June 15, 2023
From podcast: https://bengreenfieldlife.com/podcast/louisa-nicola-podcast/
[00:01:12] Podcast Sponsors
[00:07:05] Louisa Nicola
[00:11:45] What got Louisa interested in medicine?
[00:17:35] What does EEG measure?
[00:23:21] Tests at Neuro Athletics
[00:24:45] Are there any bloodwork parameters that identify problematic issues of the brain?
[00:31:27] Podcast Sponsors
[00:36:25] What can you do for brain-building during an average day?
[00:43:44] Useful visual exercises
[00:47:11] Managing sleep during travel
[00:54:09] Heat and cold therapy and mental performance
[00:59:27] Supplements, nootropics , and smart drugs for the increase of mental performance
[01:11:07] Closing the Podcast
[01:12:08] End of Podcast
Ben: My name is Ben Greenfield. And, on this episode of the Ben Greenfield Life podcast.
Louisa: Once you get into cold water, what you're doing is you're getting this massive robust release of norepinephrine. And, norepinephrine is amazing because it's both a hormone and a neurotransmitter. So, when it's released in the brain as a neurotransmitter, it's involved in vigilance and focus. And, you can actually get a 350% increase in this neurotransmitter when you jump into cold. That's huge. So, you get all this norepinephrine, but then you've also got these cold shock proteins which is also having an effect on the brain. And, I think in terms of dosage, what you're looking at is you're looking at around five times a week. So, that's the only caveat, five times a week at three minutes per session depending on the temperature.
Ben: Faith, family, fitness, health, performance, nutrition, longevity, ancestral living, biohacking and a whole lot more. Welcome to the show.
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Hey, folks, my guest on today's show is the founder and head performance advisor of what's called Neuro Athletics which, as the name implies, specializes in basically turning your brain into a freaking Ferrari. Her name is Louisa Nicola. She's a neurophysiologist and a human performance coach and her company uses science-driven data from things like EEG scans and lab tests and cognitive assessments to basically what they say give you almost this first-class ticket ride for your brain. She works with a bunch of elite athletes. She, as you'll soon learn from her accent, graduated from the University of Sydney Medical School. So, she's smart. She has a master of medicine in neurophysiology. She's currently completed her doctorate studying the effects of exercise in the brain. She's on the board of a bunch of companies that specialize in brain and mental performance and essentially turning your brain into a high-performance machine. All the shownotes are going to be at BenGreenfieldLife.com/Nicola because her name again is Louisa Nicolas, so BenGreenfieldLife.com/N-I-C-O-L-A, and let's go talk to Louisa.
Alright, so I got to ask because I heard this about you, I don't know if it's true, but coming from a former swim, bike, run junkie, is it true that you were into triathlon at one point?
Louisa: Yeah. I was heavily into it. It was my entire life. So, I was on the Australian team and I raced. Yeah. I was doing around 20 races a year and training 40 hours a week. Definitely not me right now. I'm definitely not in that field anymore but yeah.
Ben: I used to hang out with a bunch of Australians because I would race in Southeast Asia and Thailand and, of course, Australians would always show up at Iron Man Hawaii and stuff. What is about Australia that it makes such good triathletes or at least seems to? Is it the swimming or something else?
Louisa: I honestly think it's the swimming because that's how I got into triathlon in the first place. And, when I used to race, I was first out of the water. We are brought up in Australia. It's mandatory that we're able to swim at least 2 kilometers in the ocean. So, in order to actually go through, I think it's in eighth grade to go through to ninth grade, you have to pass this life-saving certificate. It's a government mandatory drill that you have to do. So, we all learn from a young age how to swim. And, my mother put me into swim classes. When I was very young, I became competitive, I learned how to swim in the ocean and that just led to a career in triathlon. And, I think a lot of Aussies, you'll never meet an Aussie that says “I can't swim.”
Ben: For the longest time, I'd hear people talk about Iron Man and always assumed it was the Iron Man that we talk about over here, but there's a whole different swimming kind of Iron Man in Australia, right?
Louisa: I'm not sure if it's different. I mean, I don't know what you guys do over here, but yeah, it's brutal. And, what I've noticed is a lot of the triathlons here are flat; whereas, you just never know what you're up against in Australia. You get there and it could be choppy one day. It's definitely always hilly, so you have to train for that. And, in terms of bike, even transition, there was one transition that I did, it was in Queensland and it was a kilometer long from the ocean to the bike. So, it's brutal.
Ben: I love that. Running a kilometer in your wetsuit.
Ben: The Iron Man I was referring to, I think it's some kind of a paddle race or lifeguarding competition or something like that. Does that sound familiar?
Louisa: Yeah. It's on one of those boards where you're like this.
Ben: Okay, yeah.
Ben: Like a paddle race. And, by the way, for those of you listening, if you want to watch the video version, it's going to be at BenGreenfieldLife.com/Nicola, N-I-C-O-L-A. Do you say your name Nicola or Nicola, Louisa?
Louisa: Nicola is my last name.
Ben: Nicola, okay. Alright, cool.
So, you said you said here when you're referring to not being in Australia anymore and you're in New York now?
Louisa: Yeah, based in New York City.
Ben: Okay, cool. Is that where the whole Neuro Athletics lab or facility or whatever it is?
Louisa: Yeah. And, I actually started off. So, I moved here in 2017 and I started off in L.A., which is where I–that's where the athletes were originally for me and I ended up getting one stint, a speaking gig here in New York and I came here and fell in love with it, so I ended up staying.
Ben: Oh, wow. Cool.
Well, I want to hear more about what you're doing at your whole lab and stuff over there, but how did you get out of triathlon into medicine? Were you doing both simultaneously?
Louisa: Both simultaneously. So, I started off with exercise physiology and I fell in love with physiology, the science of performance. And ultimately, when you're a triathlete, which you should know this, you become obsessed, a bit obsessed with data, right?
Louisa: So, date back, I was doing triathlons at–I'm in my early 30s and I was doing triathlons when I was 17 and I remember when the first Polar heart rate monitor came out.
Ben: The huge one.
Louisa: We were so excited. It was so exciting to us. And then, I had a Polar watch. So, I was able to track my heartbeat and it was amazing. And, I remember back then thinking, wow, this is incredible. And so, I was delving into the science of everything. And then, we had a one-day workshop. Our coach organized–Usain Bolt's running coach. He was from Colorado and he came to Australia and he was giving us a lecture. And, he said to me one day, he brought up this machine and I had no idea what he was talking about, so I was at university doing exercise physiology, he said, “Louisa, we should do an EEG scan on you.” And, I said, “What is that? And, why would you do that on me?” And, he said, “We assess your brain waves and we can train your brain waves to be better.” And, I was like, I had no idea what he was talking about but I fell in love with it. And, that's when I started to delve into it. I understood what the brain was. I was like, “I have to go and pursue a career in this.”
Ben: Oh, wow. That's funny that you bring up the heart rate monitor because I remember the old ads, I think it was Scott Tinley when the heart rate monitors first came out in Triathlete magazine, it's kind of the old cell phones for our cars, right? Because my parents were early adopters of technology, so we had a giant cell phone, the size of four bricks with a huge antenna coming out of the car. And, that early original heart rate monitor was the same thing. It was a freaking computer strapped to your chest that who knows how much extra wattage you'd have to produce on the bike to even be able to power the bike wearing that thing. And, of course, now they're small and precise and on your cell phones and barely the size of a quarter. But yeah, the original heart rate monitors were a huge thing when they first came out. They blew people's minds. They used to have to go to an x-phys lab or something like that to get your heart rate tested during exercise.
Louisa: Yeah. And then, it made training so much more exciting because you'd go there and coach would say, “Louisa, I need you to run full minute kilometers or you need to do 6 by 4-minute efforts.” And, we would be able to track on the heart rate monitor, what our heart rate was, and then we'd also be able to track the distance and it would beep as the distance would be–and, it was just it made you a better athlete. It was like data was making me better. And then, I thought, well, imagine putting data on my brain. That could even make me better, right?
Ben: Yeah, yeah. And, it sounds like that's what you're doing now at Neuro Athletics. It's funny that you have a background in exercise phys. That's what my master's degree is in, so I spent a lot of time doing the lactates and the indirect calorimetry and everything like that in the lab. But, we rarely looked at or considered anything like brain waves or mental performance or anything like that. So, with you getting an original EEG scan, where'd you go from there as far as developing what you do now?
Louisa: So, right before I was meant to fly to Beijing, I had a massive change in my life. It was two weeks going to Beijing, which is where I was going to compete and it was everything I had been training for my entire career. Two weeks before going, I went on a bike ride with my two teammates and I got hit by a car. And, this was on a highway. Yeah, I was in the bike lane and this guy, he was around 85, 90 years old, he had been traveling for three hours without a rest stop and he was going so fast. I think it was going 10 kilometers over the limit and he must have been looking at us on the bike. And, wherever you look, you just end up steering that way and he just clocked me.
So, he took me out, I broke my leg, snapped some ribs, obviously, had to forfeit my position. And so, that's when Usain Bolt's running coach said to me, “You should do an EEG scan because that's how you're going to get back on the bike.” So, I had a very big fear of getting on the bike. And so, I did an EEG scan. And, what he showed me was after the end of it, it wasn't a raw EEG. So, we had to get somebody to interpret it, but he showed me some frontal lobe damage. I was obsessed about it. I was thinking, “Okay, well, what does frontal lobe damage mean? What does my brain was ‘asleep' in different areas?” And, I was like, “What does that mean?”
So, I was training my brain visually. So, I was trying to visualize myself getting back on the bike and then I'd go through and do another EEG scan to see if my brain waves changed. So, that was the first time that I realized the brain is special when it comes to high-performance and it was the missing link. When I went to do the EEG scan, the doctor said, “Are you even sleeping?” And, I said, “No. As triathletes, we were taught not to sleep. We were taught to be on the bike and run.” So, I was sleeping five hours a night. And, he said, “No, I need you to sleep eight hours.” So, we didn't know that. I didn't know, 15 years ago, they didn't tell us about sleep and the power of the brain as it relates to human performance.
Ben: Yeah. And, the EEG scan thing, for people who aren't familiar, you're referring specifically to the scan where you put electrodes over certain areas of the brain and you're measuring actual brain wave data like alpha, beta, delta ratios, things like that.
Louisa: Yeah, that's correct. So originally, you would get an EEG scan when you'd go into a hospital and you still do if you've had a seizure, for example.
Ben: Okay. So, the EEG scan, and not that I want to put you out of a job by asking this question, but my experience has always been that you got to go into a facility and very precisely get gel placed on different areas of the head and then electrodes attached. And, I've always wondered when getting that done like why couldn't there be at-home EEG test where you just pull on a helmet and it measures? Does anything like that exist?
Louisa: So, let's just break down what an EEG. So, the electroencephalogram is, like you said, you put this cap on your head and there's all these leads coming out around 32 leads. And, what it does is it measures the electrical activity in your brain. So, we have brain waves and we're able to pick up on how they're operating in the brain. And, this is used to detect abnormal brain function. If somebody has a car accident, they've knocked their head or they've had a concussion or they've resected a tumor out of their brain, you can go through it all, affects the brain and how the brain is functioning. So, you can go through and you can assess how well your brain is functioning from an EEG.
Now, when I started working in a neurology lab and in a clinic, I was using this EEG scan, but we were using it to pick up on early onset Alzheimer's disease because early onset Alzheimer's disease or cognitive impairment, if you will, is a pre-dementia state. So, we could assess the cognitive function of these brains. And, what the EEG does when they run it through the lab, the test results would come back and it would say, “You've got early cognitive functions.” So, I was doing these, Ben, daily like 10, 20, 30 of them per day. And, I was thinking, “Huh, imagine if we did this just on a normal brain.”
Louisa: And, nobody was asking that question. And, when I asked the attending, he would say, “I don't know, Louisa. Why do you care about that? You just need to do your job and just need to scan these brains.” So, I contacted the company, the EEG company and I said, “Listen, I work with elite athletes and I want to start scanning the brains of NFL players.” So, they gave me this device, which is around a $150,000. And, they gave me this and I started scanning these brains and it was amazing.
Ben: So basically, you still have to go to a clinic like yours or a hospital to actually get a medical-grade EEG scan. You can't do it, for example, they say the Oura Ring or some of these wearables get pretty close to sleep plethysmography. I don't know if that's true. There's home heart rate variability measurements. There's some stuff people can measure in their own home, but is EEG pretty much not accessible right now as far as an accurate measurement in someone's home?
Louisa: In terms of an accurate measurement, you have to get a hospital-grade EEG. So, my one is portable. It's a real hospital-grade EEG and I hook it up to my computer and I test you on the spot. Everyone can't just use this at home because A, it's a medical grade EEG, and B, you won't know how to interpret the results.
Louisa: So, it comes down to interpretation, but anyone can really just put a cap on you in the right place, place the electrodes, place the gel, but it's all about who's reading the results to you.
Ben: Yeah. A few years ago, I did a podcast with a guy named Dr. Andrew Hill who runs Peak neurofeedback in L.A. and me and my sons went down there for a week and we did pre and post-EEG. We spent a week there twice a day doing neurofeedback training, flying these spaceships with our mind and kind of getting that subconscious slap on the wrist where the spaceship would slow down or the music would fade or the smoke would stop coming out of the back of the spaceship whenever you'd stray into those brain wave zones that he was trying to de-train our brains out of.
And, the post-EEG was super interesting. My son Terran had areas of distractibility and ADD, ADHD-like symptoms that pretty much banished my own distractibility or ruminating thoughts were significantly reduced through that. And, I saw a lot of the value from the neurofeedback when I went in and did that, but it sounds at Neuro Athletics, you're doing more than just the EEG, right?
Louisa: Yeah. EEG is just part of our decoding sequence. So, when you first come to us as an athlete–by the way, I call everybody an athlete. So, we primarily work with elite athletes, NBA players, NFL, et cetera. But, we're also servicing financial services here in New York on Wall Street and they're interesting characters, but I call them athletes as well.
Louisa: And so, you'd come in, yeah, you'd get an EEG, but we do everything we do, blood labs. We get so many different measurements and we do cognitive assessments. We do visual acuity tests. We do VO2 max, which is really interesting actually. They yield really amazing results in terms of, not just to see what your cardiorespiratory fitness is, but to also see so many other measurements like how are you? What's your metabolism like? What's your lactate threshold like? It's amazing.
Ben: That's super interesting. I want to delve into more details. Let's say I walk in there and I'm just like, “Louisa, I want a better brain. Build me a better brain or at least analyze what's going on with my brain right now.” What exactly am I going to go through?
Louisa: First thing is your EEG scan. So, when we do that, it's only a 25-minute scan. Once we interpret the results, we get both the raw data, the raw EEG results, we also get head maps, which I think you would have got when you did it with Andrew Hill.
Ben: Yeah. It's a map of all the different areas of your brain.
Louisa: Yeah. So, it maps all the areas of your brain and it shows you which area has dysfunction, which area has hyperactivity, which is classified you'll see a red brain or you'll see hypoactivity, which areas of the brain just is low activity and they're not switching on which would be a blue brain. So, we'll test those functions. So, we test every area of the brain and that's amazing. So then, we can get a full map of the brain.
Then, we move on to blood. So, blood work, I think, is just you can't optimize any part of your life without measuring what is happening in your blood. So, we get everything like full lipid panel. I'm talking we go into obviously LDL, HDL, LDLC, Apob, LPa, we're doing all of that. We're going into homocysteine, just hormone function. There's so many different areas that we touch on with that.
Ben: With the blood work, by the way, is there anything particular, like any parameters you're looking at that you think are really specific as far as identifying potential problematic issues with the brain that might fly under the radar the people aren't looking at in their blood work right now?
Louisa: Well, there are certain ones that you can look at like certain neural hormonal biomarkers. But, I first like to look at let's also do a DNA test, right? Do you have the APOE E4 gene? Because that's going to really determine everything else. Because if you're an E4 carrier, then we know that you're predisposed to Alzheimer's disease. So then, your blood labs are going to look completely different.
But, let's say you come in and you don't have the genetic predispositions for Alzheimer's disease, those risk genes, and everything is fine in that aspect, then we look at your blood work, we may see you've got an elevated homocysteine. Okay. We may see that you're not able to process B vitamins. So, that's a really big hallmark that we need to look at for cognitive function. We even do an omega-3 index test, which so many people in this field are kind of wary of, but I generally do advocate for a high omega-3 index. And, we're doing that and we're getting all of our athletes supplementing with at least 4 grams per day of EPA and DHA.
Ben: Okay, interesting. I think the last folks I interviewed about fish oil research and omega 3s said that despite the lab values for omega indexes indicating something like 4%, I think, they said being good that they recommended when you're testing, it was 7 or 8%, almost twice that.
Louisa: Well, we recommend 8%.
Louisa: And above, yeah. And, by the way, if you have AFib like, for example, my father has AFib which ended up leading to a stroke, so I don't have it right now but maybe I'm genetically predisposed to this condition, you may not want to take such a high dose.
Ben: Why is that?
Louisa: Because it's an anticoagulant, so it can thin–
Louisa: Yes. So, you don't to be taking it and having AFib at the same time so you have to consult with your medical practitioner. However, whenever anybody asks me, what are the best supplements for the brain? One of the ones I always recommend is EPA and DHA.
Ben: Okay, got it. I might want to ask you about any nootropics or smart drugs that you recommend later on, but before I do, so you do the EEG, you do the blood test, what else do you look at?
Louisa: VO2 max. So, we are picking up on cardiorespiratory fitness. Now, you would know this, when you do your exercise physiology degree masters, you would have done this in the lab. You would have conducted one. For us, we learned that this was only reserved for elite athletes, but now we know that a huge biomarker of longevity is having a high VO2 max. So, we're getting everybody doing a VO2 max, we generally do it on a treadmill rather than a bike, but a bike yields the same results. So, we do that and we're able to get their VO2 max score. We're also able to get their blood lactate score. So then, we can zone two parameters. So, we do a blood lactate test as well with the lactate meter. We do a cognitive assessment test. So, we've got 10 different cognitive assessments that you go through.
So, as we keep talking, I want everyone to be able to separate the brain from cognition. What I'm trying to say is when I say brain functionality and brain structure, I'm talking about the EEG. And then, when I talk about cognition, I'm talking about things such as attention, reaction, focus, information processing speed.
Ben: So, anything in addition to the cognitive assessment after they've done that?
Louisa: So, we've also got hormone check. We do a complete hormone check. And then, yeah, no, that's it. We've got an exercise physiologist on board and he then goes through and does all of the one repetition max. He does the standing box jump, the vertical jump test, so we've got the exercise parameters as well. And, that's all in month one. So, month one with us is literally just testing. We need to test everything. So, we get to know you better than you know yourself.
Ben: Yeah, that's interesting that you talked about the lactate too because if that flies on the radar is a really, really good way to determine. For people listening in, will be called your aerobic threshold or what Louisa referred to as Zone 2, meaning you can figure out the blood levels of lactate at certain heart rates. And, typically once your blood levels are above about 4 millimolar, which is how lactate is measured in terms of the units, then you know that you've kind of crossed what we called your anaerobic threshold close to that point and you can actually, using certain equations, determine with pretty good accuracy at what point the aerobic threshold occurred. And, that would be kind of like your maximum fat burning, your ideal aerobic zone, right?
Louisa: Yeah, correct. What I forgot to mention is we do a psychological assessment as well because we don't think that anybody can go through and achieve peak performance of any type without tapping into psychology. And then, we do an at-home sleep study. So, we don't do that personally, but we outsource that so somebody comes to your home and measures your sleep.
So, you mentioned earlier, Ben, you said, “Can the Oura Ring?” So, I'm wearing an Oura Ring right now and I'm wearing a Whoop. If you say to me, “but is this doing the same thing?” my answer is no and it's always going to be no. You cannot replicate an in-house sleep study, a PSG, polysomnography, with these wearables. It's almost accurate but it's not 100% accurate. Just like an EKG is not the same as you can go and get your real HRV from an electrocardiogram in the hospital. You can't get that same measurement from a wearable.
Ben: Yeah. I think the most valuable data is just to be able to at least see subjective comparisons in sleep scores even if it's not truly accurate in terms of close to a percentage point of your actual, let's say, deep sleep cycles or sleep latency or something like that. You can at least get an idea of how your daily lifestyle, food, supplement habits, et cetera, are affecting you relative to whatever your score might be whether or not it's accurate.
Louisa: We hook everybody up to one of either of these devices just whatever they like the best. And, that's how we track them. And honestly, I'm just picking up on consistency, so I'm looking at the HRV, I'm looking at this sleep, and that's pretty much what we're using it for. It's not the be-all, it's not the holy grail, but it's a good measurement tool.
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Alright, folks. It's coming up quick. VIP event with me that occurs during the time that I am in London for the Health Optimisation Summit. I'm throwing in a private VIP meetup at HUM2NLabs with Dr. E over there. This is one of the most advanced biohacking facilities I've ever stepped foot into. We're opening up to a select group of VIPs, very small group. You could be one of them. Kicks off at 5:30 p.m. in London on Monday, June 19th. You're going to get to network with me and a bunch of the other biohacking enthusiasts and physicians there. We will do a special talk on age reversal. There'll be a Q&A of variety of healthy organic foods, biohack cocktails, a swag bag, where you get to try IV cryotherapy, red light therapy, hyperbaric oxygen, different types of nootropics, and smart drugs that they have there. So, it's going to be a pretty cool event.
And, you can get in now if you go to BenGreenfieldLife.com/HUM2NLondon. That's BenGreenfieldLife.com/HUM2NLondon. If that's much for you to remember, just go to BenGreenfieldLife.com/calendar, and everywhere I'm going that I'm speaking where you can join me. All the events are also there on the calendar at BenGreenfieldLife.com/Calendar. But this HUM2N Event Monday, June 19th is going to be a good one.
Let's talk about some practical stuff. Not that testing isn't practical, but as far as things that your athletes or the financial professionals or anybody else that you're working with or a listener could do as far as brain building or mental performance exercises during the average day and let's say they don't just want to download in, I don't know, the N-Back training app or Lumosity or Brainscape and be tied down to their phone, what are some practical things you could do possibly even device free to build your brain during the day?
Louisa: I'm going to pull up a wonderful study that was done in 2004. And, I quote this on every podcast and I think it's really interesting. So, it was printed in journal, printed in Nature Journal story. So, what they did was they got a group of healthy students and they got them to juggle for three months. So, juggling just with two balls. I think they're only juggling for 20 minutes a day, which is not that bad, right? So, they got them to learn how to juggle first.
What they found, and I quote, was jugglers had more gray matter which consists largely of the nerve cells in the mid-temporal area and the left posterior intraparietal sulcus which processes visual information. So, that got me really excited. It showed us or essentially proved a hypothesis that if you were doing any form of hand-eye coordination drills, you are growing the gray matter of your brain. That was 2004. And then, once I started the company, this was in 2018, I started to go down this rabbit hole of we can grow the gray matter of our brain. So, that's when I came up with these Neuro Athletics drills that anybody can do at home.
So, first of all, all you need is two balls. Okay, just get tennis balls, for example, and start with throwing the ball. So, let's imagine you have a tennis ball in your right hand, stand a meter away from the wall and I want you to just throw the ball to the wall in an overhand grip perspective. So, you want to be able to cup the ball overhand, throw it overhead and catch it overhand. So, what this is doing is you've got manual dexterity there with your fingers, you're getting a hand-eye coordination because you have to obviously catch and throw the ball, you're getting visual information. So, your eyes are getting exercised, but then you're also getting information processing speed. So, on the axon, so when we look at the brain cell, the brain cell consists of the cell body, then it has this axon that comes off of it. And, the axon is where all of the speed of transmission occurs. So, we can strengthen that and that's called processing speed. And, that's one of the measures that we test using the EEG, but you can build your processing speed by doing exercises like this.
So, very easy. Stand a meter away from the wall, throw the ball with the right hand, then throw with the left hand. You may see a difference in these two. Then, what you want to do is throw the ball with the right, and on the bounce back, catch it with the left and repeat that process. And, that's literally level one. It gets very fun if you keep doing it.
Ben: Okay. So, a couple questions for you. The first is what if you're holding something like a racket? Let's say I want to do this with a pickleball paddle and a wiffle ball and instead of throwing, I'm hitting. Is there a difference or have they looked at hitting versus throwing activities for something like that?
Louisa: You can. And, that's all well and good; however, you're not getting the hand manual dexterity in it.
Ben: Okay. Unless I like hit and then catch in one hand and then switch and hit and catching the other hand.
Louisa: Yeah. And, also remember that one of the biggest things when making a change is adherence. So, adherence to any protocol is going to be key. And, I think that you've got to minimize the effort. You can just get up every morning. Everyone has a wall in their apartment or in their house. Get a wall. Go somewhere. Get two balls and that's all you need. And then, you can make it even better. So, you can do things like once you've graduated, level one, which is just throwing to the wall, hold the ball in your right hand, stand on your right leg, and lift your left leg up off the ground. So now, you're balancing, right, and you're throwing the ball to the wall.
Ben: The balancing thing makes sense too. What do you think about the idea because I've heard this recommended before about brushing your teeth with your left-hand side of your right hand or even brushing your teeth with your left hand and standing on your right foot while you do that? Are those kind of things just mostly coordinative or did they actually develop the brain in the same way as that juggling study that you mentioned?
Louisa: Yeah. I've heard that often, brush your teeth with the left-hand style. That's a very minor fine skill. It's not going to move the needle to where you want it to because imagine your brain, I want everyone to imagine your brain just like a muscle and it has the exact same usage, which is use it or lose it. So, I don't know if you've seen, Ben, the homunculus.
Ben: Yeah, explain to people though. So basically, there's this human homunculus, meaning that every area of the brain is responsible for something different. And, if you Google homunculus, what you'll see is you'll see the cortex, which is the outer part of the brain with this human creature with the hands and his legs on every area of the brain. And, it basically shows a human map, a map of our brain which every area is responsible for something different from the way that we stand to the way that we pick things up to the way that we perceive things.
Now, what happens is as we get older, we stop using certain areas of our brain because when we're younger, what are we doing? We're jumping up a tree or we're catching things, we're throwing things. And, as we get older, we stop doing the fun things we did when we're little kids. And, that area becomes smaller. So, the areas that you use less often, they start to shrink and eventually die just the same way as your muscle tissue. If I am not doing bicep curls and I'm not placing intensity or pressure on my bicep, it's going to shrink. It's the same as your brain. So, when we do these skills, brushing your hand, it's not hard enough, you're not going to induce hypertrophy, if you will, you've got to do harder things, things that are challenging, things that are excitatory but also places pressure for you to think.
Ben: Yeah. I don't know. I feel like a flailing Muppet sometimes when I'm trying to brush my teeth with my left hand, but that's interesting. I guess, maybe there's a lot of people who are keeping the dental industry in business doing a crappy job brushing their teeth with their left hand. Maybe you guys ought to start throwing balls.
I realize you got to include a safety disclaimer or whatever, but what about if you're driving? A lot of people commute and maybe want to work on developing their brain just while they're driving. Are there certain things you could do?
Louisa: Not while you're driving. I wouldn't suggest that; however, interesting fact, one of the leading causes of motor vehicle deaths is actually reaction time. So, improving reaction time can help you make you a better driver, but I wouldn't suggest when you're driving to do anything.
Ben: What about left-right eye movements or gazing at things off in the horizon? Because I've heard the eyes are kind of an external brain, so I guess maybe whether you're driving or not, are there certain things you could do with your eyes to develop a better brain?
Louisa: We do do a lot of visual exercises. And, I can run you through a few because I think they're really fascinating. So, do you remember going in to an optometry office when you were younger and you'd look at this thing called a Snellen Chart?
Ben: You mean with the big E at the top and then the letters get progressively smaller?
Louisa: Reading the smaller lines, yeah.
Ben: Yeah, of course.
Louisa: So, yeah. Back then, that was a way to test your visual acuity. Now, we have so many different ways that we can test it. So, let's just stay on the board drills for a moment. Let's just say you're throwing the ball to the wall. If you go to CVS, you can buy an eye patch, a pirate eye patch for $5. What you can do is you can place it on your eye and then continue doing the same drills. Now, what have you done? You've essentially blacked out and lost 50% of your eyesight. So, what is that doing? Well, let's have a look at what the eyes are. You just said that there are two pieces of the brain and they are, they were just pushed out during neural development and you've got these two little eyes.
Ben: It's kind of gross to think about we should almost kind of like brain prolapses.
Louisa: Yeah. And, if you watch it in real-time on an MRI, it's crazy to see them getting pushed out of the skull. But, imagine your eye, the eye connects to the brain via this nerve called the optic nerve. It's one of the cranial nerves. It goes into the brain. And then, the way that we process information is it goes and connects all the way back into the back of the brain, which is called your occipital cortex. So, this is where we process information. So, from there, the occipital cortex says, “Oh, that's a trio, that's a ball, that's a car,” and it sends a message back up to your frontal lobe, which is where your brain is the CEO of your brain and it says, “Okay, we need to get out of the way if that's a car or we need to put our hand up to catch the ball if it's a ball.” So, your brain goes through a lot during that process.
Now, what happens if we black? What if we essentially say, “Hey, brain, we've lost 50% of our eyesight?” It then works harder for you to see the image. So, if you're wearing an eye patch and you're doing these ball exercises, you're essentially placing even more pressure and demand on your brain, essentially like weights creating more neural demand so that it has to figure out, “Oh, my gosh, we've lost. Come on, guys. Get into gear. We've lost half of our eyesight and we need to catch the ball and we need to move.” So, it's growing new areas of the brain and you're also working on visual acuity.
Ben: Man, you hear it what I here first, dress your kid up like a pirate for Halloween, you can make them smarter.
Ben: I can also imagine a whole bunch of people out there at their desks now, podcast listeners, looking like Captain Blackbeard at their desk. You ever just use a palm and just cup one eye to cover it up just while you're doing random activities?
Louisa: Yeah, you can. And look, we go even crazier. We've got strobe goggles where we place them on our athlete and there's four quadrants and we can black out just like the top quadrant on the right side of the right eye, for example.
Ben: I've seen Steph Curry, the Golden State Warriors, doing that.
Louisa: That's the exact same one.
Ben: Now, related to the idea that we were talking about earlier regarding sleep, I would imagine that a lot of these folks that you're working with get derailed when they're traveling to tournaments or events or they're doing with jet lag. What are some of the big dial movers for you when it comes to managing things like sleep during travel or jet lag?
Louisa: Well, first of all, you have to adjust your sleep schedule, so they're gradually shifting the sleep schedule before departure. It's such a pain, but you have to. So, that's the first thing that we figure out like where are you traveling to and how can we adjust the sleep schedule 72 hours before departure.
Ben: Now, when you're adjusting the sleep schedule, are you adjusting these so-called, what they call them, zeitgebers like when you eat, when you get exposed to light, when you exercise, you're doing all of that in the time zone of where you happen to be traveling to?
Louisa: Absolutely. We're adjusting everything because food is very big as it relates to circadian rhythm. It basically tells your body that you're awake or that you're preparing for sleep. And then, we do adjusting for light as well.
Ben: How many days in advance?
Louisa: 72 hours.
Ben: Okay. So, three days in advance you start to adjust your schedule for where you're going, and then what?
Louisa: Yeah. So then, once we get onto the plane, that's the next thing. Depending on how long the ride is, we try and advocate for eating minimally. I won't say completely not eating. If it's a three-hour flight, then don't eat. But, if you are, we encourage all of our athletes to take their own food. And, you can. People think you can't take food but you can. So, take your own food. Once you're on the plane, you're still going to stick to your schedule of time zones. So, you're going to sleep if it's 11:00 p.m. in your time zone and you're on the flight, you're going to sleep at that time as well. You can try if you can try and sleep. You can take some sleep aids if you need. Third thing is overhydrating. So, not just hydrating, I want you to drink more water and electrolytes than what you would on the ground.
Ben: Now, we should issue a disclaimer here like don't get hyponatremia. You don't want to overhydrate as you know from Triathlon, it's more often the dehydration, it says people to the medical tent. So, be careful, don't dilute your fluids. I'm right on board with you, Louisa, about avoiding food on airplanes, especially the actual airplane food, but eating in general not only due to the circadian issues that you talked about but also the microbiome disruption that's been shown in literature, especially for long-haul flights.
But, one thing that I always keep in my bag, I'm curious to hear your take on this because it seems to have a little bit of potentially like a DNA or a radiative protective effect would be ketones like drinkable ketone esters or something like that to kind of keep the appetite satiated during the flight, you ever mess around with something like that?
Louisa: I do. I was taking Ketone IQ and I travel quite often. Tomorrow, I'm flying to Europe, which is crazy. I'm doing this to myself as well. For the past 72 hours, I've been on Europe time. So, I'm also taking Ketone IQ, ingestible ketones. And, what I'm also doing is I don't know if you do this, do you ever take a greens powder with you as well?
Ben: To be honest with you, I find that greens powders make me super-duper regular. So, I don't do them on a long-haul flight because I just don't like spending lots of time in the airplane bathroom. So no, I don't use greens. You like those though for a flight?
Louisa: I do because what I'm trying to do essentially is also eliminate or decrease, I wouldn't say eliminate, decrease the amount of inflammation. So, we're going to already getting, yeah. So, you have to remember as well your oxygen isn't as great. It's pressurized. So, we need to do anything that we're going to be able to decrease the amount of inflammation that we have. Water obviously, electrolytes, I take a greens powder with me as well just to help with that. And then, I'm wearing blue light-blocking glasses. I always say, don't rely on blue light blockers at home because they're not going to be doing, one, they're not blocking blue light 100%.
Ben: Especially on a skins photoreceptors. They're not blocking any of that.
Louisa: No, exactly. But, when you're on a flight, you need to get as much help as you need. So, these blue light blockers are going to help you getting a sleep mask, getting earplugs, getting whatever it is to make you feel comfortable and at ease on that flight.
Ben: Okay, that makes sense. And, I mean, the ketones, those will kind of modulate the NF-KappaB pathway to a certain extent and have a little bit of an anti-inflammatory effect. But, the other two things I like is I'll use hydrogen tablets in all the water that I drink just because that's kind of a selective antioxidant that allows me to get some anti-inflammatory action without needing to go take green poops in the bathroom.
And then, the other one is NAD. NAD has some really good properties especially even as far as making you feel better when you get to where you're going. So, there's some copies that make NAD patches. I'll just slap one on my inner thigh or the back of the arm, an area of hairless skin. And, I find that NAD works fantastically. Do you ever use NAD?
Louisa: I've never used the actual NAD patches. But, then again, it's going to be able to penetrate the cell NAD. And, does the patches do that?
Ben: Yeah, yeah, they've got some pretty good data on–actually, I mean, oral bioavailability NR and NMN and even NAD or NAD+, it's pretty decent but intravenous transdermal or even suppository-based delivery, you get way better cellular delivery.
Ben: You know what's interesting is I've tried a lot of these tactics and the thing that seems to be the biggest dial mover for me, Louisa, and I catch some flak for this, but I put in my bag before I go through security, an actual jogging suit that's lined with silver fabric that's essentially a wearable Faraday suit. And, after I go through security because you can't go through security on, you look like a ghost and you freak everybody out and you got to do the whole pat down, but afterwards, I put that thing on and it's like a full body hoodie and pants. I think there's a few different companies that make them. Mine is No Choice, is the company that makes it. It's got a full zip-up hoodie. And, since I started using that thing, especially for long-haul flights, my amount of jet lag has plummeted. It's crazy and it's just a full body, yeah, like a Faraday suit. You ever seen these?
Louisa: No, I just wrote down No Choice. I want to have a look at it because I travel so often.
Ben: Yeah, it's crazy. I mean, I was shocked. It even has little plugs in the cuffs of the pants so that when you get to where you're going, they have little alligator clips and you can ground to a metal object when you're waiting for your bags or whatever in baggage plan. So, you get this massive amount of grounding and earthing. And again, it's not the most fashionable item to wear on a plane but it seems to work really well.
Louisa: Is it compression as well?
Ben: They have long johns that you could wear underneath them, but they're not compression gear per se. I'll usually have compression socks on and then pull that thing over it.
Now, sometimes when I get to where I'm going, I feel really good if I can jump in a cold body of water or do some cryotherapy or something like that. But, whether or not it's related to sleep or jet lag, I'm just curious, is there anything to the idea of heat therapy or cold thermogenesis when it comes to mental performance?
Louisa: Yeah. I was just going to add on that. When you get to your destination, one thing that we get everyone to do, depending on what time it is, if it's early morning, we always get somebody to get off the plane and go for a run. It's a mandatory. Get off the plane and exercise, it's going to get you the fastest way for you to adapt to the time zone is through exercise. So, that's what we get somebody to do.
Louisa: Now, heat and brain health, yes. I think that there's more to say about cold and the cold shock proteins that are released when you get into cold immersion than what you do in hot. So, first of all, saunas are amazing. I think they yield more cardiovascular benefits than neural benefits. There's been studies to show that you can actually mimic cardiovascular workouts through the sauna. So, just the same thing as what your heart is getting when you're going for a 40-minute run, you can get the exact same effects from going into a sauna. So, I advocate for that. I love going into the sauna, but I think the real benefit is going into cold immersion.
Ben: You mean specific to the brain?
Louisa: Specific to the brain. And, it's through this RBM3 pathway, but just to be really plain and simple with everyone, what happens is once you jump into cold water, I'm not talking about cryotherapy either, once you get into cold water, what you're doing is you're getting this massive robust release of norepinephrine. And, norepinephrine is amazing because it's both a hormone and a neurotransmitter. So, when it's released in the brain, as a neurotransmitter, it's involved in vigilance and focus. And, you can actually get a 350% increase in this neurotransmitter when you jump into cold. I'm talking like that's huge. So, you get all this norepinephrine.
But then, you've also got these cold shock proteins, which is also having an effect on the brain. And, I think in terms of dosage, what you're looking at is you're looking at around five times a week. So, that's your only caveat, five times a week at three minutes per session depending on the temperature.
Ben: Why not cryotherapy?
Louisa: I don't think that you can get the same benefits out of cryotherapy as what you would with cold immersion. Again, I'm talking about someone who has to adhere to a protocol. And, I think getting into a cold bath is much more manageable than going to a cryotherapy chamber.
Ben: Yeah, I feel the same, I just never noticed it as much. And, I've even come across some information about the hydrostatic pressure of the water against the skin being a little bit better from a recovery standpoint as well as the dunking of the head under the water from a cranial nerve standpoint kind of activating the mammalian dive reflex and potentially having a better effect on vagal nerve tone.
Louisa: Yeah, that's correct. And then, also you have to think about the downstream mechanisms of inflammation. A lot of us are in an inflammatory state. I live in New York City. We're always stressed. That's another effect of cold. You're also blunting the inflammatory cytokine storm that's occurring as well. So, that's another reason why I like it.
Another caveat. You don't want to be going into a cold bath straight after a strength training session because you're going to blunt that hormetic response to exercise. That's the only time I'll say not to get into it.
Ben: Yeah. If the muscle temp drops a lot, it's got to be over a 1 Celsius drop to blunt the inflammatory or the satellite cell hypertrophy response. And, that typically for most people is 10 minutes or more at under 40 degrees. So, if you're taking a quick cold shower or just jumping in the ice right after a workout just to make sure you're not sweating out the armpits at work or whatever, it's not a big deal, it feels fantastic.
Louisa: It feels fantastic but also, I think over time, you get used to that cold shower. So, you have to keep getting colder and colder, which is why an ice bath is going to yield the most return. And, I just like the fact that you can do so much in terms of immunity. We know that you can even induce mitochondrial biogenesis from getting into the cold. I'm sure everyone knows what that is your mitochondria, your “the power house of the cell,” they create energy literally in your cell. And, you can create more mitochondria in your cells by getting into the cold bath.
Ben: Yeah. And, the cold shower, you're right, sometimes it doesn't get cold enough, but it sounds like you travel a lot so you know the hack for that is if you're at a hotel, you just go to the ice bucket and you fill-up the bucket in the hotel room with ice and you hang that from the shower head so all the shower water gets super icy cold and you don't have to fill up the whole bathtub with ice cubes.
Louisa: That's a really good hack.
Ben: Yeah, it works really well actually. So, you can use a coat hanger if you don't have a handle on the ice bucket that allows you to hang it from the shower head. So, there you go. I just ruined everybody's vacation.
Louisa: I love that. Yeah, yeah.
Ben: I briefly mentioned it and I never like to make people think on this podcast you can pop a pill to get yourself smarter, but it's always interesting to hear the take of folks like you especially a neurophysiologists on this wide world of nootropics and smart drugs and snortable peptides and all these things people are doing. Is there anything that you particularly favor with your athletes or the people you work with when it comes to something you could take to increase mental performance?
Louisa: So look, first and foremost, I think that unless you have your sleep dialed in and your exercise dialed in and your nutrition, I don't think that supplements are going to help you. If you're going to take a prescription medication, maybe like modafinil, for example, or Provigil, that may definitely help you. But, if we're talking about supplements, okay, if we're talking about something that you can get over the counter, some of the things I like to get my athletes to supplement with during the day, first and foremost, everyone's on creatine. We used to think that creatine was just for the body. We now have substantial evidence to show that creatine is also not just good for the brain but necessary because we have cells in our brain. And obviously, we have cell energy production happening in our brain. That's where creatine comes in and helps with that. So, creatine monohydrate, if you're a female trying to start off with 5 grams per day, it won't get you bulky, it won't bloat you, it's safe and it's extremely effective. I have my dad taking it. He's 72.
Ben: Creatines are made especially for sleep deprivation. I think that the two best things for me in a sleep-deprived state is creatine and NAD. I think creatine for the reasons you just mentioned as a phosphate precursor for energy. And then, NAD seems to simulate some of the cell repair mechanisms that you'd normally be getting from a good night of sleep. And, if I'm sleep-deprived, I'll take creatine and NAD regularly in the mornings on any days like that or for a jet lag or travel.
Louisa: I think with the NAD in a sleep-deprived state, it makes sense because if you're sleep-deprived and you're not getting into deep sleep, you're not activating the glymphatic system, which is our sewage system in the brain, so you're detoxifying and getting rid of these amyloid beta, for example, and all of these neurotoxins that build up. NAD will come in and be able to clear out that process and maybe induce mitophagy as well.
Ben: You mentioned modafinil, what do you think about that?
Louisa: I love it. I think it's great but I don't think it's for everyone. Look, I've used it. I didn't have any crazy side effects. It helped me study. It got me through some days, really hard working days. I don't take it. I haven't taken it probably in a year.
Ben: Seems to help a lot of people through sleep deprivation. I interviewed a guy. I'll hunt down the podcast and link to it in the shownotes if folks go to BenGreenfieldLife.com/Nicola. Jonathan, ironically talking about brain performance, I'm forgetting his last name. Anyways, we did an hour-and-a-half-long podcast about modafinil and it is interesting as far as its efficacy is, an off-label narcoleptic drug. He had some concerns about, A, impact on sleep cycles. Would you hear reported from a lot of people they'll start to take modafinil and kind of get this tired but wired up at 3:00 a.m. consistently even for a week after they stop using it? So, you kind of got to be careful from that standpoint and then perhaps more concerningly, because of the flood of dopamine that it causes potential for dopamine desensitization, meaning sex doesn't feel as good, you start to get cravings for food, you could tend to be less motivated when you're off it.
So, I think my take on modafinil, and I do have some and if I take it, it would be, for example, if I'm traveling long haul and I know I'm going to be sleeping maybe three hours and I got to get up on stage the next day and power through an entire conference day or something like that, it's my big guns for if I really, really need something. But, aside from that, I'm a fan of some of the less sledgehammer-like compounds. And, there's a lot of them out there. I mean, you mentioned creatine, I mentioned NAD, those probably wouldn't traditionally be classified as nootropics or smart drugs per se, but are there any others that come to mind for you?
Louisa: Alpha GPC. That's a really great one for getting people to concentrate and focus better. So, are we getting a lot of our finance guys supplementing with alpha GPC around 2:00 p.m. because that's the time of the day where they've been up for half the day and they're about to just fall asleep at their desk or their focus isn't as good so we're getting them supplementing with alpha GPC. As we're moving throughout the night or if they're traveling at one supplement that we get them to use whilst traveling is phosphatidylserine, which we've found has been great. But generally, when it comes to nootropics, it's also about hydration. It really is. We know that when our brain cells synapse together, we know that we need electrolytes for that. So, making sure that you're supplementing with sodium, potassium, selenium, zinc. These are the things that are going to help drive your brain to produce the energy that it needs throughout the day. So, I often look at things that are not classified as nootropics as a nootropic.
Ben: You bring up a good point because you do want to cover your bases from a gas in the gas tank standpoint with nootropics because you're essentially accelerating the burn. You mentioned choline, which I think stacks really well with any of these things that reportedly speed up the brain even like caffeine, for example. And then, you also burn through a lot more minerals and magnesium, not only when you're sleep deprived but when you're using central nervous system stimulating compounds. So, I think magnesium is a good idea, and I see a lot of people they'll stack something like Noopept or modafinil or some done-for-you blend with choline and with magnesium so that you're not burning through all your fuel at the same time that you're increasing the brain's needs.
Louisa: And then, depending on how much caffeine you are having, when we start to move into the night, then we start a whole new supplement stack. So, we've got L-theanine, which can also counteract the effects of caffeine. We're getting people to supplement 20 minutes before bed with magnesium L-threonate. So, these two things can really help get somebody into a sleepy mood because when we don't advocate for melatonin. So, always generally try and keep our guys away from melatonin.
Ben: Why is that?
Louisa: It is a hormone we don't want to go through and disrupt the natural process of melatonin being secreted because that means you're going to have to eventually be on it for the rest of your life. Although, if we are traveling, it's good to help you get back onto the time zone. But, I always think about melatonin and naturally secreting hormone that gets secreted in the response to darkness. It is a hormone and you can just go and buy it at the health food store or at CVS. It's like I'm not walking into CVS saying, could I get a bottle of testosterone, please? So, I think we need to caution that with control. I think everyone needs to really understand that, yes, it still is a hormone.
Ben: Isn't U.S. one of the few countries where it is OTC melatonin?
Louisa: Yeah. In Australia, you need a prescription unless you're over the age of 60.
Ben: Wow, interesting. What about, because a lot of people will do this and report they get great sleep, especially people with ruminating thoughts or people who are super type A or in a very stressed-out scenario, they'll take an edible before bed or smoke a joint before bed. What are your thoughts on that?
Louisa: I put up a tweet that went absolutely viral. It said that, “I don't know who needs to hear this, but THC isn't helping you sleep.” So, I don't care who you are even if you think that alcohol is helping you fall asleep, you're actually sedating yourself. So, you're putting yourself into a sedative state which is not, you're knocking yourself out, you're not going into sleep. So, although you may be out cold and it may be “helping you fall asleep,” it's just helping you fall into a knocked-out state. So, I don't advocate for it at all.
Ben: On Saturday night, I was at dinner with a friend, I think he takes a delta-8-THC edible before he goes to bed. And, that's the only way that he's able to sleep and he says that although he's aware that it impacts sleep sometimes in a deleterious fashion, the sleep that he can't get when he's not taking it is so horrific that he thinks it's worth it for him to take because it's better than not sleeping at all. It's not addressing the underlying issue, right?
Louisa: Exactly. We can all take things. We can all take illicit things. I mean, I'm not going to go and have a line of cocaine if I'm just feeling tired one day constantly because it's going to pick me up, everyone has to go through, everyone's going to have some form of ailment you have to address it. And, the one way to really address it is by getting an at-home sleep study, which is going to assess everything, even the ambient temperature around you, the CO2, it tests everything. So, unless he's had that–
Ben: I don't think so, yeah.
Louisa: Unless he hasn't got any underlying issues, yeah.
Ben: Yeah, I agree.
Louisa: And then, one thing I didn't point out either is a great nootropic during the day is l-tyrosine as well. Have you ever used l-tyrosine?
Ben: Yeah. But, explain to people why you like it.
Louisa: Obviously, it's a precursor and it can make you actually feel happy and good and focused. And, I notice that if you are not eating red meat, for example, or you're not having a carnivore diet and you may want to supplement with l-tyrosine, it'll help you focus and have better cognitive performance during the day.
Ben: I've heard similar things about taurine. What do you think about that?
Louisa: Taurine's good. For me, it makes me itchy. I don't know why. It brings the blood up to my skin and it makes me feel itchy. I've had it in a pre-workout before.
Ben: I made sleep gummies last night. Here's my recipe. I want to hear your take on it. I use tart cherry juice like organic tart cherry juice I just bought off Amazon, then I added glycine because apparently, it can lower the body's core temp a little bit during sleep. I added reishi and ashwagandha and then CBD, not THC but CBD, and then I heated that all up and refrigerated it and made little sleep gummies because somebody sent me about all these sleep gummies a few weeks ago. I looked them up on Amazon, it was 50 bucks for a bottle and I thought, well, gosh, this is just basically gummies which is gelatin, which is pennies on the dollar with some sleep-enhancing compounds added in that you could just stir all together and refrigerate. So, I actually had a couple last night before bed and they seem to work really well, just glycine, CBD, a couple of adaptogens, and then gelatin and tart cherry.
Louisa: Did you put gelatin as well?
Ben: Yeah, I just used grass-fed gelatin and then a little bit of lecithin powder because it helps it to emulsify and not get very clumpy. And, I think it might be my new go-to-sleep gummy recipe.
Louisa: That's amazing because actually ashwagandha, it's funny because Peter Attia, he actually is now experimenting with ashwagandha and I wrote a newsletter on ashwagandha helping with sleep. So, that's a great thing. But, glycine is amazing. What you said was completely valid and true, it does help with dropping core body temperature. I sleep on a temperature-controlled mattress, but I know that not everyone has that opportunity and everyone should know that if you're having any type of sleep disturbances, it could be core body temperature. So, in order for us to fall asleep and stay asleep, our core body temperature needs to drop at least 2 degrees. The reason why we get up in the morning, our core body temperature rises and actually wakes us up in the morning, then we get a surge of cortisol, which gets us out of bed. So, if you can do anything to help drop your core body temperature down at night, then that's a good thing.
Ben: There you go, folks. You heard it here first. Take glycine for night sweats and wear a pirate patch at work to make you smarter. Louisa, where can people follow you?
Louisa: I'm pretty active on Instagram, which is louisanicola_. I have a podcast as well, the Neuro Experience. And, if anybody's listening and they're a trainer or they're a fitness enthusiast, we actually have a two-day in-person training course that we do every three months. The next one is June 3rd and June 4th in New York City. And, we have a code, which is BEN if anyone wants to come. You can get 20% off.
Ben: Alright, I'll put that at BenGreenfieldLife.com/Nicola, N-I-C-O-L-A. Louisa, thanks so much for coming and sharing with us everything you're doing at Neuro Athletics and all these little tips. I appreciate it.
Louisa: Thanks so much for having me, Ben.
Ben: Alright, folks. I'm Ben Greenfield with Dr. Louisa Nicola signing out from BenGreenfieldLife.com/Nicola. Have an amazing week.
More than ever these days, people like you and me need a fresh entertaining, well-informed, and often outside-the-box approach to discovering the health, and happiness, and hope that we all crave. So, I hope I've been able to do that for you on this episode today. And, if you liked it or if you love what I'm up to, then please leave me a review on your preferred podcast listening channel wherever that might be, and just find the Ben Greenfield Life episode. Say something nice. Thanks so much. It means a lot.
Get ready to dig into the secrets of a brain optimization expert.
Neurophysiologist and human performance coach, Louisa Nicola is the founder and head performance advisor of Neuro Athletics – a consulting firm that boasts the best athletes in the world. By using science driven data from EEG scans, labs tests and cognitive assessments, Louisa has a first class ticket inside the brain of elite NBA and MLB stars. Louisa graduated from the University of Sydney Medical School with a master of medicine in neurophysiology and is currently completing her doctorate studying the effects of exercise on the brain.
During our discussion, you'll discover:
- Founder and head performance adviser of Neuro Athletics
- Specializes in turning your brain into a Ferrari
- Neurophysiologists and human performance coach
- Her company uses science driven data to improve your brain
- Master of medicine and neurophysiology
- Currently completing her PhD
- Louisa’s background
- Raced for Australian triathlon team
- Trained for 40 hours a week
- Doing 20 races a year
- Learned to swim at a young age
- Government mandatory swimming drill in school
- Ironman Australia
- Currently based in New York
- Founded Neuro Athletics
-What got Louisa interested in medicine?…11:46
- Started off with exercise physiology
- As a triathlete, became obsessed with data
- Polar heart rate monitor and Polar watch
- Usain Bolt's running coach gave them a lecture
- Brought up a machine to do EEG scan
- Assessing brain waves to train to be better
- Got very interested and wanted to pursue a career in it
- Ben’s first experience with heart rate monitors
- Data made her a better athlete
- Preparing for Beijing to compete
- Two weeks before going, she was hit by a car
- Broke a leg, injured some ribs
- Got fear to get on a bike
- Did an EEG and saw frontal lobe damage
- Started to train her brain visually
- Realized how special the brain was
- Nobody talked about the importance of sleep
-What does EEG measure?…17:33
- Electrodes put over certain areas of the brain
- Measures actual brain wave data
- Is there a home EEG test?
- EEG measures electrical activity in brain
- Detects abnormal brain function
- Usually used to detect early onset Alzheimer's disease or cognitive impairment, a pre-dementia state
- While working on a clinic, Louisa did numerous scans a day
- Why not doing it on a normal brain?
- Contacted the company that produces EEG devices
- Told them she worked with elite athletes
- Wanted to start scanning the brains of NFL players
- They gave her a $150,000 device
- Portable, easy to use
- It’s important to know to interpret the results
- Dr. Andrew Hill of the Peak Brain Institute
- Primarily working with elite athletes, NBA, NFL players
- But also financial services on Wall Street
-Tests at Neuro Athletics…23:19
- Neuro Athletics
- 25-minute EEG scan
- Raw EEG data and head maps
- Maps all the areas of your brain
- Shows you which area has dysfunction
- Hyper activity (red brain) or Hypo/ low activity (blue brain)
- Blood work
- Full lipid panel
- Hormone function
- Cognitive assessment
- Visual acuity test
- VO2 max
- 25-minute EEG scan
- Podcast with Greg Wells:
-Are there any bloodwork parameters that identify problematic issues of the brain?… 24:46
- Look at neural hormonal biomarkers
- Do a DNA test
- Predisposition to Alzheimer's disease
- Elevated Homocysteine
- Not being able to process B vitamins
- Omega-3 index test
- If you have AFib, don’t take high dose of Omega-3
- Omega-3 an anti-coagulant
- Best supplements for the brain – EPA and DHA
- Picking up on cardio respiratory fitness
- In college learned that it is only for elite athletes
- Huge biomarker of longevity is having a high VO2max
- Usually on a treadmill or bike
- Blood lactate test
- Cognitive assessment test
- Brain is separate from cognition
- Brain functionality and brain structure – EEG
- Cognition refers to attention, reaction, focus, information processing speed
- Brain is separate from cognition
- Complete hormone check
- Exercise parameters
- The first month on Neuro Athletics is literally just testing
- Psychological assessment
- At home sleep study
- Oura ring
- An in-house sleep study cannot be replicated with wearables just like an EKG cannot be replicated by a wearable
-What can you do for brain building during an average day?…36:20
- A study done in 2004
- A group of healthy students was asked to juggle for 3 months
- 20 minutes a day
- Result showed jugglers had more gray matter
- Proved a hypothesis that any form of hand-eye coordination drill grows the gray matter of the brain
- Started to go down this rabbit hole
- Came up with Neuro Athletics drills that anybody can do at home
- Simply throwing the ball to the wall and catching it
- Builds your information processing speed
- Throwing vs. hitting
- Adherence to any protocol is the key
- Do it better by throwing the ball while balancing on one leg
- Human homunculus
- Every area of the brain is responsible for something different
- As we get older, we stop using certain areas of our brain
- Areas that you use less start to shrink and eventually die
- Do harder, challenging things
- One of the leading causes of motor vehicle deaths is reaction time
- Improving reaction time can make you a better driver
-Useful visual exercises…43:38
- Exercises with an eyepatch
- The eye connects to the brain via the optic nerve – one of the cranial nerves
- It goes into the back of the brain called occipital cortex where the information is processed
- It sends a message back up to your frontal lobe
- When wearing an eyepatch, you create more neural pressure and demand
- Growing new areas of the brain and working on visual acuity
- Strobe goggles
-Managing sleep during travel…47:05
- Adjust your sleep schedule 72 hours before departure
- Adjust food and light; food is very big when it comes to circadian rhythm
- On the plane
- Ben uses hydrogen tablets and NAD patches (use code BEN to save $100 off your first order)
- No Choice (use code BENPROTECT to save 5%) and compression socks
- Fastest way to adapt to a new time zone is exercise
-Heat and cold therapy and mental performance…54:12
- Cold shock proteins are released when you get into cold immersion
- Saunas yield more cardiovascular benefits than neural benefits
- Robust release of norepinephrine when you jump into cold water
- Hormone and a neurotransmitter involved in vigilance and focus
- 350% increase in norepinephrine
- Cryotherapy – not the same benefits as with cold immersion
- Cold is beneficial for inflammation
- Don’t go into a cold bath straight after a strength training session
- You can induce mitochondrial biogenesis from getting into the cold
- Mitochondria create energy in your cells
- Ben’s special hack for cold showering in a hotel
-Supplements, nootropics, and smart drugs for the increase of mental performance…59:19
- Creatine – not just good but necessary for the brain
- Creatine and NAD for sleep deprivation
- Modafinil is great, but isn’t for everyone
- Ben’s podcast with Dr. Jonathan Wisor about Modafinil
- Modafinil: Is This Wildly Popular Smart Drug Safe And Effective? (& What It Can Do For Your Sleep Cycles & Brain Health).
- Impact on sleep cycles
- Potential for dopamine desensitization
- Ben’s experience with Modafinil
- Ben’s podcast with Dr. Jonathan Wisor about Modafinil
- Alpha GPC for concentration and focus (use code BEN to save 15%)
- Choline and caffeine
- Electrolytes drive your brain to produce the energy
- Caution for melatonin because it's a hormone
- THC isn't helping you sleep
- You're putting yourself into a sedative state, not sleep
- L tyrosine – it's a precursor
- Make you actually feel happy and good and focused
- Ben’s sleep gummy recipe
- Core body temperature needs to drop at least two degrees for good sleep
- Louisa's Instagram
- Neuro Experience podcast
- YouTube channel
- Neuro Athletics Coaching Certificate (use code BEN to save 20%)
- 2-day in person training course every 3 months
-And much more…
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- Keep up on Ben's LIVE appearances by following bengreenfieldfitness.com/calendar!
Resources from this episode:
- Ben Got COVID (& What He Did About It), How To Fix Issues With Your Brain, The “God Cap” For Neurofeedback, Do Home Neurofeedback Devices Work & More With Dr. Andrew Hill.
- How To Increase Your VO2 Max Anytime, Anywhere – Without Actually Exercising.
– Other Resources:
- Kion Omega
- Omega-3 Rejuvenate (use code BEN10 to save 10% off single purchases)
- LMNT Electrolytes
- Ketone IQ
- Organifi Greens
- Hydrogen Tablets
- IonLayer NAD Patches (use code BEN to save $100 off your first order)
- Alpha GPC (use code BEN to save 15%)
- Choline and
- Tart Cherry Juice
- Lecithin powder
- Polar Heart Rate Monitor
- Polar Watch
- Peak Brain Institute
- Oura ring
- Blue Light Blocking Glasses
- Sleep Mask
- No Choice (use code BENPROTECT to save 5%)
- Compression Socks
- Morozko Forge
- Clearlight Sauna
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Do you have questions, thoughts or feedback for Louisa Nicola or me? Leave your comments below and one of us will reply!