Alpha Brain is a nootropic by Onnit. Nootropics are any supplement or drug (however you want to see it) designed to improve your brain in some way, be it processing speed, memory retention or whatever else.
Alpha Brain purports to be the first nootropic tested by a non-interested party to get statistically significant improvements in brain function; that's reported in press releases from the company that produces it, so take that at face value. Personally, I'm skeptical about achieving statistically significant results with a sample size of 18, but my research background is in social science, not in science as applied to actual humans.
WebMD rambles on a bit about whether a supplement could improve brain function, but focuses specifically on certain forms of dementia, such as Alzheimer's. The not-quite-a-conclusion is that if you hit a battered brain with enough stuff, something's bound to help a little bit.
Now, let me tell you about my own experience. I've been using Alpha Brain for most of 2015, taking a week off here and there to let my brain reset to its natural, unsupplemented state (well, I don't stop the caffeine, so, there's that). I will say that about 45 minutes after taking it, I feel sharper. I make fewer typos and generally fewer minor mistakes. I have a desk job that requires strong control of the English language, and I take fewer tries to get it right while I have it in my system.
I do know that Onnit runs banned substance tests to make sure everything that goes into Alpha Brain is legal in most capacities, including pro sports.
I take it, and I recommend it.
Disclaimer: I am not a doctor, nor do I play one on the Internet. Talk to your doctor before taking supplements – they are largely unregulated by the FDA. Also, if you buy this product using my link, I will get a small percentage of the sale. This product was not provided free of charge for review; I pay full price for my Alpha Brain.
Tim Ferriss is, by now, well-known for the 4-hour franchise. His first book, The 4-Hour Workweek, was famously rejected by dozens of publishers before becoming an overwhelming hit, having been translated into thirty-something languages (as of this writing) and sending a lot of people into entrepreneurship.
That book was basically a collection of productivity hacks for people with a product to sell, giving them the opportunity to cut down drastically on the amount of work they had to do while keeping their revenue streams up.
The message for me from The 4-Hour Workweek that sticks, though, is not the main message of the book, which is essentially how to get rich while other people handle the tough work for you. It’s that it’s an instruction manual for stuff that Ferriss tried himself, using his own business to experiment on.
And so we pick up Ferriss’ second book, The 4-Hour Body, a 600-page book about changing your body. Ferriss writes about losing fat and gaining muscle, both quickly and over the long term, including doing so while more or less ignoring every dieting “rule” you’ve ever heard. He writes about having better sex. He writes about supplementation (read: drugs). He draws from the experiments he’s performed on himself (and a few other willing subjects).
That brings us to the punchline, about how this book really does change your life.
The takeaway: It’s OK to experiment on yourself.
Sure, it’s nice to have a physician available, especially if you don’t understand the chemistry at play in your body and in certain drugs. And if you are trying new stuff for the first time, having an urgent care or emergency medical facility nearby is a good thing (and maybe you want to have a ride available, just in case). But to be honest, while the body can be a fragile thing, it’s also really resilient, and it lets you know when you’re taking it too far through pain or other reactions (like swelling, for example).
But in general, you should really learn to be comfortable trying new things, and also observing how they affect you. This applies to food, activities, sleep and pretty much any part of life you want to apply it to.
To observe correctly, however, you must measure and document. Ferriss has done pretty much all the work for you. If you want to lose 2% body fat in two weeks, he’ll give you the shortcuts. If you want to put on 18 pounds tomorrow, he’ll let you know. But he also lets you know how to measure and document your progress, so you can see for yourself, and that’s the part of The 4-Hour Body that’s most interesting to me.
Why it’s important: It makes you the expert.
You don’t need a personal trainer, or a dietitian or a scientist. You record what you eat, you record how you feel, how it changes your weight, etc., and you do it again under the same conditions at another time to see if there were any extraneous factors (that is, to see if it’s replicable).
You would be the best expert on you, if you were to pay attention. And, the punchline here, is that you can extrapolate all you learn to other parts of life. The observation, data collection and other skills certainly translate outside of eating and running.
How to use it: Ferriss himself leaves instructions for how to use the book. Pick a couple of chapters that are relevant to you, and read those first. Utilize the tips. Do your experimenting. Then read the rest of the book if it’s interesting to you.
Well, turns out the higher-carb, moderate-fat diet is working for me. I've regained some of the energy I'd lost a couple of weeks ago that eventually led to some declines in my "fitness test" weeks — and, to be honest, this week was tough. We have some stuff going on at home that entirely blew one or more of my workout, eating or sleeping plans at least three times this week. And I still lost some weight.
Onward and upward. I'm looking forward to some chill time this week. I've pre-written some of my other writings, I've planned an afternoon and evening just hanging out in a different town, and I have a bit of a presentation to do tomorrow that I think will be really fun.
And then, charging ahead. Later in the week, I hit high gear. I'm not going to talk about it here, it'd be way off-topic for this series, but WOW, so much spinning in the old noggin. Runs might get longer to give me some time to think and architect.
OK, so we're halfway through our challenge and nowhere near halfway to our goal. BUT we're back on track losing some weight.
I ran mostly short distances, but more frequently — the farthest I've run since I made it to 20 miles.
We're on the right track, I think, and I'm paying more attention to things like form; I heard Keith Weber and Joe Rogan discuss form, and, especially since I've been wearing my minimalist shoes less (I lean toward Saucony Hattori — which appear to be out of production — and on occasion Vibram FiveFingers).
My diet was a gajillion kinds of awful, but I at least changed up my workouts to include speed and explosiveness, and that balanced out my eating.
I'm preparing for a little better success this week. My workouts are going to be shorter and more intense (I've already started with my workout today), and I have some much better meals planned, as well.
One of the things "Dilbert" creator Scott Adams writes in his new book about success is that diet and fitness are important to success in other parts of your life. He says a lot of people said it was obvious, and a lot of other people said, essentially, that he was full of it. But I think it's worth mentioning, and I think I need to focus on it for personal success. So, at just about the halfway point, consider my drive renewed.
You can see my strength tests went the wrong direction, as well, so it's time to redouble efforts.
OK, so I only lost another 0.6 pounds, which means I'm way off track, but I feel better this week than I have in almost a month. I didn't run very much after my 20-plus-mile week, opting for lower-impact cardio. That might have been part of it: no aches and my upper legs weren't fatigued to hell by Wednesday.
But what I think did a lot of it was a change from my normal diet for weight loss (a high-fat, low-carb diet, which studies seem to show is the way to go) to a moderate-fat, moderate carb diet more along the lines of an intuitive eating plan.
I'm lucky in that I work from home, so I'm not bound by a workplace structure that discourages eating except before, smack in the middle of and after work. While I take a "lunch" break at my job, I typically just take the three minutes to run to the kitchen if I'm hungry.
I've been eating more oatmeal, rice, beans, and occasionally an apple or banana (actually, I normally eat a lot of bananas, primarily pre-workout). Whereas my diet before was something along the lines of 150g protein, 100g fat and 50g of carbohydrates (~1700 calories), I'm now closer to 200g protein, 100g carbs, 50g fat (~1650 calories).
I'll probably try to maintain something like that for the next month or so, maybe even increasing the protein, perhaps slightly decreasing the fat.
This was a weird week, and I've had to do some research.
I ran 20-plus miles, the first time I've ever done that (this week will be significantly less – probably in the six-to-seven-mile range). Historically, I metabolize proteins and fats well, but the body really wants carbohydrates, especially for cardiovascular exercises, like, say, running. So, I didn't eat enough carbs and tried to stop being hungry with more protein and more fat and I pretty much lost no weight (but you can see from my pushups and pull-ups in the chart below I'm still gaining strength).
We're running the Insane Inflatable 5k on Saturday, which is not so much a 5k for time as it is a sprint then playing on a bounce house then another sprint and climbing up an inflatable slide then a sprint and playing in an inflatable maze...you get the idea. But I'll make sure my legs are in good shape for it; looking at my splits for the week, things go to hell pretty quickly.
Anyway, here's our tracking chart for this week. Hoping for a kickstart over the next 7 days.
Ugh. Week 3 didn't go well. There were two primary reasons, which I'll detail here.
1. Rest. This is the real thing. A week ago Sunday, I was going to take a rest day, but it was beautiful out, and I had some energy, and I went for a run of nearly three miles. And it pretty much ruined the rest of my week.
I was under 10 miles running for the week after that, and I generally didn't feel so hot, even though I got plenty of sleep at night during the week.
2. Supplementing with creatine. This is not to turn you off creatine. I actually like it as a supplement, and I'm probably willing to give up my 20-pound goal to keep supplementing with it. But I probably need to supplement it smarter.
It also retains water in the muscle cells (helping them grow), which means that you gain water weight while using it. The Men's Health article linked says you'll for sure gain weight, but keep in mind that's assuming you're already lean. So, I will probably continue to lose fat, but it's a matter of whether I can lose enough fat to outpace the muscle I'm gaining.
I'll admit to feeling better – less sore and what-not – with it, so I'll probably not stop simply for the sake of weight loss. I may regulate how I use it, though; my workouts tend to be more intense the beginning of the week anyway, so maybe I'll use it more toward the beginning of the week and lessen the effects of the water retention.
Anyway, I have no real excuses. I resisted the temptation to run on a nice day yesterday and just sat outside instead, and then ran 5.22 miles this morning, so I guess I'm on the right track.
I thought I was actually going to put on a couple of pounds this week. I've been having some major food issues — notably not eating enough calories during the day, then back-loading on high-sugar foods at midnight or later to catch up.
But I listened to Steve Austin's podcast (auto-plays, NSFW), and someone asked about his diet, since he's trying to lean out for some upcoming TV shows. He's eating a lot of protein (350g) and calories (over 3,000), which is way more than I need, but he's also filling some of his meals out with oatmeal and potatoes and rice.
So I picked up some of those dense starches to take the place of things like, oh, peanut butter cups and cookies. And even in just a couple of days, it worked wonders. So, that's going to be part of the plan for the fall, I think. Not whole meals of piles of rice, of course, but a couple of fistfuls of oatmeal in my protein shake in the morning means it will stick a little longer. In fact, the first time I did it, it was 30g of whey protein, a banana, a serving of peanut butter and a little bit of oatmeal, and I had enough fuel for a three-mile run three hours after I drank it, on what was supposed to be a rest day (I just had some energy I needed to get out).
Anyway. It was also a pushups and pull-ups day. My two-minute max pushups was up almost 15%; my pull-ups increased twice that.
Well, I'm not going to lie. I didn't do great Week 1. I hit my 1.5-pounds-per-week goal, but you'd think at the start of a new program you lose big the first week and then everything kind of averages out.
Not if you don't eat right, of course. I guess I've got another week or two of summer slacking my body wants to do, but I'm going to try to balance it well. I'm opening up the grill this afternoon, and you can betcha I'm gonna eat.
Anyway. I did get over 10 miles this week (along with a couple of goes on the elliptical and on the exercise bike). I'm hoping to get out today for a few miles (the gym's closed, so I guess if I'm going to lift anything it'll be a 70-pound Labrador who's not really into the whole being off the ground thing).