It's kind of a stupid word but I'm using it anyways.
As if you can really “hack” your biology.
Judging by the number the articles and books with “biohacking” in the title, you can, apparently.
Let’s make one thing clear: biohacking is a really good marketing term — and a useful one if it helps people make positive changes — but anything that changes your body and biology is not a hack. And it’s definitely not magic. Now, Felix Felicis, that’s a hack. And it’s also, even in the magical world, exceptionally rare.
Here in the muggle world, the “hacks” that usually sound the most gimmicky, are probably the ones with the least amount of evidence — even substantial anecdotal evidence.
And then there’s the other side of biohacking. Which is really just following the basics.
Many biohacking guides aren’t really biohacking, they just outline tactics we already know.
Like this article in The Atlantic that has “eating good food” as a biohack.
They tout sleep, a healthy diet, and movement as the ultimate biohacks.
And these three things absolutely are the greatest biohacks we have. There’s a ton of value in reminding people of what they already know so they once again take action. That’s a lot of what coaching is, after all.
It’s the kind of biohacking advice we all need from time to time.
Dial-in your sleep schedule, eat more vegetables, and drink more water. You’ll feel better, perform better, live longer, and look better.
BUT. There are a few problems with this biohacking advice.
First of all, everybody knows these big, sweeping categories where we should improve. The secret to getting people to follow them isn’t to remind them over and over, it’s to give a specific piece of advice for them to follow.
This is one of the biggest values in an online coach: they remind you and give you strategies to do the basics. In that sense, I’d argue that hiring a coach is probably the best thing you can do from a biohacking standpoint because they’ll get you to eat more vegetables. So, any good biohacking guide shouldn’t tell you to just eat more vegetables, they should give a strategy or method or an overlooked veggie to eat. Good biohacking compiles specific and applicable methods.
Of course, people who are dialed in on the basics looked towards the adjustments and innovative strategies that will get them 1% closer to whatever their goal is — and who also enjoy experimenting on themselves.
They’re the ones who eat well, sleep well, and workout like a fiend but want to take their health, performance, and productivity at work to the next level. They want to become the Jedi’s of the human race, best equipped to pummel through any physical or mental obstacles. So, they’re looking for methods akin to force choking (or other hopefully less violent force powers).
The problem with force chokes (so far at least) is we haven’t figured out a way for humans to do that, no matter how many cold showers they take. And looking for methods that will allow you to strangulate another human without touching them often requires dipping into strategies that have very little if any scientific validity or evidence.
That’s when “biohacking” guides go too far in the other direction — offering solutions that are, at best unproven but promising, but more likely just not really doing anything. Apple cider vinegar is not a biohack, it’s just vinegar that came from apples.
But, we also have to admit that the best biotechnology and biohacking strategies are scientifically unproven because they’re new and haven’t been studied.
Anybody who’s spent any time in a university lab knows the issues with scientific research — from fundraising to finding test subjects, to managing ethical concerns. Proven science backed by expert consensus takes a long time (as it should) so we can’t always rely on scientific journals when we’re pushing the boundaries of human performance.
Whatever biohack is going to make us live 200 years probably isn’t eating more vegetables and sleeping more. More likely, whatever makes us live to 200, we either don’t know about or only the hardcore biohackers are the ones crazy enough to test it on themselves without knowing the short-term and long-term consequences.
So why am I writing an article on biohacking?
Well, first of all, it’s has a high keyword search on Google, so there’s that. But most importantly, because I think there’s something missing in the biohacking conversation — the overlooked elements of health, performance, and productivity that are well-researched but overlooked, and some of the more up-and-coming biohacks that don’t have a ton of research but are promising (and maybe worth self-experimenting with). But don’t worry, you won’t hear about cold showers from me for now. Most of these are low-risk with a lot of upside. That way if I’m wrong, you don’t die. Which is good. Good for you, anyways.
Finally, I wanted to include biohacks that would be relatively easy to try. You won’t need to hunt into some strange corner of the amazon rainforest and distill frog venom or some shit.
I wanted to offer ideas you could, you know, actually use. So we won’t be talking about goji berries either.
And, you may already be doing those things, but taking a closer look can reveal asymmetric reward with minimal risk.
For example, we all know vegetables are healthy. But are there undiscovered or slept on vegetables that are exceptionally healthy that we don’t eat a lot of? There’s an opportunity for a biohack there.
Or sleep, another “biohack.” Sleep is not a biohack, bro. If you don’t sleep you die. It’s just a basic necessity for health and wellbeing. But, is there an aspect of sleep you can take advantage of to get the most out of it?
The best biohacking, in my opinion, resides somewhere in these areas — as either an extension of the well-known necessities of good health, or in the novel that’s showing continually positive signs with very little risk (if something’s unproven, I’m only trying it if the RISK is proven to be minimal) For example, cold showers have a lot of promise, but not a lot of science YET.
However, taking a cold shower for thirty seconds definitely won’t hurt me and will also definitely make me a bit tougher. So, cold showers it is. It resides in the territory that’s somewhat novel but showing signs with scientific progress. Often, these methods won’t have piles of scientific evidence, and that’s a big asterisk, but as is often the case, the scientific consensus can be decades behind what practitioners know to be true, and what preliminary research reveals.
In these biohacking instances, you must weigh risk vs reward. If it’s unproven, but there’s no downside, you might as well give it a shot.
Dude. Naps are awesome. I’m a lifelong napper, and they’ve always been my go-to to improve my alertness and give a much-needed break to busy days. In particular, I’m a huge fan of 20-30 minute naps.
A full sleep cycle is about 90 minutes long. We start off in light sleep move into deep sleep. So if we nap for, let’s say, an hour, then you’re disrupting deep sleep, which explains why you wake up from naps groggy.
The big knock against taking naps is that they’ll fuck up your sleep schedule. This can definitely be true. That’s why I recommend twenty-minute naps. I did a sleep experiment which I’m writing about right now (the article will be done if I ever go to bed again) where all I take are twenty-minute naps. So, I’m biased, but I’m a huge fan of the power nap because you don’t wake up drowsy.
And, there’s a lot of research that a twenty-minute nap — before you get into deep sleep — improves your alertness and even performance (3). And they don’t fuck up your sleep schedule and you wake up with an alertness boost. It’s kind of just a cheat code — the perfect biohack.
I think the nap has been overlooked because our society is set up to make naps inconvenient. We get up, go to a different area for “work” and then go to bed at the end of the day. But with the pandemic, taking a nap requires no commuting. For me, it’s a flight of stairs. So that makes a 20-minute nap the perfect break from the workday.
And, because learning is more effective at the beginning and end of work sessions (the primacy and recency effect) a 20-minute nap can be the perfect break when you’re just in a funk. It’s a great reset button.
So, especially in a pandemic world, think about adding a 20-minute nap into any day.
Lebron sleeps up to ten hours a night, and often if he doesn’t hit that, he’ll take a nap, he mentioned in an interview with Tim Ferriss. If naps are good enough for Lebron, the greatest athlete of our generation, they’re good enough for you.
Even historical evidence suggests that humans are naturally biphasic (6). Historian Roger Ekirch’s work on pre-industrial cultures suggests that we slept in two separate blocks, not just one long sleep.
Roman has of course written about intermittent fasting at length, including in his book Engineering the Alpha.
There’s so much we’re learning about all kinds of fasting, from 16/8 protocols Roman recommended way back into 2013, to fasts of several days. And, regardless of the method, the take-home is pretty clear: it’s good for our bodies to have periods where it’s not eating. It helps with calorie restriction and fat loss, but more interestingly has a lot of promise in preventing and treating cancer and increasing longevity (7, 8).
There are a lot of possible mechanisms for this, but one current theory is because fasting keeps insulin-like growth factor (IGF-1) in check (9), and IGF-1 plays a big role in growth and development, then constantly elevated IGF-1 levels can lead to cancer (10). But IGF-1 also has a direct effect on muscle growth and general development (11).
So the point is not that IGF-1 is bad, but that there’s a balance. And, in our society, we tend to swing too far onto one end of that balance and have feeding windows that closely match our waking windows.
And, I’ll be honest, doing extreme methods of fasting suck ass. Not eating for a whole weekend? I’m sure it’s not as hard as it sounds but still, I’ll pass on that for now. Even trying 16/8 fasting always went fine for me, until I had to workout hard or play a hockey game. Then, no matter how long I’d been doing it, I didn’t physically feel my best.
If only for the sheer number of calories condensed into a short amount of time, I just couldn’t do 16/8 fasting.
Plus, it didn’t really make sense to have to go all-in. If I normally ate from 7am to 10pm, what if I just wrapped up my food consumption after dinner? Doing a 12-hour fast most days seemed pretty freaking easy once I stopped mucking down some peanut butter at 11pm.
And, to my mind, the sixteen-hour fast thing is pretty arbitrary. If there are benefits to a 16-hour fast, then a 12-hour fast must be better than an 8 hour fast. And research on 10 and 12-hour fasts shows most of the same benefits (albeit to a lesser extent) as more extreme fasts (12, 13).
So, if you want to try fasting, but don’t want to suffer, just lay off the late-night snacks during the week.
Olive oil? Really? How is olive oil a biohack?
Because you probably aren’t using real olive oil. Real olive oil is one of the healthiest things on the planet.
Real olive oil is one of the healthiest foods on the planet. It contains polyphenols that are antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, anti-allergic, anti-atherogenic, anti-thrombotic, and anti-mutagenic (14). But, most olive oil, isn’t actually olive oil. It’s counterfeit. Even “organic extra virgin” olive oil you buy at most grocery stores is “cut” with corn, safflower, and other shit oils that increase inflammation and have other bad health effects. Oh, also most store-bought olive oil is controlled by the Italian Mafia.
I’m not kidding. There was a whole 60-minute special on it and we wrote about it here.
So, one of the best things you can do to biohack your health is to take all your store-bought olive oil, dump it out, and buy actual olive oil. We believe so strongly in this olive oil thing that we’ve teamed up with Kasandrinos olive oil to give you guys a 50% discount.
I swear to god, it tastes so much better. You will never go back to the store-bought mafia-cut olive/corn/safflower oil.
I’m not going to go as far as to say that cuddling is the best part about spending a night with someone you love, but it’s definitely underrated.
I know, I know, I’m so soft.
But, aside from being one of the most comforting, intimate moments life has to offer, cuddling also turns about to incredibly beneficial to your health.
When you cuddle, your brain releases oxytocin which makes you…
Oxytocin is pretty much one of the keys to happiness and wellbeing. And one of the best ways to have the feel-good chemical rushing through you is to snuggle up, whether it’s a partner or a pet.
So if you’re single, get a dog. Biohack.
There’s an old urban legend about garlic in The 4-Hour Body.
A homeless man approaches an overweight on a street corner and said, “You know how I lost all my weight? More than 100 pounds? Garlic. Clove after clove.”
After sharing, the homeless man walked away in the urban oblivion.
This anecdotal push was all I needed to look deeper into garlic’s potential weight loss benefits.
As it turns out, garlic doesn’t necessarily have a fat-burning effect, rather it has an anti-fat gain effect. The molecule allicin in garlic seems to be responsible for this (15).
Logically, it would make sense then to have garlic when you’re binging, or having a cheat day with lots of carbs. A cheat day with minimal fat gain, hooray. I’d go as far to say anytime you’re eating a lot of carbs, it’s a good idea to throw some garlic in there.
Oh, it’s also nice to have around the house in case, you know, vampires.
Garlic does have a few downsides, though. For starters, it’s a pain in the ass to cut. First, you gotta peel the clove and then mince it up. I just buy the pre-minced stuff. Problem solved. The other downside is having too much raw garlic will fuck up your stomach. I pretty much only use it for cooking. Problem number two solved.
I add garlic to most if not all beans — especially black beans and garbanzo beans — as well as most sauteed vegetables like spinach and broccoli. I just take a spoonful of put it in the pan with olive oil (see above) before sauteing the vegetables.
You can also make some DANK garlic bread and dip that in olive oil. I’m not sure if the garlic bread will help you lose fat (no, it definitely won’t) but it will taste awesome and be healthy enough to justify it. Eating great food without getting fat is a biohack too.
Sprints are amazing and definitely not a “biohack” using the definition I’m striving for here. Obviously, they burn a ton of calories in a short amount of time and are one of the most effective fat-burning strategies (have you ever seen a fat sprinter? No. You haven’t. They don’t exist).
But normal sprints present some challenges. Namely, you need to be good at sprinting, otherwise, you’ll be at risk to pull something — most likely a hamstring. It’s a skill just like lifting weights. It’s a skill you should definitely learn at that, but as you improve your sprint technique, you won’t get the metabolic benefits you’re looking for. That’s where hill sprints can come in.
One of the most important elements of acceleration is maintaining a forward lean. When your torso is leaned forward, you’ll be on your toes, and have a forward shin angle. These angles allow you to propel forward with each stride like pistons as you accelerate out of the gate of sprint and have your energy going forward.
If your torso is upright, your heels will strike the ground, placing stress on your joints and causing postural compensations.
What makes hill sprints so great is it FORCES you to accelerate with a forward lean. Otherwise, you won’t go anywhere. It tricks you into having good sprinting mechanics and allows you to get the metabolic benefits of sprint training with minimal risk of injury.
With hill sprints, you’re looking at an exercise that:
The only thing not “biohacky” about this, is that it’s hard. I never said biohacks would be pleasant, even though up to this point they mostly have been. But trust me, once you’re in decent anaerobic shape, they’re not too bad (although they’re not as comforting as cuddling).
To learn more about hill sprints and to follow a free sprint workout, check out this article all about hill sprints.
One great one to do this is to do this sprint workout.
Okay, okay. I can’t write a biohack article with including at least one cliché biohack. Usually, clichés are bad. They’re the enemy of good writing and original thinking. But sometimes things get talked about a lot because they, well, WORK. Saunas and heat exposure are among the most promising biohacks.
Before I get into the benefits though, I want to remind you to please see your doctor and common sense specialist before doing ANYTHING in extreme. Please don’t be an idiot and die.
This is for informational purposes only. Use proper discretion, in consultation with a health care practitioner, before undertaking ANYTHING described herein.
Now that that’s out of the way…
There’s a lot of enticing research on sauna use — or “heat acclimation” in general to improve things like endurance, sweat sensitivity (which helps you cool off), even in modalities as simple as 30-minutes post-workout (18).
That’s pretty freaking amazing.
It also has shown some promise in increasing longevity (19, 20) by stimulating neurogenesis via an increase in brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) (21). And perhaps most exciting meatheads like us, sauna use has shown benefits for increasing HYPERTROPHY.
Yes, you can actually get yoked by hanging\ in the heat.
And, it actually works through a few mechanisms.
Saunas can improve insulin resistance. Here, we don’t have to talk about why you need to care about insulin, you can read about that here.
In mice, thirty minutes in the sauna (can you imagine a mouse-sized sauna?) three to five days a week led to a 30% decrease in insulin (22).
In addition to improving insulin sensitivity, sauna exposure also increases growth hormone (23).
Finally, sauna exposure prevents protein breakdown by relieving the body of oxidative stress that degrades muscle (24).
So in total, you’re looking at a biohack that can make you live longer, lose fat easier, and increase muscle. All by sitting in a hot room.
For a deeper look at all of the benefits of sauna use including a thorough look at all the current research, Dr. Rhonda Patrick (foundmyfitness.com) wrote a really thorough article for Tim Ferriss’s blog.
So that’s it for now. I may add to this list as time goes on. The world of biohacking right now is super exploratory, with so much exciting fun stuff to talk about, from hiking mountains shirtless to sitting in intentionally hot rooms.
And while we let the human guinea pigs (me, among others) inject themselves with nootropics and intentional freeze and go into sleep deprivation and other crazy things, you should look at what’s more proven, but overlooked. Or what has lots of potential upside with very little risk. That’s where you’ll find big changes that can improve your health, performance, and body for the long-term.
Going to Mars would be sweet and all, I just don’t want to be the first monkey they launch up there.