Functioning on your peak performance has never been more important than it is today, as the world fights through a pandemic. Maintaining self-discipline and exercising your resilience are two of the many tools everyone can use that’s readily available. Angela Foster, a nutritionist, health and performance coach, and host of the High Performance Health Podcast, sits down with Rodney Flowers to talk about living a high-performance life through these troubled times. She emphasizes the importance of discipline and recovery and how it can affect your resilience. Angela also explains the method behind combining modern science and biohacking with holistic practices to improve health. Learn the best practices of recovery to avoid burnout and how almost everything boils down to getting proper sleep.
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Reaching Your Peak Performance This Pandemic Through Discipline And Resilience With Angela Foster
As always, I am excited about this show. How many of you would like to have a high-performance body? How many of you would like to think with a high-performance mind? How many of you would like to have and lead a high-performance life? If you answered yes to any of those questions, you’re going to want to read up because I have Angela Foster with me. She works with entrepreneurs and company leaders to develop the same mental and physical energy as any elite athlete to lead high-performance lives. Angela is a leading female biohacker and certified health and performance coach. She uses a combination of modern science, such as DNA analysis with holistic practices to transform her client’s health, energy and performance. As a Founder and CEO of My DNA Edge, she provides individuals with tools and biohacks needed to optimize their genetic expression for optimal health and performance. Welcome to the show, Angela Foster.
Thank you, Rodney. I’m happy to be here. Thanks for having me on the show.
I’m grateful to have you on the show as well. I’m loving what you do in terms of high performance. I’m all about high performance. I want to learn more about that and especially with everything that’s going on in the world, we need to perform at our best. Before we get into all of that you do and how we can get to peak performance, I want to ask you, how are you doing with everything that’s going on in the world?
I’m doing good, thank you. It is a crazy world. Here in the UK, we are slowly coming out of the lockdown that we’ve been in. Life has changed dramatically. It’s throwing challenges my way and everyone else’s way. I have never homeschooled children before and now I was homeschooling three. We’ve gone down to two because one of them has been allowed back. On top of that, I’m trying to run my business and everything else. It has its challenges but I’m hugely grateful at the moment that we’re all in good health. It’s been an opportunity for many people. I know that I’ve certainly taken another look at my health, even though I lead a healthy lifestyle to try and optimize that further both for myself and my family because in these times, we want to be as resilient as we possibly can be. What about yourself, Rodney?
I’m doing fantastic and like you, I see the opportunity in this. I do that deliberately. There are lots of things that are not good about what’s going on, but I’m choosing to recognize all the opportunities that exist. I’m taking a look at my health as well, making sure that I continually stay on track and follow my health regimen and not be distracted or fall off. I’ve been doing good with that. I’ve been looking at some new things, which is one of the reasons why I’m excited to talk to you to see what may be new ideas are out there that I could adapt even to help me get stronger and be more healthy. Especially as I’m getting older, that’s a reality. Other than that, it’s great.
There are a lot of opportunities. I’ve found that in my business, we’ve had to pivot. Virtual trainings and things like that have become more available, so we’re doing that. I’ve been able to get into some wonderful conversations about what’s going on with people. A lot of goodness has come out of that. The conversations that are going on now are probably wouldn’t be going on if it wasn’t for some of the things that have happened. With all of that, there is goodness. It seems like we’ve taken a step back, but we’re moving forward. It seems like at least this time, we’re moving in the right direction, the right conversations at being ahead. It’s all good. How has your philosophy in coaching allowed you to cope with everything that’s going on?
My biggest thing is underrated and I learned this as a result of my own experience with burnout. It is that we’re all under much stress and we can keep piling it. My philosophy is around the need to make sure that we’re having time and we’re having a recovery. That’s important and it’s easy, particularly in times like this. There are many things going on. The media is full of different stories. We have the COVID crisis and there’s a lot of marching going on. There’s much going on and it’s easy to be swept up and to keep doing more and more. We need to take a little bit of a step back and look after ourselves. That’s such an important part. I was a corporate lawyer and we didn’t pay any attention to recovery. It wasn’t respected and sleep was underrated. We used to push through weekends and all nights just to get the deal done and the next thing is done.
That set the stage for the fall that was about to happen when I then had my children. Once you have children into the mix, it’s not easy to then take a vacation and catch up on what you’ve been missing out on. That was when I fell on the other side of the coin that many people have been worrying about and ended up sick in hospital with double pneumonia fighting for my life. That was a real revelation for me and that changed my whole philosophy around performance. I realized that our health is the foundation of high performance. If we don’t pay attention to that, we can’t have longevity in business or life. That’s been my guiding thing. You have to go with the flow and understand each day, be grateful for what you have, but also understand that we’re not machines, we’re humans. Sometimes we need to be human beings and just be. That’s the philosophy that guides me.
It’s funny because when you think about high performance, the second thought is the training that goes into it. All of the discipline, scheduling, and all of this stuff that you have to do in order to put yourself in a position to have high performance. You immediately start with recovery, which I find is ironic. Let’s talk a little bit about recovery since it’s the first step here that you want to discuss. You talked about vacations. We’re in quarantine and I don’t think a lot of people are taking vacations, but what are some recovery practices that would support high performance?
It’s like you were saying in terms of thinking of ourselves as the corporate athlete, the business athlete, or maybe that’s even the mom or dad version of the athlete if you want to be a good parent. To perform at peak levels in anything, we have to have the recovery that I’m talking about. That doesn’t have to be in the form of a holiday necessarily. It needs to be more often than that. It needs to be even intraday. What we know is that if we look at things like circadian rhythms, we need an amount of sleep each night, but we also need to match those rhythms during the day. Generally, our peak focus and productivity are in around 90-minute blocks. We can manage about 4.5 hours of real peak performance each day. Being disciplined with where you put that time and how you manage your focus is super important. When you come away from that, we need rest periods to be able to then go back into another 90-minute block with that focus. Time will always expand to the task given.We're not machines. We're humans. Sometimes, we need to be human beings and just be. Click To Tweet
A lot of people believe that working hard and keep going at it is the way to achieve high performance, but often it’s coming away from a situation. Because the quality of what you’re doing, whether that’s training as an actual athlete or even in your own sports performance, as you know, it’s the quality of the session that you’re doing that’s key here and you can’t keep that up for hours and hours on end. That’s why I teach recovery. A lot of the people that I work with are type-A personalities. Dropping back is one of the things they find hardest, but it’s the thing that yields the most results. They’re already pushing hard. We can talk about some of the other aspects that you were mentioning, the routines, the rituals, the discipline because all of that has to come with it. I’m not saying that you need to sit on the sofa and watch Netflix all day. That wouldn’t be the case. In fact, I’m not sure that it’s even recovery. Recovery is doing something that actively then builds your energy so that you can then bring it on the next occasion that you needed.
Let’s talk about those energy building exercises. We all get that when we’re performing at a higher level, that’s energy out. Recovery is when we bring that energy in. What are some of those things? Give me some ideas or some practices that maybe you do in order to experience recovery throughout the day.
The first thing is the way that you start your day is one of the most important things. When I’m working with clients, we look at their morning routine as much as their evening routine in addition to the day. I would encourage people to think about what sets them up with that perfect mindset for the day. For me, that is meditation first thing before I do anything, and then I’ll go out for a nature walk and align my circadian rhythm and get some natural light first thing in the day. It helps me collect my thoughts. Meditation helps us manage our emotional regulation well as does REM sleep. Part of the night, we’re getting this Rapid Eye Movement sleep that’s important for emotional regulation as well. Optimizing sleep is key but making sure that our minds are clear and that we have that good decision-making capability is key. I like to start with meditation, which I’m not getting out of bed and starting to go from the off. It’s almost taking my mind to the gym. I’m working on that aspect first, and then I’ll do some exercise.
In terms of during intraday, the things that make a difference that I find is sometimes you need to stimulate that energy. That can work with things like caffeine, nootropics, or some movement. Even getting up and swing a kettlebell for 60 seconds, doing some jumping jacks, or hopping on a rebounder can then facilitate the next block of work that you’re going to go and do. Other times, maybe you’ve got scattered brainwaves, you’re agitated and you’re finding it hard to concentrate. I like the analogy of if you think of a dark room, we can’t let the darkness out. We have to let the light come in. If we’re in that high beta brainwave state where we’re agitated, we’re not able to get into that deep work in that flow. What we need to do is to slow down our brainwaves. I’d then be using something a different tactic. That would be maybe doing a short meditation or doing some breathwork to slow down, to get into more breather.
We‘ve done some research in terms of life cycles per second, in terms of how fast our brainwaves are moving. Once you go above around 21, you’re moving into a much more agitated state. We need to be around 19 to get into that flow state and meditation. Breathwork can bring that back quite quickly. Even doing maybe 3 to 5 deep breaths or box breathing. There are different ones we can talk about like this alternate nostril breathing. There are lots of different ones we could try and people can pick their preference, but that can bring things back quickly. Sometimes that recovery may only be a few minutes, but it helps you then power down for the rest of the day or the afternoon and whatever is needed.
During the meditation, is that a good time to do the visualization exercises, maybe visualizing your day ahead and how you plan to navigate through it?
I like to do that in the morning. I like to meditate and then look at the visualization aspect. If you can imagine your day exactly as you want it to go, more often than not, it’s going to align much more closely with that and you’ve taken control. A lot of people jump out of bed and then they check their phone and they’re straight on. What you’re doing then is putting other people’s priorities ahead of your own. There’s only one part of the day that you have control over and that’s the first bit when you get up. Control the time that you look at your phone, control the inputs, and dedicate that time for you even if that means getting up a little bit earlier before the rest of the house is up. That’s when you can set up your day but then things like breathwork, you can use during the day to bring yourself back on track if things are going a bit crazy or you’ve been thrown a curveball that you weren’t expecting, for example.
Give us a little bit of what you mean by breathwork. I know it involves breathing but could you explain that a little bit for us?
There are a few different breathing techniques that people can use. One of them is alternate nostril breathing, which is an effective way of connecting the right and the left part of the brain. If you’re struggling to think clearly, that can be a helpful thing. All you do is you take your middle two fingers and you place them here on the forehead as an anchor and then you take your thumb and your ring finger on either side of the nostril. You press down on the right side breathe in, take a short hold at the top and then you let go and breathe out through the left nostril and then breathe in through that one and come back down the other side. That helps to connect the left and right hemispheres of the brain, which can be helpful. Similarly, you can do box breathing, which can also be quite calming and regulate your thoughts. That would be something like breathing in for four, then a breath–hold for four, out for four, and then hold again at the end. These techniques within about 3 to 5 breaths, you’ll notice that things start to quiet and back down effectively. That’s something quicker than meditation, which can take longer.
You talked about combining the mental and the physical in order to get or to lead a high-performance life. Let’s get into that because most of the time, we talk about high performance as either one or the other to be an athlete, you need to perform physically. If you’re a corporate executive, it requires a lot of mental agility. How do we combine both of those in order to get high performance all the way?
In terms of high-performance, mind and body?
Yes, that’s correct.
It’s looking at the inputs that are coming in, that you’re taking in, that you have control over. Another area would be to look at your nutrition. Having a high-performance mind and body, what you’re eating is going to make a dramatic effect on both of these things. A couple of the things that you need to do is you need to be controlling your blood sugar variability. We need to be keeping inflammation low. Both of those things have been correlated with many of the major diseases that we’re seeing. This is where things start to get a little bit more nuanced because they’re individual.
That comes down in part to your genetics. The way that we process carbohydrates in particular and fats in our food comes down to genetics. That’s something you can test easily that I do with a lot of people. Keeping that blood sugar stable is important to keeping your mind fully focused. One of the things I find for example, is you don’t have to go necessarily on a keto diet. That’s one more extreme example, but most people do well by keeping their carbohydrates lower during the daytime because that helps with mental acuity. For example, if you are focusing on sources of protein and healthy fats during the day and lots of vegetables that are non–starchy, you’re going to have higher energy levels.
You’re not going to get this cycling of blood sugar ups and downs, which raises cortisol the stress hormone at the same time. That’s going to be doing wonders for your body as well because it’s going to help you to stay naturally lean and healthy and helped you to build muscle if you’re doing that with your training as well. Having some carbohydrates in the evening can help to enhance your sleep at night but keeping it relatively low. If you want to dial that in further, then you can have a look at your genetics and see what your personal genetics are in terms of the way that you process these foods? Similarly, when you’re looking at things like genetics, you can see what’s your power endurance and strength ratios. If you’re doing your training, what’s the minimum effective dose that you need to do to get those body composition results so that you can have that strong body alongside the strong mind?
When I was reading through your material, I got interested in my DNA analysis, which tailored my fitness levels and my performance to meet. If a person is reading this and they want to optimize their health based on their DNA, they need to come to see you. How can we notice some things about maybe the foods that we’re eating and how it’s affecting us negatively? Are there any signs or anything like that we need to look for?
For example, a good way of working out, whether you are not managing your insulin sensitivity or your carbohydrate sensitivity is to look at where you’re gaining weight. If you notice that you’re somebody that is naturally tending to put weight around the abdominal area, which we call visceral fat, that’s generally a good sign that you’re not managing your blood sugar well and maybe also cortisol is high. Maybe you’re not managing your stress particularly well and then you need to look at more of the recovery style protocols that we were talking about. That tends to be where the weight goes on if somebody is having either too many carbohydrates, processed foods or they’re eating too much, but it’s also indicative of variations in blood sugar more often than not.
In terms of inflammation, if your inflammation is silent, it’s almost like a silent killer. You may or may not get clues. If you structure your diet so that you’re staying away from all the processed carbohydrates, you’re minimizing processed vegetable oils and you’re sticking to things like olive oil and organic grass-fed butter, that’s going to be helping to keep inflammation lower. If inflammation is high, you may start to see some signs. Often people will get some joint pain or some aches. They may notice that they’re getting rosacea in their skin or redness that they’ve seen, but you won’t always get signs. That’s something that is important to be mindful of what you’re eating. If you can eat a whole-food plant-based diet as far as possible with some protein, it doesn’t have to be fully vegetarian or vegan, then that will help to keep inflammation lower.
In some people, we see that they do have a raised antioxidant need, or they do have a greater need for things like cruciferous vegetables to aid with detoxification. DNA can help you with things like that but essentially, what people can do well is to make sure that they are eating whole foods that they’re not eating processed foods. When they’re using things like fats, they’re being careful that they’re not overheating them. Fats changed their composition when we hit them too high. Something like olive oil is fine to cook with if you’re cooking it low to medium temperatures. If you were cooking at high temperatures, that’s when you can disrupt some of it. With vegetable oils, they can become quite rancid and oxidized. That can cause lots of problems in the body.
You mentioned cortisol and high-stress levels, and we begin this conversation talking about continuing to push and not getting the recovery that we need. What are some of the effects of doing that to even either weight gain or the pains and aches that you may feel in the body? I feel like sometimes there are signs and we ignore them because we continue to push. What are some of the things that maybe we need to look for as indicators whenever we’re pushing too hard?Biohacking is changing nutrition or lifestyle to get the best out of our biology so that we can be the best expression of ourselves. Click To Tweet
There are a few that you can look up in terms of cortisol. If cortisol is high, then what we have to think about is cortisol is a stress hormone. It’s designed to get us out of trouble. If you think ancestrally with the fight or flee response, cortisol will rise to power our muscles to either fight or flee if we’re faced with a threat. More often than not, that’s not a physical threat anymore. It’s pressure from work or our day-to-day lives. We don’t need that surge necessarily to cope with it because when you see that surge in cortisol, we get a surge in blood glucose that is dumped into the blood, which is there to power our muscles. If we’re sitting at our desk and stressing out, that’s not going anywhere, then insulin would need to rise to remove that blood glucose.
That’s when we can see some of the more inflammatory problems and we can also see things like weight gain. If you’re constantly stressed, some of the things that you might want to look out for is if it goes on too long and cortisol keeps being high, you can become quite depleted. You might find that you’re somebody who used to wake up with high energy, but now you wake up tired. These are signs that you’re heading towards burnout. You may wake up and find that you’re okay as long as you have two strong cups of coffee or you can’t concentrate until you’ve gone and done a 10K run or a heavy hit workout. What you’re doing in those scenarios is you’re using either things like caffeine or high-intensity exercise to stimulate the production of cortisol to get you going, because your levels you’ve overdone it and that would suggest that you need more recovery.
Another thing you can look at is to look at the variation in your heart rate. We know that lots of people will be aware that if we have a lower resting pulse, that’s a sign of good health, not in every case, but in most cases. What we’re looking at is the variation between heartbeats as being important. The heart doesn’t beat a metronome meekly. It’s not a standard pace. It has variations. To a degree, the higher the variation between those beats, the more parasympathetically engaged you are. The more ready you are to take on a challenge. I track this with my Oura ring. You may have come across the Oura ring here. That overnight will give me readings on my heart rate variability. It also gives me readings on my deep state, my REM sleep, how long I’ve been asleep, whether I’ve had any wake-ups, how restless I’ve been. By looking at heart rate variability, you can see how things are affecting you and that brings us back to the nutrition as well.
What I’ve noticed is if I eat late into the evening or if I occasionally eat something that’s maybe a bit more processed and have some of those inflammatory fats, my heart rate variability will be minimal. Whereas when I’ve had something healthy for dinner, it’s been a good time before bed. I’ve done something that lights me up. It’s not just work, you’ll see greater heart rate variability. That’s an easy way of tracking with a wearable device that’s going on in your body. Whether it is a good day to push hard or whether you need to do something a little bit more rest time.
You mentioned eating in the evening. There’s a lot of talk about eating in the evening and when you should eat and when you shouldn’t eat. What is the perfect time? What time should you stop eating during the day? That’s the question.
You should stop eating about three hours before you’re going to go to sleep. When you have that last meal of the day, it should be it. There are a few reasons for that. As we get older, we tend to find that we produce less growth hormone. That’s more abundant when we are younger. Growth hormone and testosterone are also related. The growth hormone gets released in the early parts of the night, but it’s not going to be released if insulin is still high. We want to make sure that we’re moving into more of a fasted state before we go to sleep. That also means that we’ve done a lot of the digestion as well so the body can engage in that deep repair much more easily than it needs to take place during the night. Stop eating and drinking around three hours before bed is a good time.
That’s eating and drinking. No liquids, either?
Water is fine or herbal tea, but anything that has calories in it, you should stay away from three hours before bed.
What is biohacking? Can you give us an idea? What do you mean by that?
When people heard of hacking, we used to think of computer hacking or getting into a computer. With biohacking, what we’re doing is we’re trying to get into our own biology and optimize it for health optimization. It’s finding out key parts of our biology and then influencing. We were talking about genetics, that’s one path biohacking. It is changing our nutrition or lifestyle to get the best out of our biology so that we can be the best expression of ourselves.
How do we influence and optimize the expression of our genes?
What we’re looking at here is the epigenome. This sits above the genome. It’s epigenetics. They’ve done studies with identical twins and they can look identical when they’re firstborn. As they grow up and they go through life, the more that they move away from that family home, where they started and spend time together, and they go off and they have different experiences, thoughts, pressures, and they eat different foods, they start to have a different expression of their genetics. They might be vulnerable to different types of diseases.
They may even start to look a little different and that’s because our genes are not our destiny. It’s the epigenetics, which is the expression of those genes, which is key. Everything that we do, every situation we put ourselves in, everything we eat, the way that we sleep and move, even the thoughts that we think are affecting our genome in real-time. By introducing as many healthy habits as we possibly can in terms of mind and body optimization, then we’re going to be positively influencing the expression of our genes and minimizing the impact of some of those genes that maybe we got handed down and once was quite favorable health-wise.
What do you recommend to someone who wants to lead a healthy or high-performance lifestyle? Outside of the ones you’ve already mentioned, what are your top recommendations?
My top recommendation for everybody first is to tackle your sleep. Once you get your sleep dialed in, it’s easier to get everything else dialed in after that. Sleep affects many things. Even our hunger hormones are disrupted by poor sleep. If you’re trying to do something and think, “I want to lose some weight or I want to live a healthy lifestyle,” and your sleep is impaired, you’re going to have a much harder time. Things like ghrelin, which is a hunger hormone and leptin, which is our satiety hormone and tells us we’re full, these things get disrupted when we’ve had a full night’s sleep. Everything’s working against you. You’re irritable and your willpower is never going to be as strong. The first thing is sleep.
Matthew Walker, the author of Why We Sleep, said that the best performance-enhancing thing that you can possibly do for your health is sleep. A lot of people don’t realize even things like melatonin that gets released during the evening is a big anti-cancer hormone. Making sure that melatonin is high enough naturally or in natural production is important to you falling asleep, staying asleep, and also doing that restorative repair work during the nights. It’s important.
To do that, we want to make sure that we’re managing our exposure to light. Go outside in the early morning get some natural light so that you’re getting natural sources of the blue light spectrum in the morning. In the evening, you need to create a digital sunrise because we’re getting overexposure to blue light in the evening through big televisions, laptops, and mobile phones. If you can’t power down and turn these things off, then I would recommend wearing blue light blocking glasses. That is a complete game-changer for many of my clients. Wear those 90 minutes before bed. It’s going to change the color of things a little bit. It’s going to give everything a bit of a red hue but the benefits are well worth it. You’ll see changes in your sleep by doing that. I would always start with sleep and then everything else is going to become easier.
The next thing I would say is to make sure you’re moving. We were not designed to sit for long periods of time. A lot of people think that they can sit all day and then they can go and do a big heavy workout and that’s fine because that all sets all of it but it doesn’t. When we’re sitting for long periods of time were restricting blood flow. There’s some evidence that going in the gym and trying to crush a heavy workout when your blood vessels are already constricted is not good.
Before you look at how you might dial your exercise in, let’s get moving first, moving every 30 minutes or so. You’ll notice massive uptake in performance anyway for body and mind. If you can get outside and do that fast in nature walk as I do or maybe even have a black coffee before. What’s that going to do, because you’re in an overnight fasted state, that’s going to be burning body fat and help set you up. You can follow that with a hot and cold contrast shower. You’re getting that cold shower in maybe for 30 to 60 seconds in the end. That’s going to build some mental and physical resilience. You’re going to have a great fat burning effect for the day.The best performance-enhancing thing that you can possibly do for your health is sleep. Click To Tweet
That’s why I say to start with sleep and then start moving more. Start looking at what you’re putting into your body it’s important. In terms of feel that I have spoken about, concentrate on whole foods and minimally processed foods. You’re going to start feeling way better, and then the final piece is stress and resilience. You’ve got to tackle that stress, but you’re going to be in a much more optimized state already and better able to tackle and handle that. That’s when you want to look at making sure that you’ve got good forms of stress, things like cold showers and exercise, and then you’re minimizing the harmful effects of stress by using gratitude, journaling, meditation, breathwork, and all of those things.
We’re back at sleep again, which is where you started. How many hours of sleep do we need? I’ve heard 6 is okay. I’ve heard 7 or 8 is maybe too much, and when I hear people say, “I don’t need eight hours because my body naturally wakes up when I’ve had 6 hours of sleep.” I’m sure you’ve heard them all. There are many stories out there but coming from an expert, how many hours of sleep do we truly need a night?
Most people need between 7 and 9 hours. There are some people that I’ll see genetic tests that say you need slightly less sleep than seven hours. I’m one of those people. I do tend to wake up early. They tend to be the early morning types. You can find out what chronotype you are. You don’t have to do a DNA test. Dr. Michael Breus, the sleep doctor’s got a great questionnaire, The Power Of When. You can see if you are early morning or a night owl. Generally, most people need 7 to 9 hours. Some people can manage on a bit less. The quality of sleep makes a big difference, but what does seem to be the case is once you go six hours or below, the health outcomes look less good. Even things like vaccinations, we developed less immune systems when we’ve had less than six hours of sleep. We’re less able to cope, we’ve got less clear thinking. We’re less able to put with decisions.
One of the things to mention as well here is sleep is important if you care about the health of your brain long-term. We don’t know whether there’s a direct correlation between things like poor sleep and Alzheimer’s. What we do know is that when we look at people with dementia, the quality of their sleep is less. Which follows which one, we’re unsure. One thing that is true is that we have another system that gets cleansed during sleep, through the cerebrospinal fluid and that’s the glymphatic system. That effectively washes our brain. It’s important that we allow that to happen and we can’t put off sleep and then think that we’re going to catch up on that later. That needs to be happening daily. It’s cleaning the plaque from your brain like brushing your teeth is cleaning the plaque from your teeth. It’s important. I would say, give yourself the opportunity to sleep for a window of 7 to 8 hours and see how you feel. If you’re still tired, then you’re going to need some more or maybe you may be waking up at night. Use an app or something to monitor it to see. If you feel great, then you’re probably getting enough.
Is there a way we can set ourselves up to rest well and to sleep well? Are there things that we can do prior to going off to bed to ensure we get quality sleep?
We mentioned one of them in terms of making sure you’re not eating and drinking close to bedtime so that we’re focusing on that deep repair. We also looked at the light in terms of minimizing the exposure to blue light so that we’re making enough natural melatonin. Doing something that’s relaxing and calming and is maybe not too stimulating is also important. A lot of people with what’s been going on, they’re and watching the news or they’re reading newspaper reports right before they go to bed. That’s quite an anxiety-inducing and even if it’s not anxiety-inducing, it’s stimulating. It’s not the right thing to do before bed. Reading can help some people but I would say, keep televisions out of your room. Your bedroom should be there for sleep and sex and nothing else. Blocking out the light while you’re in the room will make a big difference as well.
Some people like to wear a sleep mask. There are some good ones that’s called Manta, where it has space. You can still open your eyes even though you’re not going to see, but it doesn’t feel quite intense. Making sure that you haven’t got light coming in through the window. Making sure that the room is cool so we can sleep better. The body needs to cool and the resting heart rate needs to go down for us to get deep sleep. The other thing is, don’t miss the window of tiredness. A lot of people make this mistake. They feel tired in the evening. They collapsed in front of the television and they end up having without meaning to short power nap, which then wakes them up or they’ve left going to bed too late and they’ll see that they’re getting a second wind. We all know that kid that won’t go to bed and they’re jumping up and down because they’ve got a second wind and that’s true.
As we start to get close to the time that our body’s ready to go to sleep, there’s an upregulation of melatonin and other antioxidants and hormones that are going to help us repair. There is a little uptick in energy. If you’re missing that window, you can mistake it for a second wind and feel energized. Trying to align with your circadian biology as much as possible, and the rise and fall of the sun can be helpful in so far as you can. I know we’ve all got lives to lead and sometimes we are working late and other things get in the way, but if we can try and do it the 80/20 Rule and make sure that we’re as optimized as we can be at least 80% of the time, that’s going to go a long way.
I’ve done a lot of research on people that are successful and what I’ve found that there is a theme, they tend to go to bed early. Some of them go to bed upwards of 8:00 but they’re up early as well. Is there a connection to sleep with going to bed early or is it as long as you get your eight hours, it doesn’t matter? What are your thoughts on that?
What they’ve done is they’ve aligned work more closely with their chronotyping. It would be difficult to get somebody who is naturally a night owl to go to bed early. If you look at Tim Ferriss, a lot of his best work is done late into the evening. There are always examples as well of successful people who do go to bed later. A lot of people that I see are more of the go-getting type-A personalities. Around 15% to 20% of the population is in that category and they are early risers. They’ve worked out by going to bed early. They can get up earlier and align themselves. The other thing is, remember we were talking about the fact that we have more control over our day in the morning. By doing that, it is maximizing that window because most of the rest of the world isn’t up. They haven’t got the challenges of their kids coming in. There’s no one to come on the phone or email and disturb them. They can get their best quality work or even maybe their best quality thinking and some of their exercise as well in the morning. You’re right. I’ve studied this a lot too.
There are a lot of people that are successful that are early risers. I don’t think it’s everyone. It’s worth finding out what your chronotype is because then you can align it that much more. Don’t push too hard if it’s out of alignment because what happens then is that you end up with what we call social jetlag. You might push yourself hard all week and then at weekends, you’re desperately trying to catch up. You haven’t got that energy to bring to your family or even to yourself. If we’re looking at high performance, it’s not about performing in business or life but it’s everything. It’s about you as a person and your connection and with your loved ones as well. It’s not great for your health if you’re trying to catch up on weekends. That’s quite difficult to do.
What I also noticed about successful people is they’re disciplined with their rituals. They’re regular in terms of what they do. If they’re going to bed at a certain time and waking up at a certain time, they would be doing that around seven days a week. It’s not just in the week as well. I’m a strong believer that rituals and discipline create freedom. It sounds counterintuitive to many people at first, but the more that they start to institute these, the more they realize they’ve got way more freedom and it’s using less brain power if you know that you do something in the day.
I’ve finished writing a book on these principles of health. If you can decide which rituals work for you and put them in place, you don’t have to question anymore whether you’re somebody that does that. It’s much easier. It was Jack Canfield who said, “99% is a bitch and 100% is a breeze.” Maybe it’s not the best way of putting it but it’s true. If you are going to do something and you do it every day, the decisions go on. It’s much easier to say, “I do it.” Make it manageable. If you say, “I’m going to go run 10K every single morning,” it’s unlikely to happen and you’d need some recovery. Whereas if you said, “I’m going to go and do a fasted walk for 30 minutes every morning,” you’re much more likely to do it. The more that you then do it, you build up what’s known as a streak. That then feeds you to do more and more of it because you’re happy with the fact that you can take it off every day. You’re more likely to continue with them.
Let’s talk about intermittent fasting because there’s a lot of information out there on this. I haven’t truly adopted this myself. I’m hearing that there was a lot of health benefits to intermittent fasting. What are your thoughts in terms of high performance? Should we eat or should we not eat before we do that workout in the morning?
Intermittent fasting is amazing for health. It’s something everyone should be doing. How big do you make that intermittent fasting window comes down to your lifestyle and your demands in terms of exercise as well and everything that’s thrown into the pot? The rules for women and they’re not rules, but the guidance I would give is a little bit different than for men. To start with, everybody should be having a twelve-hour intermittent fast daily. If you finish dinner at 7:00, don’t eat again until 7:00 the next morning that is going to help your body burn fat. It’s going to help you do all that cellular repair and something known as autophagy, which is the self-eating of cells. Some of the damaged cells get broken down, parts get recycled, and there’s this self-eating. As soon as you have food that stops that process. Everyone should do a twelve-hour fast.
Doing longer fasts can be helpful in terms of cleansing for the body. Some people will do a 24-hour fast once or twice a month. There are many different ways of doing this. You could do something known as 16/8 where you only eat for eight hours. That’s quite difficult for some people to do. If you were to take a busy mom with three children like myself who’s running their business, it could be maybe too much. What we don’t want to do is increase cortisol because then we’re offsetting some of these results. For women, we weren’t necessarily designed to have long fasting periods, particularly menstruating women. The rules are slightly different when you go post-menopausal because we’re a little bit more like men, but for menstruating women, somewhere between 12 and 14 hours seems about right. If you go a lot longer, it doesn’t happen with every woman, but it can start to disrupt hormonal balances. There’s little science on this because it’s difficult to study menstruating women. How do you take a group of women that are all menstruating and get everything to happen at the same time to be able to study them effectively? It’s not impossible.
We don’t want to increase the stress levels. I’d say everyone benefits from twelve hours unless you’re something like a type 1 diabetic. You’ve got different insulin and blood sugar management. You need to speak to a doctor. Unless you’re in a special case like that, most people twelve hours overnight with some longer ones, there are things that you can do that don’t break the fast. For example, black coffee doesn’t have an impact. That’s going to upregulate your fat-burning ability, which is why I say with some gentle exercise, it can be a great thing to do. Essential amino acids don’t tend to put much of a pause on the fast so you could do that. If you’re doing a longer day fast and you want to go for longer for 24 hours, but you’re finding it hard to stick with, then maybe drinking some bone broth is good for your gut lining. It’s not interfering. You may be coming out of autophagy a little bit, but it’s not causing too much of a bump in the road. Those are some hacks that you can do to get through that longer fasting period.
With exercise what I would say is if you’re going to go and do something that’s gentle, you’re going to go for a swim, maybe a light jog, I wouldn’t do it if you were new, because it will be new to running and it will be more metabolically demanding. If you’re going to go for a walk or a gentle cycle ride, doing that that fast date is perfect. If you’re going to do something that high-intensity exercise or weightlifting, you probably need to have a bit more glycogen in the tank. It’s better that you have had something to eat first. You’ll find that you can push harder.
A few more questions about what’s going on in the world with COVID, the protest, and the marching. It’s taken an emotional toll on a lot of people. You talked about some of the breathing exercises that people can do to offset that but I’m finding that a lot of people are losing sleep over this. Sleep is important and it’s affecting them in many ways because of the emotional strain that is put on them. There’s a lot of stress. What are some stress removing outside of the breathing and you mentioned journaling? I’m not sure if people are finding the breathing and the journaling beneficial. I don’t know if it’s working for people, but I’m looking for a variety of things that people can do because some things work differently for people. What are some stress–removing practices that people can adopt in order to maintain high performance during this time?
There are a few different ones. Movement is great if you’re finding it difficult to quieten your mind because you are feeling anxious or upset, people have lost loved ones, as you say, with the marching or people going through disruptive and difficult times. It can feel impossible to access things. Even though the breath is a great segue, it can feel hard to meditate. Trying to relax to some form of movement can be an amazing way to do it. For some people that’s yoga. For some people, going out to nature is better and it’s amazing for calming you down. Being in nature and hugging people if you can. I know this is hard because some people are on their own and we’ve been told not to get within two meters of each other. If you do live with people or you have pets, it releases oxytocin. Oxytocin is a great stress reliever so having that hug can make a world of difference.Successful people are very disciplined in their rituals. Discipline and rituals create freedom. Click To Tweet
It might sound like you don’t want to do it, but putting on some upbeat music and dancing for five minutes is amazing. Something that makes you happy and that lights you up can help. If you’re going through an emotional time and you’re grieving, that’s not going to be easy. You need to accept the situation because the more that we don’t accept what is, that creates a gap. That gap makes things much more painful. Time, they say is a great healer. It’s rapid eye movement sleep that is a great healer. Try and stay away from stimulants like alcohol. They can affect rapid eye movement sleep and diminish it.
People often think, “If I have a drink, it’s going to help me wind down and it’s going to help me sleep better.” It does make you tired, but it impacts the quality of your sleep. If you can stay away from that or if you are having any alcohol, keep it away from bedtime. Movement is a good way. When we talk about journaling people, formalized journaling because they think, “I need to do gratitude or there needs to be some structure.” Freewriting can be amazing. Getting a notepad and not judging any of those thoughts and letting that stream of consciousness come out can be cathartic as well and can help.
Angela, how can people connect with you?
They can go to my website, which is AngelaFosterPerformance.com. I’m also active on Instagram. That’s my preferred platform and that’s @AngelaSFoster. Connect to me over there. Send me a DM. Also, on Facebook, it’s Angela Foster Performance.
You mentioned your book that’s coming out that you’re working on. Could you give us a little bit about that?
The book is all about how to take the principles that we’ve discussed and applied them in your life and what makes a difference. It’s to bridge the gap between your average health book and biohacking, which lots of people don’t understand. To bring those two worlds together and help people understand practically the changes that they can make that make the biggest difference in their life. With everything being designed around, how do we optimize our health so that we can perform better as humans? That is going to be going off to editors. That will be coming out. If they go to my website, they can always sign up for my newsletter there and I’ll keep people apprised of when that comes out.
We’d like to ask before we end the show, a game-changing message. I know you’ve given a lot of value already, but if there was one thing, even if it’s repetitive that you would recommend to us, the game-changer of our lives, what would that be?
Focus each day on one thing that makes you that tiny bit better than you are yesterday. Even if that was taking one calming breath, it was giving one person a hug, or it was doing twenty minutes of deep focused work, it doesn’t matter. Each day think, “What did I do to make myself a tiny bit better?” The power of those 1% gains, when you look back next year, your life will have changed dramatically.
Angela Foster, thank you for coming on the show. I appreciate you.
Thank you so much for having me on. It’s been my pleasure.
It’s another successful episode. One thing that you could do to make yourself better every day. I love that. A lot of times, when we think about high performance, we think about all of these things that we need to do, the rituals, the disciplines, and the structures and all of those things. That can be quite stressful in and of itself thinking about that. If we can chunk that down into one thing every single day that we can do to make ourselves better, we can reach high performance. That is a game changer. Until next time. Peace and love.
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About Angela Foster
Angela Foster is a leading female biohacker, certified health, and performance coach. She uses a combination of modern science such as DNA analysis with time-honored holistic practices to transform her clients’ health, energy, and performance.
After recovering from a serious illness in 2014, Angela left the world of corporate law with a single mission in mind: To inspire and educate others to live an energetic, healthful and limitless life. Now, she works with high-performing clients (including top CEOs, entrepreneurs, executives, and athletes) in optimizing the expression of their respective genetics for ultimate health.
As a founder and CEO of My DNA Edge, she provides individuals with tools and biohacks needed to optimize their genetic expression for optimal health and performance. Angela also hosts the High-Performance Health Podcast; the show where she talks about everything you need to break through limits and achieve a high-performance mind, body, and lifestyle.
Angela is also authoring a book on how to biohack your mind, body, and lifestyle for the ultimate edge in human performance which is due to be released in 2020.
Credentials: Certified Health Coach, Kion Coach, Nutrition for Sport & Exercise Specialist, Certified Personal Trainer, DNAFit Certified Practitioner
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