and women burn on average in Europe and the United States.

  • One of the critical points of the book is that humans have a constrained or fixed metabolism. 

  • One part of the explanation is that highly active people like the Hadza subtly change their behavior to save energy. This might mean sitting rather than standing or sleeping longer. The body also “budgets” its energy expenditure differently when we engage in lots of activity. 

  • It seems that the body makes room in its limited energy budget for more activity by cutting down on some other tasks. There’s evidence, for example, that exercise reduces the immune system’s inflammatory response as well as the production of hormones like estrogen.

  • All this evidence points toward a fascinating conclusion: our species has evolved strategies for keeping our daily energy expenditure constrained. That had a lot of implications for how we should address the metabolic health crisis: obesity can’t be blamed on sedentary lifestyles. It’s to be blamed on gluttony.

  • Our evolutionary history explains why we’re so prone to obesity. 

  • Human metabolism is very different from the metabolism of other apes. The difference comes from the fact that humans share food and apes don’t. This created a safety net for humans and led to human metabolism speeding up and leaving enough energy for our most consuming organ: the brain.

  • For weight loss: the only thing that matters is to burn more calories than you ingest. However, you need to account personally for things like adherence to a diet and satiety. Watch this for more.

  • Finally, the author concludes that although exercise is very healthy, you can’t outrun a bad diet. (It’s also worth noting that for your overall health, you can’t ‘outeat’ no exercise.)

🌱 Wellness

🧘‍♀️ On Not Knowing

Being ok with uncertainty is one of the best qualities you can develop. The constant search for certainty can be a massive hurdle in your life. I liked this piece on this specific idea:

It’s true that there’s something unbearable about the feeling of not knowing. There are many people who would rather turn to cults and fanaticism than exist untethered with no one to tell them what to do, no promise of redemption and safety. I’m pretty comfortable with ambivalence, but some days I wake up and am like, I would not mind being more tightly anchored. On some level there’s nothing more seductive than the promise that there’s a moral to the story. But I believe that real life begins when we give up certainty—it’s easier to lose the plot when you realize that you never had it at all.


🧠 Better Thinking

📚 The Reading Obsession

There is this conception that reading a lot will help you figure out everything. Warren Buffet might be the best embodiment of this statement. He’s always portrayed as a voracious reader, spending the vast majority of his time reading. This is a great piece debunking this idea and explaining that, although reading a lot matters, it’s far from being the only thing that matters.

Did a young Buffett read a lot? Yes, he certainly did. Did he spend all his time churning through annual reports, newspapers, books, and trade journals enough? No. Buffett understood how to balance his stack of reading materials with a solid travel schedule. He did not expect to solve the world’s investment puzzles solely from the comfort of his desk.

He built and maintained relationships that allowed him to source and discard ideas and evolve as an investor (not to mention enrich his life). Just think about the influence that Munger had on his pivot towards quality investing.

On top of reading a lot, Warren Buffett always made sure he maintained a great network of influential people around him.

“Buffett’s huge network of knowledgeable and influential friends also has been a help along the way. Buffett has been an original thinker, but it cannot have hurt to discuss prospects for a television station with Tom Murphy, chat about a common investment with Laurence Tisch, or talk with Jack Byrne about insurance. ‘His network of mends has been very important,’ says broker Hayes.” Of Permanent Value, The Story of Warren Buffett

We can also see that obsession with his craft is also a key element of Buffett’s success.

Since childhood, he had read every biography he could find of people he admired, looking for the lessons he could learn from their lives. He attached himself to everyone who could help him and coattailed anyone he could find who was smart. … He never stopped thinking about business: what made a good business, what made a bad business, how they competed, what made customers loyal to one versus another. He had an unusual way of turning problems around in his head, which gave him insights nobody else had. He developed a network of people who—for the sake of his friendship as well as his sagacity—not only helped him but also stayed out of his way when he wanted them to. In hard times or easy, he never stopped thinking about ways to make money.”

Finally, this is a reminder to play the long game also with your relationships. They matter at least as much as everything you read and build:

I’m sure he spends a lot of time reading. But always remember that his wealth was built on the balance of compounding wisdom and relationships. In fact, the two reinforced each other. Go and do likewise.

⚡️ Startup Stuff

🥇 Positioning

The positioning of your company is one of the most important decisions to make early on. I found this article to be a good description of the challenge.

The Hordes is a group of competitors in your niche which might not consist of big-name, multimillion companies but are still your competitors because they belong to your specific market niche.

How do I beat the Hordes?

April explains how you, as a brand, can successfully beat the Hordes. The concept is simple: Only fight where you can win.
She quotes a saying by Warren Buffet, which perfectly fits into this concept we’re discussing:

“How do you beat Bobby Fischer? You play him at any game but chess.”-Warren Buffet

The lesson this concept teaches us is simple: Don’t position your brand for a fight it can’t win.
According to April, positioning in a specific category or niche determines how you are evaluated. In simple words, it is important that you, as a brand, learn to introduce innovations while staying in your own specific niche, instead of unknowingly slipping into another industry.

There is a general idea in tech that the idea you’re working on doesn’t really matter and that execution and trial and error are all that matter. I have to admit I think this is wrong. Some ideas will just lead to a better outcome than others because of how the business is structured.

This is what led us to pivot at Vital and focus on building the ‘Strava for Health,’ which we believe will be a generational product, staying in the life of our users for a very, very long time, and not simply a ‘cool product’ that people would use for a little while before moving on.

📚 What I Read

🌇 Introducing Praxis

I’m excited about what the Praxis team is building.

Praxis is a grassroots movement of modern pioneers building a new city. We are technologists and artists, builders and dreamers. We are building a place where we can develop to our fullest potentials, physically, culturally, and spiritually. Bitcoin was developed as a financial technology with political goals identical to those of the Founding Fathers: liberation. The ultimate end of crypto is the possibility of a future for humanity unshackled from the institutions that seek to limit our growth. Our ultimate goal is to bring about a more vital future for humanity, and we will use technology to achieve this righteous end.

Our civilization is unwell. We eat food that kills us, we’ve lost sight of beauty, and we neglect our spiritual lives. The world is deranged and decayed, and this frightens people. We don’t look up from our screens; we seek to live within them. Crypto is a fundamentally political technology -- escape to the metaverse is a betrayal of the principles on which it was founded. We are descended from the people who built Rome and Athens, who dared to split atoms and voyage to the Moon. We can build new worlds not just of bits, but of atoms.

In the Information Age, everything is made anew. We have a radical opportunity to remake cities. Cities will be reorganized around shared values, rather than the labor market principles of the Industrial Age. The defining value of the coming epoch is Vitality, so we are building our citizenry on this moral foundation. We will build structures that reach to the heavens on a vibrant coast, with governance that enhances the vitality of its people. You will be able to walk barefoot in the midst of our urbanity.

🛢 A Comprehensive Rebuttal to Seed Oil Sophistry

This is a (very) long post refuting the idea that seed oils are unhealthy. I haven’t had the time to finish reading it, but it’s well researched and deserves some attention. Once again, the nutrition field is tough to understand and is constantly changing.

The popular consciousness has accepted many dietary villains over the course of the last half century, ranging from fat, to protein, to salt, to carbohydrates. More often than not, dietary constituents that have fallen under such scrutiny have been exonerated in time, as more and more scientific data is brought to light. I suspect that there is a growing number of people who are now wrongfully demonizing vegetable oils as well. Both skepticism and generally negative attitudes toward these oils appear to have skyrocketed in recent years, and it can be seen seemingly everywhere.

From what I can tell, almost all of the claims regarding the negative health effects of vegetable oils are essentially rooted in mechanistic research. Mechanistic research includes studies such as cell culture studies, animal studies, in-vitro studies, or even some short term human experiments. Despite the fact that it is absolutely true that this type of research can be incredibly valuable, it is also almost always extremely inappropriate to extrapolate from mechanistic research to population-level health effects. Especially if there is no population-level outcome data that actually agrees with the mechanistic speculation to begin with.

Ultimately, mechanistic studies carry virtually no information about actual human disease risk itself. Keep this in mind as we parse through the lower- and higher-quality evidence as we go along. This will be important as we explore the various claims made about vegetable oils and their interactions with human health. Let’s start with something familiar and dive into cardiovascular disease.

🇨🇳 What if Xi Jinping just isn’t that competent?

A thought-provoking piece on Xi Jinping by Noah Smith:

But other than turning a bureaucratic oligarchy into a personalistic dictatorship, what are Xi’s accomplishments, exactly? In my experience, people tend to assume that Xi is hyper-competent because:

  1. There’s a general impression that the Chinese government is hyper-competent, and Xi has made himself synonymous with the Chinese government, and

  2. Under Xi’s watch, China has arguably become the world’s most powerful country.

But this doesn’t mean Xi actually deserves his reputation as a one-man engine of Chinese greatness. Much of his apparent success was actually inherited from his predecessors. He has taken absolute control of the apparatus built by people such as Deng Xiaoping, Jiang Zemin, and Hu Jintao, but I think it’s hard to argue that he has added much to that apparatus.

🎙 Podcast Episodes of the Week

This week in podcasts:

🍭 Brain Food

🛰 Starship is Still Not Understood

Things are moving so fast at SpaceX that some revolutions coming soon are not well understood by the public. This is an excellent article detailing why and how Starship will be a game-changer.

Starship matters. It’s not just a really big rocket, like any other rocket on steroids. It’s a continuing and dedicated attempt to achieve the “Holy Grail” of rocketry, a fully and rapidly reusable orbital class rocket that can be mass manufactured. It is intended to enable a conveyor belt logistical capacity to Low Earth Orbit (LEO) comparable to the Berlin Airlift. That is, Starship is a powerful logistical system that puts launch below the API.

Starship is designed to be able to launch bulk cargo into LEO in >100 T chunks for <$10m per launch, and up to thousands of launches per year. By refilling in LEO, a fully loaded deep space Starship can transport >100 T of bulk cargo anywhere in the solar system, including the surface of the Moon or Mars, for <$100m per Starship. Starship is intended to be able to transport a million tonnes of cargo to the surface of Mars in just ten launch windows, in addition to serving other incidental destinations, such as maintaining the Starlink constellation or building a big base at the Lunar south pole.

🎥 What I’m Watching

♾ Limitless with Chris Hemsworth

My friend Erik Pavia shared this new trailer with me, and I found it very interesting and worth sharing here. I’m interested in it because we’re starting to see anti-aging and longevity topics being discussed in mainstream media. This is a significant step to keep pushing the field forward.

The series isn’t available yet, and in the meantime, you can check this video from More Plates More Dates discussing the steroid side of things. I hope they will cover it in the series; otherwise, it would be a shame.

🏋️‍♀️ How Strong Should you Be?

I used to train for Powerlifting for years, but I wasn’t training for strength as much more recently. This great video from Jeff Nippard was a wake-up call for me to make sure I don’t stay stuck indefinitely at the intermediate stage and that I keep pushing my strength numbers. I recently switched back to more strength training and aim to reach a 1350+ lbs powerlifting total in the next 6—9 months (it would be advanced/elite for my weight.)

🔧 The Tool of the Week

🔒 Ledger—Hardware Wallet

If you are getting into crypto, or if you’re already hodling some, make sure you own and use a hardware wallet.

🪐 Quote I’m Pondering

Sometimes magic is just someone spending more time on something than anyone else might reasonably expect.

— Raymond Joseph Teller

If you enjoyed this newsletter, make sure to subscribe if you haven’t 👇

👋 EndNote

Thanks for reading!

If you like The Long Game, please share it on social media or forward this email to someone who might enjoy it. Podcast reviews are also gratefully received. You can also “like” this newsletter by clicking the heart just below this, which helps me get visibility on Substack.


Feel free to email me or find me on Twitter if you have any feedback or questions.

Until next week,

Mehdi Yacoubi

PS: Lots of newsletters get stuck in Gmail’s Promotions tab. If you find it in there, please help train the algorithm by dragging it to Primary. It makes a big difference.

Leave a comment