Let me be clear – this post is not about taking illegal substances as a shortcut to physical prowess. Sorry to disappoint!
When I use the term “performance enhancement”, I am referring to natural hacks we can use to enhance our physical and mental performance to get the most out life that goes beyond diet. This includes supplements and lifestyle experiments to find what really gets you amped up and banging on all cylinders.
“Performance Enhancement Junkie” is a phrase I borrowed from the legendary Joe Rogan. If you have ever listened to his podcast, you would know that Joe goes to great lengths to gain an advantage in his physical and mental performance. Whether it is spending hours floating in an isolation tank for mental clarity, or spending a few bone-chilling minutes in a -264 degree cryochamber to repair joints and muscles, he is always looking for something that will get him to the next level.
But we don’t all have access to the same resources as Joe. What can the average guy do to boost performance?
When I started the Paleo Diet in 2011, I felt so good that I began to audit the other areas of my health and lifestyle. Where else was I falling short? What else could I do to feel as good as humanly possible? I became something of a performance enhancement junkie myself.
This triggered the start of a positive cycle; I would feel great, want to maximize that feeling, and find a hack that made me feel even better; less tense, more clear-headed, more energetic, more alive. This helped me perform better in the gym, the office, and in life. And the better I performed, the more I wanted to learn and improve.
It’s not about attaining perfection, which is impossible. It’s about knowing that there are actions you can take and resources you can use to maximize your performance that do not involve sticking a needle in your butt.
I will take you through some of the performance enhancing hacks I used to feel my best every day, and I encourage you to experiment with your own until you find what works for you.
Attaining strength, endurance, and a great body composition is certainly possible without supplementation. But if you want to get to the next level, supplementation may be appropriate.
Enter creatine. Creatine is a naturally occurring substance involved in ATP production. ATP (Adenosine Triphosphate) is what the body uses to fuel short, intense bursts of energy. This ATP boost can help increase your overall capacity for work in the gym. When I started adding 5 grams per day into my daily regimen, I became noticeably stronger. My 10 rep maxes became 15 rep maxes and I was able to increase my training volume overall.
Preliminary studies on creatine at the University of Maryland Medical Center have shown “creatine supplements improve strength and lean muscle mass during high-intensity, short-duration exercises, such as weight lifting. … But it may allow the body to use fuel more efficiently during exercise and increase muscle production.”
Add 5 grams of creatine powder each day to a beverage or your recovery shake, and stay away from brands with added sugars or other artificial ingredients.
Another natural supplement that helped me get to the next level of fitness was Nitric Oxide. Nitric Oxide (NO) is a naturally occurring gas in the body that is used for communication between cells.
The supplements sold over the counter don’t contain this gas, but rather arginine, the amino acid that produces elevated levels of NO in the bloodstream, which could lead to increase muscle size and performance.
Studies have shown that high nitric oxide levels in the body can widen blood vessels and improve blood flow, which increases nutrient delivery to the muscles and elevates protein synthesis. This can increase muscle size and lead to shorter recovery times.
From an anecdotal standpoint, my muscle strength, endurance, and volume have all benefited from taking NO supplements. My recovery time also decreased significantly and I was able to lift harder for more extended periods of time.
If you are struggling in a plateau, nitric oxide supplements may help you overcome them.
Yoga is my favorite performance enhancing activity. The benefits, both physically and mentally, have been so profound I can scarcely describe them. It has made me calmer, more focused, more flexible, and stronger. This has increased my work capacity at the gym and helped my performance when playing sports.
A lot of guys think that yoga is strictly for women. This is short-sighted thinking. There are so many strength and flexibility benefits that is worth it for men to overcome this stigma and get down on the mat. Don’t want to go to a public yoga class? You can find a lot of great classes online that you can do from the comfort of your own home. Doyouyoga.com has a great “Men’s 30 Day Yoga Challenge” that will really develop your core strength, flexibility, and mental toughness.
Ok, so if yoga isn’t your thing, check out ROMWOD. ROMWOD stands for Range Of Motion Workout Of the Day. It is a website that provides daily videos designed to increase range of motion, optimize athletic performance, and promote recovery, healing, and longevity. It is most associated with Crossfit, but an increased range of motion will lead to enhanced recovery and performance in a variety of athletic endeavors.
ROMWOD differs from yoga in that the goal is opening the joints and increasing range of motion, rather than focusing on flexibility of the muscles. Poses in ROMWOD are held for longer periods of time, and it is more of a passive activity than yoga, which can be pretty active.
I love the hitting the sauna after a workout. When I leave a session I feel calm, relaxed, and clear-headed. But there is so much more going on than just that.
Dr. Rhonda Patrick is a PhD in biomedical science and an expert on nutrition and health. In her report entitled Hypothermic Conditioning’s Role in Increasing Endurance, Muscle Mass, and Neurogenesis, she posits that “increasing your core temperature for short bursts is not only healthful, it can also dramatically improve performance.”
She found that acclimation to heat can improve endurance during aerobic activity.
In addition, she found that heat stress triggers a massive release of Human Growth Hormone. She also notes, “sauna use and exercise can synergize to significantly elevate growth hormone when used in conjunction with each other.”
From the heat, let us dive into the cold. After the sauna, I like to jump right into a cold shower. The cold shower performance benefits are numerous. Like an athlete taking an ice bath after an intense game, you are incurring (although to a lower degree) the same benefits such as reduced pain, inflammation, and better circulation.
Regular cold showers can also enhance the immune system by increasing white blood cell production. They have also been shown in studies to improve sleep quality, enhance testosterone production, and improve our response to stress.
Abdominal Breathing Exercises
In the book Breathe, Dr. Belisa Vranich argues that many dysfunctions in the body and nervous system can be related to abnormal and dysfunctional breathing. Conditions including anxiety, panic attacks, poor sleep patterns, fatigue, muscle cramps, exaggerated startle response, and impaired cognition can all be caused and exacerbated by the way we breathe.
Retraining yourself to breathe deeply from your abdomen instead of high up in your chest can improve functions of the brain and nervous system, improve blood health, reduce the “fight or flight” response in the body, and improve immune function.
Here’s a little exercise you can try to improve your breathing: Lie down in a supine position on your back. Place a book on your abdomen just below the sternum. Take a deep breath down into your abdomen to the count of 4. If breathing correctly, the book should rise, and the chest should only rise a little, if at all. Hold your breath for a count of 7. Slowly exhale to the count of 8. Repeat this exercise for 10 breaths.
Abdominal breathing exercises can also lead to increased lung capacity, which can lead to increased endurance.
These are just a few of my favorite performance enhancers.
Adding even just a few of these can make a big difference in your performance, life, and health.
What are some of the practices you use to enhance your performance?