As the reigning “World’s Fittest CEO,” (2nd place 2013, 1st place 2014) one of the most common questions I get asked is, “How do you stay in shape with all the travel you do?” (for LifeVantage, where I serve as Chief Science Officer).
I travel hundreds of thousands of miles every year all around the world. Whether I’m speaking at a scientific conference in Europe, or educating a group of coaches and athletes in the USA, or even scouting for interesting herbal extracts in Asian markets or the jungles of Brazil or Malaysia, it can be a huge challenge to stay in good physical (and mental) shape.
In one of my books, The Secret of Vigor, I write about maintaining “vigor” in the face of chronic stress. Vigor is a term from psychology research that means the opposite of “burnout” and is described as a combination of physical energy, mental acuity, and emotional well-being. The book outlines much of the extensive research and complex underlying biochemistry (hormones, enzymes, neurotransmitters) that drives our psychology (how we feel and behave) on a daily basis, but it also breaks down some of the simple “what to do” aspects of improving vigor to boost energy, improve mood, focus attention, and even trim your waistline. I call these “what to do” tips, “VIPs” for vigor improvement practices – and I’ll share some of my favorites with you below (5 for Nutrition, 4 for Exercise, and 3 for Mind).
Top 5 Nutrition VIPs
Eat by color – choose bright and avoid white. Brightly colored fruits and veggies are high in protective phytonutrients – so try to include at least one of each “color” in your diet every day. Look for all the colors in the rainbow: Red (lycopene from tomatoes), Orange (beta-carotene from carrots), Yellow (lutein from corn), Green (chlorophyll from spinach), Blue (anthocyanidins from blueberries), Indigo (catechins from blackberries), and Purple (quercetin from grapes). Avoid processed foods based on white flour – such as white bread, rolls, and baked goods.
Is it calorie worthy? Ask yourself whether or not the food you’re thinking about eating is really “worth” the calories that you’re about to “spend” on eating it. For example, I think it’s great to enjoy a nice glass of red wine or a warm chocolate chop cookie, but don’t eat a cookie that’s only so-so. For example, one of my favorite fitness snacks is low-fat fruit yogurt because it’s a rich source of calcium, magnesium, vitamin D, protein, and probiotics – all of which are important for fat metabolism and helping us shed body fat and boost lean tissue. Two of my favorite yogurts are Noosa (Australian) and Chobani (Greek) – as much because they taste like dessert as because of their super-high nutrient content.
Practice pairing of macronutrients. Always combine a carbohydrate with a protein and fat. Carbohydrates in and of themselves are not “bad,” but both the form of carbohydrate (how much it’s processed) will determine your body’s biochemical response. For example, the more refined (less “whole”) the carb is, the more likely it is to raise blood sugar levels, leading to oxidation, inflammation, and problems with muscle building and recovery. Combining any carb source with some protein and fat will slow it’s absorption and lessen it’s oxidizing/inflammatory effects in your body.
Eat more healthy (omega-3) fats and fewer unhealthy (omega-6) fats. Fatty fish – like mackerel, bluefish, wild salmon, and tuna are rich omega-3s that improve circulation, reduce inflammation, and reduce the risk of heart disease. Reduce your intake of inflammatory omega-6 fatty acids found in high concentrations in vegetable oils such as corn/soybean/sunflower oil. If you’re not a fish eater, then two of my favorite omega-3 supplements are Ocean Blue and Nordic Naturals – both offer a great balance between reasonable cost and high-purity/potency.
Supplement wisely. A big part of my supplement routine to geared toward enhancing my body’s own protective and recuperative abilities. This means assuring a high intake of nutrients and herbal extracts that activate natural performance pathways in the body – including turmeric, green tea, milk thistle, bacopa, ashwagandha, New Zealand pine bark, quercetin, and theanine. Activating the Nrf2 pathway (with Protandim) is a built-in way to turn on your body’s own production of antioxidant enzymes and anti-inflammatory proteins. Maintaining mental and physical performance during exercise (with Axio) is my secret weapon to getting into that feel-good “flow” state where energy, mood, and focus are at peak levels.
Top 4 Exercise VIPs
Practice “MIM” – by making your workout your “Most Important Meeting” of the day. Research shows that exercise is even more effective that prescription antidepressants or ADHD drugs for improving mood and maintaining mental focus – so think of your daily workout as an investment in your career just as much as it is an investment in your physical health and mental well-being.
No “junk” workouts. Similar to the “calorie worthy” diet concept, you want to make sure to avoid “junk workouts” where you’re simply going through the motions. When you have limited time and need to squeeze as much value out of each minute, every workout needs to have a focus. This means that you need to decide what type of workout you’re doing – such as building speed (hard/fast intervals) or endurance (long/slow distance) or building strength (weights/Crossfit) or balance (yoga, plyometrics, etc). Don’t fall into the trap of going at “medium” intensity all the time just to feel like you got a “good” workout – that’s the path to mediocre performance.
Get In, Get Out, Recover. I train a maximum of 8-10 hours per week, even when I’m training for an Ironman or an ultramarathon. If you focus on quality workouts with a purpose, you can get a lot of fitness bang for your workout buck – but you also have to recover properly to fully reap those rewards. Whether we talk about joints, bones, muscles, tendons, or any other tissue, the right amount of the right type of exercise can help stimulate production of new collagen, removal of damaged tissue, and delivery of vital oxygen and nutrients. The body is designed to move – so much so that the human body is the only machine that breaks down from underuse rather than from overuse. That said, it’s quite clear that our body (and mind) can break down from overuse as well, as evidenced by the numerous over-trained athletes that I have worked with over the years. I use two supplements from Wicked Fast Sports Nutrition to get the most out of each workout (Energ-Ease) and to recover completely for the next one (Recover-Ease).
Take a full day off each week. Recovery for both body and mind is so important – and so neglected – I’ll emphasize it’s importance by giving you another tip about it. A “day off” means no work – or workouts. No thoughts about work or worries about workouts. Take this day to relax, reflect, and recharge, regardless of whether or not a “Sabbath” day of rest has any religious connotations for you. Read a book. Take a walk. Luxuriate in the act of doing nothing. I guarantee that if you give yourself over to a solid month of “do-nothing Sundays” (or Saturdays, or whichever day of the week works best for your schedule), you will feel more physically and mentally refreshed than you could possibly imagine. Doing nothing will give you back a lot.
Top 3 Mind VIPs
Numerous research studies verify the damage to body and mind caused by chronic stress. Being stressed out and sleep-deprived has been shown to increase heart disease and depression, reduce sex drive, suppress immune function, increase illness/injury rates, and accelerate both muscle loss and weight gain (especially belly fat) by nearly 10 times! Being fat, stressed, tired, sex-deprived, sick, and injured is no way to become the best version of yourself.
Get some sleep. Far and away the most effective stress-management technique you can practice is very simple: Get enough sleep. For example a Yale University study of 1,709 men found that those who regularly got less than six hours of shut-eye doubled their risk of weight gain and diabetes because of elevated cortisol and its interference with insulin metabolism and blood-sugar control. Even one or two nights of good, sound, restful sleep can do more for maintaining your biochemical balance, improving your performance, and reducing your long-term risk for many chronic diseases than a whole lifetime of stress-management classes. It is almost impossible to overstate the crucial role adequate sleep plays in controlling your stress response, helping you lose weight, boosting your energy levels, improving your mood, and, of course, raising your level of vigor.
Manage electronic interruptions. The beeps and buzzes from your computer and iPhone can add an annoying level of stress to your day. Instead of just responding every time you get an electronic interruption, take charge of those devices and set them to only alert you at specific times. Remember that your cell phone is there for your convenience – not the convenience of others. For instance, most e-mail programs are automatically set to check for new messages every five minutes – which means you’re interrupted by the “new-message beep” ninety-six times in an eight-hour day! How do you expect to get any “real” work done? Also, consider (as I do) shutting off your e-mail program during certain parts of the day, enabling you to get your “important” work accomplished whenever you’re most mentally fresh.
Whenever possible, leave the cell phone behind. It may be hard to imagine today, but it wasn’t too many years ago that people got along perfectly fine without cell phones. Try taking a break from your phone when possible by leaving it behind – especially during your workout. I make that recommendation, because if you carry your phone with you—even if you tell yourself that you won’t answer it—a part of your mind still waits for it to ring, or buzz, or play your favorite ringtone. Let that part of your brain relax and forget about the phone every now and then.
So there you have it – my dozen tips (5 diet, 4 workout, and 3 mental VIPs) that helped me become the “World’s Fittest CEO” – and have such a blast doing it that I’ll be back in 2015 to give it another go. Join me?
Thanks for reading,
Shawn M. Talbott, Ph.D.
Nutritional Biochemist and Author
UPCOMING BOOK: Deadly Antioxidants – Why Your Daily Vitamins May Be Causing Cancer and Shortening Your Life (and How You Can Turn on Your Body’s Own Antioxidants for Optimal Health)
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-The Secret of Vigor – How to Overcome Burnout, Restore Biochemical Balance, and Reclaim Your Natural Energy
-Killer at Large – Why Obesity is America’s Greatest Threat – an award-winning documentary film exploring the causes and solutions underlying the American obesity epidemic
-The Cortisol Connection - Why Stress Makes You Fat and Ruins Your Health (Hunter House)
-The Cortisol Connection Diet - The Breakthrough Program to Control Stress and Lose Weight (Hunter House)
-Cortisol Control and the Beauty Connection - The All-Natural Inside-Out Approach to Reversing Wrinkles, Preventing Acne, And Improving Skin Tone (Hunter House)
-Natural Solutions for Pain-Free Living - Lasting Relief for Flexible Joints, Strong Bones and Ache-Free Muscles (Chronicle Publishers – Currant Books)
-The Immune Miracle - The All-Natural Approach for Better Health, Increased Energy and Improved Mood (GLH Nutrition, 2012)
-The Health Professionals Guide to Dietary Supplements (Lippincott, Williams & Wilkens)
-A Guide to Understanding Dietary Supplements - an Outstanding Academic Text of 2004 (Haworth Press)