Recently, I’ve seen images of lions used as memes to suggest that somehow being in the wild and eating nothing but meat and not “caring about calories” or “worrying about eating windows” is the key to being ultra-lean and muscular.
Want to be a lion? Live like a lion.
But is it true?
First, let’s all just take a moment to be awed by these giant cats. They are both beautiful and intimidating. With an image that suggests they are both fierce and noble. But are lions really “super-shredded”?
The average body fat of a wild lion is around 13%, ranging from single digits to the mid-twenty percents. However, a captive lion averages in the mid twenty percents, but can be as high 50 percent, depending on the care they are given in captivity.
So while a wild lion does have a body fat somewhere near human ideals, a captive lion seems much more like a typical captive… er, sedentary, human.
Regarding diet, lions are obligate carnivores, meaning they cannot digest vegetation and must eat meat to survive (no salads for lions). Lions obviously then must eat a lot of meat averaging about 4-7% of their bodyweight per day, however they do not eat every day.
In the wild, they are known to eat extremely large quantities at once, then not eat for up to a week afterwards. In captivity feeding practices are mixed between daily feedings and occasional feedings.
This “not eating” isn’t a just a result of food not being available, but also of the lions not actively pursuing food. When they are hungry, they hunt and eat; when they’re not hungry, they don’t hunt. In fact a fed lion rests, sometimes up to 16 – 20 hours a day.
The point is using wild animals who are obligate carnivores, who live through periods of feast and famine through a combination of choice and food availability, and have incredibly low life-spans relative to humans, as a comparable to humans is silly. It would be like using a fruit bat’s 9% body fat as evidence going vegan makes you lean. Silly.
I agree that it’s unfortunate that some of us have to track calories, and I also understand the romantic appeal of being “like a lion”, but the connection is simply one driven by the majestic, noble, and fierce look of the lion.
White-tailed deer are often sub 10% body fat, yet nobody talks about eating like a deer 😉
The strongest lesson I think we can learn from this analogy is is as follows: wild animals are usually leaner than captive animals.
(However, captive animals live longer, likely due to proximity to a good veterinarian.)
Lots of correlations and associations to look at here, but it would be erroneous to simply say that a lion’s diet is what makes a lion a lion, and therefore will make you a lion to.