How Fish Can Lead to Better Fitness

Fish is extremely high in Protein, Omega-3, Vitamin D, Calcium, B12, Selenium, Iron, Zinc and Magnesium. Notice how these are some of the most commonly supplemented nutrients in the world… and yet they can be attained more sustainably without supplementation.

However, most fresh, wild and sustainably caught fish is expensive, hard to get, spoils quickly and can be relatively high in toxic metals such as mercury. Many people are turned off by canned options, but the reality is that they may just be the healthiest alternative for you and the environment. You just have to know what to look for.

Salmon and Foragers (small prey fish) like sardines, herring and anchovies are superfoods. They are rich in many healthy nutrients, but one of the most noteworthy is selenium, which detoxifies any heavy metals that the species may contain. They should be a staple in your diet under any circumstance, but for the quarantine they couldn’t be more perfect.

They are inexpensive, have a long shelf life, are easy to buy in bulk and stack in your pantry. They are extremely dense in nutrients, very filling and help limit excess weight gain, and can help preserve lean muscle mass. I’m not done yet, either. They can also lower inflammation and serve as a very versatile food ingredient.

Sardines are classified as one of the World’s Healthiest Foods due to the many health benefits that I listed above. The World’s Healthiest Foods organization created a rating system to identify foods that have a large amount of nutrients for the calories they contain. As you may have guessed due to all my raving, sardines ranked “excellent” and “very good” in many key nutrients, without nearly the amount of calories that you might expect. In order to get the same amount of nutrients from many other foods, you’d have to consume much larger portions. If you’re now considering adding some more sardines to your diet, you’re making a great choice.

One thing you should always be on the lookout for (which I mentioned earlier) is mercury toxicity. However as long as a fish contains selenium, mercury isn’t an issue. A medical study (Lazarini et al., 2019) showed that selenium provides a “protective effect on the mercury species.” This table is a good reference of possible mercury toxicity.

High quality, wild-caught, and sustainable options from brands like Wild Planet Foods are delicious without the fishy taste. You definitely have to make sure you buy from a brand (even if it’s not this one) that isn’t loaded with preservatives. But there is nothing to be afraid of when you choose a brand like this one. I personally enjoy them plain, or with olive oil daily and I did not get paid any money to state these facts. If you have any further questions about fish consumption and how fish can improve the quality of your diet, feel free to ask in the comment section below.

 

Reference:

Lazarini, T. E. D. M. (2019). Selenium, total mercury and methylmercury in sardine: Study of molar ratio and protective effect on the diet. PubMed. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/30755081/

Four Ways to Improve How Your Body Handles Stress

I think it’s important to provide some background on how physiologists look at stress. In physiology, the term that most accurately describes your ability to tolerate stress is “vagal tone.” This refers to the activity of your vagus nerve, which has sensory and motor functions, and runs from the brain stem to part of the colon. A medical study (McLaughlin et al., 2013) describes vagal tone as “a measure of cardiovascular function that facilitates adaptive responses to environmental challenge.”

The “fight or flight” response by the sympathetic nervous system is designed to prepare you for perceived danger. In the body, the manifestation of stress doesn’t discriminate. The innervation of neural pathways is essentially identical between varying stimuli. When “fight or flight” kicks in (whether you are being chased by a lion, late for work, or partaking in cold immersion), it’s up to your vagus nerve and parasympathetic nervous system (vagal tone) to bring your body to homeostasis and get you calm.

Strong vagal tone means you can handle stress well and relax faster. Poor vagal tone means sympathetic activity (elevated heart rate, blood pressure, and breathing) remains heightened after a stimulus has passed, making you far more susceptible to the many negative effects of stress over time. This is why I am writing this article- to help you improve your vagal tone and thus your quality of life.

“I tried to come up with a haiku to describe my 30-minute cold plunge experience, but ‘sympathetic expedition’ exceeded the syllable count on the third line. A shame.”

Number One: Cold Exposure

Acute cold exposure has been shown to activate the vagus nerve and activate cholinergic neurons through vagus nerve pathways. Exposing yourself to cold on a regular basis can lower your sympathetic “fight or flight” response and increase parasympathetic activity through the vagus nerve. Finishing a shower with cold water, taking a dip in the cold plunge at the spa, cryotherapy, or an ice bath will do the trick.

Number Two: Deep and Slow Breathing

According to a medical report (Wang et al., 2010), “slow abdominal breathing combined with EMG biofeedback is an effective intervention to manage prehypertension. The possible mechanism is that slow abdominal breathing combined with EMG biofeedback could reduce sympathetic activity and meanwhile could enhance vagal activity.”

The conclusion to draw from this is to perform diaphragmatic breathing. When you do this, your stomach should expand outward. Your exhale should be long and slow. This is key to stimulating the vagus nerve and reaching a state of relaxation. Learn more about my recommended breathing techniques here.

Number Three: Meditation and Yoga

A medical report (Breit et al., 2018) about the vagus nerve stated that “since the vagal tone is correlated with capacity to regulate stress responses and can be influenced by breathing, its increase through meditation and yoga likely contribute to resilience and the mitigation of mood and anxiety symptoms.” Yoga also increases GABA, a calming neurotransmitter in your brain, by stimulating vagal afferent nerves, which increase activity in the parasympathetic nervous system. It’s a very effective way to help your body deal with stress more effectively.

Number Four: Exercise

“Elite endurance athletes display exceptionally high parasympathetic vagal tone,” according to a report (Machhada et al., 2017.) They also concluded that “indirect measures of high cardiac parasympathetic activity correlate with enhanced exercise capacity and lower all-cause mortality in athletes and the general population.” To paraphrase, exercising regularly has been scientifically proven to help your body deal with stress.

If you have any questions about vagal tone or stress management, feel free to leave a comment below and I’d be happy to discuss.

 

References:

Breit, S., Kupferberg, A., Rogler, G., & Hasler, G. (2018). Vagus Nerve as Modulator of the Brain–Gut Axis in Psychiatric and Inflammatory Disorders. Frontiers in Psychiatry, 9, 1. https://doi.org/10.3389/fpsyt.2018.00044

Jungmann, M., Vencatachellum, S., Van Ryckeghem, D., & Vögele, C. (2018). Effects of Cold Stimulation on Cardiac-Vagal Activation in Healthy Participants: Randomized Controlled Trial. JMIR Formative Research, 2(2), e10257. https://doi.org/10.2196/10257

Machhada, A., Trapp, S., Marina, N., Stephens, R. C. M., Whittle, J., Lythgoe, M. F., Kasparov, S., Ackland, G. L., & Gourine, A. V. (2017). Vagal determinants of exercise capacity. Nature Communications, 8(1), 1. https://doi.org/10.1038/ncomms15097

McLaughlin, K. A., Rith-Najarian, L., Dirks, M. A., & Sheridan, M. A. (2013). Low Vagal Tone Magnifies the Association Between Psychosocial Stress Exposure and Internalizing Psychopathology in Adolescents. Journal of Clinical Child & Adolescent Psychology, 44(2), 314–328. https://doi.org/10.1080/15374416.2013.843464

Wang, S.-Z., Li, S., Xu, X.-Y., Lin, G.-P., Shao, L., Zhao, Y., & Wang, T. H. (2010). Effect of Slow Abdominal Breathing Combined with Biofeedback on Blood Pressure and Heart Rate Variability in Prehypertension. The Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine, 16(10), 1039–1045. https://doi.org/10.1089/acm.2009.0577

How to utilize High-Intensity Interval Training (HIIT)

Looking to fight chronic disease, lose belly fat, maintain muscle, and live longer? Look no further than High-Intensity Interval Training, also known as HIIT. Scientific consensus indicates that it is far more effective than Moderate- Intensity Continuous Training, also known as MICT or simply as a traditional cardio workout.

What is HIIT?

As explained above, HIIT means high-intensity interval training, a form of intermittent cardio workout where one is working out in the range of high aerobic intensity and has phases of low aerobic intensity in between. There are several types of protocols that one can always perform according to this HIIT session’s goal. The main parameters to adjust are the following:

  • Length of the work interval
  • Length of rest interval
  • The intensity of work interval
  • The intensity of rest interval
  • Number of sets
  • Number of reps
  • Art of exercise performance

One can adjust the art of metabolic outcome and has points upon which the daily and weekly training can be periodized.

 

What are the benefits of HIIT?

People who performed HIIT saw more significant benefits with 40% less time training than MICT groups, they were better able to lose fat (especially intra-abdominal fat, the most dangerous and most highly linked to chronic disease), better-maintained muscle, gained strength, decreased fat storage, increased insulin sensitivity, and the list goes on and on.

A medical study (Weston et al., 2013) demonstrated that cardiorespiratory fitness (CRF) strongly determines morbidity and mortality. In athletes and the general population, it is established that high-intensity interval training is superior to MICT in improving CRF. Multiple studies (Perry et al., 2008; Talanian et al., 2007) also showed significantly higher fat burn after only 2-6 weeks of HIIT training 3 to 6 times per week.

 

Let’s delve a little further into the fat loss aspect of this type of workout. Everyone hates intra-abdominal fat: Doctors hate it due to the link to chronic disease; regular people hate it because it can be very challenging to get rid of, especially as you age. Weston et al. (2013) showed that HIIT was better for losing intra-abdominal fat and visceral adipose tissue.

Visceral adipose tissue is fat tissue surrounding the organs. It is considered the most dangerous and most highly linked to disease, but fortunately, it’s also the easiest to lose. My take on this is that there may not be any difference in body composition with matched energy expenditures between groups throughout the study. Still, there was likely better body fat reduction long term with HIIT due to higher mitochondrial biogenesis and excess post-exercise oxygen consumption (EPOC).

EPOC is another reason for the effectiveness of this training format which results in high post-exercise energy expenditure that leads to more calories burned during recovery (LaForgia et al., 2006). Essentially, if you train your ass off, your body will burn more calories even after you’re done with your workout. Imagine burning calories while you hit the showers. This is scientifically possible with this training regimen. It also leads to an increase in the size and number of mitochondria, thus leading to more energy being used towards working muscles and a higher force production over time (Hawley & Gibala, 2009).

The last point to touch upon is the improvement of glycolytic activity. Intermittent intensity and energy requirements lead to heightened and lowered glycolytic activity metabolic patterns. What is meant by that? The metabolic rate of converting stored energy in glycogen in your muscles and liver into glucose which is then further metabolized for ATP production. By performing exercise in a high intensity, anaerobic energy supply is increased and, over time, enhanced, which is an adaptation to HIIT (Buchheit and Laursen, 2013).

What does a typical HIIT session look like?

As you can see, this is a 10×1min HIIT session (with a short warmup before) where the intervals consist of the same intensity of about >87% VO2max (maximum rate of oxygen consumption measured during incremental exercise) followed by rest intervals of about 20% VO2max. You could also adjust the intensity by your peak heart rate, exercising at approximately >90% max heart rate, as both are methods for endurance intensity workload determination (Karvoonen & Vuorimaa, 1988).

How do I adjust my HIIT training?

There is no ‘one fits all solution; this always comes down to specific requirements and training goals. Generally speaking, one can say that the longer the intervals, the more it taxes on your glycogen stores, and the more reps/sets you do, the more they demand of you.

One way to start your routine for general CRF and fat metabolism improvement is with a 5-minute warmup, followed by 4×4-min intervals at approximately 85-95% of your peak heart rate and 3 min recovery in between. You can participate in this workout between three and six times per week, and your lifespan-boosting activity only has to last twenty to thirty minutes.

I like to go for 170 beats per minute (bpm) and higher and then allow my heart rate to drop to about 100-110 bpm before the next set. Your numbers don’t necessarily have to be so specific. Get your heart rate up high and down low as long as the interval is.

If you want to get more severe and double down on your aerobic capacity improvement, here is something for the intermediate athletes of you:

A rule of thumb (scientifically proven to be beneficial for VO2max improvement) is a 2:1 work:rest-ratio (Rønnestad et al., 2015, Rønnestad et al., 2020). 30:15sec or 40:20sec work:rest-intervals in a 3×13 or 3×10 setting, respectively, with 3 min breaks between sets, increase your VO2max even more than effort matched longer intervals of 5 min work and 2.5 min rest for four series.

Is there an ‘ideal’ version for a HIIT workout?

That is probably another question that has to be decided individually regarding the desired outcome of your training.

Studies have shown that HIIT in the format of 87-100% VO2max is the most effective method for increasing your overall VO2max (Buchheit & Laursen, 2013a) and, therefore, metabolic fitness. Also, the work:rest-ratio is a factor to consider when planning your HIIT session.

A study by Seiler and Hetlelid (2005) showed that 4 min breaks do not offer a significant increase in restfulness over 2 min breaks. Shorter intervals (<1.5-2 min) do not tax so hard on the metabolic, mainly glycolytic, system. Beyond that, you can implement shorter rest intervals to increase overall intensity.

For speed improvements, such as in running or cycling, one could summarize: longer intervals improve speed endurance maintenance. In comparison, shorter intervals enhance anaerobic glycolysis and speed endurance production.

How do I get started?

Unfamiliar with your peak heart rate or even VO2max? Estimate your peak H.R. with this easy formula: 220 – age = max. BPM. My max is about 193 because I’m 27 years old. Therefore, 85% for me would be 165 bpm. Via [211 – 0.64 x age], you will get a slightly more precise result, adjusted for generally active people. Don’t have a wearable device to conduct measurements? Take your pulse. 25 beats in 10 seconds equal 150 bpm (simple multiplication).

The best way to get your heart rate up is to use as much musculature as possible. Examples include sprints (running or cycling), burpees, and squat jumps. There are also plenty of other examples to choose from. The logic is that the more muscles are used, the greater the cardiovascular demand, and thus your heart rate. No matter how hard you go on isolation exercises, it will be unlikely to get your heart rate where you want it because small muscles don’t require a high demand.

My favorite HIIT exercises are sprints, 100 rep sets of weighted jump rope as fast as possible, and burpees. Here is a picture of my recent HIIT workout. That’s my heart rate data tracked with a BioStrap device. I highly recommend using wearables to track your heart rate for maximum accuracy. The ones manufactured by Biostrap are very reliable and helpful to my workout regimen.

If you have any questions on my routine or how you can improve yours, feel free to ask below!

References:

Buchheit, M., & Laursen, P. B. (2013a). High-intensity interval training, solutions to the programming puzzle: Part I: cardiopulmonary emphasis. Sports medicine (Auckland, N.Z.), 43(5), 313–338. https://doi.org/10.1007/s40279-013-0029-x

Buchheit, M., & Laursen, P. B. (2013b). High-intensity interval training, solutions to the programming puzzle. Part II: anaerobic energy, neuromuscular load, and practical applications. Sports medicine (Auckland, N.Z.), 43(10), 927–954.https://doi.org/10.1007/s40279-013-0066-5

Hawley, J. A., & Gibala, M. J. (2009, June 26). Exercise intensity and insulin sensitivity: how low can you go? Diabetologia. https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s00125-009-1425-5?error=cookies_not_supported& code=7b9628ca-d570-4c91-816d-4cb4afd415b2

Karvonen, J., & Vuorimaa, T. (1988). Heart rate and exercise intensity during sports activities. Practical application. Sports medicine (Auckland, N.Z.), 5(5), 303–311. https://doi.org/10.2165/00007256-198805050-00002

LaForgia, J. (2006). Effects of exercise intensity and duration on the excess post-exercise oxygen consumption. PubMed. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/17101527/

Perry, C. G. R. (2008). High-intensity aerobic interval training increases human skeletal muscle fat and carbohydrate metabolic capacities. PubMed. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/19088769/

Rønnestad, B. R., Hansen, J., Vegge, G., Tønnessen, E., & Slettaløkken, G. (2015). Short intervals induce superior training adaptations than long intervals in cyclists – an effort-matched approach. Scandinavian journal of medicine & science in sports, 25(2), 143–151. https://doi.org/10.1111/sms.12165

Rønnestad, B. R., Hansen, J., Nygaard, H., & Lundby, C. (2020). Superior performance improvements in elite cyclists following short-interval vs. effort-matched long-interval training. Scandinavian journal of medicine & science in sports, 30(5), 849–857. https://doi.org/10.1111/sms.13627

Seiler, S., & Hetlelid, K. J. (2005). The impact of rest duration on work intensity and RPE during interval training. Medicine and science in sports and exercise, 37(9), 1601–1607.https://doi.org/10.1249/01.mss.0000177560.18014.d8

Talanian, J. L. (2007). Two weeks of high-intensity aerobic interval training increases the capacity for fat oxidation during exercise in women. PubMed. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/17170203/

Weston, K. S. (2013). High-intensity interval training in patients with lifestyle-induced cardiometabolic disease: a systematic review and meta-analysis. PubMed. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/24144531/

Four Ways to Manage Stress on The Spot

The most harmful thing about stress is your negative perception of it. A study by Keller et al. (2012) assessed 28,753 people’s feelings and attitudes towards stress and correlated this to death records. The study shows it isn’t stress that kills people, but rather the belief that stress is harmful. The people who were found most likely to die were more stressed, but also believed stress was harmful. People who were highly stressed but didn’t believe it was harmful were least likely to die. A quote about stress that has always stuck with me was when Kelly McGonigal said at her TED Talk, “When you choose to view your stress response as helpful, you create the biology of courage.”

The fact is that stress prepares you. The “fight or flight” response by the sympathetic nervous system is designed to prepare you for danger. In the body, the manifestation of stress doesn’t discriminate. Whether you’re being chased by a lion or preparing for a final exam, the physiological response is the same. Your heart rate increases, you start breathing faster your palms get sweaty, and your pupils dilate… you’d think these are signs that you’re not coping well. But the reality is that your body is preparing you for a challenge. How you think and how you act can change your experience of stress. The next time you are stressed, think about it as your body preparing you for the challenge.

These four techniques are used by police officers, Navy SEALs, Athletes, Nurses, and the likes to relieve stress and improve mood and concentration immediately. They work by acting directly on the vagus nerve. The main component of the parasympathetic nervous system, which oversees a vast array of crucial bodily functions, including control of mood, immune response, digestion, and heart rate (Breit et al., 2018).

Way Number One: Box Breathing

The slow exhale and holding of breath create a buildup of CO2 in the blood. This buildup causes a cardio-inhibitory response by the vagus nerve, slowing heart rate and relaxing the lungs. For best results, box breathing must be deep and slow, diaphragmatic, and performed through the nose.

Way Number Two: Diaphragmatic Breathing

A report on diaphragmatic breathing (Ma et al., 2017) said that it “could improve sustained attention, effect, and cortisol levels. A different report also highlighted that “slow abdominal breathing can reduce sympathetic activity (stress response) and meanwhile could enhance vagus nerve activity (relaxation response.)”

Way Number Three: Deep and Slow Breathing

A medical report (Gerritsen & Band, 2018) provided a neurophysiological model “in which slow respiration and extended exhalation stimulate the vagal nerve.”

Way Number Four: Nasal Breathing

A clinical review (Ruth, 2016) on nasal breathing revealed that it “warms, moistens and filters the air, facilitates inhalation of nitric oxide – a vasodilator and bronchodilator that increases oxygen transport, slows airflow because of the nose’s intricate structures, facilitates correct action of the diaphragm, promotes activity of the parasympathetic nervous system.”

There certainly is a learning curve to these techniques without a doubt, but with some practice, you may just get to see why they’re used by some of the world’s most highly stressed professionals to achieve an instant state of calm focus. You can think about the underlying physiological mechanisms of action to act like the opposite of a panic attack in the body. This is just another example of how physiological awareness is the ultimate tool for day-to-day healthy decision making! If you have any questions about stress management or have any techniques you’d like to share, feel free to drop a comment below.

 

References:

Breit, S., Kupferberg, A., Rogler, G., & Hasler, G. (2018). Vagus Nerve as Modulator of the Brain–Gut Axis in Psychiatric and Inflammatory Disorders. Frontiers in Psychiatry, 9, 1. https://doi.org/10.3389/fpsyt.2018.00044

Gerritsen, R. J. S., & Band, G. P. H. (2018). Breath of Life: The Respiratory Vagal Stimulation Model of Contemplative Activity. Frontiers in Human Neuroscience, 12, 1. https://doi.org/10.3389/fnhum.2018.00397

Keller, A., Litzelman, K., Wisk, L. E., Maddox, T., Cheng, E. R., Creswell, P. D., & Witt, W. P. (2012). Does the perception that stress affects health matter? The association with health and mortality. Health Psychology, 31(5), 677–684. https://doi.org/10.1037/a0026743

Ma, X., Yue, Z.-Q., Gong, Z.-Q., Zhang, H., Duan, N.-Y., Shi, Y.-T., Wei, G.-X., & Li, Y.-F. (2017). The Effect of Diaphragmatic Breathing on Attention, Negative Affect and Stress in Healthy Adults. Frontiers in Psychology, 8, 1. https://doi.org/10.3389/fpsyg.2017.00874

Ruth, A. R. (2016). The health benefits of nose breathing. Irish Health Repository. https://www.lenus.ie/bitstream/handle/10147/559021/JAN15Art7.pdf?sequence=1&isAllowed=y

How Red Wine Can Actually Help You Live Longer

You may have been told by plenty of health-conscious individuals (including myself) that alcohol is terrible for your health and should be avoided. I even wrote an article detailing the effects of alcohol on your body. There is one notable exception: red wine. Red wine is rich in polyphenols, flavonoids, resveratrol and other antioxidants which make it extremely beneficial for one’s health and longevity. Blue Zones’ (regions of the world where people live much longer on average) inhabitants habitually drink red wine.

Beneficial effects on the cardiovascular system and heart cells due to red wine consumption have been identified repeatedly in research lab settings. When wine is paired with a physical exercise program, as compared to regular physical exercise alone, LDL to HDL cholesterol ratios improve dramatically. The French paradox is the observation of low coronary heart disease (CHD) death rates despite high intake of dietary cholesterol and saturated fat. European research has shown that red wine consumption is associated with a decrease of 24-31% in all cause mortality.

According to a medical report (Ferrières, 2004) “the only clear message is that moderate alcohol drinking (two or three times a day) has a protective effect against CHD. Alcohol intake raises high density lipoprotein (HDH) cholesterol concentrations and approximately 50% of the risk reduction attributable to alcohol consumption is explained by changes in HDL cholesterol.” A different report (Saleem & Basha, 2010) also found that “moderate consumption of red wine helps in preventing CVD through several mechanisms, including increasing the high density lipoprotein cholesterol plasma levels, decreasing platelet aggregation, by antioxidant effects, and by restoration of endothelial function.”

One of my favorite physiologists, Ben Greenfield, has long advocated for drinking red wine and reaping the benefits it has to offer. He likes to point to a European study (Snopek et al., 2018) of Mediterranean university graduates that concluded that red wine drinkers showed significantly lower instances of death and CVD when compared to beer or other types of alcohol drinkers. Like myself, he is also a big fan of how it decreases the risk of adverse cardiovascular outcomes.

I like to recommend wines that come from biodiverse vineyards and that are organic and thus free of the 76 FDA-approved additives. Dry Farm Wines is a great place to buy wine due to their strict criteria for their ingredients. They thoroughly vet every grower and place great emphasis on purity. The wines they bring in from France, Italy and New Zealand are some of my favorites.

Then, there are of course the social benefits of drinking red wine. According to the Harvard School of Public Health, “the social effects [of alcohol] may also contribute to health and well being.” It goes beyond just heart health and antioxidants. People need an active social life in order to achieve maximum health. Drinking wine in your social life tends to expose you to different places and people and this is a key part of healthy living.

Here are some wines that I personally recommend:

King Richard’s Reserve Pinot Noir 2016 (Russian River Valley, USA.) I give this one a 4.8/5. While it’s a bit pricy at $112, it’s the best Pinot I’ve ever had. This was a nice treat I had the chance to enjoy with my family, and it really made for a perfect evening.

Cakebread Cabernet Sauvignon 2016 (Napa Valley, USA.) I also give this one a 4.8/5. It costs $95, but is quite exquisite. I do think it could use a couple more years or perhaps even longer decanting. I had this with Grass-Fed/Grass-Finished Filet Mignon, a classic synergistic combination.

Collezione del Barone Barolo 2014. I would give this one a 4.6/5. It’s a budget-friendly Barolo at only $23. I really enjoyed it, but it’s not a Barolo I’d repeat.

Vinum Italicum No.3 Opera (Veneto, Italy.) I would give this one a 4.5/5, which at a price of $35 isn’t bad. I wouldn’t mind drinking this every day, and I gift it and bring it to friendly dinners quite often.

Cannonau di Sardegna 2018 (Sardinia, Italy.) I rate this one 4.5/5, however at a price of $18, it means it’s a really good bargain.

Governo Toscana Rosso 2017 (Toscana, Italy.) I rate this one 4.5/5, which at a price of $15 makes it the best bargain on this list.

Meiomi Pinot Noir 2017 (California, USA.) I would give this one a 4.4/5. It costs $21 and is my go-to wine for casual drinking.

Vino Nobile di Montepulciano Riserva 2013 (Montepulciano, Italy.) This one I would give a 4.3/5. It’s dry, tannic and smoother than I expected. It costs $30.

Catena Cabernet Sauvignon (Mendoza, Argentina.) I rate this one a 4/5. It’s a nice and smooth Cabernet, and quite budget friendly at only $19.

Now, what would an article written by me be if it didn’t mention food? One of the things I love about red wine is finding different pairings with some of my favorite foods. I use the Vivino app to find wines that pair with a specific meal. Alcohol is something that can often be abused and can bring many negative effects to the body and mind. But having a glass of wine with a nice dinner isn’t something that health conscious people should feel guilty about. It brings a lot of pleasure and is actually quite healthy! If you have any questions about healthy wine drinking, feel free to ask below.

 

References:

Alcohol: Balancing Risks and Benefits. (2020, November 12). The Nutrition Source. https://www.hsph.harvard.edu/nutritionsource/healthy-drinks/drinks-to-consume-in-moderation/alcohol-full-story/

Contribution of Red Wine Consumption to Human Health Protection. (2018, July 1). PubMed Central (PMC). https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6099584/

Ferrières, J. (2004, January 1). The French paradox: lessons for other countries. Education in Heart. https://heart.bmj.com/content/90/1/107

Red wine: A drink to your heart. (2010). PubMed Central (PMC). https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3023893/

How to Keep Your Diet Under Control During Quarantine

I don’t know if there’s ever been a time with more stress eating going on than right now. Most Americans have been mostly staying indoors for many months now and Californians are still sheltering in place. Work from home is the new normal for many people and it’s looking like it might stay that way even after the pandemic is past us. As a result, we must acknowledge the possible effects this could have on our personal fitness and adjust accordingly.

Given the limitations of these circumstances, most of us have seen a decrease in our activity levels. We aren’t just exercising less, but we’re performing less activities of daily living too. The calories we typically spend getting to work or class, walking to the store, making our way around town, etc. may seem marginal but they do add up. After all, it takes only 20 excess calories a day to gain 20lb of fat over the course of 10 years. (20 x 365 x 10)/3500 = 20.8 (There are roughly 3500 calories in a pound of fat).

Lately, my diet has been a high-protein variation of a high-fat low-carb diet (HFLC). I’ve upped my protein intake for three reasons: to keep myself full (limits overeating), to maintain as much muscle as possible (for increased performance, longevity, disease prevention), and for its high thermic effect (keeps me from going above maintenance calories). There was a pretty compelling study done a few years ago that backs this method up.

So why High-Fat Low-Carb? Because with less activity and more time sitting around at home, I’m not really tapping into my glycogen stores (stored carbohydrate in muscle that we use for energy) like before. To match my typical consumption of carbohydrates would be unwise, as there’s no use, and it would lead to over-saturation of carbs in my body. This would decrease my insulin sensitivity and put me at risk for disease over time.

Fat is the least filling macronutrient, so I pick high-fat ingredients that are high in fiber too. I also consume lots of nuts and seeds which happen to be rich in protein as well. And of course, tons of plants, especially green leafy vegetables. I’m fasting 16 hours daily, eating 3 meals a day and not consuming any snacks. My last meal is the highest in carbs in order to replenish glycogen after my late-afternoon workouts. This way I can replenish my glycogen stores while I sleep and they remain virtually untapped until the next day’s exercise.

In times like these, I also advise people to try and stick to whole food. The small stuff adds up. Try to limit processed carbs and prioritize protein, greens, fiber-rich carbs, and quality fat from plant sources. It takes discipline, but it can be done if you just take it one day at a time.

A lot of people have put on the quarantine fifteen. It’s not hard to gain weight when you are working twenty feet away from your fridge and are forced to be more sedentary than ever before. But like in a sporting event, if you adjust your gameplan accordingly and have the necessary knowledge about what it is you have to execute, you can come out of this pandemic as fit as ever. If you have any questions regarding this article or if there’s something you think I missed, please leave a comment below and I would be happy to discuss it with you!

Reference:

Halton, T. L. (2004). The effects of high protein diets on thermogenesis, satiety and weight loss: a critical review. PubMed. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/15466943/

Muscle Mass Is About More Than Just Aesthetics

Muscle is the organ of longevity, and you should prioritize either building or maintaining your muscle mass for a longer and better quality of life. Without a doubt it’s easy to get “lost in the sauce,” as they say when you start to make a genuine investment in your health and well-being… but letting your ego get in the way and grinding things out to achieve a certain look or number on the scale is not a longevity mindset. At the very least, it’s important to make an effort to maintain as much as possible while you age. After all, there’s a key difference between lifespan and ACTIVE lifespan.

Accordingly, muscle mass index is a notable predictor of longevity in older adults. Muscle mass, independent of fat mass and cardiovascular risk factors, is actually inversely associated with mortality risk in older adults. These findings suggest that anabolic processes that promote muscle bulk may be associated with longer survival. Changes in body composition, rather than adiposity alone, should be considered when counseling older adults on preventative health behaviors.

On this topic, the importance of skeletal muscle strength for healthy ageing cannot be understated. Increasing muscle protein synthesis via exercise or protein-based nutrition maintains a strong, healthy muscle mass, which in turn leads to improved health, independence and functionality. The importance of muscle size and strength for longevity and health in humans puts a new spin on the Darwinian idea of “survival of the fittest,” as it is clear that the strongest and fittest individuals are more likely to live longer and healthier lives.

The United Nations’ Department of Economic and Social Affairs is deeply concerned with the consequences of an increasing elderly population. They estimate that the percentage of the global population above 65, 85, and 100 years of age will increase by 188, 551 and 1004% respectively by 2050. As a consequence, there is a notable increase in the prevalence of “diseases of ageing,” such as sarcopenia, a syndrome characterized by progressive and generalized loss of skeletal muscle mass and strength with the risk of adverse outcomes such as physical disability, poor quality of life and death. Avoidance of such diseases might not earn you any additional likes on Instagram right now, but it’s a goal that’s a lot more worth striving for.

Moreover, our bodies store carbohydrates as a fuel source called glycogen. Most of this glycogen is found in our muscles (about 400 to 500 grams total.) The more muscle we have, the better we can store carbohydrates. Saturating our muscle mass with glycogen (this is often done by eating too many carbohydrates, and/or not performing enough physical activity) reduces our insulin sensitivity and sets the stage for a number of chronic diseases. Having little muscle means you are at a higher risk for disease. Thus, gaining muscle and maintaining an adequate amount of it as you age will promote a longer lifespan and a better overall quality of life.

Here are my training recommendations for three different categories of developing strength and muscle:

1. Hypertrophy – This can be achieved by lifting 4-6 times a week, 70-85% of 1RM for 8-12 repetitions. A high volume of 30-40 sets per day is recommended with 30-90 seconds rest in between. You will want to maintain a moderate speed, emphasize eccentric contractions of large prime movers and focus on isolated lifts.

2. Strength – This can be achieved by lifting 2-4 times a week, 70-100% of 1RM for 1-5 repetitions. A lower volume of 15-24 sets per day is recommended with 2-3 minutes of rest in between. You will want to maintain maximum speed and emphasize concentric muscle contractions of prime movers and stabilizers.

3. Power – This can be achieved by lifting 3-5 times a week, 30-100% of 1RM for 1-5 repetitions. You would want to emphasize acceleration so that you can increase neuromuscular efficiency. You are also looking to maximize fiber recruitment. The recommended volume varies based on the type of activity and the rest in between sets can vary between 30 seconds and 7 minutes. The amount of rest depends on if emphasis is on force or velocity. You also want to go for maximum speed and emphasize concentrics, power lifts, Olympic lifts and plyometrics.

Your approach to fitness should also vary based on whether you are looking to gain or maintain muscle mass. If you are looking to gain muscle mass, you should be consuming a caloric surplus of 10-20% or about 500 calories daily. You should be consuming a moderate amount of protein, about 15% of daily caloric intake. Prioritizing carbs and quality fat as opposed to protein is recommended and you should avoid or at least limit fasting.

Maintaining muscle mass requires a different approach. You want to strive for caloric maintenance and higher protein consumption. Two different ways you can measure the amount of recommended protein consumption is to either aim for .75-1 gram a day for each pound that you weigh or 25% of your intake. Not only do you want to aim for a high protein intake, but you should also aim to consume lots of complex carbs with fiber. Intermittent fasting is also recommended, from 14:10 up to 16:8.

In both cases, you want to prioritize whole food and a wide range of amino acids and complete proteins. No protein powders or mass gainers are required, although you could consider creatine supplementation for increased power output and hypertrophy. My first Youtube video from a few months back outlines the top evidence-based strategies for muscle maintenance and is worth checking out!

I hope that I was able to highlight how growing and maintaining muscle mass is more important than just for posing on social media. With careful preparation and hard work in both the gym and the kitchen, you can do what’s best for your body now as well as down the line. If you have any further questions about gaining or maintaining muscle mass, or about how to improve your training routine, feel free to ask below and I’ll be happy to help.

References:

McLeod, M. (2016). Live strong and prosper: the importance of skeletal muscle strength for healthy ageing. PubMed. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/26791164/

Moore, D. R. (2009). Ingested protein dose response of muscle and albumin protein synthesis after resistance exercise in young men. PubMed. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/19056590/

Moore, D. R., Robinson, M. J., Fry, J. L., Tang, J. E., Glover, E. I., Wilkinson, S. B., Prior, T., Tarnopolsky, M. A., & Phillips, S. M. (2008). Ingested protein dose response of muscle and albumin protein synthesis after resistance exercise in young men. The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 89(1), 161–168. https://doi.org/10.3945/ajcn.2008.26401

Srikanthan, P. (2014). Muscle mass index as a predictor of longevity in older adults. PubMed. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/24561114/

World Population Aging 2019. (2019). Un.org. https://www.un.org/en/development/desa/population/publications/pdf/ageing/WorldPopulationAgeing2019-Highlights.pdf

Pharmacological Effects of CBD

Cannabidiol (CBD) is a phytocannabinoid found in the cannabis sativa plant. It was discovered in 1940 and has undergone extensive clinical research ever since. Unlike THC, it’s not psychoactive (it won’t get you high), yet it exerts a plethora of beneficial pharmacological effects. Today, there are millions of CBD-infused products out there. The biggest difference between them is the speed of delivery and how long the effects last. For example, vapes work quickly but don’t last long, while tinctures take much longer, but can last all day. CBD has grown in popularity recently and I hope that I am able to provide you with some helpful information to help you decide whether it may be right for you.

There is a lot of research that supports CBD products in treating all kinds of pain, lowering inflammation, reducing anxiety, and improving sleep. I personally use CBD from Kronic Releaf. What’s even more incredible is that their products contain other ingredients like Himalayan Pink Salt, Olive Oil, Bees Wax, Aloe Vera Extract, and Turmeric Root Extract which have their own set of tremendous benefits and work in synergy with CBD.

It’s also used to treat several very serious illnesses and the effects including:

 

Type 1 Diabetes and Diabetic Complications

CBD exerts beneficial actions against diabetes and some of its complications. The anti-inflammatory, antioxidant and neuroprotective actions of CBD could contribute to these protective effects (Izzo et al., 2009). CBD is known for its presumed anti-inflammatory, pain-relieving and calming effects. Some reasons that people with type one diabetes are utilizing CBD include:

  • Type one diabetes-related anxiety
  • Peripheral neuropathy/chronic nerve pain
  • Reducing insulin resistance
  • Lowering cholesterol and risk of cardiovascular complications
  • General anti-inflammatory purposes

 

Cancer

There’s substantial evidence supporting the idea that cannabinoids can decrease tumor growth in animal models of cancer (Velasco et al., 2016). Additionally, according to the National Cancer Institute, CBD may also enhance uptake or increase the potency of certain drugs used to treat cancer.

CBD has shown interesting pro-apoptotic properties in cancer cell lines. The most studied phytocannabinoid is CBD. CBD induces increases in [CA2+]I, thereby stimulating ROS production and causing apoptosis. In vivo, CBD inhibits glaucoma growth and experimental breast carcinoma (Izzo et al., 2009)

 

Psychosis

Research on the effects of CBD has been undertaken for many neuropsychiatric conditions. CBD is the only cannabinoid to have been evaluated for possible antipsychotic effects. Izzo et al. (2009) suggest that it exerts antipsychotic actions and is associated with fewer adverse effects compared with “typical antipsychotics.”

 

Epilepsy

An experimental study (Devinsky et al., 2018) has also suggested that CBD exerts anti-epileptic actions. The FDA recently approved the use of Epidiolex (a plant-based formulation of CBD) to treat seizures for people 2 years of age and older with Dravet syndrome and Lennox-Gastaut syndrome (LGS).

 

Bone Formation

Research suggests that CBD as well as D9-THCV (via CB1 antagonism) have been suggested to exert anti-epileptic actions in experimental studies.

Standard medication has adverse effects on the body over time and you will eventually build a tolerance— requiring more and more for the same response. However, of 132 acute and chronic studies in humans reviewed by Bergamaschi et al., none reported a tolerance to CBD, and all described an impressive safety profile for a wide array of side effects.

 

Many people question whether CBD is safe to use, due to it being found in marijuana, which is still federally illegal as of this time. But the experts are really excited for the possibilities that it brings in treating patients and don’t think there is a risk of serious side effects, like other medications. A medical study (Iffland & Grotenhermen, 2017) confirmed its favorable safety profile. It was also determined that chronic use and high doses up to 1,500mg per day is well tolerated by humans.

I’m personally well-convinced of its safety and it’s positive effects. I also think that there are probably multiple readers who stand to benefit from giving it a try. If you have any further questions about CBD use, feel free to leave a comment and I’ll be happy to try and point you in the right direction.

 

 

References:

Bergamaschi, M. M., Queiroz, R. H. C., Chagas, M. H. N., de Oliveira, D. C. G., De Martinis, B. S., Kapczinski, F., Quevedo, J., Roesler, R., Schröder, N., Nardi, A. E., Martín-Santos, R., Hallak, J. E. C., Zuardi, A. W., & Crippa, J. A. S. (2011). Cannabidiol Reduces the Anxiety Induced by Simulated Public Speaking in Treatment-Naïve Social Phobia Patients. Neuropsychopharmacology, 36(6), 1219–1226. https://doi.org/10.1038/npp.2011.6

Cannabis and Cannabinoids (PDQ®)–Health Professional Version. (2020, November 6). National Cancer Institute. https://www.cancer.gov/about-cancer/treatment/cam/hp/cannabis-pdq

Effect of Cannabidiol on Drop Seizures in the Lennox–Gastaut Syndrome. (2018). The New England Journal of Medicine. https://www.nejm.org/doi/10.1056/NEJMoa1714631

Iffland, K., & Grotenhermen, F. (2017). An Update on Safety and Side Effects of Cannabidiol: A Review of Clinical Data and Relevant Animal Studies. Cannabis and Cannabinoid Research, 2(1), 139–154. https://doi.org/10.1089/can.2016.0034

Non-psychotropic plant cannabinoids: new therapeutic opportunities from an ancient herb. (2009). Trends in Pharmacological Sciences, 30(12), 609. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.tips.2009.10.007

The use of cannabinoids as anticancer agents. (2016, January 4). ScienceDirect. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0278584615001190?via%3Dihub

The Cognitive Effects of Fasting

Intermittent fasting is certainly one of the “trendier” approaches that health-conscious people are taking in hopes of improving their overall health and fitness. What even some of the most well-informed fitness enthusiasts don’t realize is that fasting can actually have several cognitive benefits as well as improve your physical fitness.

Interestingly enough, periods of fasting sufficient to cause depletion of liver glycogen stores (14-16 hours) trigger a metabolic switch towards use of fatty acids and ketones. Your brain actually uses these as a secondary fuel source. Periodic flipping of the metabolic switch not only provides the ketones that are necessary to fuel cells during the fasting period but also elicits highly orchestrated systemic and cellular responses that carry over into the fed state to bolster mental performance.  

These responses trigger noteworthy increases in Brain-Derived Neurotrophic Factor (BDNF) and cAMP Response Element-Binding Protein (CREB), which improve working memory, long-term memory, and protect against neurodegenerative disease. BDNF is pivotal in synaptic plasticity, neurogenesis, and neuronal stress resistance. CREB, on the other hand, is linked to preservation of long-term memory. 

That’s not all. Research by Lee and Kim (2010) support that increased BDNF can positively influence mood and depression. The specific diseases that BDNF and CREB can help protect you from include Alzheimer’s according to Halagappa et al., 2007, Parkinson’s and Huntington’s according to Duan and Mattson (2009), and even strokes according to Arumugam et al., 2010. If you’re starting to see a lot of appeal in this, I can assure you that you’re not alone. 

It might seem impossible that fasting could improve brain function and help avoid terribly unfortunate diseases. After all, we are constantly told our whole lives that eating food is key to reaching optimal performance. This isn’t incorrect, either. But balancing the right diet with the right type of fasting is actually the formula to reach peak condition. 

Looking at this from a historical perspective further bolsters the case I’m making. Humans have evolved through countless adaptations that are neglected in today’s modern, technologically advanced world, and emulating our ancestors (who fasted daily for millions of years) allows us to hone in on biological advantages that propelled their genetic material forward. From a genetic and evolutionary standpoint, intermittent fasting makes more sense than any other approach to eating.

It’s important not to judge health tips based on what is easy and what is not. Don’t be a product of comfort and convenience. Start fasting daily and discover that your peak intelligence is even higher than you think!

And if you have any questions about intermittent fasting or how to apply these findings to your life, feel free to ask below. 

 

References:

Arumugam, T. V., Phillips, T. M., Cheng, A., Morrell, C. H., Mattson, M. P., & Wan, R. (2010). Age and energy intake interact to modify cell stress pathways and stroke outcome. Annals of Neurology, 67(1), 41–52. https://doi.org/10.1002/ana.21798

Duan, W., & Mattson, M. P. (1999). Dietary restriction and 2-deoxyglucose administration improve behavioral outcome and reduce degeneration of dopaminergic neurons in models of Parkinson’s disease. Journal of Neuroscience Research, 57(2), 195–206. https://doi.org/10.1002/(SICI)1097-4547(19990715)57:2

Halagappa, V. K. M., Guo, Z., Pearson, M., Matsuoka, Y., Cutler, R. G., LaFerla, F. M., & Mattson, M. P. (2007). Intermittent fasting and caloric restriction ameliorate age-related behavioral deficits in the triple-transgenic mouse model of Alzheimer’s disease. Neurobiology of Disease, 26(1), 212–220. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.nbd.2006.12.019

Lee, B.-H., & Kim, Y.-K. (2010). The Roles of BDNF in the Pathophysiology of Major Depression and in Antidepressant Treatment. Psychiatry Investigation, 7(4), 231. https://doi.org/10.4306/pi.2010.7.4.231

Why I Eat Venomous Lionfish

Usually, when people decide to make fish for dinner, they might make salmon, tuna or swordfish perhaps. If you were to survey a hundred people’s favorite fish, I would be surprised if even one of them named lionfish as their favorite. Most people know them only as a dangerous, venomous fish that should be avoided at all costs. However, nothing satisfies my palate like this venomous invasive species. 

Lionfish were unfortunately introduced to marine ecosystems by aquarium hobbyists who didn’t want to keep their fish any longer. This quickly became a MAJOR problem considering that lionfish are the perfect invasive species. For instance: they reproduce very quickly, they have no natural predators in the Atlantic ocean, they deploy venom through their spines to keep other fish away, eat small reef fish, meaning all trophic levels of the food web are negatively affected by their presence, and if that’s not all, they are pretty hardy fish that can thrive in a wide range of depths, pH, and temperatures (according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.) These fish alone are contributing to a massive reduction in the overall biomass of reefs in Florida and the Caribbean.

What is the solution to this problem? Eat them. Eat them all. The meat isn’t venomous and can be eaten without a problem. It’s the spines that are dangerous and can easily be removed before eating. Lionfish are small fish and low in the trophic levels, meaning they have low concentrations of heavy metals like mercury, and likely a high selenium therapeutic index, which detoxifies heavy metals. They also taste great and are rich in protein and omega-3. 

I asked my friend Kabir Parker, a marine biologist and sustainability activist about the practice of spearfishing lionfish. On this matter he said, “Spearfishing even one lionfish may not seem like much, but you’ll have saved tens of thousands of coral reef fish by doing so. Within weeks a single lionfish can reduce fish populations on a reef by over 80%. Every lionfish speared is countless native fish saved. See one? Shoot one. Save the reef.” It’s worth checking out his Instagram page, @kabzfreediver, and his Youtube channel, youtube.com/c/kabirparker.

I wanted to write this article to bring awareness to this invasive species, not to mention the practice of spearfishing as the single most selective and sustainable fish-harvesting method in the world. It’s also rare that you get an opportunity to enjoy doing something that’s also so helpful to the environment.

For those who want to eat fish, while supporting sustainable fishing practices, something that I advise you keep in mind is the MSC label on products. The Marine Stewardship Council applies a blue fish label to wild fish and seafood from fisheries that have been certified to the MSC Fisheries Standard, a fact-based set of requirements for sustainable fishing. They utilize DNA testing on a regular basis, to ensure trustworthy labelling.

I personally love eating lionfish as sashimi. I also like pan frying them and serving with vegetables. There’s a lot of different ways that you can prepare them, but the common denominators are the great taste and the positive ecological effect. You don’t have to be a freediving spearfisherman to live more sustainably or to “do your part.” All of us can make room for habits that are symbiotic with the environment in which we live. Keep an eye out for Lionfish in local markets, especially if you live in Florida!

If you have any further questions regarding lionfish recipes, how you can live more sustainably, or anything else, please leave a comment below. This is one of my favorite subjects and I’m happy to help. 

 

 

 

 

References:

Why are lionfish a threat to Atlantic Ocean fish? (n.d.). National Ocean Service. https://oceanservice.noaa.gov/facts/lionfish.html

K. Parker, personal communication, July 17, 2020

 

 

What Are Supersets and How Can They Take My Workout to The Next Level?

A superset is two separate sets of exercises done one after the other. When done properly, you would use opposing muscle groups and give yourself enough time to rest each of them. Examples of opposing muscle groups would be chest and back, triceps and biceps, quads and hamstrings, abs, and lower back.

Everyone struggles with fitting a workout into their busy schedules making supersets a great way to get a lot done in a short period of time. Although supersets are commonly used, drop sets and rest-pause training can also roughly cut training time in half compared to traditional training, while still maintaining training volume (Iverson et al., 2021).⁣ Incorporating supersets allows me to work out just 3 days a week, 25-40 minutes at a time, while still making gains.

For maximum efficiency, a few criteria must be upheld. Starting with the warm-up, be sure that your movements are specific to muscle groups you plan on actively stimulating (Ribeiro et al., 2014; Haff et al., 2015; Abad et al., 2011). The main exercises must prioritize bilateral, multi-joint movements through a full range of motion. The exercises should also include ≥ 4 weekly sets per muscle group using a 6–15 RM loading range (Iverson et al., 2021). ⁣

In regard to stretching, use stretching if the goal of training is to increase flexibility. Since stretching leads to activation of Golgi Tendon Organs (GTOs) that INTERRUPT contractions, the stretching can induce greater relaxation of the muscles instead of contraction

A couple of months ago, I posted on Instagram a video of me explaining the benefits of supersets as well as demonstrating an example with proper form. If you’d like to check it out, here it is.

The example I demonstrate in the video is a combination of weighted dips and weighted pull-ups. The dips utilize chest and triceps, whereas the pull-ups utilize back and biceps, a perfect example of opposing muscle groups.

Since muscles work together by opposing each other during multi-joint movements, reciprocal inhibition is at play. While performing a pushup my lats and biceps are inhibited (forced to stretch and relax) while contracting my chest and biceps, and vice versa. This stretch and flex combo is great for combating postural issues and muscular imbalances.

Multi-joint movements should be your priority, as they are more demanding on your body, promote a greater anabolic response to training, and reflect more common movement patterns (a push-up makes more sense from a natural, physiological perspective than tricep kickbacks, for example) (Paoli et al., 2017). Promoting these mechanically optimal movement patterns will help you maintain strength and muscle mass as you age, further supporting longevity while also preventing disease.

Another underlying benefit of supersets is the hypoxic effects that this kind of training has which stimulates growth hormone and testosterone release, not to mention angiogenesis (sprouting of new blood vessels)⁣.

A bad example of a superset would be pull-ups to rows, bench press to shoulder press, or deadlifts to squats. It’s better if you give yourself ample time to rest between those and perform them separately.

Some people like to work out their abs in between sets. This can work, but it may limit creatine phosphate repletion and limit strength on the next compound movement. I do add abs in between sets sometimes but tend to leave them for the end OR dedicate a day to core since I’m already maintaining such a huge emphasis on core activation with other movements.

A commonly asked question about supersets is how much time to rest in between sets. I typically do them at 90% intensity, which is to say 1 or 2 reps less than my max, and then rest in between 2 and 3 minutes. It’s very important to get a proper amount of rest in between supersets and they shouldn’t be rushed.

If you have any questions about supersets or how to incorporate them into your routine, feel free to ask them in the comments section below.

The more you #KnowYourPhysio…

AP⁣

 

References:

Abad, C. C., Prado, M. L., Ugrinow itsch, C., Tricoli, V., & Barroso, R. (2011). Combination of General and Specific Warm-Ups Improves Leg-Press One Repetition Maximum Compared With Specific Warm-Up in Trained Individuals. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research. https://doi.org/10.1519/JSC.0b013e3181e8611b

Haff, G. G., & Triplett, N. T. (Eds.). (2015). Essentials of strength training and conditioning 4th edition. Human kinetics.

Iversen, V. M., Norum, M., Schoenfeld, B. J., & Fimland, M. S. (2021). No Time to Lift? Designing Time-Efficient Training Programs for Strength and Hypertrophy: A Narrative Review. Sports medicine (Auckland, N.Z.), 51(10), 2079–2095. https://doi.org/10.1007/s40279-021-01490-1

Paoli A., Gentil P., Moro T., Marcolin G. & Bianco A. (2017). Resistance Training with Single vs. Multi-joint Exercises at Equal Total Load Volume: Effects on Body Composition, Cardiorespiratory Fitness, and Muscle Strength. Front. Physiol. 8:1105. https://doi.org/10.3389/fphys.2017.01105

Ribeiro, A. S., Romanzini, M., Schoenfeld, B. J., Souza, M. F., Avelar, A., & Cyrino, E. S. (2014). Effect of Different Warm-up Procedures on the Performance of Resistance Training Exercises. Perceptual and Motor Skills, 119(1), 133–145. https://doi.org/10.2466/25.29.PMS.119c17z7

The Truth About Creatine

I doubt that this is the first time you’ve heard the word “creatine.” Creatine, specifically, creatine monohydrate, is a common and very effective supplement used by people who are conscious about fitness. Some people believe that creatine is a controversial substance, although the reality is that it has been researched intensely, deemed extremely safe, and is considered one of the most beneficial sports supplements available by renowned and respected scientific organizations across the globe. In my opinion, it’s the number-one supplement for improving performance at the gym.

There is an endogenous (by the body) production of creatine of about 2 grams per day and we tend to get another 2-3 grams daily through our diet by consuming red meat, chicken and fish since animals produce creatine on their own too. Creatine phosphate (CP) is the form of creatine found in our muscles, which we use as a source of energy for high-intensity bouts lasting less than 10 seconds. Your body’s creatine stores are affected by the amount of meat that you consume, the frequency in which you exercise and your levels of hormones such as testosterone and IGF-1. 

By supplementing creatine, you can genuinely increase your performance in a few ways. You’re essentially speeding up the re-synthesis of CP in muscle and therefore improving recovery time between exercise bouts or sets and also increasing water retention in muscle fibers. This cellular swelling (water retention) leads to increased damage of muscle fibers which results in higher rates of protein synthesis following exercise, assuming you’re also eating enough protein. In other words, creatine supplementation provides an indirect approach to building muscle. 

Creatine also enables more total work or volume in a single training session, according to Becque et al., 2000, which is a key factor in long-term muscle growth. Deldicque et al., 2005 concluded that it also raises anabolic hormones, such as IGF-1, which fuel muscle growth, while lowering myostatin levels (Saremi et al., 2010), which would otherwise slow down or totally inhibit new muscle growth. Another really great benefit of creatine is that it increases phosphocreatine stores in your brain, which may improve brain health and prevent neurological disease (Matthews et al., 2010.) Convinced yet?  

It should be noted that the body temporarily decreases its own production during supplementation. This is why people experience a “deflated” appearance when they stop supplementing all of a sudden- their body has decreased production and now there is very little creatine in the body in general, meaning the muscles have very low water retention and will appear smaller (muscles are about 60-70% water.) It takes about a month to get endogenous production back to normal, but it will normalize. 

In order to further advocate for its safety, I would like to point to studies lasting up to four years (Schilling et al., 2001 and Kreider et al., 2003) that reveal no negative effects whatsoever. The second of those two studies measured 52 blood markers and observed no adverse effects following 21 months of supplementing. There is also no evidence that creatine harms the liver and kidneys in healthy people who take normal doses. That said, those with preexisting liver or kidney problems should consult with a doctor before supplementing. 

Some misinformed people associate creatine with dehydration and cramps, but research does not support this link. In fact, Greenwood et al., 2003 suggest that it can reduce cramps and dehydration during endurance exercise in high heat. I apologize if this is coming across as redundant, but the safety of things you put in your body is of great importance to me, and I wanted to show the ample evidence that there is nothing to worry about in this case.

The recommended dose is 2-5 grams daily, and evidence shows little to no benefit when supplementing beyond this measure. I personally choose to go with 2 grams a day for myself to keep my endogenous production from stooping too low in case I decide to stop for some reason. 

The last (but not least) thing you should know about taking creatine is that it should be taken with some sort of carbs to increase absorption in the gut, and proper hydration during supplementation is extremely important. 

In conclusion, creatine is one of the cheapest, most effective and safest supplements you can take. It can help you achieve your fitness goals and increase your health and overall quality of life in many different ways. If you have any questions about creatine, please leave a comment and I’ll be happy to answer! 

 

References:

Becque, M. D. (2000). Effects of oral creatine supplementation on muscular strength and body composition. PubMed. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/10731009/

Deldicque, L. (2005). Increased IGF mRNA in human skeletal muscle after creatine supplementation. PubMed. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/15870625/

Greenwood, M. (2003). Creatine supplementation during college football training does not increase the incidence of cramping or injury. PubMed. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/12701814/

Kreider, R. B. (2003). Long-term creatine supplementation does not significantly affect clinical markers of health in athletes. PubMed. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/12701816/

Matthews, R. T. (1999). Creatine and cyclocreatine attenuate MPTP neurotoxicity. PubMed. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/10222117/

Saremi, A. (2010, April 12). Effects of oral creatine and resistance training on serum myostatin and GASP-1. PubMed. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/20026378/

Schilling, B. K. (2001). Creatine supplementation and health variables: a retrospective study. PubMed. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/11224803/

 

The Effects of Alcohol on Your Body

Look, I’m not your fifth grade D.A.R.E. instructor. I’m not here to make you put on a pair of drunk vision goggles and lecture you on how if you take one sip of alcohol, you’ll get sick and die. But this is a fitness blog and alcohol is widely enough consumed that it’s worth making a post about how it can affect your fitness. I am a big fan of red wine and an advocate of how it can be helpful to achieving your fitness goals. But there are also many negative effects to drinking and it is important to be aware of them. 

The first thing to think about is absorption. The levels of enzymes responsible for breaking down and metabolizing alcohol will vary from person to person, and will influence level of intoxication, illness after drinking and even likelihood of alcohol dependence. Many things affect alcohol’s absorption in the bloodstream. Distilled liquor gets absorbed fastest, followed by sparkling wine, then regular wine, then beer. 

With no food in the stomach, alcohol passes directly into your small intestine for rapid absorption into the bloodstream. The type of food in the stomach, stress, anxiety, fear and hydration can all affect the absorption rate. Alcohol also absorbs better in muscle than fat, so less remains in the bloodstream. When comparing two people of equal weight and alcohol consumption, the one with the higher body fat percentage will have a higher BAC (blood alcohol content.)

Next, one must look at the mechanism of action. Ethanol increases GABA’s inhibitory actions and release. With acute use, this can lead to sedation, reduced anxiety, and incoordination. Chronic use can lead to development of tolerance. In a region of the midbrain, ethanol increases dopamine release and enhances the rewarding effects of alcohol.

Alcohol decreases glutamate’s excitatory actions and reduces its release. Glutamate is involved with learning and memory, so ethanol’s antagonism may be responsible for memory loss. With long term use, the number of glutamate receptors increases and there is a rebound in glutamate release. Upon withdrawal, this could lead to harsh effects such as seizures and brain damage. Withdrawal from alcohol can reduce dopamine concentration, which may result in depression. 

People with a genetic predisposition for alcohol dependence have low baseline levels for endorphins, and release significantly more when given alcohol compared to people with no genetic predisposition. Chronic administration of alcohol may increase endorphin levels, leading to the dysphoria seen during withdrawal. Serotonin may also play a role in alcohol’s reinforcing effects. Those with low Serotonin are likely to drink more alcohol. 

Now here’s something you definitely didn’t hear in a D.A.R.E. seminar: the therapeutic uses of alcohol. Alcohol has a very low therapeutic index (quantitative measurement of the relative safety of a drug), yet more than 100 studies have shown that moderate drinkers live longer on average than non-drinkers. Moderate alcohol consumption is correlated with a reduced risk of death by cardiovascular disease, cancer and diabetes. 

Alcohol reduces the blood’s clotting tendency, raises HDL cholesterol (the “good” cholesterol), and improves insulin sensitivity, lowering risk of cardiovascular disease (Brien et al., 2011.) Benefits may be related to the stress reduction or vasodilation (the dilation of blood vessels, which decreases blood pressure) caused by alcohol.

It’s important not to overgeneralize the cardioprotective effects of alcohol. They depend on one’s sex, race, age and the amount consumed. The benefits of alcohol seem to exist in a very narrow window. Drinking between .5 and 1.5 drinks per day may reduce one’s risk of coronary heart disease but drinking two or more may increase the risk. Additionally, it’s possible that moderation in drinking could reflect healthy moderation in other aspects of life. 

Like it or not, alcohol is a part of modern society and is prevalent in many cultures. Though it is not something that is healthy to frequently consume, we must be mindful of it and try to maximize its health benefits, while minimizing the negative effects it can cause. There is still quite a bit more left to cover on this topic, so buckle in. 

The physiological effects of alcohol are quite apparent. Low or moderate consumption of ethanol is probably not harmful and may even have some minor beneficial effects. However, heavy drinking can be very dangerous and even lethal. Those who drink more than 14 drinks per week lose approximately 1.6% of brain size, compared to non-drinkers (Paul et al., 2007) It doesn’t take a physiologist to know that heavy drinking can be quite dangerous. But what many people don’t realize is that even moderate consumption can shrink the brain and cause cognitive decline.

Alcohol impairs decisions, judgements, and memory and also affects areas involved in motivation, reward, dependence, anxiety, and anger. Additionally, it reduces blood clotting and raises HDL levels, which is the good cholesterol that removes bad cholesterol for arterial walls. In non-diabetics, moderate consumption improves insulin sensitivity. Ethanol stimulates the gastric secretion of HCL and pepsin, substances that are necessary for digestion. However, at high doses, it can actually erode the stomach instead. 

And here’s another physiological effect that you may be all too familiar with, even if you’re not familiar with the science behind it. Alcohol inhibits the secretion of vasopressin (an important hormone), thus increasing urination.  Drinking about 250ml of an alcoholic beverage causes the body to expel 800 to 1000ml of water. That’s four times as much liquid lost, than gained. This leads to dehydration (no surprise there), one of the major causes of hangovers. 

And that’s not even getting started on the behavioral effects of drinking alcohol. In the words of author Erica Jong, the superego is soluble in alcohol. Self-perception and judgments are impaired by ethanol. It leads to suppression of the part of the cortex responsible for social and behavioral restraints. This means that people do things they normally wouldn’t such as having unsafe sex.

It gets worse from there. About one third of traffic crash fatalities are linked to alcohol use, and the risk of a fatal crash is dose-related. When people commit violent crimes (not necessarily DUIs), they are most often under the influence of alcohol. Alcohol is scientifically proven to increase the occurrence of aggression. People often turn to alcohol to mask emotional problems, but this has also been medically proven to be ineffective. Rather than solve the problems that lead to drinking, often times a dependence to alcohol is created, thus increasing the amount of problems. It’s a very unhealthy cycle. 

This leads me to the chronic effects of alcohol consumption. Long term heavy drinking is devastating to almost every organ, but there is no consistent definition of what “heavy drinking” entails, since everyone’s body is different. Over time, high doses of alcohol cause neurological damage and reduced brain weight. Heavy drinkers perform poorly on tests of abstract thinking, problem-solving, memory, attention, concentration, learning, perception of emotions, and perceptual motor speed. 

Again, it gets a lot worse. Alcohol consumption increases the risk of many, many, cancers. The metabolism of ethanol promotes tumor growth. When alcohol and tobacco are used together, this increases one’s risk of oral cancer 15 times above the rest for people who do not smoke or drink. 

It gets particularly bad for your liver. The liver normally metabolizes fatty acids, but if alcohol is present, the liver metabolizes it first, causing fat to accumulate. This can rupture and kill liver cells. Eventually, heavy drinkers will develop hepatitis, which is characterized by the inflammation and death of liver cells. Alcoholic cirrhosis develops gradually. Inflammation leads to irreversible scar tissue, replaces healthy liver cells, and blocks blood vessels that supply the liver with oxygen, leading to further cell death. 

There are also the reproductive effects. Alcohol use enhances interest in sex but impairs physiological arousal. Cruel, huh? In men, usage is associated with reduced testosterone, less sperm and semen production, testicular atrophy, diminished erections, ejaculatory incompetence/impotence, and loss of sexual desire. Gynecomastia, the abnormal enlargement of a man’s breasts, occurs because liver damage causes estrogen to be reabsorbed into blood. 

Men are not the only sex to suffer from reproductive effects of alcohol use. Female heavy drinkers are likely to experience painful intercourse and vaginal dysfunction, menstrual disorders, early onset of menopause, reduced libido, and infertility (Jenczura et al., 2018.) Prenatal alcohol exposure can lead to fetal alcohol spectrum disorder. 

It’s also worth mentioning the dangers of mixing alcohol with caffeine. Many people believe that caffeine obers you up. This is medically false. Although caffeine may speed up reaction time, it doesn’t reduce impairment. Compared to students who consume alcohol without caffeine, those who do report more alcohol-related risk behaviors including drunk driving, riding with intoxicated drivers, being involved in alcohol-related vehicle crash, and committing sexual assault. 

I’ve talked about some of the fatal risks of consuming too much alcohol. They are certainly worth mentioning, but there are also smaller, but quite significant ways in which it can prevent you from achieving your fitness goals. You’ve probably heard of the term “empty calories.” That’s exactly what alcohol is, to a t. Alcohol is a calorie dense (7 calories per gram), non-essential nutrient in liquid form, which means it can easily lead to excess weight gain, especially in the midsection. Mixed drinks also tend to contain high amounts of processed sugar, which can worsen hangovers and have more serious effects on health. 

I hope I was able to inform readers about the various risks of alcohol. Again, I didn’t write this to instill fear in anyone or to criticize people who choose to drink. I simply believe that people should be aware of what they put into their body and have as much information as possible when making choices about what to consume. And remember, moderation is key. If you have any more questions about alcohol, please leave a comment and I will be happy to address them. 

 

References:

Brien, S. E. (2011, February 22). Effect of alcohol consumption on biological markers associated with risk of coronary heart disease: systematic review and meta-analysis of interventional studies. PubMed. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/21343206/

Dangers of mixing alcohol with caffeine and energy drinks | CDC. (2020). Cdc.Gov. https://www.cdc.gov/alcohol/fact-sheets/caffeine-and-alcohol.htm

Drinking Heavy Amounts Of Alcohol Shrinks Your Brain. (2007). ScienceDaily. https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2007/05/070502172317.htm

Juergens, J., & Parisi, T. (2020, November 30). Alcohol-Related Crime. Addiction Center. https://www.addictioncenter.com/alcohol/alcohol-related-crime/

Red wine and resveratrol: Good for your heart? (2019, October 22). Mayo Clinic. https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/heart-disease/in-depth/red-wine/art-20048281#:%7E:text=Various%20studies%20have%20shown%20that,the%20formation%20of%20blood%20clots

Sexual Function of Postmenopausal Women Addicted to Alcohol. (2018, August 1). PubMed Central (PMC). https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6121656/

Five Ways to Burn More Calories

Exercise is essential to a healthy lifestyle and a great way to burn calories. This blog post is going to cover some ways in addition to exercise that you can burn calories and develop a leaner figure. 

Number One: Intermittent Fasting

Intermittent fasting is a great tool for fat loss because by shortening your feeding window, you are less likely to overeat, meaning you can more easily establish consistent caloric deficit. This period of negative energy balance, combined with the switch in metabolism from glucose to ketones, promotes the mobilization of fat through fatty acid oxidation and ketones, which serve to preserve muscle mass and function (Anton et al., 2018.) A different study (Moro et al., 2016) also concluded that a fasting program in which all the calories are consumed in an 8 hour window each day, combined with resistance training, can improve some health biomarkers, decrease fat mass, and maintain muscle mass in resistance- trained males. 

Number Two: Caffeine

The CYP450 enzyme system of the liver metabolizes caffeine to paraxanthine, theophylline, and theobromine, which increase the breakdown of fat. Caffeine will increase the mobilization of fat and boost ketone production. Ketones are a secondary fuel source your body uses while fasting. When paired with fasting, caffeine will boost ketosis, fat oxidation, and energy expenditure. You do not need to add MCT oil to your coffee to see these benefits.

*MCT oil = Medium Chain Triglycerides which are readily converted to ketones by the liver to be used as a secondary fuel source. They can help “kick-start” ketosis (state of elevated ketone production) though it won’t aid in endogenous (by the body) ketone production. Put simply, they can help put you in ketosis but it’s sort of an artificial way to do it, different from the natural way your body would do it. Ghee and Coconut Oil can also be used as they are rich in MCTs.

Number Three: High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT)

Following an exercise session, oxygen consumption (and thus caloric expenditure) remains elevated as the working muscle cells restore physiological and metabolic factors in the cell to pre-existing levels (Zuhl and Kravitz, 2012.) Exercise intensity studies indicate higher excess post-exercise oxygen consumption (EPOC) values with HIIT training as compared to continuous aerobic training. Furthermore, an increase in the size and number of mitochondria (the “energy factory” of a cell) is becoming a hallmark adaptation with HIIT.

Number Four: Cold Exposure

Cold exposure increases the number of mitochondria in fat, which renders it brown and increases your resting energy expenditure. Brown fat generates heat, and cold exposure activates it. According to a study, increasing the brown adipose tissue (BAT) amount and/or increasing BAT activity can lead to increased thermogenesis and energy expenditure which will be favorable in preventing and managing obesity. Human BAT could be recruited even in individuals who had lost BAT, thereby contributing to body fat reduction (Yoneshiro, et al., 2013.)

Number Five: Low Carb High Fat Diet (LCHF)

A low carb, high fat diet is not the same as a keto diet. Low carb can be defined as under 45% calories from carbs while keto would be under 10% carbs and under 20% protein. According to a notable medical study (Ebbeling et. al, 2018) a low glycemic load, high fat diet might facilitate weight loss maintenance beyond the conventional focus on restricting energy intake and encouraging physical activity. Additionally, triglyceride-derived fatty acid oxidation (very low density lipoproteins or intramuscular triglycerides) plays a role in the increase in fat oxidation on a high-fat diet, but plasma-derived fatty acids remain the major source for fat oxidation (Schrauwen et al., 2000.)

Tying it Together

I recommend combining intermittent fasting with caffeine in the mornings (black coffee, green tea or matcha) after hydrating with water. Adjust macronutrient ratios to higher fat and lower carbs. Expose yourself to mild cold (cold shower, ice bath, cold plunge, etc.) before exercise, since post-exercise cold exposure can reduce the drive for muscular adaptation (hypertrophy). Include HIIT in your workout, and exercise after your first meal. This will support performance and limit the potential loss of muscle mass.

 

References:
Brown Fat and Browning for the Treatment of Obesity and Related Metabolic Disorders. (2016, February 1). PubMed Central (PMC). https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4768046/

Ebbeling, C. B. (2018, November 14). Effects of a low carbohydrate diet on energy expenditure during weight loss maintenance: randomized trial. The BMJ. https://www.bmj.com/content/363/bmj.k4583

Flipping the Metabolic Switch: Understanding and Applying Health Benefits of Fasting. (2018, February 1). PubMed Central (PMC). https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5783752/

HIIT vs. Continuous Cardiovascular Exercise. (2012). Https://Www.Unm.Edu/~lkravitz/Article%20folder/HIITvsCardio.Html.
https://www.unm.edu/%7Elkravitz/Article%20folder/HIITvsCardio.html

McAllister, M. (2019, March 23). Put Collagen Powder in Your Coffee! Melissa McAllister. https://melissamadeonline.com/2019/03/21/put-collagen-powder-in-your-coffee

Molecular responses to high-intensity interval exercise. (2009). Https://Cdnsciencepub.Com/Doi/10.1139/H09-046. https://cdnsciencepub.com/action/cookieAbsent

Moro, T., Tinsley, G., Bianco, A., Marcolin, G., Pacelli, Q. F., Battaglia, G., Palma, A., Gentil, P., Neri, M., & Paoli, A. (2016, October 13). Effects of eight weeks of time-restricted feeding (16/8) on basal metabolism, maximal strength, body composition, inflammation, and cardiovascular risk factors in resistance-trained males. Journal of Translational Medicine. https://translational-medicine.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/s12967-016-1044-0

Schrauwen, P. (2000). Increase in fat oxidation on a high-fat diet is accompanied by an increase in triglyceride-derived fatty acid oxidation. PubMed. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/10871203/#:%7E:text=Twenty%2Dfour%2Dhour%20fat%20oxidation,rest%20(P%20%3C%200.07).

Six Ways to Improve Your Sleep Routine

Every health nut and successful CEO loves to brag about their morning routine. Truth is, your morning routine may be a pivotal foundation for a productive day, but even the best morning routine will never outdo a good night’s sleep. Here are six things you can do that will help you wake up feeling relaxed and ready to have a successful day.

Number 1: Decrease Your Core Body Temperature

As Harding, et al. note in their 2019 Frontiers in Neuroscience review “The Temperature Dependance of Sleep,” we are most likely to choose sleep when our core and brain temperatures are in rapid decline, and if we dissociate from this cycle of body cooling we experience insomnia. 

You can achieve this by combining several different things. First, is setting your room temperature to between 66 and 70 degrees Fahrenheit (19-21 celsius) and making sure you have a good blanket to create a warmer “microclimate” around your body. 

“In optimal room temperatures, approximately 19–21°C, we attempt to establish skin microclimates between 31 and 35°C and deviation from this range has a negative influence on sleep.” (see figure)

 

 

Next, you should wear socks to keep your feet warm and shift cool blood away from your legs and towards your core. Warmer temperatures in the hands and feet will induce vasodilation (the dilation of blood vessels, which decreases blood pressure) and will facilitate in the temperature decline associated with sleep initiation. 

Another way to “hack” this rapid decline in core body temperature for sleep is to take a warm bath or to warm your body for up to 4 hours 1 to 8 hours before bed. This was coined the “Warm Bath Effect” by researchers, who discovered that immersion in hot water prior, but not immediately before, the sleep period decreases sleep latency and increases sleep depth.

Number 2: Block Blue Light to Increase Melatonin Production

This one might be hard for some, but I promise you it’s worth it. Put all screens and LED lights on “off” setting at least an hour before bed or set them to a low blue light mode and wear your Blue-Light Blockers at the very least. I use Night Shift mode on my iPhone and the Flux App I know how tempting it is to use your phone before bed. The light from your phone, other devices, and LED lights around your home is not conducive to a good night’s sleep because it suppresses the production of melatonin, a hormone that your brain produces in response to darkness that helps with the timing of your circadian rhythms (24-hour internal clock) and with sleep.

According to “Effects of smartphone use with and without blue light at night in healthy adults: A randomized, double-blind, cross-over, placebo-controlled comparison” a by Heo, et al. in 2016:

“Smartphones are often equipped with a light-emitting diodes (LED) display, which delivers bright light to the human eye. Smartphone LED light is an important source of artificial light at night (ALAN). ALAN influences the circadian regulation of the sleep-wake cycle (Gonzalez and Aston-Jones, 2006), suppresses melatonin secretion (Czeisler et al., 1995, Lewy et al., 1980), alters mood and cognitive functions (LeGates et al., 2012), and contributes to fatigue (Meesters and Lambers, 1990).”

Remember the sleep-initiating changes in body temperature we discussed earlier? Check this out and leave a comment below with your best interpretation: 

 

 

Randomized, double-blind, cross-over, placebo-controlled studies are considered the “Gold Standard” in intervention based studies. 

Here’s what the researchers concluded:

“In conclusion, this study suggests that nighttime exposure to the blue light LED display of smartphones may negatively affect sleep and commission errors. This was reflected by the suppression of melatonin production, as indicated by the prolonged time to melatonin onset, and the increase in body temperature, although these changes were not great enough to be statistically significant. These findings indicate that sleep and cognitive functions may be more sensitive markers of exposure of blue light from smartphone LED displays than the physiological changes of melatonin, cortisol, and body temperature.”

Blackout curtains are a good idea if you live near a street, in an inner city, or any other area where light pollution is a problem. I prefer a sleep mask, since it’s more cost-effective and travels with me everywhere. Remember that less light means deeper and more restorative sleep, which means you can seriously upgrade your quality of life with less than $20. 

Additionally, you can wear a good pair of blue light blocking glasses a couple of hours before bed to stimulate natural production of melatonin after sunset. I choose Ra Optics because I’m a perfectionist and always want the best, plus they are a must-have for the serious biohacker who wants to make a statement on social media. Make sure you pick the night lenses. You can get 10% off your order of Ra Optics Blue-Light Blocking glasses when you use my code “ANDRES10” 

Pro tip for iPhone users: go to Settings —> Display & Brightness —> Night Shift and set from Sunset (currently around 530pm) to a couple of hours after you wake up so you can ease into the morning blue light. 

Number 3: Lower Your Heart Rate

Drive down cortisol and adrenaline by breathing diaphragmatically through your nose and perform box breathing (4 seconds inhale, hold your breath for 4 more, exhale for 4, hold for 4, repeat.) This stimulates your vagus nerve, putting you in a more parasympathetic state. 4-7-8 is another breathing technique by Dr. Andrew Weil, celebrity doctor and the founder and director of the University of Arizona Center for Integrative Medicine, that goes like this: empty the lungs of air, breathe in quietly through the nose for 4 seconds, hold the breath for a count of 7 seconds, exhale forcefully through the mouth, pursing the lips and making a “whoosh” sound, for 8 seconds, repeat the cycle up to 4 times. 

To learn more about breathwork for meditation, focus, and stress reduction, see my article “Managing Stress on the Spot.”

You should also avoid eating or exercising less than 3 hours before bed. Instead, you should meditate, practice gratitude journaling, or consider me and Tim Ferris’ personal favorite: read FICTION. 

Additionally, you can use a quiet air purifier in your bedroom to help your body relax and recover with clean air. I made the investment because dust and pet dander were giving me slight allergy symptoms and disturbing my sleep, but the benefits of an air purifier have far exceeded my expectations. Make sure you get one with a HEPA filter and that it’s relatively quiet. 

Number 4: Wake up During the Light Stage of Your Sleep Cycle

Sleep a total amount that is a multiple of 90 minutes in order to wake up more refreshed (for example, 6, 7.5 or 9 hours.) If you use an alarm, this means you’ll wake up in the lighter stages of sleep (REM) instead of deep sleep (so you’ll be less groggy.) 

Here’s how I do it: I predict the time it will take me to fall asleep (5 minutes if I’m super tired, 30 minutes if I’m not) and then I’ll  add a multiple of 90 minutes to calculate the ideal time to wake up. For example, if my bedtime is 10:15 and my tiredness is “average” I would predict 15 minutes to fall asleep and set my alarm to 6:00am for 5 full REM cycles. You can also work backwards… If you have to be up by 7:30AM and predict it will take you 30 minutes to fall asleep, you should be in bed by 11:30PM. 

It works like a charm, and yes I absolutely prefer 6 hours of sleep over 7, and 7.5 over 8 because being forced to wake up during the deeper stages will put you in a state of panic no matter how many hours deep you are. Not a good way to start the day.

Here’s a graph from Sleep Cycle (GREAT app that helps you wake up at the perfect time) with an example of REGULAR sleep. Notice that the peaks are about 90 minutes apart. Waking up in multiples of 90 minutes closely mimics what this app would do, assuming you are getting regular sleep. 

 

 

Over the years, I’ve shifted from smart alarms to wearable devices to hack my sleep. This is because the wearable devices and their platforms offer a far more in-depth analysis that helps me take a more intuitive approach to better sleep. Rather than just waking up in a lighter phase, I can measure the impact of daily habits and nightly routines for real self-experimentation and biohacking. Of course, there’s the added benefit of measuring my HRV, SPO2, and resting HR to determine readiness and recovery scores. More on this later. 

Below is a graph of my sleep, captured by BioStrap. My sleep score was a 98/100 that night with 9 hours of sleep and 6 REM cycles (if you counted  5 it’s because there should technically be one more around 4 am). 

 

 

Number 5: Turn Off Bluetooth and Wi-Fi devices

The science here unfortunately is not fully understood yet. However, it is hypothesized that EMF may affect your physiology. My scientific mentor always says to me “a lack of evidence doesn’t mean that evidence is lacking.” Therefore, this is a preventative measure. Better safe than sorry, as is commonly said. An added benefit is you’ll save energy and spend a little less on your monthly electric bill. 

I keep my Wi-Fi router near my bed so I can shut it off before I sleep every night and my phone goes on Airplane mode until I wake up the next morning. I do this religiously with NO exceptions. I keep my phone charging as far away from my bed as possible so that I physically have to get up and out of bed to shut off the alarm, which helps keep me from mindlessly scrolling in bed early in the morning (a recipe for disaster). 

Number 6: The Next Morning

Now despite my earlier comment about CEOs placing too much emphasis on this, it does have importance. My first recommendation is to get some sunlight. We previously discussed how blue light at night is bad because it disrupts your circadian rhythm and suppresses melatonin production, but this is a good thing in the morning because it tells your body that it’s time to get the day started (melatonin naturally dips in the AM as cortisol, the stress hormone, rises). This is of course consistent with evolution, because the sun is the most potent source of blue light and its diurnal motion about the Earth is essentially how the circadian rhythm was born. 

I know that for most people, their morning routine is extremely hurried and adding even an extra five minutes seems impossible. But your morning sets the tone for your whole day. That’s why going to bed a little bit earlier and giving yourself time for self-care is so important.

Additionally, I like to write down in a journal, things that I’m grateful for every morning. I call it my “gratitude journal” and I’ve found it to be an incredible tool that improves my overall mental health. I try to avoid using my phone right after I wake up (using your phone less is almost always a good idea) 

Lastly, I highly recommend drinking clean water before any caffeinated drinks. The reason for this is that you lose a lot of water while you sleep as a result of breathing and sweating. Sometimes you can lose a few pounds of water, so it’s definitely important to hydrate first thing in the morning. Caffeine is a potent diuretic, and drinking it first would dehydrate you further. Adding some electrolytes or high quality salt to your water will aid in hydration.

I hope you enjoyed this article! Do you have questions, thoughts, or feedback on sleep or anything else I discussed? Leave your comments below and I will reply! – AP

 

References:

Aberrant light directly impairs mood and learning through melanopsin-expressing neurons. (2012).  https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3549331/

Czeisler, C. A. (1995, January 5). Suppression of melatonin secretion in some blind patients by exposure to bright light. PubMed. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/7990870/

Effects of smartphone use with and without blue light at night in healthy adults: A randomized, double-blind, cross-over, placebo-controlled comparison. (2017, April 1). ScienceDirect. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0022395616307786?casa_token=MEwyL-mLwxoAAAAA:h25S4nB06owSMBpWg4F8qGv7ytM0YqCuQQ0k3bJg3VGVNzxB0A5VXsWE4i5NcZn6GGdDvkb8IpJM#bib14

González, M. M. C. (2006). Circadian regulation of arousal: role of the noradrenergic locus coeruleus system and light exposure. PubMed. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/17068987/

Lewy, A. J. (1980, December 12). Light suppresses melatonin secretion in humans. PubMed. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/7434030/

Light therapy in patient with seasonal fatigue. (1990, September 22). ScienceDirect. https://linkinghub.elsevier.com/retrieve/pii/0140673690922349

The Temperature Dependence of Sleep. (2019). PubMed Central (PMC). https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6491889/#__ffn_sectite