August 26, 2012
As I write this post, I'm up in Penticton, Canada sitting in a coffeeshop, waiting for several athletes who I coach or who are using my training program to come off the 112 mile bike portion of Ironman Canada
I drove up from our home in Spokane, Washington with one of those athletes, and during that drive, we had lots of conversations about everything from low carbohydrate fueling for performance to using adaptogenic herbs to help fix overtraining.
During our discussion, I realized that I was telling him about a few things I've been doing lately that he was completely unaware of, and this made me cognizant that with the variety of new strategies I try to enhance performance, some things can tend to fly under the radar, or I forget to mention them.
So today, I'm going to highlight 10 new strategies I've been experimenting with to enhance performance. Some of these are things you may have heard me discuss in a podcast or another blog post. And some may be new for you.
So, in no particular order of importance, here are my 10 latest discoveries:
My Pulsed Electromagnetic Frequency unit is something that still gets me some funny looks when I show up to stay at somebody's house and put the little doughnut size magnet under the mattress, but ever since I interviewed Paul Becker about this Earthpulse unit, I have been swearing by it for power naps and deep sleep enhancement, and especially for jetlag and travel sleep. At $599, it's spendy, but I value a good night of deep sleep at about 20 bucks, so I think it pays for itself within just a month or two.
Because it dangerously alters blood volume and blood consistency, blood doping is illegal in sports, and is an especially big problem in cycling. The idea behind blood doping is that it increases levels of the red blood cell boosting hormone Erythropoietin (EPO), signiﬁcantly increasing your endurance capacity. Because red blood cells transport oxygen to the muscles, increasing your EPO levels can be an ergogenic aid, upping performance and keeping you going harder for longer. But a study recently found that 8g of echinacea can also boost EPO significantly, without the dangers of blood doping. Since it's tough to get 8g of echinacea per day from capsule form, I've been using an echinacea tincture, at about 5ml per day, which gets me close to that 8g level. The bonus is that it's good for the immune system too.
Pemmican is a concentrated mixture of fat and protein, was invented by the Native Americans, and was later adopted by European settlers as a high energy food source. The meat from pemmican is typically derived from cattle, bison, moose, elk or deer. The meat is crushed to a powder and mixed with an equal amount of rendered fat, usually from beef tallow. Dried fruits such a cherry or blueberry, honey and sea salt are often added as natural preservatives and flavorings.
Pemmican tastes like very tender beef jerky, and will literally keep you full for hours on end. Like any animal product, you should try to get a grass-fed, organic version of pemmican, without added fillers like malted corn or barley. I have personally been eating a daily dose of pemmican from a company called USWellnessMeats.
4. UCAN Superstarch
In my article about supplements that help you perform better on a low carbohydrate diet, I talked about the high molecular weight carbohydrate called “UCAN Superstarch“, which is absorbed very slowly by the body and doesn't result in the carbohydrate spikes as regular sports drinks and sports gels. The more I use this stuff during my long training sessions, the more I like it, and a few of the athletes I coach are now beginning to use it in their training and racing, at 100-150 calories per hour, which is 1/2 to 1/3 as many calories as they need to eat when using other types of calories (because the UCAN allows you to tap into fatty acid stores instead).
Something else I recently wrote about was the blood testing that I've been doing through WellnessFX. The more I dig into quantifying yourself through blood, saliva, urine or stool testing, the more I'm convinced that blind supplementation in the absence of quantification just tends to make for expensive urine. I'm now in the process of doing a parasitology test through Genova diagnostics, a Spectracell analysis and an RBC Elements test. With the results of those latter two, I'm researching the practice of replacing vitamins and minerals that you're deficient in through an IV. I've done IV vitamin cocktails before and they're amazing, but something more custom would be even better for recovery or addressing deficiencies.
Paul, at SwimSmooth, has been teaching me how to use a swimming metronome to pace myself more efficiently while swimming. Basically, I can put this Finis Tempo Trainer Pro into my swim cap, and have it beep at a certain interval. While you could certainly use a swimming metronome to beep every stroke in order to work on your stroke frequency, I am instead using it to beep every 25 meters, so that I can pace myself to hit my 25 meter interval in the pool consistently. The cool part about this approach is that you can decrease your 25 meter swim time by very small increments each week, and get much faster with a simple pacing method.
7. Suspension Training
For the past 8 weeks, once per week I've been heading out to my backyard fence post with a MostFit Suspension Trainer (which I also travel with and use on the hotel room door). This is basically a “poor man's TRX”, and at 29.95, it gives me an entire gym's workout with just my body and the strap. I've been doing the same workout every time, 5 times through as a circuit with minimal rest:
-15 Suspension Push-ups
-25 Suspension Rows
-10 Suspension Tricep Extension
-10 Suspension Bicep Curls
-10 Suspension Knee-to-Chest
-10 Suspension Single Leg Squats per side
Here's a video of me doing the workout:
8. Superslow Training
Once per week, I've also been using the superslow training protocol discussed during my interview with Doug Mcguff about whether weight training counts as cardio. I have to admit that this thing jacks my heart rate through the roof, and I am still sore the day after every session. I simply swing by the gym during or after a bike ride or run and do this 12-15 minute protocol one time through:
-5 reps of 10-second-up, 10-second-down machine chest press
-5 reps of 10-second-up, 10-second-down machine seated row
-5 reps of 10-second-up, 10-second-down machine leg press
-5 reps of 10-second-up, 10-second-down machine pulldown
-hold a front plank as long as possible, then repeat for a side plank on each side
Between this and the suspension training, that's about it for my strength training each week.
9. Less Fiber
After recently reading the book “Fiber Menace“, I am growing more and more convinced that a great deal of gas, bloating and irritable bowel syndrome arise from people actually eating too many vegetables, and that the link between eating lots of fiber and a decreased risk of colon cancer or heart disease is weak at best. So lately I've strayed from 5-7 servings of veggies a day, and instead my strategy is to eat one decent-sized salad per day, and get most of the rest of my nutrients from meat (after all, animals chewed and processed the plant for me, so my digestive system doesn't have to break down the fiber, but still gets all the high-nutrient benefits).
10. Chinese Adaptogenic Herbs
This is quickly becoming one of the supplements I “can't live without”. Chinese adaptogenic herbs have a rich history of being adrenal stabilizers and have a unique ability to be able to mitigate the high cortisol damage I tend to do to my body through my participation in high level endurance sports. They're also fantastic for brain function and focus. You probably heard me interview Roger Drummer about his hand-made TianChi formulation, and every since that interview I take one packet of TianChi mid-morning every day, without fail. They're the most expensive supplement I use, but well worth it.
OK, so now it's your turn!
What strategies have you been using to make yourself feel better or to enhance your performance? Do you have question about anything I discussed above? Leave your comments, questions and feedback below.
By the way, last week, I received a few raised eyebrows regarding my decision to write about my piezoelectric wristband and structured water drops. While I would certainly place those two items into the category of self-experimentation, I realize that the science behind them is a bit “out there” – so I hope these strategies listed above are more appealing to people who aren't interested in the super fringe stuff…
46 thoughts on “The Zen Of Self-Experimentation – 10 New Strategies To Enhance Performance.”
This is a great post, thanks Ben. As I respect your opinion, I was keen to see what you thought about Generation UCAN and I am glad you think this stuff is good. Its not very well known here in the UK, especially amongst the Age Groupers I know. One of the issues my coach is concerned about is my fuelling for my Ironman. After reading your comments, I am excited to get started on Generation UCAN, so much so I have asked them to be a Brand Ambassador for them in the UK and Aust. :) Good luck at Kona! I believe you will do great.
I can't stress enough just how beneficial, and easy, plyometrics are. Just getting in the pushup position and holding it for as long as possible will naturally flex practically all of your abdominal muscles.
Are you still using Echinacea and if so how has it impacted your performance?
Yes, but I actually stopped taking it because I had some other stuff I needed to test. It was most efficacious when I had a sickness going around, but not much of that around here these days…
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I was having major stomach issues like gas and bloating when I tried ucan, I'm assuming this isn't the typical reaction as everyone is raving about it. I just added some water to make it into a pudding…
What flavor did you try? Plain UCAN or Cranberry Raspberry? In a few cases, some need a few times to get used to it. Maybe try it with 6 oz cold water for faster transit time through the stomach.
If I was going to use the Superslow protocol for strength training with the Triathlon Dominator Plan, how would I go about implementing it without destroying myself. I also use Restwise and have been implementing that into my training so I know how to rest properly while still staying consistent in my triathlon training.
You'd only want to do ONE of the other strength training workouts per week in Dominator, and substitute this for one.
Ben, I have used the unflavored Ucan a few times and have had good results. My question is about the flavor and texture, I don't like the taste and for me is leaves a chalky film in my mouth and I feel like i need to drink a lot of water to get the taste out. Is there something I can add to it to make it taste better?
I've been mixing it with 1 serving of this per each serving of UCAN: http://pacificfit.net/items/energy28-liquid-super…
Ben, did your PEMF device come with a manual? I ordered one based on your recommendation, and it didn't have a manual. I have no idea what the difference is between the four sleep modes, or the two entrainment modes or the recovery modes, and sadly, my emails have not been responded to by the company. Any thoughts?
Yes, it comes in your email receipt, John!
Just did my first Super Slow workout. It rocks!
Ben, Good info! However, I will be doing Kona this year and was wondering if I use the echinacae tincture as described and boost my epo levels, will I be at risk of having a positive test of abnormal epo levels. ie. being accused of blood doping?
Nope. Because this doesn't affect blood volume or raise levels of recombinant human erythropoietin (RhEpo), which is produced industrially.
Great article Ben! Thanks!
Been using UCAN for my longer efforts the past few weeks and am really happy with the results so far.
ben…you know I use a combination of all of them and I figure the stevia can't be all that bad as am only using this product on the bike…I also use the Ucan choc protein shake when I get home if I can't do real food…do you think this is not a good idea?
Stevia won't be an issue…but I wouldn't do the choc protein shake. Why not just have some pemmican or beef jerky and fruit instead? Avoid engineered food whenever possible!
Ben…you are such a great find!!! I love your stuff…ideas…suggestion…you are a wealth of info…sorry I did not meet you in Boston.
I use only Ucan now on the bike…and pocket fuel as you suggested. I do not use gels…electrolytes…or much of the other stuff …I used in the past since I found your site…and feel pretty damn good…
So thanks again…
Cool. Make sure you use plain or Cranrazz, as those are the two flavors without artificial sweeteners…
Ben, I'm a 53 year old ultra trailrunner and was feeling what I thought were the effects of aging. I was slowing down and feeling lethargic. After reading your low Carbohydrate diet for Tri athletes and going Paleo. I've experienced better performance on my runs. Carbo pro works best for me on long training days and race day. lately I've started supplementing with Elk antler velvet and after two weeks on it I've noticed even better performance and quicker recovery after long runs!
Nice! Go Elk Antlers!
I would LOVE to see a video on your MostFit strap workout.
cool, I'll put out the Tripod next time I do it Craig.
wow! I can't believe I missed seeing you. My boyfriend did the ironman in Pentiction and had an awesome day! It would have been cool to meet you.
I love to listen to your podcasts..keep up the great work!
Ben, I'm also cutting back on the amount of veggies that I'm eating and have switched to just one serving of living fuel super greens every morning along with eating grass fed beef. What is your opinion on this strategy? Thanks!
Sure, that's fine, Blaine! I'm not saying to avoid veggies altogether, just to not go out of your way to eat pounds of salad so you get "fiber benefits"…
Some pretty quality advice but as your title suggests I am going to have to do some self experimentation to see if it works for me. We are all a case study of one as Kevin above shows by switching to a vegetable based diet instead of a meat based one.
TianChi is expensive! Are there any alternatives out there?
Chris – when it comes to herbs, you get what you pay for. You could go get other stuff, but most of it sits in bins in China for year, getting sprayed with ethylene oxide. This stuff is made in Oregon.
Also i have 5000mg echineca capsules in Australia
Cool…got a link?
Hey ben, iv recently read some similar articles about echineca, iv read that it has more of an effect if u take an iron supplement. Can u shed any light on that?
Yes, but the issue there is the risk of iron toxicity. You really need to be TESTING iron if you're taking iron. So I don't want to recommend iron supplementation because that can be dangerous without monitoring levels…
I am learning more about Superstarch now. Thank you!
Per your advice (and extended research) I got my brother on Natural Calm and his numbers, muscle cramping and overall health have been much improved in the last 2 months (he's the diabetic). And for that I am FOREVER grateful!!!
Fantastic tips Ben – much appreciated! About the echinacea; if 8g is ideal, how come you take 5ml (is that the equivalent) from the tincture? Also – how/when do you take the echinacea?
*** Side question – are all of your tips appropriate for people with Type 1 Diabetes – any special considerations?***
Elizabeth…1.5ml echinachea tincture is about 1g echinacea extract.
Superstarch actually has some really interesting research behind it, as it was originally derived as a slow burning sugar source for diabetics!
So, should we be taking 12ml of the echinacea tincture to get to the 8g? I just want to make sure I am doing my math correctly.
is it something you have to take everyday or how log does it take to work? I'm trying to get back into shape after a very long winter break and we do some grueling mountain bike rides that are killing me right now.
You can just take it on days where you're exposed to sickness, trying to health, or just at a certain time of year, so that's fine!
Thanks Ben for the tips. Haven’t heard of the echinacea tincture trick/tip but definitely going to try it. Enjoy the race in Canada! Hope your clients do well!
Thanks, Ben for the MostFit strap workout. I’m going to substitute one of my Tri-Ripped workouts with this one.
My strategy is probably 180 degrees from what you describe. I’m trying to lose a few pounds before I get back to doing a marathon again. I’m biking more and doing ‘Les Mills Pump’. More importantly I’ve just read Dr. Fuhrman’s Eat to Live. It’s all about More greens, more fruits and more beans. Beyond that an ounce of nuts/seeds every day. The weight is dropping and I’m feeling better.
I’m going to have to check out ‘The Fiber Menace’ but when we went vegan about three years ago my wife’s IBS went away. The only problem for me was I kept eating sunflower butter, almond butter and plenty of other ‘healthy fats’. Now I’m not doing that so much. I’m replacing it with greens, fruit and beans.
Cool, good feed back Kevin. Well, a big part of this is of course what you were doing before you went to a vegan diet. ANYTHING is going to be better than SAD (Standard American Diet). My main concern about vegetarianism/veganism is central nervous system integrity and potential for leaky gut if the plants are sprouted/soaked/fermented properly. This issue is discussed in the books "Vegetarian Myth" and "Primal Body, Primal Mind"…