21 Ways To Hack Your Brain: A Complete How-To Guide To Enhancing Your Brainpower, Creativity, Focus, Motivation and IQ.

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Articles, Brain

Welcome to Chapter 23 of Beyond Training: Mastering Endurance, Health & Life, in which you're going continue to discover the two ways your brain breaks, and exactly what you can do about it.

So let's say you've done a good job fixing your brain. Your neurotransmitters are balanced and your HPA axis is functioning properly.

But now you want to take things to the next level. You want to experience better living through science. You want to be able to read books faster, converse with ease and intelligence, maximize your work productivity, and have laser-like focus and motivation during your workouts.

With the right combination of nutrients, supplements, smart drugs, gear and even brain exercises, you can achieve this level of mental superiority. And it's not as hard as you might think – nor does it necessarily require expensive brain-hacking electronic equipment (although I'll show you those options too).

Consider this your how-to guide to enhancing your brainpower, creativity, focus, motivation and IQ. You're about to get 21 potent ways to hack your brain and make yourself smarter. I realize this can be a lot of information and choices for you, so at the end of this chapter, I'll cut to the chase and tell you exactly what I personally do to hack my brain.

As usual, leave your questions, comments and feedback below this post.



The word nootropics is used to define any drugs, supplements, nutraceuticals, and functional foods that improve mental functions such as cognition, memory, intelligence, motivation, attention, and concentration (4).

In this section, I am purposefully not going to include any nootropics that are potentially harmful, unproven in long term studies, give you a biological free pass that you may possibly regret in the future, or are banned by sporting organizations due to their potential to overstimulate your cardiovascular system. This includes compounds such as Aniracetam, Modafinil, Centrophenoxine, Picamilon or Sulbutiamine. If you want to explore these, I'd highly recommend you grab the free online manual The Limitless Pill, which was written by Mark Joyner, who was a guest on the podcast episode, “Are Your Expensive Multivitamins Even Absorbed…Or Are There Better Ways To Deliver Precious Nutrients To Your Body?

In addition, you'll notice a repeating pattern with many of the items listed below – they are either fat soluble compounds or they are dependent on fat for their absorption or proper utilization. In other words, it doesn't matter how many brain-hacking nutrients you take if you're eating a low fat diet or shooting for a low blood cholesterol value. So go back and read Chapter 13 and adjust your diet accordingly if necessary.

1) Vitamin D

Vitamin DWithin the pages of this book, I’ve praised the efficacy of Vitamin D for everything from boosting hormone levels to promoting bone health. But there are actually receptors for Vitamin D in the central nervous system and in the hippocampus (memory and spatial recognition) region of your brain. In these areas, Vitamin D not only protects neurons, but also regulates enzymes in your brain and cerebrospinal fluid that are involved in neurotransmitter synthesis and nerve growth (3).

One recent study investigating Vitamin D and cognitive function found that the lower your Vitamin D levels, the more negative your performance is on mental tests.  Another study fund that people with lower vitamin D levels have slower ability to process information – with this effect even more pronounced in individuals older than 60.

It's important to understand that when it comes to Vitamin D, none of the strategies I'm about to give you will hold a candle to daily sunlight exposure combined with adequate fat intake. But to get the memory-enhancement effect of increased Vitamin D (especially if you live in a northern climate or get limited sun exposure) include a few teaspoons of cod liver oil frequently in your diet, eat beef and butter, have calf’s liver now and then, and take approximately 2000-4000 daily international units (IU) of Vitamin D, preferably from a highly absorbable liquid source, such as a spray or an oil.

When it comes to Vitamin D, there can be a law of diminishing returns, so I highly recommend you pair Vitamin D testing with your intake, and keep your levels between 40 and 80 ng/ml. Finally, if you're a vegetarian or vegan or eating inadequate amounts of fat, do not just take a bunch of D, because it can be toxic unless you pair it with A and K.


2) Vitamin K2

Vitamin KYour brain contains one of the highest concentrations of vitamin K2 in your entire body, and it is in this area of your body that Vitamin K2 prevents free radical damage to neurons and contributes to the production of the protective “myelin” sheets around your brain cells.

In this book, I have already discussed Vitamin K2 in Chapter 14 as a very important supplement for vegans and vegetarians, Vitamin K2 is a relatively new darling on the supplement front, and many folks are rushing out to buy and use it for it’s bone building, brain building, and other remarkable benefits (2). But the fact is, unless you are vegan or vegetarian, or you have a serious deficiency or disease that requires K2 intake, you’re better off getting your K2 from natural sources such as grass-fed beef, fermented dairy products (like kefir) and natto (a fermented soybean derivative). Go back and read Chapter 14 if you want to learn more about K2 supplements and dosage.


3) Fatty Acids

Fatty AcidsA substance called “arachidonic acid” is one of the most abundant fatty acids in the brain, and is crucial your neurological health, since it helps build the cell membranes in your hippocampus, helps protect your brain from free radical damage, and activates proteins that are responsible for growth and repair of neurons in your brain (5). In one study, 18 month old infants who were given arachidonic acid supplements for 17 weeks showed significant improvements in intelligence, and in adults impaired arachidonic acid metabolism or insufficient arachidonic acid intake is linked to brain issues such as Alzheimer’s and bipolar disorder.

In my opinion, it would be silly to supplement with arachidonic acid since it is readily available in food sources, including Tilapia, catfish, yellowtail and mackerel (sushi anyone?), fatty cuts of meat, duck, eggs and dairy. If you want a better brain, you should frequently go out of your way to get your chompers on fatty foods.

Incidentally, this highlights a reason why very active women need to be careful not to let their body fat levels fall too low if they plan on having children. Hip and butt fat are full of the the specific omega-3 fatty acids and DHA necessary for major brain development during the development of a baby, and if women are low on body fat and low in DHA, this will severely compromise intelligence in the baby.


4) Phosphatidylserine

PhosphatidylserineCompared to other similar triglycerides and dietary fats, phosphatidylserine is found in abundance in neural tissue, where it serves as a structural component of cell membranes, and acts to increase your available acetylcholine levels (more on why that's a good thing later) (12).

Phosphatidylserine has been shown to improve memory and spatial recognition in rats, and may also improve cognitive performance and memory in humans, although the majority of studies have been done in elderly individuals (where phosphatidylserine has been shown to be beneficial in decreasing progression of Alzheimer’s disease and dementia).

Although you can find phosphatidylserine in supplement and pill forms (especially in the form of krill oil), it tends to be expensive, especially when you consider that you can get it in fairly high levels in seafood, particularly herring and mackerel. Perhaps you’re seeing a pattern here that it might be a good idea to become a fan of sushi and sashimi if you're aren't already including in your diet – or at least start getting some good canned herring or mackerel to put on your salad every now and again.


5)  Fish Oil

Fish OilAs you learned in the last chapter, signals used in thought, memory and processing bounce around in your brain and get transferred from one brain cell (neuron) to another via a point called a synapse, where the signals cross a physical channel before moving on to the next neuron. The walls that these signals need to pass through are comprised of cell membranes made up of about 20% essential fatty acids – like the omega-3 fatty acids found in fish oil.

Specifically, these Omega-3 fatty acids may make the membrane that holds these channels more elastic, making it easier for the channels to change shape and for signals to propagate throughout your nervous system. With inadequate Omega-3 fatty acids, these channels lose flexibility and electrical impulses become hindered. Inadequate fatty acids may also harm the function of structures called G-proteins, which are the inside the cell membrane and of vital importance to the transmission of signals between brain cells.

With as little as 2 grams per day, the use of omega-3 fatty acids like fish oil may also reduce severity of dyslexia and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), Alzheimer’s, brain atrophy and cognitive decline, while simultaneously improving mental function (17).

Don’t waste your money on cheap, ethyl-ester forms of fish oil that you’ll find in most supplements. Instead, pair 1-2 grams of a daily dose of triglyceride based fish oil with regular intake of cold-water fish like mackerel, herring, anchovies or sardines. It's also a good idea to consume a fish oil that includes antioxidants such as astaxanthin, Vitamin D and Vitamin E, and  to also step up dark, leafy green and dark fruit intake, or include a good antioxidant supplement. This is all the more important if you decide to “mega-dose” with 8-10g of fish oil per day (which I personally do on any day I'm not eating fish).


6) MCT's

When your body burns fatty acids as a fuel, it produces an end-product called Acetyl-CoA. Acetyl-CoA is then converted into ketones, which are a fuel that is preferentially used by your brain. At high enough levels of blood ketones, you begin to experience significant cognitive boosts and an increase in focus, which is one of my reasons for including ketosis as a dietary performance strategy in Chapter 14.

One of the quickest ways to generate ketones from fatty acids is via the use of a special kind of fat called medium chain triglycerides, or MCT's (9). While you can get ample MCT's from coconut oil, you can get them in an even more purified and concentrated form from liquid MCT oil.

MCT's are easy to use. You can blend several tablespoons of MCT oil with the coffee recipe you'll find below or you can eat a couple tablespoons of coconut oil in the mid-morning or the mid-afternoon. Too many MCT's can easily cause an upset stomach, so start small, and gradually titrate your dosage up.

Interestingly, although at the time of this writing, it has yet to be approved by the FDA, a special kind of ketone called “BHB” is sold in the form of beta-hydroxy-butyrate salts and can instantly increase levels of blood ketones without you needing to consume any fat at all. This could be an interesting supplement to keep an eye on, and I suspect it will become mainstream very soon.


7) Caffeine

AA026651100mg of caffeine, which is close to the amount you’ll get in a cup of black coffee, has been proven to improve memory recall (11). Caffeine’s psychostimulatory effects are primarily because it blocks a receptor in your central nervous system that is responsible for binding a compound called adenosine. When you inhibit adenosine, you get increased activity of dopamine and glutamate, two feel-good, alertness-increasing brain-stimulating compounds.

However, as you learned in the previous chapter, more caffeine is not better, since higher doses may decrease blood flow to your brain, and you can quickly build up tolerance. Furthermore, at least three caffeine-induced disorders are recognized by the American Psychiatric Association:  caffeine intoxication, caffeine-induced sleep disorder and caffeine-induced anxiety disorder. Furthermore, you need to choose fresh coffee from arabica beans, and not coffee powders or substitutes, since cheap coffee and coffee knock-offs are high in mycotoxins, which ironically give you fuzzy thinking.

If you want to combine caffeine's benefits with MCT Oil and ketosis, my recommendation is to drink caffeinated Bulletproof Coffee (recipe in Chapter 11), but at least once every few weeks, switch to decaf to avoid building up any caffeine tolerance.


8) L-Theanine

Delta E Energy DrinkL-Theanine is one of the major amino acid components in green tea and black tea, and it appears that it has a role to play in reducing stress and anxiety. Specifically, L-Theanine blocks glutamic acid to glutamate receptors in your brain, and in doing so can increase alpha brain wave activity, boost cognitive ability and provide a calming effect. So not only can L-Theanine help you sleep, but it also assists with relaxed focus (18).

I prefer to mix L-Theanine with caffeine to experience the combination of a slight “pick-me-up” from caffeine with the improved focus and mood from L-Theanine. The three best sources for theanine are green tea (I prefer edible green tea), the Neuroscience Travacor supplement described in the previous chapter, and delta-E, a powdered supplement that can be added to water.




9) L-Phenylalanine

map-home2L-Phenylalanine is an amino acid that is converted into L-tyrosine. L-tyrosine in turn is converted into L-Dopa, which is further converted into dopamine, norepinephrine (noradrenaline), and epinephrine (adrenaline) –  the primary chemicals in your body responsible for increasing alertness and focus (15). The nice thing is that L-Phenylalanine can achieve this effect without throwing your HPA axis off kilter.

In other chapters of this book, you've learned about the performance-boosting effect of essential amino acids supplements (EAA's). Most EAA's include good doses of L-Phenylalanine in a balanced ratio to other amino acids. So their brain-boosting effect is yet another good reason to have them around.


10) Creatine

As I reported in my article “What Are The Best Biohacks Of The World’s Top Biohackers?”, I recently discovered that creatine not only has strength and power-enhancing effects, but can also be a very effective nootropic. Creatine can have a neuroprotective effect by slowing down neuronal cell death, and can also increase levels of the neurotransmitter glutamate, improve memory and learning, assist with depression, and suppress steep spikes in serotonin (1).

This is especially important news for vegans and vegetarians, who may find that by consuming adequate dietary fats combined with creatine, they can stave off much of the cognitive fuzziness that can accompany a plant-based diet.

Most studies on creatine use a “loading protocol” of 0.3g/kg bodyweight for 5-7 days followed by 5g of creatine per day after that. However, if you're already eating meat, as little as 2g daily is enough supplementation to maintain average stores of creatine. I recommend the highly absorbable Kion Creatine.


11) Carnitine

CarnitineCarnitine is another precursor to acetylcholine, and plays a variety of roles within your brain, including synthesis and stabilization of cell membranes, regulation of neural genes and proteins, better function of the “mitochondria” (the energy powerhouse of the cell), protection from free radical damage to the brain, better transmission of acetylcholine, and enhanced glucose uptake to the brain (13).

Carnitine has been shown to be very effective in alleviating the side-effects of aging, such as neurological decline and chronic fatigue, and also improving insulin sensitivity and blood vessel health. It has beneficial effects on neurons, repairing them from damage induced by some states such as high blood sugar. As you learned in Chapter 4, carnitine also increases fat burning and mitochondrial respiration. So you get a brain buzz, along with more energy when you use the stuff prior to workouts.

Brands vary, but I recommend 750mg-2,000mg/day, split into two daily doses. Both this and creatine would be good supplements to use if you're doing lots of strength training or explosive exercise, and want to kill two birds with one stone.


12) Alpha-Lipoic Acid

Alpha-Lipoic Acid (ALA) is a fatty acid that can protect neurological decline with age, and can also be used as a treatment for diabetic neuropathy. Alpha lipoic acid can easily cross the blood-brain barrier (a wall of tiny vessels and structural cells that protect your brain), and pass into the brain to have these neuroprotective effects (10).

ALA has been shown to reduce oxidative damage in neuronal cells, increase the release of the neurotransmitter glutamate in your synapses, and increase dopamine and acetycholine availability. Brands vary, but the general dosage for a brain-boosting effect is 300-600mg of ALA.


13) Huperzine

TianChiI think “Huperzine” supplements have been flying off the shelves since Tim Ferriss mentioned them in his popular “Four Hour Body” book. Huperzine is an “acetylcholinesterase inhibitor”, which means you get more of the neurotransmitter acetylcholine rushing around in your brain. You call these type of compounds “cholinomimetics“.

Acetylcholine is a very important neurotransmitter that is found in many nootropics, and the foundation of several smart drugs is to simply halt breakdown of acetylcholine, or maximize production of acetylcholine (also known as aceytlcholine agonists).

Studies have shown that Huperzine supplementation has neuroprotective effects and enhances cognitive function in animals and humans (16) – but what most people don’t know is that there are natural herbal sources of Huperzine. For example, in Chinese herbal medicine, an herb called “Club Moss” is used slow progression of Alzheimer’s. Guess what the active ingredient in Club Moss is? That’s right – Huperzine.

Be very careful if you're going to order Club Moss. Most Chinese herbs sit in big bins in China for several years and get old, ineffective, and sprayed with toxic ethylene oxide. TianChi is the only Chinese adaptogenic herb complex that I’ve found which actually has effective doses Club Moss, along with a cocktail of other brain-boosting ingredients – including citicholine, which is one of the best ways to acetylcholine. It’s spendy but in my opinion well worth it. I take one packet of TianChi on an empty stomach every morning, and if you were going to do one thing in this entire post that you could feel instantly in your brain, this would be it.


Brain Enhancing Gear

14) Light Therapy

Sunrise ClockA dip in alertness and focus during the day can often be due to excessive melatonin, which can induce sleepiness. Unfortunately, most websites, magazines or books tell you that the answer to this issue is to expose the eyes to more light in the morning via using something like a “light box”, which produces blue light.

The problem with this is that although it suppresses melatonin production and can increase alertness, this type of blue light is a wavelength of light that can cause damage to your retina, and eventually macular degeneration and loss of good vision.

It appears that the best way to increase mental acuity and focus during the day is to advance the melatonin cycle so that it finishes before you even wake up. Basically, you do this by 1) limiting your exposure to blue light in the early evening – via both limiting use of TV’s, e-readers, phones, and computers at night, and also using blue-light blocking glasses, applications like Flux, and computer screen covers in the evening; 2) getting as much morning sun exposure as possible, and if that's not an option, waking with a Sunrise clock or waking light in your bedroom.


15) Sound Frequencies

Sound FrequenciesAs you learned in Chapter 3, your brain waves respond quite readily to sound frequencies, beats, notes and music. There’s a direct correlation between amplification of these brainwaves and neurotransmitter production. I'd highly recommend you go back and read that section of the book, in which I recommend Dr. Jeffrey Thompson’s neuroacoustics CD’s, the Entrainer Acoustics downloadable .mp3 audio tracks, and the wristband that emits specific frequencies to amplify alpha brain wave production.

In that chapter, I also mention audio–visual entrainment, which takes the concept of sound one step further, combines it with visual stimulation, and uses flashes of lights and pulses of tones to guide the brain into various states of brainwave activity. There’s an interesting device called the DAVID Delight Pro made by MindAlive that does this. I do not personally use this device, but many biohackers swear by it.


16) Electrical Stimulation

Earth PulseIn Chapter 21, you saw how cyclists could be “tricked” into performing at a higher capacity when they were electrically stimulated prior to a ride to exhaustion. Pulsed electrical currents across head not only distract the cortex in a manner that can increase physical performance, but can also increase blood flow to the brain, and increase production of neurotransmitters and alpha brain waves.

Devices available for electrical stimulation of the brain include:

-Transcranial Direct Current Stimulation (tDCS), which passes a current across your forehead, and is being tested by the U.S. Air Force as a cognitive enhancement device. At Foc.us, you can grab a smartphone-controlled tDCS device that looks like high-tech pair of sunglasses for $249. Another popular device is the FisherWallace stimulator, which is a headband based cranial stimulation device.

-Cranial Electrotherapy Stimulation (CES), which is similar to tDCS but applies a current to your earlobes rather than your forehead.  MindAlive also makes a CES device called an Oasis, as well as a device called the DAVID PAL 36, which combines light and sound with electrical stimulation.  

-Pulsed Electromagnetic Frequencies (PEMF). A magnetic frequency in the 10Hz range (completely safe and far lower than what a cell phone would radiate), increases cell membrane potential in your brain and amplifies alpha brain wave production. This can be useful for both focus, and sleep. I personally use the Earthpulse PEMF device under my mattress while sleeping, but also place it on my desk while working.

The field of both electrical devices and neuro feedback is growing my leaps and bounds at the time of this writing, and by the time you read this, I'm sure new devices will have already hit the market. To stay on the cutting-edge of brain-hacking gear, I'd recommend following the website QuantifiedSelf.com.


17) NeuroFeedback

Wild DivineNeurofeedback (AKA biofeedback) devices – which were first introduced in Chapter 8 – actually do nothing to your brain. They simply show you what your brain is doing so you can train your brain to focus, block pain, learn faster, etc..

For example, at UpgradedSelf.com, you can get the “Upgraded Focus Brain Trainer”, which includes a headband with small red and infrared LED lights that shine through the skin and skull to assess the color of your. brain tissue. This light is then reflected back to a camera that measures the exact color of oxygenated brain blood. The headband then sends your brain’s data to your computer so you can correct what you’re doing in real time (e.g. think relaxing thoughts, focus better, make a faster decision, etc.) – and increase blood circulation to your brain.

In this case, the neurofeedback device is based on studies that show a direct relationship between an increase in brain performance and oxygenation of blood supply.  More blood flow also results in faster removal of waste metabolites from brain tissues, and more capillaries and neuron connections within the trained area of the brain.

Another example of neurofeedback is the game “Journey to the Wild Divine“, which measures skin resistance and heart rate to detect your level of stress then train you to achieve a higher level of awareness and decreased stress.

In the recovery section of this book, you also learned about coherence training, in which you can train yourself to increase heart rate variability by using special software made by the Heart Math Institute, connected to an earlobe device called the emWave2 ($169) or the smartphone Inner Balance sensor ($99). Based on the intimate connection between your heart and your brain, as your heart rate variability increases, you can increase both alpha brain wave production and neurotransmitter production. Amazingly, the heart's electrical field is up to 60x greater than the brain's field, and can not only interact with your own brain, but with the brain of others around you. So you may find that as you teach yourself how to improve your heart rate variability, you may also enhance mental focus and relaxation of co-workers, friends and family. 

Finally, you can visit a licensed biofeedback practitioner, which you can find at BCIA.org. When you visit a biofeedback practitioner, you can expect to take a comprehensive questionnaire, followed by an electroencephalogram of your brain. This results in a brain map (QEEG), which shows overactivity under activity in certain areas of your brain. You then engage in feedback sessions that may involve a simple light or tone or game that will move and play when desired brain activity is detected by the system. For other brain activity the rewarding tone, or light or game is taken away. Typically, it takes 20 to 40 biofeedback visits for to overcome issues such as cravings, anxiety, depression, etc. – so this is a technique more commonly used for actual brain problems rather than for actual brain enhancement.


Brain Enhancing Activities

18) Brain Aerobics

200410144-001There is continuing research that doing brain aerobic exercises (like Sudoko) can help to “age-proof” your brain and slow the onset of symptoms of brain aging, and can also help to keep your brain functioning at peak capacity. To qualify as a good brain aerobics exercise, an activity must have novelty, variety, and challenge (8).

In other words, going to work every day to your “mentally challenging” job does not provide the novelty to challenge your brain, sticking with the same “brain aerobics” activity day-after-day does not provide the variety, and engaging in brain activities that are familiar to you or easy (such as playing the same challenging computer game every day) eventually does not provide the challenge.

In other words: make your brain lift heavy stuff. One of my friends, Dr. Arlene Taylor, has a bunch of completely free brain aerobic exercises on her website.

You can also go do a search in the Apple iTunes store, or any other app store, for “brain exercises” and find good apps that will challenge your brain (Angry Birds probably doesn't count). Two of my favorites are the Brainscape app, which allows you to create your own flash cards and learning activities which you can easily access from your phone, and n-Back training, which involves memorizing a progressively more difficult sequence of colored squares.

Incidentally, if you play a sport in a way that causes you to think ahead and solve problems as you go, activities such tennis or golf also count – as do board games like chess and checkers.


19) Chewing Gum

Chewing GumMany people chew gum to relieve stress, and some believe that it helps them to concentrate (14). Some neuroscience researchers have studied whether chewing gum might improve attention, memory, and other aspects of cognition. Although the research is not entirely conclusive, the idea is that the act of chewing gum may increase blood flow to the brain, delivering not only nutrients but also additional oxygen.

Despite the back-and-forth nature of research, chewing gum is a frequent habit of mine when writing and engaging in mentally demanding or stressful tasks. Just make sure you chew a good brand that is free of artificial sweeteners, chemical colors and sweeteners (I recommend B-Fresh).


20) Aerobic Exercise

Aerobic ExerciseTheer is a compound called Brain Derived Neurotrophic Factor, or BDNF, which is a protein that acts on neurons in your central nervous system (CNS) and peripheral nervous system (PNS) to help your existing neurons survive and thrive and also to encourage the growth of new neurons and neuronal connections (also known as “synapses”).

Research has shown that exercise, and specifically aerobic exercise, can significantly enhance secretion of BDNF (6). Why should exercise need to be aerobic to affect the brain? It appears that various growth factors must be carried from the periphery of your body into your brain to start a molecular cascade there for BDNF creation – and to make this happen you need a fairly dramatic change in blood flow. You could get this same blood flow with weight training, but unfortunately, weight training stimulates the production of growth factors in the muscles that stay in the muscles and aren’t transported to the brain.

So how can you implement exercise to make you smarter?

I recommend fitting in an aerobic 20-45 minute run, bike ride, or other bout of cardio on the morning of any day in which you have high intellectual demands. It doesn’t have to be hard or make your legs, arms, or lungs burn. Just do enough to get your heart beating and your blood flowing (about a 4-6 on a 1-10 difficulty scale). In this case, harder is not better, and could actually leave you excessively fatigued. In addition, excess cortisol has actually been shown to reduce BDNF.


21) Music

MusicIn addition to helping you exercise harder, music has been proven in studies to assist with “dopaminergic neurotransmission”, which basically means that – similar to the use of binaural beats and sounds –  it can cause a giant dopamine release in your brain, and make you smarter and more mentally responsive. Exposure to music also significantly increases blood, which, via something called a “calmodulin pathway”, may cause a reduction in blood pressure and increased blood flow to the brain (7).

However, music can also be distracting, so don’t constantly pump it into your ears. The most powerful effects of music on brain development have instead been demonstrated through actual learning of music. Yes, I am suggesting that you pick up a musical instrument, play Guitar Hero occasionally, or install that “mini-piano” app on your phone. Seriously.



Finally, as promised, I'm going to give you a typical “brain-hacking” day in my life so that you know what I personally do when it comes to using these 21 ways that I've just provided you with.

6:30am: Wake up. 5 minutes of Heart Rate Variability training while lying in bed.

6:45am: 1 cup of coffee (occasionally substitute delta-E or green tea)

7am: 10-15 minutes of light aerobic exercise (yoga and calisthenics) in the morning sunshine.

8am: 1 glass of TianChi with 8-10g fish oil. Three months of the year, also include creatine (during off-season weight training period).

9am: High fat breakfast, including MCT oil.

10am: Work, while chewing gum and keeping Earthpulse on if more focus needed.

12pm: High fat lunch, usually includes sardines, eggs, herring or mackerel.

4pm: Workout, include learning at least one new exercise or movement.

7pm: High fat dinner.

8pm: Guitar or tennis practice.

9pm: Reading book or Kindle with low blue light glasses.

10pm: Bedtime in darkness. Sleep on Earthpulse.

Hopefully that gives you a good idea of how these strategies can be implemented seamlessly into a typical day, without you feeling like you're constantly going out of your way to “hack your brain”. You may have noticed that the only piece of “gear” I use is the Earthpulse. That's not because I don't believe in the efficacy of electrical devices and other forms of neurobeedback, but just because some degree of simplicity is also important, so I've identified the weapons of choice that work for me and tried to avoid having too many brain-hacking toys lying around the house.

If you want more resources, the best two brain-enhancing books I've read to date are written by Dr. Eric Braverman – a true brain expert. They are “The Edge Effect“, which discusses how to treat your brain to reverse or prevent Alzheimer’s aging, memory loss, weight gain, and sexual dysfunction, and “Younger Brain, Sharper Mind“, which is a 6-step plan for preserving and improving memory and attention at any age. As mentioned earlier, I'd also highly recommend you grab the free e-book “The Limitless Pill“, by Mark Joyner.

Finally, if you have questions, comments or feedback about nootropics, brain-hacking gear or brain-enhancing activities, leave them below and I promise to reply!



Part 1 – Introduction

-Preface: Are Endurance Sports Unhealthy?

-Chapter 1: How I Went From Overtraining And Eating Bags Of 39 Cent Hamburgers To Detoxing My Body And Doing Sub-10 Hour Ironman Triathlons With Less Than 10 Hours Of Training Per Week.

-Chapter 2: A Tale Of Two Triathletes – Can Endurance Exercise Make You Age Faster?

Part 2 – Training

-Chapter 3: Everything You Need To Know About How Heart Rate Zones Work

Chapter 3The Two Best Ways To Build Endurance As Fast As Possible (Without Destroying Your Body) – Part 1

Chapter 3: The Two Best Ways To Build Endurance As Fast As Possible (Without Destroying Your Body) – Part 2

Chapter 4: Underground Training Tactics For Enhancing Endurance – Part 1

Chapter 4: Underground Training Tactics For Enhancing Endurance – Part 2

Chapter 5: The 5 Essential Elements of An Endurance Training Program That Most Athletes Neglect – Part 1: Strength

Chapter 5: The 5 Essential Elements of An Endurance Training Program That Most Athletes Neglect – Part 2: Power & Speed

Chapter 5: The 5 Essential Elements of An Endurance Training Program That Most Athletes Neglect – Part 3: Mobility 

Chapter 5The 5 Essential Elements of An Endurance Training Program That Most Athletes Neglect – Part 4: Balance 

Part 3 – Recovery

Chapter 6How The Under-Recovery Monster Is Completely Eating Up Your Precious Training Time

Chapter 7:  25 Ways To Know With Laser-Like Accuracy If Your Body Is Truly Recovered And Ready To Train

Chapter 826 Top Ways To Recover From Workouts and Injuries with Lightning Speed

-Chapter 9: The 7 Best Stress-Fighting Weapons That Will Make Your Mind-Body Connection 100% Bulletproof

-Chapter 10: The Last Resource You’ll Ever Need To Get Better Sleep, Eliminate Insomnia, Conquer Jet Lag and Master The Nap: Part 1

-Chapter 10: The Last Resource You’ll Ever Need To Get Better Sleep, Eliminate Insomnia, Conquer Jet Lag and Master The Nap: Part 2

Part 4 – Nutrition

-Chapter 11: 40 Easy Meals For Busy Athletes: How To Fuel Your Body With The Thousands Of Calories Necessary For Endurance and Extreme Exercise, Without Completely Destroying Your Metabolism. 

-Chapter 12: What A Half-Naked Ironman Kickboxing Superhero Can Teach You About How Many Calories, Carbs, Proteins And Fats You Should Be Eating

-Chapter 13: How Much Carbohydrate, Protein and Fat You Need To Stay Lean, Stay Sexy and Perform Like A Beast.

-Chapter 14: The Zen Of Customizing Your Diet To Your Unique Body And Goals

-Chapter 15: 9 Bad Things That Happen When Your Digestion Goes Wrong, How To Hit The Reboot Button On Your Gut & The Best Way To Detox Your Body.

-Chapter 16: The Real Truth About What To Eat Before, During And After Your Workouts & Races.

-Chapter 17: The 21 Best Kitchen Tools, Grocery Shopping Guides, Cookbooks, Websites and Local Resources To Fuel Your Active Lifestyle.

Part 5 – Lifestyle

-Chapter 18: How To Protect Your Body From The 10 Hidden Killers In Your Home.

-Chapter 19: The Zen Of Getting Uber-Fit Without Neglecting Your Friends, Your Family and Your Career. 

-Chapter 20: How To Quit Mowing Your Lawn & 10 More Top Time-Saving & Productivity Tips.

Part 5 – The Brain

-Chapter 21: Two Ways Your Brain Breaks And Exactly What You Can Do About It – Part 1

-Chapter 22: Two Ways Your Brain Breaks And Exactly What You Can Do About It – Part 2

-Chapter 23: 21 Ways To Hack Your Brain: A Complete How-To Guide To Enhancing Your Brainpower, Creativity, Focus, Motivation and IQ.



1. Bemben MG, Lamont HS (2005). “Creatine supplementation and exercise performance: recent findings”. Sports Medicine 35 (2): 107–25.

2. Booth SL, Suttie JW. Dietary intake and adequacy of K vitamins. J Nutr. 1998;128(5):785-8.

3. Calvo MS, Whiting SJ, Barton CN (February 2005). “Vitamin D intake: a global perspective of current status”. J. Nutr. 135 (2): 310–6.

4. Dorlands Medical Dictionary”. Archived from the original on 2008-01-30.

5. Fukaya, T.; Gondaira, T.; Kashiyae, Y.; Kotani, S.; Ishikura, Y.; Fujikawa, S.; Kiso, Y.; Sakakibara, M. (2007). “Arachidonic acid preserves hippocampal neuron membrane fluidity in senescent rats”. Neurobiology of Aging 28 (8): 1179–1186.

6. Griffin, E. (2011). Aerobic exercise improves hippocampal function and increases bdnf in the serum of young adult males. Physiol Behav, 104(5), 934-41.

7. Holler, Y. (2012). Individual brain-frequency responses to self-selected music. International Journal of Psychophysiology, 86(3), 206-213.

8. Jaeggi, S. (April 28, 2008). Improving fluid intelligence with training on working memory. PNAS.

9. Liu, Y. M. C. (2008). “Medium-chain triglyceride (MCT) ketogenic therapy”. Epilepsia 49: 33–36.

10. Liu, J (2008). “The effects and mechanisms of mitochondrial nutrient alpha-lipoic acid on improving age-associated mitochondrial and cognitive dysfunction: an overview”. Neurochemical research 33 (1): 194–203.

11. Nehlig A, Daval JL, Debry G (1992). “Caffeine and the central nervous system: mechanisms of action, biochemical, metabolic and psychostimulant effects”. Brain Res. Brain Res. Rev. 17 (2): 139–70

12. Parker AG, Gordon J, Thornton A, Byars A, Lubker J, Bartlett M, Byrd M, Oliver J, Simbo S, Rasmussen C, Greenwood M, Kreider RB (October 2011). “The effects of IQPLUS Focus on cognitive function, mood and endocrine response before and following acute exercise”. International Society of Sports Nutrition 8 (1).

13. Pekala, J.; Patkowska-Sokoła, B.; Bodkowski, R.; Jamroz, D.; Nowakowski, P.; Lochyński, S.; Librowski, T. (2011). “L-carnitine–metabolic functions and meaning in humans life”. Current drug metabolism 12 (7): 667–678

14. Smith, A. (2012). Effects of chewing gum on the stress and work of university students. Appetite, 58(3), 1037-1040.

15. Sprenger, G. A. (2007). “Aromatic Amino Acids”. Amino Acid Biosynthesis: Pathways, Regulation and Metabolic Engineering (1st ed.). Springer. pp. 106–113.

16. Sun, QQ; Xu, SS; Pan, JL; Guo, HM; Cao, WQ (1999). “Huperzine-A capsules enhance memory and learning performance in 34 pairs of matched adolescent students.”. Zhongguo yao li xue bao = Acta pharmacologica Sinica 20 (7): 601–3.

17. Van De Rest, O.; Geleijnse, J. M.; Kok, F. J.; Van Staveren, W. A.; Dullemeijer, C.; Olderikkert, M.G.M.; Beekman, A. T.F.; De Groot, C. P.G.M. (August 2008). “Effects of Fish Oil on cognitive performance in older subjects”. Neurology 71 (6): 430–38

18. Yokogoshi, Hidehiko; Kobayashi, Miki; Mochizuki, Mikiko; Terashima, Takehiko (1998). “Effect of theanine, r-glutamylethylamide, on brain monoamines and striatal dopamine release in conscious rats”. Neurochemical Research 23 (5): 667–73.

Ask Ben a Podcast Question

52 thoughts on “21 Ways To Hack Your Brain: A Complete How-To Guide To Enhancing Your Brainpower, Creativity, Focus, Motivation and IQ.

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  3. Marina Kopytkovskiy says:

    Hi there-

    I am a female participating in Xfit workouts at 5 AM Mon-Friday, right before work. If you could, what would you change in your routine with this consideration, to still promote staying lean-ish/building stregth. Most specifically, I know IF is beneficial, but just cannot fit it into my schedule to fast from 5PM – 5AM and was wondering if you would still maintain the high fat meals, or subsitute for more carbs, etc.

    Anything you have to offer is much appreaciated and thank you!

  4. Ben,

    Thanks for putting this info together.

    – 2 maybe 3 questions regarding Creatine.

    1. Have you seen any evidence that Creatine supplementation has any direct correlation with male pattern baldness? I know it raises DHT. Interested to see if you have seen anything that might indicate that it may.

    2. Do you personally ever cycle off. Do you have any issues with water retention with the creatine.

    More like 3 questions. I will take a look in your past articles to see if any of these have already answered!

    Keep up the Hustle!


  5. gary says:

    I am already taking Ashwagandha as a supplement Gandha 600 from AOR. Can i still take the TianCHI or would that be overkill ??

    1. I'd probably take one or the other. If you want to try TianChi, just skip your other supplement on the days you take that.

  6. Steve says:

    Hi Ben

    Thanks for the info you make available here. I am reading the book by Eric Braverman. It’s interesting and sounds plausible. When I searched for his name, though, the following page popped up:


    To be honest, I can’t speak to the authenticity of the information on the page (or the site itself), but I’m curious about your take on the issues mentionend. (At least the professional side, his private life can stay out of this…)


  7. Joseph A yobacccio says:

    watching tv at night is a relaxer for me. Is there a set number of minutes/hours prior to bed, that is a minamal acceptable time before bed?

  8. Cara Menyembuhkan says:

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  10. Pascale says:

    Luv this little summary

    Already do at least half of recs

    Thanks to you…

    Addicted for my Tianchi for more than a year now ;)

    Can you give me another rec for creatine

    The one you mention cannot be shipped to Canada

    Happens a lot

    Wish somebody checks that

    I loose time trying to order things

    You are my go to

    1. Try this one: https://greenfieldfitnesssystems.com/product/thor… I believe they ship internationally, but you may have to call.

  11. malika says:

    Thanks for the information.I just want to suggest that we can use the mental toughness test which are available in market to increase our brain power.

  12. Temana says:

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  13. Morinda says:

    Thanks for you nice sharing. It’s a good message.

  14. Daniel says:

    Is there a specific dose of caffeine that should not be exceeded on a daily basis to avoid long-term reduction in cerebral blood flow?

    1. I'm not aware of any specific research on this…but I try to limit to no more than 150mg of caffeine per day…

      1. Joe Yobaccio says:

        I not only have coffee or caffeine in the morning, but because I have to work out and stay focused til later eve, I take pre workouts with caffine and may take more later. Each time, I’m taking 100-200mg. Is that too much caffeine per day?

        1. Read my recommendation above :)

  15. egiska says:

    Hi Ben,

    During creatine loading phase, do you take 0.3g/kg at once, or is it better to spread req’d dose thru out a day?
    Great article, many thanks!

    1. I take it all at once. No need to spread through day!

  16. ZikuBD1 says:

    The human brain, being one of the most vital organs of the body, performs crucial functions that can never be ignored or given less importance. The brain is not only the mastermind of every physical activity but also the actions that are based upon thoughts. As such, it is the center of reasoning power and information.

    All the information from the brain is carried to other parts of the body through neurotransmitters. Basically, the functions of the brain can be classified into two states: conscious and subconscious state of mind. The first category is responsible for the daily physical and common activities, whereas the second state of mind, subconscious state, mainly influences these actions involuntarily, that is, the person being unaware of the driving force behind his actions.

    The human brain power is very powerful and there are various methods of enhancing the brain power. Of course, there are drugs that help to cure mental disorders like ADHD but often, methods like meditation are more common in daily life. Some of the drugs may have after- effects but the brain power can greatly be enhanced through other processes like brain wave technology.

    It is a comparatively newer technology that is gaining popularity, among millions of people. It uses the power of brain that operates on different frequencies. While playing certain music or beats on these frequencies using binaural beats, the mind gets relaxed. The mind slips from conscious to subconscious state of mind and offers relaxation. As a result, the mind gets cleared of any negative thoughts and will have a overall positive outcome.

    While some people are naturally geared to learning and having a great degree of brain power, others may not be so. Therefore, in order to improve brain power, it is essential to participate in such programs that will help to improve the learning and release the inner power latent within. The greatest part is that brain power can be enhanced by all individuals irrespective of age, gender or background and since everyone has an extreme degree of potential, it can be unleashed through such techniques.

    The first step towards improving the brain power is to avoid negative thoughts and focusing on the positive ones that would help to enhance the overall life pattern. There are many CDs and books that give a proper guidance to enhance the brain power. The internet suggests different ways like doing regular exercises; playing games that involve thinking, taking food substances that enhance brain power such as omega 3 fatty acid, as also stimulating other senses and getting adequate sleep, regularly.

  17. malloryleo says:

    Hey Ben ~ Awesome info. Question: for supps like TianChi and the essential amino acids, would you take daily for forever? Is cycling or taking a couple of days off every week recommended? And are taking additional EAAs still recommended even if you're eating a lot of quality meat and dairy? P.S., I'm not an athlete, but work out hard-moderate 3-5X per week. Just looking to improve brain function, memory, capacity. Thanks!

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  19. hungryparachute says:

    Great article!!

  20. bstott says:

    To go along with the HRV and TianChi questions: I check my HRV every morning as well. I am working on getting my HRV into the 90s, but currently I have been in the 80s. What concerns me is that my HF and LF are very far apart from each other. For example my HRV this morning was 86 while my LF was around 12,000 and my HF was around 1500. Reading some of your posts you state that these two numbers should be relatively close together. Do you think TianChi can help dig me out of my hole or what else would you recommend.

    1. Meditation, yoga and deep diaphragmatic breathing exercises are the best ways to get the nervous system in line.

  21. Ammae86 says:

    Hi Ben, great post!
    Is there a specific reason you do your HRV training in the morning? I always do it in bed before falling asleep.

    1. I use my HRV to determine how hard I am going to push myself that day. Anything below 90 and I know I need to take it easy.

  22. bstott says:

    Any hype to the supplement alpha brain that Dave Asprey has on his website?

    1. It is a rather potent nootropic so I would be careful with it. The extra choline could give you some killer head aches. Personally I swear by TianChi
      It gives me all the mental boost I need.

      1. bstott says:

        On the Tianchi website it states that you should take it in the morning on an empty stomach. I usually do my workouts in the morning and fuel with a cup of bullet proof coffee with MCT oil and butter. Any problem taking the Tianchi in the afternoon or after the workout on an empty stomach? Also how long does the Tianchi stay active. The website states that you will be good all day. Does that mean if I took it in the afternoon I might have trouble sleeping?

        1. It shouldn't cause sleeping troubles but I take it mid morning and get the most benefit that way. 2 hours after your BC and 45 minutes before any other food is optimal.

  23. bstott says:

    Ben I also have an Earthpulse but currently only use it for sleep. I'm interested in how you use it for work. Where do you place the magnet at and what setting do you use.

    1. I simply set it on the desk about 4 feet from me, in Recovery mode!

    2. Dom says:

      @bstott i’ve used the earthpulse for 2 years now. I use it also post workout & place the magnet on specific muscles (calves, thights, shoulders, thighs) depending what i did. Ranges from 5-15minutes. I use only the outer ring only for joints like after a run knees/ankles or shoulder area. Hope that helps.

  24. jennymdoss says:

    Hello. I take this Omega 3 product http://www.naturalhealthyconcepts.com/omegaco3-K7
    Does the Apex Omega 3 look like a good fish oil to you? I was thinking of finishing what I have and then switching to the one you recommend but wanted to get your opinion first. Thank you for your help.

    1. That looks pretty decent. But I swear by this combo https://bengreenfieldfitness.com/fishoil

      1. jennymdoss says:

        When I run out of what I have, I will try the combo in the link. It looks great!

  25. jennymdoss says:

    Great chapter, Ben. Thank you for all of the cutting edge information that you put out. I am working on changing my diet by eating less grain related carbs, especially before bed. I have thought about taking MCT oil but am concerned about adding so much fat in my diet. I don't want to get fat. I also don't want to lose muscle. I eat around 20 to 30% fat right now. I have seen heavyset people who snack on big hadfuls of nuts and put heavy dressings on their salad. i don't do this and homestly don't want to lose my phsique, but your info really intrigues me. Can people start having MCT oil and butter within reason and stay lean? Do you have to cut carbs while doing this? Thank you.

    1. You must cut the carbs when you are adding fat into your diet. Take a look/listen to this https://bengreenfieldfitness.com/2012/08/episo…

      1. jennymdoss says:

        Thank you. I look forward to listening to the info in the link. Do you think cutting carbs and increasing fat is a good way to go for being lean, healthy and for athletic performance? This would be a big change for me. What is the range of grams of carbs you recommend for a 120 lb woman (me :-) who works out an average of 90 minutes a day and longer (2 to 3 hours) on weekends?

        1. Especially for women, 100-150g/day in your case Jenny. Up to 200 on those weekend days. I talk about why here: https://bengreenfieldfitness.com/2013/07/how-t…

    2. Fat will not make you fat. Have you read any of my other articles? Read this: https://bengreenfieldfitness.com/2013/07/how-m…

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