The Minimum Effective Dose

Diet and Exercise ‘Hacks’ for Maximum Performance

It’s a cliche of modern life to be ‘too busy’. On the other hand, if you aren’t taking care of yourself, you are simply not in a position to take care of others. Your dependents, whether at home and work, deserve you at your best.

So what’s the solution?

It may not be easy, a little discipline is required, but it is simple.

Eat, move and rest as nature intended, and you will look, feel and perform as designed.

It’s evolutionary biology folks. And the science is solid.

You are the progeny of evolutionary victors. Not that you’d always believe it based on the evidence around us. Regardless, you are designed to be lean, strong and fast.

It’s called survival of the fittest for a reason.

And for those you who claim to be uninterested in superficial vanities, zero in on the word ‘perform’. In the office, the bedroom or the gym, your fitness directly impacts your performance.

Eating – it’s 80% of the solution:

The good news is very good indeed – eat when hungry until satisfied, and stop obsessing over food, by following some very simple rules.

Think real food.

If Captain Cook wouldn’t recognize it as food, avoid it. Yes, I’m looking at you, factory ‘food’.

Focus on fresh and seasonal vegetables for two-thirds of your plate, high-quality proteins including meat, seafood and eggs for the other third, and don’t scrimp on the herbs and spices. Snack on nuts and seeds, or boiled eggs. Think of fruit as natures candy, and consume accordingly, always whole and never juiced. Eliminate processed foods, gluten-containing grains aka bread and pasta, vegetable oils, and added sugars.

Yes, there is disagreement and debate at the fringes. After all, ‘complicate to profit’ is an industry mantra. However, regardless of which health and wellness celebrity light your particular fire, you can take comfort that what I’ve suggested above is more or less undisputed, at least by objective and unbiased researchers.

In the lab, and in the real world, embracing real food delivers results. Improved body composition, all day energy, enhanced sex drive and performance, elevated immune function. Every time.

Exercise, Rest and Recovery – it’s the next 20%:

I have some more good news for you.

If you dial in your nutrition as outlined above, you don’t need to train more than 30-60 minutes a WEEK, based on your personal starting situation and desired outcomes. Yes, that’s right, not per day, per week.

The key is understanding that as with our focus on real food familiar to our (very) distant ancestors, we are drawing on the lessons of millions of years of human evolution, hacking our genetic programming to accelerate progress.

You are no longer required to regularly fight for your life against a predator or enemy. Nor are you forced to walk for hours in search of edible plants or potential prey. However, your genes show almost zero evolution since that period. Knowing that the human body is hardwired to prioritise the conservation of energy as body fat, in preparation for a famine that never comes, clarifies the need to trigger a genetic override.

So what’s that?

The so-called ‘fight or flight’ response, our extraordinary ability to reallocate multiple bodily resources, to survive an intensely challenging stress, and which provokes a dramatic metabolic response and positive hormonal cascade. Strategically manipulated, this will progressively and sustainably restore you to the lean, mean fighting machine evolution designed you to be.

What does that mean in practice?

Before starting, I recommend seeing a progressive GP for a full blood panel, and ideally a body composition test. It’s not just about safety, it’s about objective benchmarking. And if you are new to strength training, always engage a trainer, to learn correct form and safe movements.

Very high relative intensity is critical. Think ‘to temporary failure’. If the body does not register the equivalent of a near miss, of the ‘fight or flight’ kind, there is simply no prerogative to improve body composition, strength or speed.

Based on Mark Sisson’s excellent Primal Workout Plan:

  1. Lift heavy things once or twice a week. Train within your current and temporary limits, but push right to them regularly, for a total of 20-30 minutes per session. Attempt to improve at least one variable every session. For example, challenge yourself to best weight lifted, repetitions or sets performed, a total volume of exercise, or how much you can slow down the up and down of a rep for any given weight.
  1. Sprint once a week. Google Tabata, or download Tabata Pro for your smartphone. The key is intervals, repeated for 8-12 minutes total. For example, the strict Tabata routine is 20 seconds of all-out effort, following by 10 seconds of coasting, repeated for sets of 8 reps, for one or more sets. As with strength training, the key is intensity.
  1. Walk whenever you can. No further explanation is required.
  1. Sleep, Meditate and Recover. Almost always overlooked, it is critical to brain and body repair and rejuvenation. You don’t sleep when you’re dead. You’re just dead. Sleep deep and peacefully while alive, and everything in life gets better. And meditate. It works.