Ben Mercer, a former professional rugby player turned #1 Amazon Best Selling Author of Fringes – Life On The Edge of Professional Rugby
I chat with Ben Mercer, a writer, and former professional rugby player, on his eating habits and whether there’s a relation to the potential for success.
Jogging in a red puffer vest, doing reps of pull-ups and push-ups at a park with the backdrop of the Golden Gate Bridge, sitting in the gleamingly modern office of his startup, talking about the benefits of fasting, and diligently preparing his breakfast of raw egg yolks at home: this is the compilation of scenes that introduces us to Geoffrey Woo, a focus of the docu-series (Un)Well, co-founder of Health Via Modern Nutrition. His startup sells supplements to boost human performance. His first meal of the day, shown in high definition, consists of five raw egg yolks and cooked egg whites. “Who invented breakfast, lunch, dinner?” he asks. “Did God tell us to eat three meals a day? I haven’t seen this in any Holy Book.” To him, his choice of food is about making him the sharpest human he can be.
These first five minutes of the docu-series made me wonder if there is a link between our eating habits and our path to success. Can we increase our chances of winning big if we are more conscious of what we eat? Woo compares our approach to humans to the engineering of a rocket. Can this be the case? Should we be eating more raw egg yolks? I interviewed Ben Mercer, a former professional rugby player turned #1 Amazon Best Selling Author of Fringes – Life On The Edge of Professional Rugby, to understand if the kind of food we eat matters to the life we want to live.
Ben, born in Bath, a rugby obsessed city in England, discovered fasting from a teammate. He shares, “The best shape I was ever in; I would intermittently fast on a 16:8 basis at least.” 16:8 is a widespread intermittent fasting practice where you limit your food to an eight-hour window. For the rest of the sixteen hours, you abstain from food and calorie-containing beverages. He believes that the 16:8 diet is an organizational aid to his days, “it takes loads of decisions out of your hands. When you’re busy, you’ve got other priorities.” For Geoffrey Woo, it was the feeling of being “fully plugged into the matrix” or “behind his eyeballs.” Geoffrey’s statements sound like metaphors to the cult film, The Matrix, where the character of Neo plugs into a human pod to discover a virtual world ruled by machines. Whether he meant it or not, an egg yolk contains all the vitamins and minerals in an egg. This scientific proof is the perfect reason to cook an omelet as is, rather than a dull egg white omelet.
No matter what the motivation is for fasting, having an eating routine allows both Ben and Geoffrey to focus on other aspects of their lives. However, Ben Mercer is not interested in consuming raw egg yolks, “I’ll cook them up. I’ll poach them and put them on a muffin with salmon.” He continues, “I want to learn how to cook a few nice things. Otherwise, eating is going to be just joyless for me. I hate that idea.”
He reminisces of his time playing rugby in France, “Everybody would sit and eat a three-course lunch. And it was healthy. Everything they cook from scratch. ” This scene is easy to imagine, as France is the culinary capital of the world. French cuisine is considered the mother of all cuisines. And, the French people have a penchant for good produce and outdoor markets. There is no doubt that France has a gloried history of good eating.
The French’s history influences Ben’s philosophy on food. To this day, Ben still chooses ingredients that are in their first state or as natural as possible. He may not cook French dishes every day, but he still prefers home-cooked meals of fish tacos or ramen. He also keeps jars of sauerkraut and kimchi, fermented foods that aid digestion. Ben chooses to eat serves more as a function for his body and brings joy to him.
Ben and Geoffrey are similar in that they have built natural food and fasting into their daily routines. They are both driven in their careers and being the best version of themselves. But, how about the unhealthy eaters? Can they have the same go-getter mindset as Ben and Geoffrey? History makers such as Donald Trump & Lucian Freud are examples that you can. Both are known for their notoriously lousy eating habits. Trump’s diet has been reported to involve McDonald’s, Kentucky Fried Chicken, pizza, and Diet Coke. Lucian Freud, the British painter, was known to have gone to Clarke’s restaurant in Notting Hill every morning for pains aux raisins or Portuguese custard tarts. None of these food choices would be considered nutritious for you, although pleasurable for any food lover.
If that doesn’t puzzle you enough, my favorite contradiction to Geoffrey Woo’s breakfast is Hunter S. Thompson’s breakfast choice, “four bloody Mary’s, two grapefruits, a pot of coffee,
crepes, a half-pound of either sausage, bacon or corned beef hash with diced chilies, a Spanish omelet or eggs Benedict, a quart of milk, a chopped lemon for random seasoning, and something like a slice of key lime pie, two margaritas and six lines of best cocaine for dessert.” If that doesn’t depict indulgence, Thompson prefers eating in a hot sun’s warmth, and preferably stone naked.
Success, by definition, is the accomplishment of an aim or purpose. It sounds simple, but it’s deeply personal and subjective. You can easily see the relationship between food to fitness. Yet, the connection to success is not as transparent as a raw egg white. There are many examples of sharp people in history that did not practice good nutrition. They did not have healthy diets or fast intermittently. Our intake does not connect to our output. You can argue, though, that perhaps Donald Trump would make sounder decisions if he ate less fast food and more home-cooked meals.
We cannot compare a human being to a rocket or a car. Although eating well can lead to better energy and focus. There is no one way to fix it all. Whether you are like Geoffrey Woo, Ben Mercer, Donald Trump, Lucian Freud, or Hunter S. Thompson, it is one’s perseverance and grit that builds success. Your relationship with food is crucial but not essential. Food should serve you, whether it’s for function, joy, or both. When I think back to Geoffrey Woo’s breakfast of raw egg yolks and cooked egg whites, I ask myself, “How would I like to consume a raw egg?” My preference would be a nightcap of a well-crafted whiskey sour using fresh ingredients— bourbon, lemon juice, simple syrup, egg white, and a cherry on top. Of course, like all things, cocktails should be taken in moderation. How would you like your eggs?