In keeping with the generous theme of the now upon us, “most wonderful time of the year,” we’re going to keep it a little lighter this article and bestow upon you some easily implementable biohacking tips that can enhance your quality and quantity of life, training included.
The term biohacking is a relatively new term with a wide range of interpretations and definitions depending on who you talk to. For the purpose of this article, we will refer to biohacking as anything you can do to naturally hack into or alter the way your body works. You can literally apply knowledge and attempt to hack into your biology, leading to beneficial internal cellular and chemical consequences. This is no doubt a loaded topic with a variety of approaches, but for the sake of this article, we will touch on four of the main pillars of health; diet, exercise & training, sleep & stress.
GET YOUR ZZZs
We all know how important adequate sleep can be, and how detrimental it can be to get a lack of it, especially for the recovery process, but also implicated in a host of chronic issues from mental fatigue, obesity and diabetes to immune dysfunction and cancer. In addition to triggering your circadian rhythm by getting natural light exposure during the day, (which leads to the formation of the feel good hormone serotonin, the precursor of the sleep hormone, melatonin) it turns out exposure to artificial blue light, especially in the evening, has a major effect on how you sleep.
According to Authority Nutrition:
“It turns out that perhaps the single biggest contributor to our collective sleep problems is the use of artificial lighting and electronics at night. These devices emit light of a blue wavelength, which tricks our brains into thinking that it is daytime.”
This wave length of light emitted by our phones, tablets, computer monitors and TVs actually inhibits the body’s ability to manufacture melatonin and thus can disrupt restorative sleep. This blue light can also induce photoreceptor damage to your eyes which is one of the main reasons we are seeing a market demand for and built in phone settings that block this type of light.
If decreasing or eliminating all unnecessary usage of blue light emitting devices in the evening isn’t possible, there are apps such as iflux or the nightshift setting on the iphone that actually block the blue lights. You can also take it a step further and purchase a pair of blue light blocking glasses to fashionably don around your domain in the evening. This $12 pair pictured below are the ones I’ve been utilizing to optimize potential for deeper regenerative & restorative sleep; much to the comical delight of my family.
DON’T UNDERCUT YOUR TRAINING
We all have our reasons we get after it the way we do. Some are motivated by performance, some to keep the weight off and stay fit. No matter what your motivation, we never want to be put in a situation where we undercut our own efforts and performance.
We often find ourselves at a crossroads between choosing the path that favors optimal athletic performance or life longevity. One is commonly sacrificed for the other and most are constantly striving to find that perfect balance between the two.
This is never more so true than when it comes to the fuel we chose to power our bodies. The Gu & Gatorade roller coaster ride may do the momentary energizing trick, but it is in no way, shape or form the best way to fuel the body. These are high carb, high sugar substances that lead to a spike in blood sugar and subsequent insulin, that peaks and dips, leading you to repeat the cycle continuously.
It is now well known and acknowledged that spikes in blood glucose and insulin can be detrimental to your health. What can be even more frustrating about this carb spiking habit is that the release of insulin inhibits the body’s ability to burn fat as fuel; rather it encourages the opposite, in the form of fat storage. So you are admirably doing all you can to get after it out there, with hopes of knocking or keeping the pounds off, but are actually continuously utilizing high carb fuel sources that block your body’s ability to do so.
Without getting into suggesting ketogeneic diets and intermittent fasting, there do exist better options to provide a steady supply of slow burning energy, without the insulin spike and subsequent blockage of fat burning. There are more and more athletes (present company, and a number of our patients included) successfully utilizing products like UCAN, which provide this type of fuel source, divorcing you from the energy spikes and drops and enabling you to encourage your body to burn that unwanted fat for fuel.
It should be stated, that other than making it available to our patients, we have no stake in UCAN. However, we were so impressed with its fascinating conception out of necessity, along with the physiologically sound science and research behind it, that we were excited to add it to our own regimen and offer it to those who might also find benefit in its utilization.
Let’s face it, for many people a major factor or added benefit from working out and intelligently fueling with items that enhance the body’s ability to burn fat, is the weight loss and a better body. You can also ramp up the body’s fat burning ability by taking a 5 minute cold shower post training session.
Many wellness enthusiasts and top thinkers implement this form of therapy first thing in the morning in order to bombard the nervous system with sensory stimuli and heighten alertness and focus. However, it is the metabolic benefits we are focusing on here.
If you are willing to withstand the initially uncomfortable temperature, you can reap the benefits of the body generating and activating brown fat cells as a way to create heat to counteract the cold waters. You have two main types of fat or adipose tissue, that being white and brown. White adipose tissue is less metabolically active and plays more of an energy storage role in the form of body fat. The more metabolically active brown fat not only generates body heat by burning calories, but has been correlated with better blood glucose control and insulin sensitivity, as well as increased metabolism.
Top this off with having limited carbohydrates derived from a slow burning source like UCAN or even having done your pre-frozen shower workout first thing in the morning before eating and thus in a mini fasted state courtesy of the previous night’s slumber, and those calories being burned to generate the heat can be derived from the catabolic breakdown of body fat; a state of metabolic nirvana if you will. But let’s climb out of this rabbit hole and get back on track.)
STOP MOUTH BREATHING!
Tweaking the oft overlooked action of proper breathing is another quick easy biohack. We touched on the benefits of proper, diaphragmatic, abdominal breathing in October’s SCR issue, and here we will take it one step further and make the case for breathing through your nose, especially when training.
When performing any physical activity we would all be well served to possess the ability to utilize the oxygen we breathe in the most efficient manner. Subsequently, we would also greatly benefit from that oxygen being delivered to our muscles with speed and volume.
When we breathe through our nose it triggers the release of Nitric Oxide (NO) in our bodies. This NO cause bronchodilation, meaning it opens or expands the passage ways in your lungs, allowing more oxygen to reach the blood. Bronchodilation is such a useful biohack that many competitive athletes utilize an inhaler normally reserved for asthmatics in order to exogenously prompt and increase this phenomenon. Conversely, many asthmatics have found benefit and attenuation of symptoms by training themselves to nose breathe, despite the fact that on the surface it appears to be counterintuitive if you are having trouble breathing.
NO production prompted by nasal respiration also triggers vasodilation. This is an expansion of the blood vessels to your tissues, especially those muscles being utilized during physical activity. This is good news as it provides more oxygen rich blood that the muscles can use as fuel for energy via aerobic respiration.
Nasal breathing throughout the day will also lessen the likelihood of over breathing, which can disrupt the intricate balance of oxygen and carbon dioxide in your body. It also increases tolerance to CO2, which can lead to more stamina and decreased occurrences of fatigue during those all-out efforts.
To truly embrace a comprehensive approach to optimizing performance, the full body must be addressed. Never is this so true than with runners, as the need to strength and stabilize outside of the repetitive uniplanar movement pattern, can prove advantageous for better form, stability, strength, and thus better function.
One of the most common excuses for not incorporating cross training is lack of time. Being a father of two, and owner/operator of a small business, I get it. However, if you recognize the benefits to be gained and choose to make a cross training session a priority, you can make it happen, especially if you implement the time saving strategy described below.
An S3 (Super Slow Strength) session is a time efficient and convenient way to increase strength and stability in as little as 1 to 2, 20 minute sessions per week. You can also utilize body weight, bands, kettle balls or free weights so the inability to get to the gym can be eliminated from the list of potential excuses.
An S3 session consists of performing an exercise at you guessed it, a relatively super slow speed. This equates to a 10 second concentric contraction, followed by a 10 second eccentric contraction. That ends up being a 20 second repetition, and depending on the exercise and weight used, a 3 minute set if 9 reps are performed. You can play with the configuration to your liking or goals, but if you perform just 1 set for 5 different body parts at the intervals laid out above, with a minute in between each set, you have yourself a 20 minute session.
Performing at this super slow speed enhances the cross bridging between individual muscle fibers, increasing strength and stability while limiting some of the needless wear and tear put on joints as speed increases. Eliminating momentum and continuously having to generate power activates full body muscle recruitment and regardless of the body part worked, all muscles play a role and thus also reap the benefits.
Still not convinced? Check out the book in the references by Dr. Doug McGuff which touches on the cardiovascular benefits obtained through this type of strength training, which are noted as being comparable to those gained during a long run. Other worthwhile benefits include increased mitochondrial density (another topic for another time, but just rest assured this is a very good thing) and improved lactic acid buffering.
If it sounds too easy, give it a shot. As with anything I suggest, I have implemented this approach as well, and can attest to not only feeling that “good hurt” the following day, but always appreciate breaking up the sometimes mindless “picking things up to put things down” that can eventually serve as an impediment to continuing a much needed strength training session.
LAST BUT NOT LEAST…
We’ve covered biohacks aimed at sleep, exercise and diet, but we would be remiss if we didn’t touch on another major player in the whole body approach; stress. The internal chemical consequences of stress is not restricted to the emotional or mental disruptions that we commonly refer to as stress. Environmental toxins, food allergies and sensitivities, as well as physical stress from overtraining can all have the same consequences. And while these are all different ways to generate stress, our biohack here will be aimed at the traditional sense of the word.
Study after study shows one of the best ways to combat the emotional and mental stressors is through some sort of meditation. The word can intimidate or outright turn off a lot of people, but it’s best thought of as a general term for finding a way to reset or quiet and calm down mentally. This method is highly individualized and can be thought of as anything from the aforementioned meditation to reflection, prayer, zoning out, calming the mind pond, becoming a silent observer of one’s thoughts, or simply being still and in the moment.
If you are having trouble finding your way with this, simply being outside is a good place to start. Nature therapy where children spend more time outdoors has been shown to quiet the mind and attenuate symptoms of ADD and ADHD. The simple act of removing your shoes and “grounding” or “earthing” also provides an anti-inflammatory and calming effect through the exchange of electrons that occurs between your body and the grass or sand.
The trick is to find a method that works for you. Do not be turned off by traditional definitions or get hung up on adhering to one method or another. These should simply serve as ideas to apply towards your own practice. This should be all about you and provide a moment of quiet clarity in an otherwise noisy chaotic world. As stated, those who report meditating in some way, shape or form report benefits across the board. And in a constantly changing world filled with inevitable stressors and the subsequent internal consequences including inflammation and disease, adding some sort of routine game plan to approach general stress is a must for any truly holistic approach.
If you still experience symptoms of stress, or other issues with your endocrine system (thyroid, sex hormones, blood sugar handling, circadian rhythm disruption, etc.) and can’t seen to get over the hump, addressing the adrenal glands may also provide some help. We have witnessed many patients respond well to various herbs known as adaptogens and the guidance of diagnostic tests like the adrenal salivary index (ASI), enabling us to tap into and positively alter the physiology of the internal stress work horses, the adrenal glands.
So there you have it. From one biohacker to another, I wish you happy holidays and success in implementing any of the strategies we touched on. Obviously books could be written on each topic and you should always consult with your trusted healthcare provider before making any major changes, but hopefully these will fuel your curiosity to master one’s biology even further. If you ever have any questions about any of these topics or more, feel free to reach out (321-848-0987, Dr.RClarke@gmail.com) as these are only the tip of the iceberg as far as empowering yourself towards true holistic health.
In the meantime, perhaps I will run into you nose breathing, with blue light blocking glasses on while running barefoot on the beach.
Enjoy the holidays and have a safe and healthy new year.
Good luck in 2017.
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Cold acclimation recruits human brown fat and increases nonshivering thermogenesis. J Clin Invest. 2013;123(8):3395–3403. doi:10.1172/JCI68993.
Body By Science: a research-based program for strength training, body building and competitive fitness in 12 minutes a week / Doug McGuff /John Little; Northern River Productions. 2009
A potential natural treatment for attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder: evidence from a national study. Kuo FE(1), Taylor AF. Am J Public Health. 2004 Sep;94(9):1580-6.
The effects of grounding (earthing) on inflammation, the immune response, wound healing, and prevention and treatment of chronic inflammatory and autoimmune diseases. J Inflamm Res. 2015 Mar 24;8:83-96. doi: 10.2147/JIR.S69656. eCollection 2015.