THE ARTICLE IN SHORT
I went on a holiday in Sardinia, Italy, for two weeks and decided to go off all supplements I’m currently integrating into my diet. I wondered what will happen if I stop taking all the apparently beneficial additions in terms of health, recovery, sleep and fitness goals. Although being on holiday usually also means that we’re not in a high-performance environment (therefore requiring less resources in general) I gained some insights which will help future approaches of minimalistic biohacking and performance optimization. Read the full article for more info. The quick version and key insights:
“Supplements are unnecessary in a more natural way of life. They only become necessary once we deviate from this natural lifestyle. The less time we spent in a natural environment, the more important supplements and technical support (e.g. in the form of light therapy) become.”
- Movement is key to higher energy levels, better mood and wellbeing
- Sleep is even more important than I thought for recovery than I thought
- Sunlight (or light in general) plays a huge role in recovery
- Food is key to good sleep and recovery, especially the timing (or late food harms recovery)
- Cold showers in the morning are great to lift the mood and to wake you up
Holiday in Sardinia, Italy. Two weeks of sports, relaxing at the beach and eating tons of seafood, pasta and pizza. Not to forget the Italian wine and beers. No dietary supplements, no (artificial) light therapy, nada. Just nature, food, movement and sleep. How did it influence my performance in terms of brain power, recovery and energy? Even though the holiday schedule hadlower requirements on my energy levels than a regular working schedule, It was interesting to see what happens when taking away all the additions.
THE SUPPLEMENTS I USUALLY TAKE (AND STOPPED TAKING FOR THE TWO WEEKS)
To make sure we get a good insight on what happened during those two weeks without supplements, here’s a list of the things I take on a regular basis to help my performance:
Exercise & Recovery
- Whey protein
- Collagen protein
- Adapto Fuel (Ashwagandha, Brahmi, Rhodiola rosea and Siberian ginseng extract as well as L-tyrosine)
Brain & Health
- Fish oil capsules
- Ginseng complex
- Natural Vitamin C
- Activated Charcoal
- Vitamin D3 + K2
- MCT oil
- (Bulletproof Coffee)
WHAT I STILL DID TO BIOHACK MYSELF
- Cold Showers
- 10 minute Meditation sessions (an adaptation of the Wim Hof breathing)
- Sports (Swimming and Running)
- Tracking (Oura Ring and Garmin Vivofit3)
HOW DID I FEEL WITHOUT SUPPLEMENTS?
I usually felt very good throughout the whole two weeks without supplements. I didn’t feel anything in particular like sudden withdrawal symptoms or a drop in performance. I just felt “normal”. Of course I tracked my sleep and activity as well as my subjective perception of wellbeing (feeling) and energy. My sleep was not the best but then it was usually warm at night and as dinner is often late in Sardinia, I felt the impact. So far so good.
After a while I noticed the following patterns and occurrences:
- A late dinner greatly influenced my sleep and recovery. Much more than a heavy dinner or even alcohol.
- The integration of movement left me much more energized than usual and helped with recovery
- My brain felt “slower” on occasions (slower to find the right words or to calculate in my head)
- I was much more prone to moodiness
The two most noticeable impacts for me have been the moodiness and the slow reaction time of my brain. I would ascribe the fluctuation in mood to a high consumption of carbohydrates and sugar, also right in the morning (the Italian “breakfast” is rather a dessert). The insulin spikes and sudden cravings made me “hangry” and hard to deal with. The slowness of my brain might have had the same origin plus the irregular sleep schedule. In terms of recovery a late meal greatly influences my performance level (readiness) the next day. If you want to be at your best, don’t eat too late! It will keep you from falling into the deeper sleep stages (deep sleep & REM sleep), therefore interfering with recovery.
To eliminate those negative performance influencers, no particular supplements are needed in the first place.
- Just a reduction and two habits:
- Cut out sugar as much as possible
- Stick to a regular sleep schedule
- Don’t eat too close to bedtime
WHAT DOES THAT MEAN FOR MY FUTURE SUPPLEMENTATION?
Now I want to point out the different supplements I consider beneficial, the ones that are potentially beneficial as well as the ones that didn't have any positive on me so far. I'm very aware that there might be long-term effects I can't yet evaluate properly yet but this is my status quo. I've highlighted the ones I will now ADD to my routine and test further after the two week experience.
Beneficial (meaning I feel or see a difference)
- Additional protein source when working out (vegan or collagen protein most likely as I assume an immune response against Whey protein)
- Fish oil capsules (Omega3)
- Activated Charcoal
- Vitamin D3 + K2
- MCT oil
- Bulletproof Coffee
- Light therapy: Artificial Daylight Lamp
- Magnesium spray
Potentially beneficial (I'm inclined to say it works but can't feel or see it)
- Recovery Sleepwear (Ceramic fibers to reflect infrared of the body)
So far no positive impact (I don't see or feel anything in particular)*
- BCAAs (protein powders also include BCAAs so an additional source might only be necessary with high volume of training)
- Adapto Fuel
- Ginseng complex
- Natural Vitamin C (better to get it from a multi-vitamin or from your diet. Just eat half a bell pepper)
- Multi-Mineral (I didn’t feel any effects, maybe because I already have enough minerals from the water and food in my region)
*Of course it could take more time to see or feel any effects so I don't want to say these supplements don't work. They just didn't for me..
There will be a follow-up article on supplements and what I consider the most beneficial ones in terms of ROI - always with the concept of Minimalism in mind. I want to have the smallest stack of supplements possible while still reaping 80% of the performance optimization effects. For now I know that the most basic performance optimization focuses on things you can change immediately and for free. Supplements are just that: an addition to your lifestyle, diet and your habits and a supplementation of an otherwise unnatural way of life.
I'm not opposed to supplements but if you as entrepreneur, athlete or top-performer are looking to get more out of your life, I would start with the list in the conclusion below. For free!
What are my biggest takeaways from the two week supplement withdrawal?
Movement, food and sleep are the top levers for recovery and performance, followed by (sun) light. Additional supplements are only needed once we remove ourselves too far from a natural environment or way of life.
You might need nutritional supplements if you don’t get enough from your diet, like protein, vitamins or minerals.
You might need artificial sunlight or blue light blockers when you don’t get enough natural light.
You might need infrared light if you don’t have the freedom to lie in the sun for a few hours to get natural infrared light.
You might need detox supplements like activated charcoal when under severe stress.
But you don’t NEED anything of this when you are living in nature. That’s why some people might laugh at biohacking. Because they already get enough of the high-performance material from nature. Someone who has time to relax and wind down or someone with access to high quality organic food will not NEED supplements. Sardinia was the perfect location to witness this principle. Plenty of fresh and locally harvested organic food, seafood, sunlight and fresh air. Let’s break it down into the most basic categories:
Just a run in the morning helps with fatigue, heightens my mood and raises my energy levels. It takes around 5 minutes before the effect kicks in but then I’m feeling much more awake, positive and energized. A cardio workout like running or swimming with lower intensity actually improved my recovery, meaning I could do several days of sports in a row.
WATCH OUT FOR SLEEP
Getting enough high quality sleep is vital for proper recovery. It will influence your physical and mental power like nothing else. Even knowing how hard it is to prioritize sleep, it’s a key performance hack. I often felt I could just counter a bad night with a workout or some coffee but the truth is that it doesn’t work that way. Give yourself a night of proper sleep instead of taking supplements to force you awake.
GET NATURAL SUNLIGHT AND/OR LIGHT THERAPY
Light is very important for our bodies and the best way to perceive this is when looking at recovery. Lying in the sun takes away a great deal of muscle soreness, which I’ll attribute to the warming properties of the lower spectrum light. If you can’t get out in the natural sunlight (I can’t because of my office job) use light therapy in the form of artificial daylight as well as red light or infrared light for recovery.
MIND THE TIMING OF YOUR FOOD
More than the kind of food, the timing of the food seemed to have influenced my recovery the most. My readiness levels were particularly low when I had late meals and my digestive system was busy in the early sleep stages. It actually harmed my recovery more than alcohol or food that is supposed to be bad (like Pizza).