November 15, 2018
[0:00:50] Podcast Sponsors
[0:04:40] Introduction to WHOOP
[0:06:24] Introduction to Will Ahmed
[0:07:59] Basic Overview of WHOOP
[0:10:42] Difference of WHOOP from Other Devices and Three Painkillers of The System
[0:12:34] How Does WHOOP Work?
[0:15:01] Recovery and Heart Rate Variability
[0:17:00] Sleep Measurements
[0:19:39] The Light and Signal WHOOP Produces
[0:28:27] Podcast Sponsors
[0:32:00] cont.: The Light and Signal WHOOP Produces
[0:32:10] Research on Meditation
[0:35:45] Working with Navy SEALs and Special Forces
[0:42:32] Decreasing Stress
[0:45:58] Drinking Quality Water and continuation on Decreasing Stress
[0:47:11] More About Sleep: Sleeping Time and Sleeping Consistency
[0:53:52] Join the WHOOP Community
[0:57:12] Ben Recommends WHOOP
[0:58:58] WHOOP New Armbands
[1:00:57] Closing the Podcast
[1:03:10] End of Podcast
Ben: I have a master's degree in physiology, biomechanics, and human nutrition. I've spent the past two decades competing in some of the most masochistic events on the planet from SEALFit Kokoro, Spartan Agoge, and the world's toughest mudder, the 13 Ironman triathlons, brutal bow hunts, adventure races, spearfishing, plant foraging, free diving, bodybuilding and beyond. I combine this intense time in the trenches with a blend of ancestral wisdom and modern science, search the globe for the world's top experts and performance, fat loss, recovery, gut hormones, brain, beauty, and brawn to deliver you this podcast. Everything you need to know to live an adventurous, joyful, and fulfilling life. My name is Ben Greenfield. Enjoy the ride.
So, I have actually known for two–actually more than that now, three years that I am genetically predisposed to higher than normal blood sugar and insulin levels, pre-type 2 diabetes if you will. My chances of getting type 2 diabetes are much larger than the chances of the general population, and I just know that from the genetic testing that I'd done. In this case, it was a 23andMe test. I've since moved on if you listen to the podcast to more advanced genetic tests. For example, you can go listen to my one with Karim Dhanani on the Youtrients test in which they analyze more snips, but I digress.
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Hey folks, it's Ben Greenfield and it's actually been a little while since I have mentioned or talked much about a new self-quantification device that came to market a couple of years ago called the WHOOP. When the WHOOP first showed up in the self-quant scene, it kind of took the world by storm because it could do skin conductivity, it had accelerometer data, could do continuous HRV monitoring, kind of continuous monitoring of the cardiac autonomic nervous system related to recovery and training status and training readiness, and then also was able to delve into things like pulse oximetry or your oxygenation, body temperature, respiration, and kind of a unique what's called a three-axis accelerometer. That allowed it to get really accurate data along with some really accurate temperature sensors and touch sensors.
Now, since I first interviewed the scientists over at WHOOP about their device, they've actually been kind of working behind the scenes on some really interesting research studies including some sleep studies, some performance studies, some recovery studies. So, I thought it'd be high time to get their founder and CEO back on the call to talk a little bit about self-quantification in general and what some of the emerging technology in the field that goes way above and beyond the whole like Fitbit, Jawbone, how many steps did I take today thing, and is ultimately something more along the lines of what pro athletes and a lot of professional sports teams are using.
Will Ahmed is the actual Founder and the CEO of WHOOP like I mentioned. And he's the guy I interviewed when I first did that original podcast. And I'll link to that podcast and everything else that Will and I talk about if you just go to BenGreenfieldFitness.com/whoop3, and WHOOP is spelled W-H-O-O-P. So, W-H-O-O-P, the number three. Will has actually done a lot of work with a bunch of cardiologists, technologists, marketers, designers, engineers. He was named to the Forbes 30 Under 30. He was named in the Boston Business Journal 40 Under 40. He's a real go-getter. He captained the Harvard Men's Varsity Squash team. So, he's got that whole like preppy sports thing going on. I don't know. You probably have your hair slicked back and you're wearing like a sweater around your neck right now, Will. That's the way I'm making you sound.
Will: Yeah. I'm not sure about that, but I appreciate this.
Ben: Yeah. Full on.
Will: I appreciate everything else you've said.
Ben: Full on Ivy League, baby. So, how are you doing, man?
Will: I'm great. I'm great, Ben. Thank you for having me.
Ben: Good, good. And I know you've got a pretty unique device and some unique things going on over there. Dude, I just want to jump right in. So, before we kind of get to some of the new things and also some of the questions I've gotten about the WHOOP, like I've received some concerns about the lighting on it or the EMF or whether or not it produces dirty electricity, all those things that my electronically, orthorexic fans like to ask me about. I'm curious —
Will: Yeah. We'll get into weeds on that.
Ben: Yeah. Let's get into the weeds on it for sure. But can you give me–for the people who didn't hear the original podcast and just need a little bit of background going into this one, just the basic overview of the WHOOP in general and why it's different when it comes to a self-quantification device. And before you do, I should mention to folks it's a wrist device. I know folks have heard me talk about like a ring before. I know there are other things like embeddable chips. This is not that advanced. But it's a wristband device. That being said, Will, go ahead and spell this thing out for us in terms of what it actually does.
Will: You got it. I mean, our mission at WHOOP is really to unlock human performance. We believe that every individual got an inner potential that you can tap into if you can better understand their physiology. And so, we set out to build technology really across hardware, software, and analytics that's designed to understand the human body. I got into this space personally because I was into sports and exercise. I was playing Squash at Harvard, as you mentioned. And I generally feel like I didn't know what I was doing to my body while I was training. And so, I got very interested in physiology. How could you understand the human body? How could you prevent overtraining, under training? What does it take to really optimize or peak on a given day? Those were some of the questions that I set out to answer these probably six or seven years ago as a student at Harvard. I ultimately ended up reading something like 500 medical papers and I wrote a thesis around how I thought you could continuously understand the human body, and a lot of that research coupled with my co-founder, John Capodilupo who was one of the best mathematicians in the country at the time. And also, his father turns out to be a professor of exercise physiology. We had a real overlap around physiology. We get the technical chaps to do some things from a sensing standpoint that hadn't been done before. And I had a vision probably could build a product for coaches and athletes and beyond.
And so today, we're fortunate to work with hundreds of the best sports properties in the world. We do work at the highest level with Navy SEALs and Special Operations, Special Forces. We work with Fortune 500 CEOs. We work with fitness enthusiasts. We work with even just executives who generally want to better understand their body. And we're doing all sorts of different research initiatives.
Ben: Yeah. But so does like Fitbit and Jawbone, some of these other companies, they can make the same claims. And I'm just curious like why it is that WHOOP would be different than devices like that.
Will: Well, to be clear, I mean they can make the same claims and that they're working with some of the clientele I just mentioned. And the reason that we're able to work with the folks that I just mentioned is really our focus on understanding three core parameters about the body. So, WHOOP is really designed to understand strain, recovery and sleep. And within each of those parameters, we're collecting a lot of data. I think that you can understand strain through the lens of how much exercise–body in a given day. And you can understand recovery through the lens of how prepared or how ready is your body to take strain on. The reason that we've been able to measure these data points so accurately I think has been our focus on collecting data. So, we sample across five different sensors 100 times a second. We collect about 100 megabytes of data on a person per day. If you compare that to say an Apple Watch or a Fitbit, they're collecting data at 1 Hertz or 10 Hertz. On a given day, we're collecting 100 times more data than one of those products or some of the other wearables that you mentioned. And by collecting that much data, we're able to have a really accurate and granular understanding of the body as a result. And that in turn actually gives you a lot of the actionable insights.
One thing that you and I both share a passion for is understanding heart rate variability. So, WHOOP was really the first wrist-worn heart rate monitor to be able to measure heart rate variability continuously. We have a lot of intellectual property around that phenomenon.
Ben: You mean like 24/7?
Will: Yeah, 24/7.
Ben: Well, what I was going to ask you, and maybe you're getting into this, but I want to get into the weeds as far as how it's able to do that, like what's different in terms of the sensing devices and also what actual metrics are being measured to give me like a strain score or–what were the other ones you said? You got strain.
Will: Strain, recovery and sleep.
Ben: Strain, recovery and sleep.
Will: The three painkillers of a system. Yeah.
Ben: Yeah. What's feeding into those and why are the sensors any different?
Will: Yeah. For example, with sleep, we're measuring heart rate, heart rate variability, 3x accelerometry, skin connectivity that you mentioned before, and optical sensing which feeds a lot of the heart rate information. I think the magic in our algorithms is that it's not taking anyone specific data point but rather a triangulation of data points. So, I'll give you a good example. The difference between lying on a couch with a low resting heart rate and no movement and actually sleeping on a bed with a low resting heart rate and no movement is that when you fall asleep, your core temperature drops, and in the process, you emit heat and you emit it instantaneously.
And so, by measuring galvanic skin response, we're actually able to pick that up immediately. And so that's one of the things that feeds into our algorithm, for example, around sleep latency. Now, if we just measure motion in resting heart rate, we wouldn't be able to do that. But by adding a third data point, we're able to fine-tune and analyze that quite accurately. That's just one example of how these different things feed off each other.
The thing that we filed a lot of IP around is actually our measurement of heart rate variability. So, WHOOP measures heart rate variability 24/7. We're the only product to do that. And there are a lot of reasons, by the way, not to do that, right? It's a ton of data that you're collecting. You have to transmit that data from a sensor to your phone, phone to the cloud, in the process that's requiring a lot of battery usage. So, if a product like an Apple Watch wanted to collect that much heart rate variability, it would have like a 10-minute battery life along with all the other things that they're doing. They're taking Uber rides and it's got a really high-resolution screen on it. WHOOP is entirely focused on data collection. We don't have a screen on our product. It's really lightweight. It's a small sensor and you can wear it on your wrist or your upper arm, and we're working on other areas of the body.
Now recovery, I would say, is the single most important thing that we measure, probably the single most important thing that people get out of the system. And a lot of that ties back again to being able to measure heart rate variability really accurately. One of the things that we patented is the ability to measure heart rate variability during the last five minutes of your slow-wave sleep. And we do that every single night and then we compare the exact data point to your own personal data points. The challenge with some of the other technology that's been on the market, for example, a chest strap, is that–and you've probably done this before, right, where you put a chest strap on to measure heart rate variability. Do you know what I'm talking about?
Ben: Yeah. I'll use like the–like I have the NatureBeat app that'll pair to a Polar H6, that'll pair to like a Viiiiva Heart Rate Monitor, and that's something that I'll roll over in bed sometimes to do so that I can look at the difference between sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous system rather than just a general HRV score.
Will: Yeah. So, the challenge with measuring with a chest strap the way you just described or other methods of measuring heart rate variability is that it's not taken in a control, right? If you wake up in the morning, you put a chest strap on and you're standing versus lying down, or you've had a cup of coffee or it's right before practice and you're thinking about practice, all of those things are actually going to change the validity of that measurement from the standpoint of how prepared or how ready your body actually is to perform. Because WHOOP effectively takes this measurement heart rate variability while you're sleeping during your slow-wave sleep and we do that every single night. We're capturing it in a control. And that gives us the ability to really analyze its status on your body and the true status of your autonomic nervous system. So, we look at a 3-day and 30-day moving average compared to your statistic last night, and that in turn actually gives us a really good understanding of how ready your body is.
Ben: Okay. Got it. And then regarding the sleep, what is going on there? Is there anything unique that you're using that enables you to simulate what one might get if they're to go to a sleep lab, for example? Have you done any accuracy testing on the sleep measurements?
Will: Yeah. We have done accuracy testings within a sleep laboratory. We've done I think over 250 sleep studies to date where you have an individual in a sleep lab wearing the PSG equipment, which is considered the gold standard for measuring sleep. What's interesting is that a PSG puts out information and then two human beings score that data. Human beings even scoring the gold standard agree with each other 78% of the time. And if you look at WHOOP data alongside that, we're at 76%. So, it's almost indistinguishable from a PSG sleep laboratory experience. That's how accurate our sleep monitoring is. And if you actually go pretty deep on the data, you'll get a really, really nice lens into understanding how you sleep. So, we measure everything from the hours of sleep that you've got. We look at the quality. So, the amount of time that you spent in REM versus slow-wave versus light awake. As you know and as your audience know, it's like getting a lot of REM sleep is a lot more valuable than getting a lot of light sleep.
The distinguishing factor there being that we can actually measure the different stages of your sleep, we look at sleep latency. So, that's the amount of time that it takes to fall asleep. We look at disturbances over the course of the night. How many times did you toss and turn? Did you wake up? Folks who have sleep apnea have really, really high sleep disturbance markers. So, that'll be something that triggers on our product. Now mind you, we don't directly measure for sleep apnea but my point is that if you have a sleeping condition, it will undoubtedly show up in our data to the point where you'll be like, “Okay, I need to go get checked out.” And that level of accuracy just hasn't been seen before in the market. And I think it's why we're the official recovery wearable of the NFL Players Association. We beat out 300 other companies to be the official recovery wearable. We're being distributed to every player in the NFL right now, and I think that's one demonstration, the fact that we work with the Navy SEALs and some of these other high-end performers. Again, we had to compete with a large number of products to get these contracts. We had to go through a lot of third-party validation testing. So, it's been an exciting journey.
Ben: Okay. So, that's actually something I wanted to ask you about and I think this is a perfect segue from the sleep portion is when we did our last podcast, I know some people reached out to me and they pointed out the fact that when you're asleep and when this thing is measuring you, it emits this light. It's like a greenish light on the backside of the device. You can't see it but it's obviously up against your skin. Since you have photoreceptors on your skin, one of my concerns and the concerns of some of these folks who reached out to me was that this could disrupt sleep cycles because we know that there are studies that in areas of high blood flow, like one of the more popular studies or well-known studies was the one in which they've shown a small light on the back of the knee in the popliteal area where there's a high amount of blood flow and also photoreceptors and this disrupted people's circadian rhythm. And so, I'm curious what you found in terms of the WHOOP, whether that light can be disabled or what your feelings are as far as that light that it produces while you're asleep.
Will: Yeah. It's a good question and just, generally speaking, there's a lot of information out there about the negatives associated with light while you're sleeping. Blue light is really the specific frequency that stimulates your ipRGC, which is intrinsically, photosensitive retinal ganglion cells. As you know, those are the ones that tell your circadian rhythm that it's daytime and these cells have the sole purpose of really telling your body to wake up.
Now, the thing to understand is that the ipRGC are in your eyes. So, this is why it's recommended not to stare at a cell phone or like a television before you go to bed. You want to filter out blue light. There's a whole big movement around that.
Now, there are two pieces of good news from the WHOOP perspective like fortunately, WHOOP emits green light which has a different frequency and is less capable of stimulating these cells and interfere with your sleep. The other thing is from the point of view of actually seeing light, if you're wearing your WHOOP strap correctly, then you literally can't see any light. WHOOP sits suddenly on your wrist and there's no light emission to the eye.
Now, there's also a concept of whether just, generally speaking, having light on your skin can affect your ability to sleep. There are no studies to suggest that light on the skin is problematic at the green light frequency that we use. What is problematic is if you're looking at–if you've got light on the body that's at the UV spectrum, which I think is much closer to the study that you mentioned. So, we haven't seen it as an issue either from the standpoint of seeing light or from the standpoint of having it shine on your body.
Ben: Okay. So, the main takeaway message that I think I'm getting the impression you're getting across is the fact that it's a green light versus a blue light?
Will: Green light versus blue light is a huge difference because those are different frequencies. And then, the second piece is just the concept of seeing light versus having it emit on your body. The consequences for seeing light are much more consequential because then it's triggering the ipRGC, those cells that I mentioned which tell your circadian rhythm that it's daytime. But if you're not seeing any light, which of course is the case if you wear WHOOP properly, like literally, you can't see any light, then it won't affect the way that you sleep.
Ben: Okay. Got it. So, the other question that I, of course, get a lot, and this is related issue, would be the actual electricity produced by the WHOOP, or the Bluetooth signaling, any Wi-Fi signaling, et cetera. There's an increasing interest in the ability to be able to, especially in the bedroom, to reduce the electricity as much as possible when you sleep, including the ability to be able to put devices into airplane mode, et cetera. Now, where do you guys stand as far as that's concerned with the amount of signal produced during a night of sleep, or even just during the day?
Will: Well, our whole technology is designed to help you improve performance and also help you improve sleeping as one component of that. So, we obviously took a pretty close look at this. The first thing to understand is that there are sort of two different things at work. One is actually the frequency with which something's being transmitted. And then, the other is the power emission. So, there's no data that shows that extended exposure or something with very, very low power emission has any health consequences to the body.
Now, high power emissions from other devices like–
Ben: No, no. Just to interrupt, when you're talking about power, you're talking about Bluetooth or some other form of electricity?
Will: The power emission is effectively what's coming off of the device from a communication standpoint, right? So, a cellphone has a very high-power emission. So, we could talk about why it's not necessarily good to have your cell phone beside your bed if you're trying to optimize for everything in your sleeping environment. Now, fortunately, WHOOP and a number of other products by the way that have the proper Bluetooth settings have very, very low power emissions. So, it's completely–you're comparing apples to oranges if you think about the power emission of something like a WHOOP strap versus a cellphone. The other thing to keep in mind is that WHOOP actually isn't always transmitting data. It's transmitting data every six minutes. And if your phone is not in reach then it's actually not transmitting data at all. So, if you put your phone into airplane mode, it wouldn't be sending data to your phone. So, for the people who are thinking about that, that's an easy thing to do where you just effectively put your phone into airplane mode.
The last thing to know is just that if you look at Wi-Fi, for example, that's transmitting at something like roughly around 30 gigahertz. And Bluetooth, meanwhile, is transmitting a frequency of 2.4 gigahertz. So, if you're even just in a house with Wi-Fi connection, you're already exposed to something way more extreme than the frequency of your Bluetooth. That could be Bluetooth from a WHOOP strap, it could be Bluetooth from headphones, you name it. So, overall, we've done a lot of research on this as you can probably tell and we haven't seen any issues.
Ben: Okay. Yeah. I mean, a lot of the people who are raising these concerns, they're already doing things like going complete blackout in their rooms, including any light exposed to their skin and they're already going pretty far when it comes to doing things like turning off Wi-Fi routers, disabling electronic devices. So, I know that to make the comparison to Wi-Fi, a lot of these people are kind of past that level but really interested in just mitigating as much as possible any type of radiation. So, is there a way to disable any of that? Or I mean, can it be placed in airplane mode or anything like that?
Will: Yeah. As I said, like if you put your phone in airplane mode, it's not going to be transmitting data out to the phone.
Ben: Okay. So, once I put the phone in airplane mode, then the WHOOP will stop transmitting?
Will: You got it.
Ben: Okay. And the Bluetooth signal won't be turning on and off looking for a signal during the night?
Will: You got it.
Ben: Oh, okay. Well, that's good to know. And that light, how often does that light come on while you're asleep?
Will: Well, I mean part of what differentiates WHOOP is that we're sampling data in an extremely high frequency. So, we're collecting data 100 times a second, and that includes the emission of that green light. But I want to be, I mean super clear, like the frequency with which that light is hitting your skin is remarkably low from the standpoint of actually emission. The UV rays, for example, or something like sunlight is at a completely different scale in terms of what that does to your body. This green light is virtually undetectable.
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Okay. Well, that actually lays a lot of my concerns when it comes to the lighting and the Bluetooth component, especially the fact that's not going to transmit if my phone is actually in airplane mode. And then you wake up and it'll just do a data dump to your phone once you do turn your phone on and connect it via Bluetooth?
Ben: Okay. Cool. Got it. Now, you were telling me that you had done some research lately on meditation. Can you fill me in on what you guys have been doing with meditation?
Will: Yeah. We've got a few different things in flight. We're actually doing a study right now with Arsenal and the Mindfulness app headspace. That's going to be pretty interesting. I can't talk about the results of that yet. We've got a number of studies that are in flight. One study that we just finished was actually on float tanks. So, you're pretty familiar with float tanks. We did a study on 16 members of the military who are using float tanks. Float tank, as you and your audience probably know, is supposed to put you in an instant deeper repair state, effectively giving you the benefits of sleep without sleep. And we monitor heart rate variability. We monitor respiratory rate, heart rate, and motion. And we actually found that the act of being in a float tank was physiological similar to a meditation session, or even in the best cases, sleep.
So, from a physiological standpoint, we couldn't tell the difference between someone who's in a float tank and someone who's meditating, or someone who's in a float tank and someone who's actually sleeping. So, that was a pretty interesting validation.
Ben: And what were you measuring on people? What were the metrics that you're measuring?
Will: So, everyone was equipped to the WHOOP strap and we were monitoring heart rate variability, respiratory rate, heart rate, and motion. Those are all things obviously that trigger while you're sleeping or meditating, or in this case, it seems like–and being in a float tank where obviously, you want your heart rate variability to go up. You want your respiratory rate to go down, which correlates with your sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems effectively being more in balance. And then, you'd expect your heart rate to go down and to limit motion. And we saw all of those things occur across these three different events being in a float tank or meditating or actually sleeping.
Ben: Interesting, except you're not getting wet or–I guess you're not getting the mineral absorption either from the float tank but basically, what you're saying is you're simulating during a state of meditation pretty much most of the physiological variables you'd get if you were to spend the money and go spend like an hour on a float tank.
Will: Yeah. I mean, that's the other way to look at it, is that the act of meditating emits a very similar physiological response to being in a float tank, right? We actually have one woman who conducted a mindfulness study on herself where for three weeks, she had no mindfulness practice in her life. And then for a three-week period, she introduced mindfulness where she meditated for three to five minutes, four times a day, spaced out across the day. She found that her heart rate variability actually increased during that period by 15%. Her resting heart rate decreased by 10%. And her quality of sleep actually improved over that period of time. So, that was a pretty interesting study as well.
Ben: That was with mindfulness-based meditation?
Will: Yeah. So, we're talking about a shorter meditation period, something like three to five minutes occurring four times a day.
Ben: Okay. Got it. Now what about, you mentioned some work with the Navy SEALs and the Special Forces, have you been doing anything new there in terms of any research studies or work with them?
Will: Yeah. We've actually had some fascinating work there. We've been expanding really across all of Special Forces. And a lot of that, I mean obviously, have to keep confidential. We did one fascinating study with the U.S. Explosive Ordnance Division. These are like the total hero, bad asses, like the characters from Hurt Locker, who are actually going out there in enormous suits and disrupting bombs or taking them apart, right?
So, we outfitted 40 people in the U.S. EOD with WHOOP straps and we gave data to half the group, and the other half of the group couldn't see their WHOOP data, right? So, you've got 20 people who can see the WHOOP data, the other 20 who are wearing WHOOP but can't see their data. And there was really no instruction on how to use the data. Just see it, okay?
So, over the course of the observational period, those with access to their data actually went to bed earlier. They woke up later and they averaged a hugely significant 45 more minutes in bed per night than those without data access. Now, the real test came later when they went through the HPT, which is called the Human Performance Test. Effectively, it's the military's measurement of their ability to perform on a mission. The amazing thing was that 100% of the tactical athletes who could see their WHOOP data improved on the HPT. And only 60% of the folks that couldn't see their data improved on the HPT.
Ben: Interesting. And you guys also did–didn't you have some kind of a deal where you had a bunch of SEALs, do some crazy expedition where they were doing skydiving and swimming and running 100-mile ultra-marathon? Did you get any data out of that?
Will: Yeah. That was pretty amazing, too. So, we had three veteran Navy SEALs preparing for what they called “The Spectre Series,” which was ultimately to raise money for the SEAL Future Fund. The event was insane. They skydived from 14,000 feet into the Pacific Ocean. They swam three miles in combat stroke, which is effectively like a doggy paddle. Essentially, you want to try to come up on shore in a low profile way. You're going to do combat stroke versus something more efficient like freestyle. So, they did that for three miles. They got to shore and then they ran 100 miles with 25-pound plates on their back.
Will: So, really, really amazing. And it was interesting. We got to work with them for about four to five months leading up to the event in terms of how they were training for it because–and you've done some crazy events yourself, Ben, but like there's so much. You have to invest a lot of time.
Ben: I've done that.
Will: Yeah. I mean, I don't think anyone's done that. I think that was part of the point. So, there's obviously a lot of training that goes into that and we really wanted to make sure they didn't overtrain because in–and especially, one of the guys’ case is–I mean he's 39 years old and he's in good shape but he's not like a former marathon runner who's now deciding to run an ultra. This is a guy who's like longest race. Before that, it was maybe a 5k. He's like literally learning how to run an ultra-marathon in five months.
And so, there was a lot of focus on preventing overtraining. We saw like literally in the first couple of weeks of just working with these guys that they were putting enormous amounts of strain on their body and yet their body wasn't recovering properly. If you're dealing with a population that's as mentally tough as a group of people like Navy SEALs, it's actually to their disadvantage because they can just push through their body feeling overtrained for an extended period of time. What will then happen though is that when they actually go to do the event, they'll crash.
And so, just by seeing their own data, they were able to dial it back on certain days. And sure enough over the course of four months, they have some fascinating increases in heart rate variability, fascinating increases in sleep. I think in July and August–so the event just occurred. It was a couple weeks ago. And in July and August, they were averaging less than six hours of sleep per night. By October, they are averaging seven and a half hours of sleep at night. So, just another example of you give people information, you give people data, and then all of a sudden, they have something to mend and something to work–
Ben: Yeah. Stuff gets measured and gets managed. Same with me, it's like whenever I'm wearing the self-quant device, I'll always take at least 15,000 steps a day. Like I'll eat dinner and check and sometimes go on a walk after dinner to get my 15,000 steps. I'm pretty strict about it. Sometimes when I'm traveling, I don't hit it. But yeah, I mean that's simply the fact that I'm wearing a self-quantum monitor. Same thing when I'm in bed, it's like I don't spend a lot of time lying in bed on my phone because I don't want my sleep latency to be affected. I don't want my sleep score to go down because I was in bed but not actually sleeping.
As a matter of fact, I watch a movie about once a year to twice a year, max. And last night, I was going to take my wife on a date and actually, I wasn't feeling that well. There's been like some kind of a stomach bug going around and so I just decided I wanted to stay in and have a nice romantic movie night with my wife at home. But my sleep score, actually this morning, was not that great because it calculated that the two hours I was laying there on the couch with my wife watching this movie. We watched–what did we watch? “Upgrade.” It's a movie about a guy who gets like a–he gets this thing called a stem put into his head and it upgrades his entire body.
Will: It sounds unbranded.
Ben: Yeah. It was kind of like right along the lines. I was like, “If I'm going to watch a movie, I want to watch something that's kind of relevant to artificial intelligence and transhumanism and longevity and biohacking.” So, this was right along those lines. But ultimately, just being on the couch for a couple of hours, I'd assume that I had a really high sleep latency because I was just laying there not asleep. So, yeah, when you wear these things, you pay a lot more attention.
Another thing I want to ask you was, it might be related to that meditation or the float tank study that you did, but have you done any studies on what things actually do the best job decreasing stress? Particularly, by either decreasing resting heart rate or increasing heart rate variability. I know you guys are trying to collect a lot of data but I'm curious specifically regarding that if you found specific protocols really make a dent in stress.
Will: Yeah. I mean, decreasing stress and increasing heart rate variability are really closely tied. And so we look at both of those things. And especially for increasing heart rate variability, I mean there are just some really simple things like less alcohol is super fundamental. And mind you, we measure some of these things because people can report in our app whether they consumed alcohol, caffeine after a certain period of time. We're starting to do more around hydration. Anyway, generally speaking, we've seen less alcohol. That's really fundamental. No caffeine after 4:00 p.m. makes a big difference for sleep, which in turn increases heart rate variability. Exercise is really good, just period. But, it's important not to overtrain or undertrain. So, we found that WHOOP users, for example, who listen to their recovery, that's the score we give people in the morning saying how ready their body is effectively. People who listen to that recovery and then tried to match the amount of exertion that they put on their body with how recovered they were. So, if you have a lower recovery, you take on less strain. If you have a higher recovery, you take on more strain. The people who tried to do that ultimately had higher heart rate variabilities the next day. So, we looked at how closely paired is your strain to your recovery, what's the next day heart rate variability. We saw that across the board. It was higher if those two things were paired more closely.
Drinking more water is something that I think a lot of–everyone from athletes to just your average Joe who wants to survive the day, like I think across the board, drinking more water is underestimated as something that we should do.
Ben: I don't know. I actually disagree with that. I think most people get that. I think most people don't get enough minerals or the water they're drinking is crappy. I think that people would actually have to drink a lot less water if they had more potent minerals, trace liquid minerals, sea salts. I think the biggest issue is a lot of people don't actually store the water that they drink because it's mineral-depleted water. And I find I have to drink far less when I do things like sprinkle Celtic Sea salt into my water or use hypertonic solutions. There's a company named AquaTru that does like mineral drops or there's a company called Quicksilver Scientific that does like this really, really salty almost like seawater mineral solution. For me, that only helps my sleep and my recovery. But my hydration status, meaning I just need to drink far less.
Will: Well, I'm not going to disagree with what you just said. I think a lot of sort of the minerals and supplements that you just mentioned, some people may not have access to. We've seen more so, I'd say with our population, especially at the high end that dehydration plays a big role in decreasing recovery. And we especially see that within athletes in the NFL, especially college athletes too who might be going through other forms of stress. But to your point, like yes, I think it could be augmented with certain minerals. We've done less research there. So, I'm not going to pretend to be an expert on all of that. I mean, the other piece that we talked about is meditation. Really, any form of mindfulness is going to improve the sympathetic, parasympathetic balance.
And then, we can talk a lot more about sleep because we've done some interesting things there, but sleeping more as in longer is definitely good. And then the thing that we've actually done some really interesting research on is sleeping at the same time. So, sleep consistency. So, going to bed and waking up at the same time is an amazing way to decrease stress and increase heart rate variability.
Ben: Yeah. That's something that you see like way back in Ayurvedic medicine is regular sleep and wake times. But I'm interested in how that ties into chronobiology. Like if you guys are able to–I know you have like a Sleep Coach that's built into the actual app. Is there a way to customize using the data that you're getting kind of like what time would be best for you to go to sleep or what time would be best for you to wake up? Like are you working any of that into the algorithm?
Will: So, as a general rule, what we like to do is take something in medical literature, see if it applies to the data that we're looking at. And if it does, then roll it out as a feature for WHOOP members. And I'll tell you that journey as it pertains to sleep consistency. So, Harvard came out with a study published in Nature on about 60 people. I'm not sure if you saw this. But it looked at the GPAs of students who slept with high consistency versus low consistency. So, high consistency being, “I always go to bed at 10:00 p.m. and I always wake up at 6 a.m.” Low consistency being like, you're going to bed at 9:00 p.m., you're going to bed at 1:00 a.m., you're waking up at all different times, right? The study created a score from 0 to 100. And what they found is that every increase of 10 points on their 100-point scale, where like 100 being perfect sleep consistency, every increase of 10 points actually correlated with .1 on the 4.0 GPA scale. So, the takeaway was that if you were sleeping more consistently, you were having a higher GPA. Now, the fascinating thing about it was actually that the students with higher sleep consistency did not get more sleep, as in hours of sleep. Like they weren't necessarily going to bed at 11:00 every night and waking up at 9:00 in the morning every night and getting 10 hours of sleep every night. They actually were often getting the same amount of sleep or even less, it's just that they were sleeping consistently.
And so, we took that data because it was pretty fascinating. Mind you, 60 people is not a ton of people. But we took that new learning and we applied it to our data on the aggregate. So, the power of technology is scale. WHOOP now has literally millions of sleep datasets at WHOOP. And so, we ran an analysis on sleep consistency versus output. So, across all the sleep datasets that we have, if you look at the regularity in which someone's going to bed and waking up, how does that translate then to things like heart rate variability, quality of sleep, et cetera? And what we ultimately found across again over a million datasets is that the higher the sleep consistency on WHOOP, the higher your heart rate variability was the next day, and interestingly, the more REM and slow-wave sleep that you got.
So, in short, we proved that if you're sleeping more consistently, you're actually sleeping more efficiently. And that's just fundamentally fascinating. And then as a result of that research and what we saw in our data, we updated our Sleep Coach. So, we have a Sleep Coach in the WHOOP app, which can essentially give you feedback on your hours of sleep and how much hours of sleep you need or how many hours of sleep you need. What we did is then we include now, not just how many hours of sleep you need, but actually when we think you should go to bed and wake up based on sleep consistency. So, based on when you've been going to bed and waking up, we have a dynamic algorithm that then understands, “Okay. For tonight, when should you go to bed and wake up?”
Ben: How much does that change? Because I would imagine that if someone was thrown a curve ball by the Sleep Coach saying, “Hey, we've been recommending you go to bed at like 9:45 p.m.” and then one night, your readiness or your recovery is high and it says 11:00 p.m. I mean, does something like that happen? Are we talking about subtle variations like, “Go to bed 10:15, go to bed at 10:00?” that type of thing.
Will: Yeah. It's more subtle than that. I mean, one thing that WHOOP does is it allows you to tell WHOOP effectively what your goals are. So, are you trying to peak tomorrow? Are you trying to perform or are you trying to get by? Most athletes especially, but even just your everyday consumer like me who are trying to just perform in their daily life, like there are days where we know we need more sleep but on the days where we've got a normal day the next day, we may actually sacrifice getting appropriate sleep. And so that's where this concept of getting by on WHOOP actually came in, where you can let WHOOP know, “Hey, I need to get the minimum viable sleep for tomorrow.” And WHOOP can actually calculate that for you as well.
So, based on what your goals are, whether you want to peak for a marathon or an event or you want to be as cognitively functional as possible, or if you just want to try to get the minimum viable, WHOOP is going to direct when you should go to bed and when to wake up. And you can actually change. So, say you have to wake up at a certain time, you could say, “Okay. I have to wake up at 5:45. I've got a flight, blah, blah, blah,” and WHOOP will then back out of that when you need to go to bed based again on sleep consistency and how many hours of sleep you need. So, it's a fairly dynamic system. And as a result, we've seen that within four months. WHOOP users are getting over 40 minutes more sleep per night.
Ben: Now, does it take into account napping?
Will: Yeah, absolutely. So, another thing that we measure is sleep need, which is a dynamic calculation of based on the amount of stress you've put on your body or strain, based on the sleep debt that's accumulated on your body, and based on who you are, so like, “Ben Greenfield gets seven hours of sleep. Will Ahmed normally gets eight hours of sleep? Joe Smith normally gets 10 hours of sleep.” I don't know. Right? Like over time, we learn who you are and what you typically get for sleep. So, based on the factors of recent stress, sleep debt, who you are, and then of course naps, like if you take a nap, that's actually going to decrease your sleep need. We calculate how much sleep you need every night. And so, we measure–
Ben: Do I need to manually enter from napping? Well, if I settle down like 2:00 p.m. for an afternoon siesta, will it automatically detect that?
Will: Well, it will automatically measure that.
Will: Yeah. Automatically measure that. I mean, the idea behind WHOOP is that you just wear WHOOP. It doesn't have a screen. It's measuring all these things in the background, and then it's just automatically giving you analysis when you need it. And you can dive into the WHOOP app, you can dive into the web app, and at any time really understand the status of your body. It's been really rewarding just to see how people have used that information to improve.
Ben: How does this work with coaches who are working with athletes or with personal trainers who are working with clients? Are they able to actually aggregate and view or compare each of the athletes towards the client's data?
Will: Yeah. As part of our new WHOOP offering, it has a membership. There's a big community component. So, you can actually join teams with like-minded WHOOP members. If you've got half a dozen friends on WHOOP, you can create a team with them and look at each other's information. If you've got a personal trainer who you want to have access to the data, that's something we do. And then, at the high-end level, like we're working with a professional sports team, the coach, the general manager, the trainers, they'll all have different data access levels. The athletes will share that information with the different constituencies. And as a result, you can then make dynamic decisions around, “Okay. How hard should practice today?” or “Okay. Who should be playing in the game today? Should they have less minutes or more minutes?” And that's, in some ways, how we're trying to help and influence sports.
Ben: Okay. Got it. The membership thing though, I think the last time that we talked, the WHOOP was like $500, and it's way less now. I think it's like $100 and something. How much is it?
Will: $180 to begin, yeah.
Ben: Okay. So, $180 and then you kind of like have this membership access on the website to be able to do these kinds of comparisons you're talking about to join up with other clubs or teams or like-minded people.
Will: You got it. Yeah.
Ben: Okay. So, why does it cost so much less now?
Will: Well, we ultimately found that people were so hooked on the product over time that there was an opportunity to lower the entry point and really create a membership around it. So, you pay six months down upfront for $180. You get access to incredible hardware, same hardware that's being used by all these phenomenal top performers that we talked about. You have access to a really deep analytic system. So, it's going to give you reports on how you're training, how you're recovering, how you're sleeping. There's weekly performance analysis. So, you get a weekly report to summarize the previous week. There's a whole web dashboard that has a much deeper dive. So, if you want to look at trend analysis for one month, three months, even six months of trend analysis, you can do that across any of the data points that we've talked about.
So, for people who really like to get in the weeds and understand everything about their body, that's an enormous benefit. And then the membership, of course, also includes this community and the ability to interact with like-minded people. So, people who are trying to perform at a higher level or friends of yours or coaches, trainers, you name it.
Ben: Okay. Got it. And is the membership required like if you get the band, can you just roll on your own or do you need to buy a membership to go along with it?
Will: The whole thing is rolled in together. So, with the membership, you're getting the hardware, you're getting the analytics, you're getting the community. We've seen an awesome response since we've changed to that business model. So, it's a really exciting time, Ben.
Ben: Got it. Okay. Cool. Well, this is really cool. I mean, there's a lot going on with this band and especially for people who–I know there are other devices out there. I've talked about how I use the ring before and there are, of course, embeddable chips which I alluded to earlier, which not a lot of folks are doing now. But if you don't like to wear something on your hand while you're working out and you need to rather go with a wristband, if you want to try out something that has more of like this Sleep Coach option, this is a very unique way to be able to self-quantify. And I keep my eyes on the whole self-quantification realm pretty intensively and I do like the WHOOP as the go-to option if you're looking for a wristband for self-quantification. I own one and these things do actually work. They collect really good data and the sleep data is particularly impressive. So, hopefully, for those of you who are wondering–
Will: Well, thanks, Ben. I appreciate that.
Ben: Yeah. For people who are worrying about the light and the electricity, hopefully, this kind of fills you in on how all that works as well. And of course, I failed to mention that I actually interviewed last year some of the Reebok CrossFit Games competitors about some of their data, what they learned about like diet from their WHOOP, what they learned about sleep, recovery, strain, et cetera. So, I'll link to that one in the shownotes as well. And the shownotes are going to be at BenGreenfieldFitness.com/whoop3. That's BenGreenfieldFitness.com/whoop3 because this is actually the third podcast that we've done on the WHOOP.
Will: Hey, Ben. One thing I want to add. You made a nice point about whooping the top wrist-worn monitor. I also want to add that you can wear WHOOP on the forearm or even the upper arm.
Ben: Oh, really?
Will: Yeah. We just released new armbands that allow you to wear it under an arm sleeve or even a bicep band. So, for people who actually don't even want to wear something on the wrist, there's now additional functionality, all for the same sensor.
Ben: Could you wear that during sleep as well?
Will: During sleep, we recommend the wrist, but for all other forms of activity, say you're a wrestler or a cyclist or someone who's playing tennis or certain weightlifter, the way you're holding weights, there are certain times where you may not want something on your wrist, and that's where we developed the arm sleeve. We actually worked very closely with NBA and NFL players to get something that was something they could wear during really, really high-intensity competition and get it off their wrist. Because they're in contact sports, there are times where people are grabbing at your wrist or your arm. So, the fact that it can now slip under a very small sensor–excuse me, it's a very small sensor, and you can slip under a very seamless arm sleeve, is a point of differentiation.
Ben: Yeah, but how's that work like if you want to wear the wristband during your sleep and then you want to wear the biceps band or the forearm band during your training, do you just like take one off when you go to sleep, put the other one on and the data continues to collect to the same account?
Will: Yeah. It's like changing a t-shirt. You just take the sensor out of one band and put on a sleeve.
Will: The WHOOP sensor, as you know, is a tiny little piece of material and then it's got a soft good around it. So, in some cases, a band if you're wearing it on your wrist, or in other cases a much wider band, a bicep band, or even a sleeve if you're wearing it on your upper arm. And the same little sensor can fit in that sleeve or it can fit around your wrist on a band.
Ben: Okay. Got it. Cool. Well, I'll link to all of this. I know we've got a $50 discount code for people from that $180 price point. And if you go to the WHOOP's website, the code is GREENFIELD. You can also go to the show notes over at BenGreenfieldFitness.com/whoop3. If you want to take an even deeper dive into the technology and some of the sensors, I would listen to the first podcast that I did with Will because we explored that pretty intensively. And then I'll link to everything that we talked about today, too. I also had a member of my team wear the WHOOP for a couple of months and write a pretty nerded out review on strain and recovery and sleep. So, that'd be another interesting one for you to read. If you just want to kind of see some screenshots of what the data looks like, I'll put a link to that one in the show notes as well. So, that'll all be over at BenGreenfieldFitness.com/whoop3.
So, Will, thanks for coming on the show and sharing all this stuff with us, man. I'm sure you have some hot squash competition to get off to or something or I don't know, a row or–
Will: No. Just running the business, Ben, and making sure we keep up with all of you guys.
Ben: Alright. Alright, man. Well, thanks for all the work that you do on this. And if you are listening in and you have questions about self-quantification in general or anything else that Will and I discussed, you can just go over to the shownotes and leave your questions there. Either Will or I will jump in and reply. And again, the code you can use on WHOOP's website is GREENFIELD. So, enjoy your self-quantification journey.
Will, thanks for coming on the show, man.
Will: Yeah, absolutely. And I'll just add, if people want to learn more about the technology too beyond the shownotes, you can just go to whoop.com, W-H-O-O-P.com and we've got a lot of different articles, especially for those who want to go deeper on the data side. We talked about how we've worked with different athletes and all the different studies that we've done. You can find me on Twitter or Instagram at Will Ahmed and happy to answer any questions that you may have as well.
Ben: Awesome, man. Will, thanks so much for coming on.
Will: Thanks for having me, Ben.
Ben: Alright, folks. I'm Ben Greenfield along with Will Ahmed signing out from BenGreenfieldFitness.com. Have an amazing week.
It's been a while since I've talked about the WHOOP self-quantification wristband.
A few things we learned in my last podcast about this unique device, entitled “WHOOP: The Performance Enhancing Wearable That Tells You When To Sleep, How To Exercise, Your Strain Levels & More!, include:
-The key defining characteristics that set WHOOP apart, including skin conductivity, accelerometer data, and continuous HRV monitoring…
-Why WHOOP is the only company to measure the activity and fluctuations of the cardiac autonomic nervous system, particularly as it relates to recovery, training status, and training readiness…
-The actual hard data being collected by the WHOOP, and HRV, pulse oximetry, temperature, respiration, etc.)…
-Why the WHOOP uses a combination of PPG (photoplethysmography) sensors (4 LEDs and 1 Photodiode) along with 3-axis accelerometer, capacitive touch sensor, ambient temperature sensor…
-How coaches and trainers can use WHOOP to monitor the sleep, training and recovery status of a large number of athletes and clients…
-Why the WHOOP has 90% sleep/wake accuracy compared to gold-standard sleep labs…
-How the WHOOP sleep coach automatically calculates sleep needed based on your sleep baseline, any sleep debt that has accumulated over the last few nights, and any naps taken for that day…
-The technology the WHOOP uses to tell you how much sleep you need and to give you a picture of when you should go to bed based on your habitual sleep efficiency and desired wake up time…
-Why athletes like LeBron James and Michael Phelps are using the WHOOP…
And in the article The World On Your Wrist: How To Track Your Daily Strain, Recovery, Sleep & More (A Nerded Out Review Of The New WHOOP Wearable.), you got a complete user review of exactly how the WHOOP worked out when a member of my team put it through the ringer for sleep, activity, recovery and much more. Then in the follow-up podcast “The Reebok Crossfit Games, Half-Ironman Nutrition, Elite Athlete Diets & More: A Conversation With The WHOOP Team” we discussed how Crossfit athletes have been getting a ton of value out of the WHOOP.
Today, Will Ahmed, the Founder and CEO of WHOOP, is back.
At WHOOP, Will works with professional athletes across every sports league, college athletes across every conference, Olympians and the U.S. military. Ahmed has raised more than $50 million from top investors and has an active advisory board that consists of some of the world’s most notable cardiologists, technologists, marketers, and designers. He was named a 2011 Harvard College Scholar for finishing in the top 10% of his class and a CSA Scholar Athlete; he captained the Harvard Men’s Varsity Squash Team. Ahmed was recently named to Forbes 30 Under 30 and Boston Business Journal 40 Under 40.
During our discussion, you'll discover:
-What a WHOOP device is and what makes it so unique…8:00
- Unlock human performance.
- Understanding 3 core parameters about the body:
- Focus is on collecting data: 100 mb per person per day.
- 100x more than other wearables.
- Much more accurate understanding of the body
- Strong focus on Heart Rate Variability (measured 24/7)
- Triangulating data points.
- Recovery is the most important measurement.
- What is measured in the realm of sleep.
- WHOOP data is comparable to PSG, considered the “gold standard” of sleep measurement.
- Used by the NFLPA for recovery wear.
-Why there's a very dim light on the WHOOP device and whether there's concern about it affecting quality of sleep…19:40
- Blue light stimulates the IPRGC, which tells your circadian rhythm that it's daytime.
- Don't look at screens at night.
- WHOOP emits green light; less capable of stimulating those cells.
- If wearing correctly, you can't see the light at all.
- Light on the body of the U/V spectrum is problematic.
- Seeing light much more consequential, than light being emitted onto your skin.
-More about the actual electricity, Bluetooth and wifi signaling of the WHOOP…23:20
- Two different things at work
- Power emission
- Low power emission has very little consequence, even with sustained exposure.
- Power emission is measured by level of communication. (Cell phones are very high)
- Bluetooth have very low power emission.
- WHOOP is not constantly transmitting data; every 6 minutes.
- WiFi is extremely high power emission.
- If phone is in airplane mode, WHOOP stops transmitting data.
-The research WHOOP has been doing on meditation…32:10
- Partnering with Head Space and Arsenal on a study. (can't discuss details)
- Study involving float tanks.
- Gives effects of sleep without sleeping.
- Similar to a meditation session.
- Monitoring HRV, respiratory rate, heart rate and motion
- Independent woman did a mindfulness study
- For 3 weeks, had no mindfulness practice.
- Then for 3 weeks, meditated 3-4 times per day.
- HRV increased while practicing mindfulness; quality of sleep improved.
-WHOOP's work with Navy SEALS and Army Special Forces…35:45
- Worked with Army ordnance unit.
- 40 participants
- Half could see data; half could not.
- Those with access to data went to bed earlier; slept later than those without access to data.
- Navy SEALS test
- Skydove from 14k feet into the ocean.
- Swam 3 miles to shore
- Ran 100 miles with 25 lb plates on their back.
- Focus on preventing overtraining; body wasn't recovering properly.
- By seeing data, helped with recovery.
- When they started, averaged ~6 hrs. sleep per night; after 3 months, averaged 7.5 hrs.
-Research Will has done on stress reduction…42:30
- Stress and HRV closely related.
- Less alcohol consumption.
- No caffeine after 4 pm.
- Exercise; but don't overtrain or undertrain.
- Drink more high-quality water. (minerals, sea salts, etc.)
- Dehydration plays a large role in lack of recovery.
-The pros and cons of sleep regularity vs. sleep duration…46:45
- Harvard study performed on students showed that consistency in sleep led to higher GPA
- “Sleep coach” within the WHOOP app recommends times to go to bed and to wake up.
- Minimum viable sleep.
- WHOOP takes napping into account (sleep need)
-And much more!!!
Resources from this episode:
–WHOOP (use code: GREENFIELD for $30 off at checkout)
–Quicksilver Scientific Quinton Hypertonic Minerals (use code GREENFIELD15 to save 15%)
-Biohacking movie Ben mentions: Upgrade
–Kion Lean Support for normal blood sugar levels and healthy energy metabolism, even after large, carb-rich meals.
–Organifi Red Juice. A “Tart-Sweet” Custom Brew With The HOTTEST Fat Melting And “Skin-Firming” Superfoods In The World. Use code: GREENFIELD for a 20% discount on your order.
–Thrive Market Organic brands you love, for less. Get your favorite Organic & Non-GMO brands delivered to your door. Use my link and get an extra 25% off your order.
–Primal Cold Make the cold your secret weapon with next-level cold gear. Get 15% off your order when you use code: BEN at checkout.