Category Archives: Superhuman Performance

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The Sleep Lab

The Sleep Lab is the room that used to be my bedroom.

I know what you’re thinking: how did I convince my girlfriend to turn our bedroom into a pitch black, temperature controlled room, devoid of all sensory stimuli and optimized for recovery?

The key selling point was calling the room “The Love Lab.” 

For all intents and purposes, this said room will be referred to as the Sleep Lab. Its inspiration came in many forms, with the greatest being my ever growing fascination with sleep; the one single activity that we spend 1/3 of our lives doing.

My findings on sleep & recovery are distilled into THREE sections, with much of the content either taken from or inspired by the book Sleep by Nick Littlehales, an incredibly enlightening read.

I. What’s Your Chronotype?

II. The Myth of 8 Hours

III. Build Your own Sleep (Love) Lab

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I. What’s Your Chronotype?

First of all, what is a chronotype?

A person’s chronotype is the propensity for the individual to sleep at a particular time during a 24-hour period.

In plain English: it determines your most energetic (and productive) time of day. There are morning people, there are night people and there are in betweeners. In Littlehales’ book, he cites chronotype being so important that Real Madrid had their players take the test and would factor it in when it came to penalty kicks and who they would choose, depending on whether it was a morning, afternoon, or evening match. Wild.

Unfortunately the leading quiz, the Munich Chronotype Questionnaire (MCTQ) is being moved by its creators on the web, so the other two I recommend are:

Chronotype Quiz by Michael Breus: What’s Your Chronotype

Additional info on your sleep-wake cycle: Horne-Ostberg Morning-Eveningness Questionnaire

I took both, but you really only need the first one for your chronotype. It asks for an e-mail and provides a video at the end, the following are the “animals” or chronotypes, which make characterization easy. Most people are “Bears,” fittingly I was too.

Taken from Breus’ website:

Which sleep chronotype describes you?

Bear

Most people fall into the bear chronotype category. Bears’ sleep-wake patterns follow the sun, and they have no difficulty sleeping. Bears are most ready for intense tasks smack in the middle of the morning, and they feel a dip in the mid-afternoon.
Overall, bears have steady energy and get things done. They can maintain productivity all day as long as they don’t try to push past the mid-afternoon recharge period. Bears tend to be friendly people-people.

Lion

Lions wake up early. These are the go-getters, the leaders, the type-A movers and shakers. They might not reach for a cup of coffee until a little before lunch, and their most productive hours have already passed by that time. Because of their action-packed mornings, they tend to fizzle out in the evening and turn in early.

Wolf

Wolves are on the nocturnal end of the spectrum. They get a later start to their day and ride the productivity wave while the rest of the world winds down. Interestingly, wolves have two peak periods: from noon to 2 pm and again just as most of the working world is clocking out.
Wolves tend to be makers — writers, artists, coders. The creative areas of the wolf’s brain light up when the sun goes down. More often than not, wolf types tend toward introversion and crave their alone time.
The wolf chronotype schedules later meetings and invites you to dinner just past the restaurant’s dinner rush.

Dolphin

Dolphins may or may not have a regular sleep routine. As light sleepers, they frequently wake throughout the night and often do not sleep enough. Dolphins struggle to fall asleep, ruminating over the day’s failures.
Dolphins’ extreme intelligence and tendency toward perfectionism probably explain why they spend so much time chewing over the day. They do their best work from mid-morning through early afternoon.

 

In summary, knowing how your body is wired will allow you to work with it, instead of against it. I try and get all my hard tasks done when I’m at my best; mid morning from 8am until 11am. I use afternoons for meetings and planning.

 

II. The Myth of 8 Hours

This was perhaps the single biggest takeaway for me from Littlehales’ book.

According the Littlehales, we do NOT sleep in a full 8 hour shift, but rather, 90 minute cycles. The question should not be how many hours did I sleep, but rather, how many cycles did I get last night?

Here is an example of an athlete with a 7:30am wake time:

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There are a few key elements to this:

  1. Your wake time is the anchor

    You can vary the time you go to bed, but try as hard as you can to keep the wake time constant. There are studies behind this, your body prepares itself for wakeup by secreting hormones, but only if you keep it consistent. This is why when you’re in a good routine you don’t even need an alarm clock, you’re up at the same time feeling relatively alert, even on weekends. Which, by the way, you should be doing on weekends, even if it’s a late night, more on that later.

  2. 5 cycles is ideal, 4 cycles is sufficient 

    Simple. Get to bed at midnight for 5 cycles, if something pushes your evening back, then wind down and go to sleep at 1:30am, to ensure you don’t wake up mid-cycle when you arise at 7:30am.

  3. 90 minutes Pre-Sleep is essential to the quality of your sleep

    I cannot express the importance of this enough. I used to try and rush to sleep to get my 8 hours, sometimes it would result in anxiety and often poor quality sleep as I tossed and turned feeling guilty every time I woke up. Since I wake at 6am, my sleep time is 10:30pm. That means at 9:00pm I’m winding down. Electronics away (yes, phones), usually doing some reading or something relaxing. The best part? This provides flexibility for real life. I play a lot of evening sports, often not getting home until past 10pm. Instead of rushing to bed, I just move my sleep time back a cycle, accept that I’ll only be getting 4 cycles with a midnight bed time, sip tea and decompress. It’s changed my life, no joke.

  4. 90 minutes Post-Sleep is essential to the performance of your day

    I am not a morning person, which is actually why I wake up earlier than needed and dedicate 90 minutes to a relaxing morning ritual. Much to the dismay of my partner, my (our) alarm goes off at 6am; providing a full 90 minutes to meditate, journal, read, shower, and have a breakfast shake. All of this before heading out the door for my 8am start time at the office.

  5. Think Big Picture

    It’s important to strive for a weekly total of 35 cycles a week (5 cycles per night for 7 nights). If you get 30, that’s still pretty good, life happens. There are ways to hack this, they are called naps. Yes, the things you did as a toddler are actually incredibly effective. Littlehales’ strongly advocates waking at the same time on weekends and incorporating a mid-day 90 minute nap; “It’s far better to do this than to try and go back to sleep in the morning. You’ll be in a better place for starting the week again.”

III. Build Your own Sleep (Love) Lab

So how do you construct your own recovery room?

It’s actually not as complicated as you think.

1. Darkness

Total darkness, like a cave. Blackout blinds are ideal, however I currently use a sleep mask. I’ve tried out several different models, this is by far the best (100% worth the price, even if just for travel): Manta Sleep Mask.

2. Remove Stimuli

No computers, no tvs, and especially no phones. My partner and I charge our phones in the living room and use a Phillips Daylight Alarm Clock, which emulates the rising sun and gradually wakes you with light and some radio music. I also moved my bookshelf into the living room and our desk into another room.

3. Temperature

The ideal temperature is between 15-20 degrees celsius; some experts peg it as an exact 18.5 degrees celsius. Decently cold, if you have a/c and a thermostat, I’d recommend it. If you don’t, just open the window in the cooler months a few hours before bed time.

 

Resources

Sleep by Nick Littlehales

Manta Sleep Mask

Phillips Daylight Alarm Clock

https://www.telegraph.co.uk/better/lifestyle/how-to-perfect-your-sleep-cycle-so-you-get-a-good-nights-sleep/

https://blog.bulletproof.com/sleep-chronotype-circadian-rhythm/

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Eating for Taste & Health

To preface things, I’m not a doctor, nutritionist, or a dietician.

I’m just a guy who enjoys eating well. What started out as a realization that if I ate more, I could gain weight (something I still struggle to do), has since involved into a near fascination with how food can impact everything about us. Not just weight gain and loss; but also athletic performance, energy levels, mental stamina, and ultimately happiness. I’ve gone on both sides of the spectrum: fast food every day for gluttonous calories, but consequent lethargy; as well as raw Vitamixing for great nutritional profile, but consequent dread of liquid meals that look and taste like cement.

I’ve found a nice middle ground where I eat for both taste and health and I’m starting to find that sweet spot of great tasting food and feeling awesome. Below is the “prototypical day,” but it’s more like the ideal day I shoot for. Do I hit it all the time? Not a chance. Real life happens: sports, social dinners, working late, vacation, etc. The worst thing you can do is stress about missing a scheduled meal (something I am guilty of). At the end of the day, this is a plan that I make for some semblance of direction and it helps keep me on track. It may or may not work for you, but I thought I’d share, in the hopes that at very least it inspires you to eat well…and don’t forget to allocate days where you can just cut loose–everybody needs a cheat day…or 7.

Prototypical Day

6am – wake-up and drink 800mL of water (the size of my Kleen Kanteen)

Morning supplement stack:
Vitamin D drops (2000iu)
Probiotic (either Align or Genuine Health)

7:30 am – Morning Shake* (in Vitamix)

Morning beverages:
2 cups of tea (green,  black, or yerba mate)
800mL of water

10:30am – midday snake
2 hardboiled eggs
1 jar of overnight oats*

12:00pm – Gym (moving is winning)

1:00pm – Lunch
1lb of organic ground beef (with fat)
1/2 cup of quinoa
1 cup of diced vegetables (peas, green peppers, garlic, jalapeno pepper)
All ingredients cooked in a stir fry
1 whole avocado and some cilantro on top

Afternoon beverages:
800mL of water
800mL of cold brewed green tea (big on this right now, simply steep green tea in the fridge in an infuser for 6 – 12 hours)

Afternoon snacks:
1 Lara Bar
1/2 cup of macadamia nuts
1 vegan fermented protein bar

4:00pm – Vegetable Juice*

7:00pm – Dinner
1 chicken breast (cooked in avocado oil, lemon, garlic, and pepper)
1 yam
1 cup of steamed broccoli

9:00pm – Pre-Bed shake (on heavy training days)
1/2 cup of pumpkin seeds
1 tbsp of turmeric
1/4 cup of almonds
2 tbsp of coconut oil
2 cups of coconut milk

Pre-bed stack:
Magnesium Glycinate (easy on the gut)
Fish Oils
L-Theanine (if needed)

 

Totals

I use My Fitness Pal once a month, the beauty of eating generally the same thing

Ideal Daily Calories: 4,443

Ideal Daily Water Intake: 3500mL

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Daily Recipes

Morning Shakes (best if made in a Vitamix or high-powered blender)

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Strawberry Cream

  • 1 banana
  • 5 strawberries
  • 1 scoop of vanilla whey protein (grass fed)
  • 1 scoop of Genuine Health Greens+
  • 1 tbsp flaxseed
  • 2 tbsp cacao nibs
  • 1/4 cup almonds
  • 1 cup of kale
  • 2 cups of coconut milk

 

Pineapple Ginger

  • 1 banana
  • 2 cubes of ginger
  • 1/2 cup of pineapple
  • 1 scoop of vanilla vegan protein
  • 1 scoop of Genuine Health Greens+
  • 2 tbsp of hemp seed
  • 1/4 cup of almonds
  • 1 cup of spinach
  • 2 cups of coconut milk

 

Blueberry Muffin

  • 1 banana
  • 3/4 cup of blueberries
  • 1 scoop of vanilla whey protein
  • 1 scoop of Genuine Health Greens+
  • 2 tbsp cacao nibs
  • 1/3 cup of almonds
  • 1 cup of mixed greens
  • 2 cups of coconut milk

 

Overnight Oats

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Classic Overnight Oats
(courtesy of, visit this link for 7 more EPIC recipes: https://wholefully.com/8-classic-overnight-oats-recipes-you-should-try/)

INGREDIENTS
⅓ cup plain Greek yogurt
½ cup (heaping) rolled oats
⅔ cup unsweetened milk of choice
1 tablespoon chia seeds or ground flaxmeal
½ teaspoon vanilla extract
Pinch of salt
0-2 tablespoons honey or maple syrup

INSTRUCTIONS
Whisk together all ingredients in a medium-sized mixing bowl. Spoon into a jar with a tight-fitting lid.

Close and refrigerate for at least 4 hours, but preferably overnight before eating.

 

Vegetable Juice (just toss in the Vitamix or a high power blender and gradually increase to full blast for a minute)

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Ginger Zinger

1/2 cup of carrots
2 stalks of celery (celery is an easy way to add water)
1 orange
1/2 lemon
2 pieces of ginger
1 tbsp of turmeric
1 tsp of cayenne (if you’re feeling naughty)
250mL of water

 

Strawberry Mint

3/4 cup of strawberries
5-6 mint leaves
1/4 cucumber
2 stalks of celery
1 cup of kale/spinach
250mL of water

 

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Fall Into Fitness Challenge (Part 1)

Part 1 of a 3 Part Series.

Crossing over the 25-year milestone, one slides rather quickly from the youthful and boisterous “mid-twenties” to the apprehensive “late-twenties,” with dreaded thirties a mere few rotations away. As much as we try and look at it like maturation and progression, which it undoubtedly is, few will fool you into saying they are not starkly reminded of their own mortality.

This is NOT a reason to neglect health. In fact, I see it as quite the opposite. Knowing that we are going to die one day is the very reason that motivated this challenge.

The Best Shape of Your Life

Can you think of a moment when you were in the best shape of your life? Unless you were a pro-athlete, I can almost guarantee that this heroic past-self is extremely romanticized. We are all guilty of it, falling into complacency with our desk jobs and relationships, then attempting to run a mile and doubling over halfway; justifying it all with how fit we used to be.

Being in the best shape of your life is subjective to the person, but it’s also only relevant to the now, because that is what we live in. It’s also unattainable, which makes it even more motivating, because I can always be in better shape than my yesterday’s self, if I work at it.

“Enjoy your body, use it every way you can. Don’t be afraid of it, or what other people think of it, it’s the greatest instrument you’ll ever own.”

Kurt Vonnegot

The Challenge

This challenge is formally being issued to anyone who takes the time to read this post (which I sincerely appreciate).

F.I.F. (Fall Into Fitness): Dedicate 3 months to a measured lifestyle change to improve your health and fitness.

Everyone is at different levels of physical fitness, but if we don’t measure them, then we’ll never know where we stand to improve.

Step 1: The Benchmarks

Choose the elements you want to improve, record them, and set your goals for the end of the challenge.

Mine are as follows, with the goals in italics:

Weight
159.6lbs (72.4kg) | 175lbs (79.4kg)

Strength
Bench Press: 185 | 200
Squat: 215 | 300
Deadlift: 305 | 400

Athletics
100m Sprint: 12.7 seconds | 11.5 seconds
Vertical Leap: 24 1/3″ (61.8 cm) | 30″ (76.2cm)
Pull-Ups: 19 | 30
1 mile run: TBD

Step 2: The Plan

Recording Benchmarks are great, but if you don’t draw up a methodical plan, then you are simply planning to fail. I’ve pushed myself hard since February and gotten into the best shape of recent memory. I’ve now reached my ceiling of knowledge and have thus enlisted a pro to get me to that next level–for the continued drive of excellence!

Enter Dan Schafer

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Dan is a strength & conditioning coach with over nine years of experience and a repertoire that includes some impressive top tier athletes from around the country. His philosophy is simple, but effective: the needs of Olympic athletes and our grandparents differ by degree, not kind.

In other words, the exercises he prescribes his top level athletes (deadlifts, squats, etc) are the same ones he gives his clients pushing seventy. Dan’s a big of fan of the barbell and loves to incorporate Olympic style lifts in many of his training sessions. This very challenge was born out of a conversation between Dan myself about strength and its influence on overall athleticism.

Step 3: Execution

It’s officially the first day of Strengthtember, the goal is laid out, the plan is meticulous, now all that’s left is to start lifting some heavy-ass-weight and chasing that goal!

Stay tuned for Part 2 which will include my detailed training & eating regimen, as well as a progress update!

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THREE Ways to Increase Performance Now

This post is inspired by my most recent read, an excellent and concise book on our most vital organ, the brain. Brain Rules by John Medina is a guide to understanding your brain and striving towards using it better in work, school, and life; based on a set of 12 principles:

  1. Survival
  2. Exercise
  3. Sleep
  4. Stress
  5. Wiring
  6. Attention
  7. Memory
  8. Sensory Integration
  9. Vision
  10. Music
  11. Gender
  12. Exploration

Although every rule is worth delving into, I would like to share my three biggest takeaways. Having put these into practice myself, I can attest to these tips, which will almost certainly increase your performance immediately.

1. EXERCISE – make time to get active!

In my opinion the most salient of Medina’s Brain Rules: Exercise Boosts Brain Power.

The science is sound, thousands of published and peer reviewed studies all supporting the claim. Proteins called BDNF are created during exercise and essentially supercharge your brain–who doesn’t want that?

FACT: Exercise aids ALL areas of Executive Function

  • concentration
  • impulse control
  • foresight
  • problem solving

I’m fortunate enough to be able to exercise during my lunchbreak, the mid-day pump provides me with an excellent boost to power through the afternoon. Making time whenever you can to get moving daily will pay dividends, whether it’s a morning jog,  evening sports, a standing desk–or all of the above.

 

2. SLEEP – proper sleep schedule and the magic of naps

We all know sleep is important, but it is still incredibly unknown in the grand scheme of things. As Medina points out; despite centuries of research, we still do not conclusively know why we do it.

We spend 1/3 of our lives sleeping and studies show that the time isn’t so much for recovery, as most people assume, but rather to review events from the day and imprint them onto our memory.  This new research makes the concept of pulling an all-nighter before a big exam rather counter-intuitive. Get those 8 hours in every night.

FACT: A 26-minute nap improved a pilot’s performance by more than 34% (NASA Study)

The findings behind the effectiveness of naps are staggering; there literally isn’t a stimulant on the market that can come close to boosting cognitive performance by 34%. Unfortunately, most companies aren’t quite ready to let employees nap for 20 minutes at 2:00pm, despite the proven benefits in productivity. If you can’t nap in a bed, try finding a quiet space like a car or boardroom and laying back for 20 minutes. Your brain wants to nap, so it’s better to embrace the lethargy than continually fight it, it will reward you with increased performance.

Also, check out this article coffee naps which are taking the silicon valley by storm.

 

3. Attention – multi-tasking is a myth

Your brain is not capable of multi-tasking, you are literally switching between tasks and in doing so, depleting brain power and reducing productivity. Medina presents several case studies pointing to the same conclusion: you will be more productive by setting 10 minutes of focused time on a task, then you will by multi-tasking on that task for an hour. Use this to your advantage; there are plentiful programs (like TimeDoser for Chrome) which will allot work time and break time, allowing you to dedicate your focus to one task.
Hint: try spurts of going offline to get things done!

FACT: Our attention span is 10-minutes

This is extremely relevant for professors, instructors, or anyone giving a presentation. Simply put, you need to do something emotionally relevant every 10 minutes to maintain your audiences attention. Yes, it is more work, but it’s far better than speaking for an hour and only having the introduction remembered.

We don’t pay attention to boring things–we pay attention to things like emotions, threats, and sex.

 

A nice infographic (check out brainrules.net for more information):

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Vertical Jump

I’ve always loved to jump.

As someone with an inherent fear of heights, cliff jumping or anything of the sort was never my favourite. The ability to propel oneself through the air solely using one’s own body as propulsion, however, has always been far more appealing.

As I grew older, I became better at jumping and as is human nature, once we recognize we are good at something, we take far more enjoyment in practicing it. Box jumps became my favourite lower body workout and now I’m hard pressed to find a box at a gym which really challenges me. Nevertheless, at my 5’9 stature, dunking a basketball seemed like an impossible dream, but a dream nonetheless.

If there’s one driving theme behind Unlocking Human Potential, it is dreams and the rejection of any doubt that may surround them. The greatest obstacle we present ourselves is our own mental barrier, once we deem something as impossible in our minds, it becomes exactly that, impossible. History has done well to highlight this point, nothing more poignantly than the 4-minute mile. For centuries, the human body was deemed “incapable” of running a mile under 4 minutes. The record of 4:01 lasted throughout the entire 1940s until a man named Roger Bannister came about in 1954 and ran a mile in 3:59.4. Several runners followed this mark and now it’s almost routine for seasoned runners to run the sub 4-minute mile.

This principle of belief can be applied to any aspect in life, especially those of the performance realm. Enter Brandon Todd, the shortest dunker in the world.

I came across Brandon Todd’s story serendipitously by typing “short dunker” into Google. His achievement is staggering; a 5’5 individual who can soar through the air and dunk a basketball on a 10 foot hope. Needless to say, I immediately bought his app (Flytright), tweeted him, and have begun the conquest to also slam dunk by year’s end. Impossible? Never.

Here is Brandon Todd’s story as featured in the Five/Five documentary series