My wife wants to double down on marriage and the global fight against sugar and processed foods. The brilliant idea — that no husband could say no to — is to row across the Pacific Ocean from San Francisco to Hawaii completely unsupported, launching in June ‘14. So that’s what we’ll do:

We only need mental and moral support, but the fight against bad food (and sugar) needs your help too, so please join the battle.

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lisamazzocco asked:
Sami - I went to the screening of "Cereal Killers", and as an endurance athlete, I'm curious to test the high-fat diet. But, I want to make sure I do it right - what resources do you recommend for someone who wants to learn how to get started smartly?

Hi Lisa,

Good question. Since I’m no medical expert myself, I’d highly recommend someone who has researched the topic for 30+ years: Dr. Steve Phinney and his work

His books are excellent resources of scientific information, but written for an average reader.


The perfect stress and recovery measurement device: specs & how to get it

Athletes have long been focused on their recovery state to optimize training and to arrive fit and fresh at the race start line. This certainly applies to myself as well.


Recovery/stress tracking is also increasingly applied in the corporate world (ex: Spire at LinkedIN, Fatigue Science case studies) and in recreational use, where sleep (or lack of it) typically gets most coverage.

With all this market demand for accurate stress/recovery tracking and availability of cheaper and more accurate sensors, entrepreneurs have sensed the opportunity; I’ve now seen about dozen devices or services focused on measuring one’s recovery/stress state, some of which are still in stealth mode. 

After beta-testing or simply using many of these services, I think there are three key design hurdles that these devices have to overcome before they can dream of a real success in the marketplace. Here are the killer app product specs based on my own experiences as both a business (=office productivity) and athlete (=race course performance) user:

  1. Extremely easy measurement, preferably continuous and automatic.
    Except for the most motivated athletes (e.g. professionals or some larger than life goal), it is very unlikely that the user will continue to play around with wires, straps and tools every day, even if it only takes less than a minute or two. That may work for a life-saving device, but not for a recovery tracking tool that may not have anything new to tell you that day.

    Great example:
    Besides sleep, Beddit measures Heart Rate and Heart Rate Variability (HRV) every night while sleeping without the need to do anything before, during or after going to bed. Not even clicking a mouse. The sensor is installed once (under the sheet) and it keeps measuring non-stop each night while in bed.

    Suboptimal example: Testing the performance of peripheral nervous system via sensors and stickers delivering electrical currents. The test itself is less than 20 seconds, but the setup takes precision and a few minutes. The test itself may be one of a kind, but the testing itself is a high hurdle.

  2. Consistent and reliable results, preferably scientifically proven.
    This sounds very obvious, but I’ve tested several devices while I’ve been truly sick and/or visibly tired, but the service tells me I’m perfectly recovered. You only need one or two of those experiences and you’ll completely lose your belief in the product.

    Great example: Restwise is a recovery tool that incorporates a number of both objective and subjective inputs to provide a recovery score. From my personal experience, this tool provides consistently the most reliable results of any service I’ve tested so far. 

    Suboptimal example:  Purely heart rate based solutions that use a short measurement period. Heart rate does react to major stressors, but usually with a 1-3 day delay and sometimes it’s off for other reasons (cup of coffee, excitement, room temperature, etc.). HRV is a step-up from HR as a recovery measurement, but that too has been found to be too unreliable and with a long delay.

  3. Actionable recommendations, not just data.
    This requirement would apply to most of the first generation “quantified self” tools. It is quite exciting to read some data that is coming out of your body, but this excitement wanes quickly, unless it is very clear to the user what to do next based on the measured data. And if this recommendation isn’t insightful enough (e.g., your leg hurts -> don’t run should be obvious) the device isn’t worth the time and money. 
    Great example: Omegawave has quite a specific recommendation (muscular and cardiovascular readiness separated) based on the recovery status, and not just numbers.
    Suboptimal example: Unfortunately almost all the devices and services that I’ve tested fall into this category and the user is left asking, “so what?”.

So, does a killer recovery/stress measurement tool that has nailed #1, #2 and #3 already exist?

The one that I currently consider the best, is based on a sensitive neural network that is also self-learning. It is (1) completely ambient and automatic if properly trained, (2) the results are always consistent if properly trained and it has been scientifically proven, (3) the recommendations are almost always actionable.

That is, the human brain combined with a high level or self-awareness. I’ve written about this before. However, to the credit of the many services and devices I’ve used (especially Restwise), my own self-awareness and ability to detect my mood in a matter of seconds has improved as a result of using these services.


I’m optimistic someone will eventually beat the human brain that can sometimes be too biased and it takes time to train (to become self-aware); if you know a device that meets all of the above requirements, let me know, because I’m eager to start using it and potentially invest in the company too!

How can Mirinda Carfrae run a 2:50 marathon in Hawaii Ironman, but you can’t?

Because she’s a very fit and gifted runner and triathlete, unlike most others! Simple and true.


This could be your body at Hawaii Ironman triathlon.

However, there are a few fundamental factors that change the limits of endurance performance at the Hawaii Ironman triathlon significantly and thus make certain athletes much more likely high performers in such conditions. Having just raced at that event the 7th time and seen many write-ups about “optimal pacing in Hawaii” or “how much slower you should expect to go in Hawaii” type of articles, I thought it would be interesting to look at the very specific reasons why Hawaii is different and why race pace recommendations based on “averages” is quite useless.

Human endurance performance is limited by many factors, many of which are still debated and whether it is our brain (=the central governor theory) or our failing peripheral muscles (=the cardiovascular model) that slows us down to our maximum sustainable speed. However, it is widely agreed that extreme heat and humidity negatively affect performance at maximum efforts. Interestingly, heat and humidity doesn’t slow down much if at all in the swim and bike portion of triathlon, which I’ve personally experienced and race simulation research in heat shows that too. So something different happens during the run.

Our bodies and brain try to avoid the destiny of eggs on a hot frying pan and there are two key factors pushing us away and towards this homeostasis while running:

  1. Heating power that is the result of our human inefficiency. For every 1000kcal we metabolize, we only use about 200kcal (or 20%) to the forward moving motion. The rest is wasted as heat. (Roughly the same applies to cycling too, a cyclist pushing a bicycle forward at 300 watts is actually generating more than 900W of heat in addition to that forward moving power) Interestingly the energy cost of running is independent of our running pace. It takes about 1kCal per body kg to run 1km, regardless of running pace or body size. The consequence of this is that the heating power rapidly increases as you run faster and as you add weight.imageWasted heat production (in watts) at certain marathon running paces for athletes of different sizes (weight, kg). Assumes that heat power equals 80% of the total energy metabolized for the movement.

    As an example, a 50kg person running a 2:50 marathon “only” needs to get rid of 750Watts of continuous heating. Meanwhile, a 65kg person can only run a 3:40 marathon at the same waste heat level. Fortunately, our bodies can get rid of some of the excess heat, so heat doesn’t always become the performance limiter.

  2. Cooling power that is primarily a function of convectional cooling and sweat evaporation (not just sweating) from skin. Unfortunately cooling power does not increase at the same rate with excess heat production, as cooling is more closely related to human skin surface area than weight. Secondly, cooling is also very sensitive to ambient temperature and humidity.

    So the bad news is that at some running speed, runners should theoretically hit the point at which heating power exceeds cooling power, (soon) after which our bodies either shut down or turn into eggs on a frying pan. This almost never happens in cycling - unless climbing a very steep hill at walking/running pace - because at 20-40mph speed the cooling effect easily exceeds the extra heat generated.

The best approximate for body cooling during running I could find was in Tim Noake’s Lore of Running, in the following chart, which seems to assume strong air flow at max running speeds (about 5min/mile) and large skin surface area (about 75kg athlete).

imageConsidering the average weather in Kona, HI in October is 29.4C and 84% humidity and stays at a remarkable narrow band over the years, I estimated what happens if you run at 2:50 marathon pace in these conditions by using Noakes’ cooling model and adjusting it based on body size (skin area):


 It looks like a 55-60kg (120-130pd) runner is not going to be limited by heat for a 2:50 marathon, but anyone larger than that will suffer and overheat at that pace based on average athlete’s heat loss (cooling ability).

So the obvious question is how fast can a runner of size X run in the Kona, HI conditions. Based on the above assumptions and also including a +8% heat acclimatization factor that has been show at least in some studies,  I came up with the following:

imageEstimated best possible marathon performance in Hawaii Ironman based on heat as the limiting factor for different size runners.

From the above chart, if you dream of running a sub 3hr marathon in Hawaii, you shouldn’t be larger than about 72kg (or 160 pounds). For reference, the 2:50 marathon women’s record holder weighs about 52-53kg and many of the top men in the 60-65kg range for this event.

So what’s the take-away for someone racing in Hawaii Ironman and hoping to run really fast?

  1. Unless you’re very small (under 55-60kg) heat is likely going to be a significant performance limiter on the marathon run (not bike or swim) assuming you’re well trained to run fast otherwise.
  2. Acclimatize and cool as much as you can on the run.
  3. Hope for a cool and windy day on the run.
  4. Watch someone like Mirinda Carfrae (52kg) run really fast every time despite the weather conditions in Kona.

Final note: This analysis was hacked together pretty quickly and I’m quite sure there are missed nuances and potential errors in my interpretation of research data. So use it at your own risk (and entertainment).

Tech company reality: You have no choice and only one competitive advantage

I’ve met several lucky tech entrepreneurs, who have built a profitable, self-sustaining business. From these lucky ones, I’ve often heard the question “we are wondering whether we should raise outside money, take a much bigger risk and aim for ‘world domination’ in our space — or not”. 

I think it’s a good question to ask, but in my view there’s only one feasible answer: Yes. The reason is simple: the alternative under almost all scenarios is that you run out of business and become irrelevant over time. And why is that?


Contrary to what most people think, I believe there is only one long-term sustainable (if cultivated well) competitive advantage for a tech company: Continuous innovation. In fact, I think that’s the only defensible competitive advantage for any tech company and innovation is the most important output of any enterprise in the fast changing tech world.

In addition, scale in some important aspect of the business (customers, data, marketplace liquidity, network size etc.) can buy some extra time to produce more innovation. But scale as competitive advantage often masks the reality and fools company leaders (especially those focused on operational excellence vs. innovation) to think they have a sustainable competitive advantage other than continuous innovation. Two simple examples of this pitfall:

  • eBay: An auction platform and its demand-side increasing returns (the more people join, the more existing users benefit from it) is probably the most impressive example of competitive moat with a built-in network effect. But what happened to eBay in the last 10 years given all its struggles? (According to some ex-employees) the company was laser focused on website yield, profit maximization and  true innovation was non-existent. eBay’s still alive, but has struggled against other online merchants, including Amazon. It’s far from invincible anymore despite the untouchable moat it was supposed to have.
  • Nokia: Massive scale, strong brand, loyal users. Company logistics and operational excellence became the envy of everyone. Yet, without continuous output of true innovation, competitors forced Nokia to collapse in a matter of few years.

So what choice is a profitable and content tech company left with?

  • It has to build an innovation machine that attracts the best, brightest and most innovative people now and in the future, not just for the v1.0 or v2.0 product (unless the aim is to sell a company based on a great v1.0 launch, which is a short term, likely failing strategy)
  • It has to also quickly build scale that gives more time and resources to make mistakes and innovate more against smaller competitors.

In other words, you either grow and innovate more, or fall apart. That really leaves only one choice: shoot for the stars!

Related thoughts on innovation as the only competitive advantage:

Niche companies? In some rare occasion there might be a tiny niche in which a tech company can operate relatively safely without growth and radical innovation. However, even this “opportunity” is typically just a matter of time before it is gone. As an example, what might happen to vertical specific registration services (e.g. concerts, sports events, etc.) when a platform like Eventbrite really gets to scale.

Operational excellence vs. innovation? Large tech companies (let’s pick on Yahoo!, eBay, HP, Nokia again) often reach a point in which their leadership changes from the innovation focused, entrepreneurial founder. I have a strong view that when the focus turns into operational excellence even with perfect managerial skills, a tech company starts its inevitable downfall. The larger the scale, the longer the management can mask this downfall, but it is inevitable. Well, look at Yahoo!, HP and eBay for this. Or look at Amazon or Google as counter examples of producing continuous innovation. Or Apple.

Red-eye killer routine

A friend had to take a red-eye flight to NYC last night and it reminded me that I (used to) ONLY take red-eye flights in the name of efficiency. 


Optimally you’d sleep nicely during the flight and wake up 5 hours later fully refreshed, ready for the 8AM meeting. But that almost never happens - instead, the morning after I feel like crap. Over the years I perfected a hack that has worked like a charm and quite often I heard “really, did you take a red-eye .. you look so rested and fresh!?”.

This is how I’ve killed the red-eye fatigue:

1. Choose early red-eye’s that arrive ~5AM and immediately check in to your hotel, before coffee or breakfast.

2. At your room, drink an espresso or take 100-150mg of pure caffeine.

3. IMMEDIATELY after #2, jump into bed and sleep ~15minutes (MAX 20minutes) with blinds on, so the room is dark.

4. IMMEDIATELY after #3, go to hotel gym for 10-15mins. First 5-10min either run or pedal bike easy/medium effort. Then do twice 1 minute ALL-OUT sprinting.

5. Shower, change and get to your 7AM or 8AM meeting.

6. CRITICAL: Don’t eat any big meals during the day and avoid almost all carbohydrates, especially sugar, sugary drinks, rice, pasta, etc. that might spike your blood sugar and send to a death spiral two hours later. That means focus on protein, fat and some vegetables when you eat.

This routine (vs. three cups of coffee and straight to meeting from airport) works for three reasons, (i) caffeine is a stimulant, (ii) even little sleep helps to refresh, (iii) high intensity effort forces your body to release hormones that keep you alert and up. Just don’t screw it up with a huge burrito for lunch.

I would not recommend this as a long term solution, just a fix for a day or two to get through it. 

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skylyon asked:
Sami, I know this post is long past... but looking at your Sub-9 hour secret sauce article... I'm interested to know what's up with all those < 20' runs?

Practically speaking, it’s typically either run to pool(+swim) or some other “commuting”. I do them for two reasons: (1) it’s incredibly time efficient, (2) frequency, even if short runs, is a way to build muscular endurance for long running events without damaging yourself with 2hr runs.

Good idea, bad design: Seven Reasons Most Hotel Gyms Fail

Twenty nights in a hotel, two nights in my own bed, three in a hotel, two in my own bed and tomorrow again three more in a hotel. That’s the last 30 days.  In fact, I’ve slept more nights in a hotel than in any of my “homes” since 2007. That’s not something to be proud of, but that’s how it goes.

My keywords for choosing a business hotel are convenience and frugality. I think I can handle almost anything and even as a business traveler have seen it from a basic 1 star to shared bathrooms to plastic sheets to the non-business overly lux, but one aspect has become a true showstopper for me: there must be a gym for training

Unfortunately this great idea and anticipation of a gym often fails to deliver its promise. So for the benefit of hotel general managers and other health-conscious business travelers, here are seven reasons (or questions to ask prior to booking!) for the above-mentioned failure. And in my case, that failure means no future stays in that hotel:

1.    Gym opens at 8AM or later with no exceptions.
This is surprisingly common. I could understand this rule at a beach resort, but how many business travelers can workout 8-9am and still make it to their flight or first meeting? Sometimes I’ve managed to talk myself into an off-hours gym through a janitor or by  climbing through a window, but those are happy exceptions.

2.    False advertising: one treadmill or a 1 mile walk does not equal a gym
Half of the 1-2 star hotels fall into this group. That single treadmill is additionally often broken or already in use by someone walking 20minute miles on it. Some nicer hotels have a “partner gym” which means hiking a couple miles to another location for a workout. These and many similar “false-advertising” cases shouldn’t count as an in-house gym listed in the amenities

3.    Equipment doesn’t work and nobody was aware of it
Treadmill, stationary bike, elliptical machine, cables – yes, they all require maintenance. Countless times I’ve “checked out” the gym during check-in, but once you step on your piece of equipment, it doesn’t work and the front desk had no idea about it. Pedal is broken, no electricity, treadmill belt is stuck, and so on. I’ve unfortunately seen it all.

4.    Access to the gym is through the lobby, restaurant or a FINE restaurant
I’m sure there are people who are slightly sweaty in a cute way after their work out. In my case, I emerge from the beating looking, feeling and smelling like I had been submerged in a sweat pool, several times. I know I should apologize the hundreds of people who’ve been fine-dining when I’ve crawled through the restaurant back to my room, or the fellow elevator passengers in their suits, but no, I think this is just bad design.

5.    No bathroom access from/at the fitness room
This might sound trivial, but after you hydrate well, then hike down from the 20th floor and find the gym from the maze and get to the half point (30-40mins) of your workout, you will NEED that bathroom badly. I should not share this, but not too long ago I was staying and working out at a relatively nice hotel in Geneva, Switzerland and went looking for bathroom outside the gym room. After a few minutes of searching with no luck (my room was a 5min hike away from the fitness room), came back to the empty gym and I had no choice. Those drinking cups came in very handy. Convenient storage for liquids. I am sure that if I have any political aspirations in my 60’s, those security camera shots will be dug out and that’s the end of my political ambitions.

6.    No towels or paper towels at the gym
The results of this design failure can be seen or felt on the floor and the sticky surfaces everywhere.

7.    No temperature control or a “negative” temperature control
The extreme version of this failure was evident at a Swiss hotel where a sauna(!) was installed into the gym room, next to an elliptical machine. The temperature was well above 100F +(40C+) at the gym room.  The lesser version was an L.A. hotel where the gym had a single window straight to the sun, no fan, no A/C and I had to stop running on the treadmill after 30minutes when the sweat went through my running shoes and the belt became dangerously slippery.

With that, happy travels and better designs for the future!

Search vs. Discovery and who will get the future online retail dollars?

Beautifully curated flash sale sites, “post-Amazon” e-commerce companies and monthly “retail” subscription services, such as Gilt Groupe, Fab, One Kings Lane and Shoedazzle have made big headlines with their reportedly crazy fast revenue growth. Some people think they’re a credible threat to Amazon.  And investors are making a case that’s the future of online retail. To me, it appears that the main attraction of these retails sites is beautifully curated retail content, pleasure of discovering new things and to some extent (perception of a) low price.

But my own frustrating holiday shopping experience made me question the future viability of these next gen e-commerce sites as I see them.

I was blessed with a couple gift cards to some of these curated retail sites and finally had to try to buy something. I found it impossible to search and find a product I needed. I literally couldn’t spend the free money I had (and still have) in my hands. I kept asking, who actually buys all this fabulous stuff and where are we headed in online retail and commerce?

Conclusion #1: There will always be need for the “accidental” discovery of new things – maybe not for me and maybe not for all products.

  • First, my wife was quick to point out that “You don’t get it, people love to buy stuff for the sake of buying and this is how almost all women shop. We find or are offered things we don’t really need and buy it. That’s how magazines, bazaars, night markets and even malls have always worked.” Fair enough, I just don’t get it, I just search and find. 
    Furthermore, I looked at the stats for size of U.S. home sizes AND storage business over the past several years. Both growing and expanding fast, per below chart. This seems to support my wife’s claim that “I don’t get it”: Most consumers like to buy stuff they can then stuff into boxes and store and repeat. I would predict this absolute madness will continue, even if this n=1 only buys for specific needs. I believe you can’t “search and find” your way to that madness, you have to discover stuff you didn’t know you needed.


  • Second, all buyers are of course in different phases of the purchase funnel (planning/discovery/inspiration vs. transactional/ready-to-buy), so it seems obvious this need for new discoveries won’t change in the future either. Heck, even I look for accidental inspiration for certain things, like these travel and life experiences sites.

    Discovery (rather than a specific search) will likely serve well all of the following user needs in a broad range of categories from clothes to movies to travel to cosmetics to furniture to dating.
    Consumer early in the purchase funnel
    — Design based or complex rather than a commodity product
    — Pure entertainment (window shopping homes, anyone?)

Conclusion #2: Discovery will get more fragmented online and online retailers either need to become an original design product company OR build massive scale off- and online.

So the need for discovery is here to stay in most e-commerce categories, save for simplest commodity products like toothpaste. But will beautifully curated sites and these “discovery services” consolidate online and become the profit driver in e-commerce, at the expense of boring “Search and Find” sites. I think not. (Maybe if there’s a 10X radical supply chain innovation for price or mass customization that others can’t replicate. I just doubt that.)

Why not?

  • First, the paths to “accidental” discovery online will likely continue to be extremely fragmented and people stumble on new products via individual bloggers (Cobra Snake!), niche industry blogs, online forums, tweets, news articles, facebook updates, instagram photos, youtube videos, Pins etc. I don’t see strong forces consolidating discovery online, just the opposite and new cool discovery services are popping up all the time. I would predict that soon you’ll be able to discover and purchase items conveniently from distributed media content, such as pictures and videos.
  • Second,  Magazines like Elle,  Popular Mechanics, CAR’n’Driver or Conde Naste Traveler didn’t morph into manufacturers or retailers of their respective products for a reason: you need massive scale for your store/marketplace and building a huge offline supply chain for physical products is very expensive. And that’s even more expensive if you compete against Amazon.

Who then, will win in the online commerce. is it search or discovery driven retail sites?

Neither. Native “Search and find” will be absolute essential to all online retailers and discovery will consist of dozens of small paths like the thousands of little side rivers feeding the real river Amazon.

Most importantly, I would predict that any retailer must either have massive scale (Amazon) or become an original design product company (Warby Parker, Bonobos), but companies in-between will be squeezed over-time by one of the above two categories.  Discovery alone won’t make it (unless you’re a pure media company with massive scale like Pinterest or a niche discovery site e.g. for travel) and Amazon could well “power” all the retail transactions and order fulfilment on product discovery sites. 

But one thing, sadly, will remain the same, people will continue to buy crap they don’t even need.

Asker Avatar
ioanr asked:
Hi Sami - Love your content, you're an inspiration! I wanted to ask - how do you go about planning your tri season? Also, once planned/mapped out, how do you maintain an overview of the big, 'season-long' picture - by diary, big white board on the wall, calendar? Look forward to hearing back. Thanks Ioan Rees.

I try to create an annual plan by end of mid January each year with the following simple steps:

1. Map my life goals for next year.
2. Schedule vacations, physical adventures and big work commitments for the year.
3. Decide what (triathlon) race(s) matter for the year in light of (1) and (2).
4. At this point, I start to think of the training program (with my coach and/or myself), which has quite a few constraints from 1,2 and 3.
5. Map out the type of workouts at a weekly (not daily) level in 3-4 week blocks leading up to the key events.
6. The end result is a simple spreadsheet with each line representing a week and the main focus (of training) for that week e.g. “recovery” or “Vo2max” or “race like intervals”. It’s pretty easy to stay on track if you have a plan like this….which always must be iterated a few times during the year, though. 

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trimumblings asked:
I'm very inspired by your training and results. Do you have a typical buildup period in number of weeks to a half ironman or ironman? Interested to hear how your buildup compares to the more traditional buildups that typically range 12-18 weeks or so. Does your training vary during this period (eg a periodisation style) or are the intervals you are doing fairly constant throughout your whole buildup? And do you build on the intervals each week (eg intensity, number, mileage). Great blog

For the most part, when I’m training in a focused way — which certainly isn’t the case 3-4 months of the year — I’m “always” ready to race and fresh&fit enough to do that. I have less of a focus on a specific build up during which I beat myself.
However, towards the most important race(s), my training becomes more race specific 4-6 weeks out from the race. For example, the longer the race, the longer the intervals, etc.
Lastly, of course you want to have progression: body only reacts to increased stress to super compensate. That could be volume and/or intensity. In my case, I don’t want to increase hours invested into training so mostly it means gradually faster/harder (assuming your fitness improves each week). 

What the first 2 minutes after waking up can tell you about the day ahead?

I bet you’ve had a day or two, during which you’ve said to yourself “I wish I would have just stayed in bed all day”. At least I have.

Wake up Mood

Over the years I’ve started to pay more and more attention to and tune into my mood as an indicator of my well-being.  Anecdotally, I’ve also noticed that my mood is a two-to-four day leading indicator of almost any kind of sickness.  Of course, it is easy to confuse your inner signals if your brain is marinated with several shots of 5 hour energy or espressos throughout the day.

More than a year ago I started tracking my mood on a scale of 1 to 5 within two minutes of waking up – every morning. The scale is simple and subjective - unlike the more sophisticated mood states used by people in white coats -  and generally for me:

  • 1 equals to “I’m pretty sure I hate the world and the world hates me”
  • 5 equals to feeling “I’m ready to change the world and take on any physical or other challenge today. Bring it on!”

My hypothesis was that within 2 minutes of waking up, I would know what and what type of effort I would be ready for that day; whether to double down or take it easy, especially in physical efforts, such as exercise. (Note, though, there’s a meta study that tells a bit of an opposite story that athlete’s top performance could not be explained by the sophisticated mood state scale)

Now that I have almost 450 days worth of valid data about my wake-up mood and the same day workout performance (using a 1 to 5 scale, relative to my baseline fitness; 1 meaning “I wish I had not tried to exercise at all” and 5 “off the charts records”) I took a look at the results.

Interestingly, there was a pretty clear correlation between my immediate wake-up mood and physical performance. (R^2 = 25%) Furthermore, if I ran the analysis after eliminating the middle mood values (=3), there was a stronger connection between performance and mood (R^2 = 34%). Arguably, I have mornings when I don’t know or have time to really tune into what’s going on and mark it as “3” or maybe good, maybe bad, which seems to make the predictive power less effective.

What had no correlation was hours slept and my physical performance, or my wake up mood and hours slept the night before. Of course, several nights of bad sleep started to have impact on mood.

What’s the take-away?

Especially as an athlete, mood seems to be a quick and easy predictor of how rested and ready my body and mind is for training or other physical performance. And even more importantly, a leading indicator before things really get bad, such as injuries. That’s a very cheap and time efficient way to determine what kind of exercise or rest your body is ready for that day. In other words, if I’m at 1 or 2, I should just rest or skip any big challenges until I’m back on track. Ignore these signals and you’ll be making backwards progress before you know.

In the future, I’d like to test (or if someone knows good research on these, please send my way!) whether wake up mood also correlates well with things like:

  • brain performance
  • mood in the evening (i.e. how likely are you to bounce back during the day)
  • creativity and effectiveness during the day

My hypothesis is that “wake up mood” could be an effective (and cheap, easy, non-invasive and very low tech) indicator for optimizing one’s business performance. This should also help avoiding prescription drugs and doctor visits before it’s too late to slow down and take it easy for a day, or a week.

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craighuggart asked:
Hi Sami. I really enjoyed your interview with Ben Greenfield. As a result I have started using RestWise. You said something to the effect that you generally workout well rested. Do you shoot for a specific RestWise number? How do you use RestWise to know when you should workout or not? Thanks, Craig.

Hi Craig,

If I have a very easy or full recovery day in front of me, I don’t change my plan no matter what the “recovery score” is. However, if I have a hard training session that day and my score has dropped below 70-80 or even worse, it’s been coming down a few days and now well below 70, I’ll likely turn that “hard session” into a super easy recovery workout or just a day off. It takes several weeks to calibrate the score for yourself and I don’t use it as an absolute go/nogo anyway. E.g. I might have a 3-4 day harder training block (followed by more recovery) and expectedly I’m getting more tired the 3rd or 4th day. That’s part of the plan and I don’t get alarmed unless I’m really falling apart (that’d be ~40-50 score on Restwise for me).

Liquid Diet - My secret to Iron Stomach in any endurance event

I am one of those unlucky people who have a very sensitive stomach. Give me a tiny bit milk, travel to a new time zone, sleep in a new environment, too much stress or a slight change in diet and my stomach is ALL messed up like Swiss clockwork, so I can sympathize with those people who I see running to a bush or port-a-potty for number 2’s or 1.5’s during a marathon or triathlon. A couple of weeks ago at Ironman Sweden I (unfortunately) had to witness a guy pulling his pants down for “immediate pressure release” in front of me by the road on the run! 

No offense, that used to be me too, but I’ve perfected an approach to pre-race nutrition in order to avoid these GI issues and I now have exactly 10 years of bush-free half marathons, marathons and (Ironman) triathlons - meaning, not a single stomach issue or run to a bathroom/ bush/ ditch during 50 or more 2h+ endurance events. Here’s how:

My approach is based on two principles and assumptions:

  1. Create a systematic process that is repeatable time after time once proven to work.
  2. If there is nothing solid in your digestive system at the start line and you eat nothing solid during a race, it is unlikely that something other than pee and sweat comes out of you.**

The result is what my wife calls the patent pending Sami Liquid Diet, which can be summed up in one sentence: From 20 hours before the start until you cross the finish line, only eat liquids. Really.

In more detail, this is the process that I use:

T-2 days:

  • Normal eating plus carb loading to fill up glycogen stores using the more recent scientific evidence.
  • I aim to leave this day with my glycogen fuel tanks filled up, so the day before a race I can just maintain. Glycogen has not been shown to “leak” out of muscles, so once its there, it’s there until you exercise again. Other than this, no liquid tricks during this day.

T-1 days:

  • Breakfast: Fiber heavy clean food (e.g. apple, oatmeal, rye bread, etc.), about 500-800kcal
  • Pre-race workout: 200-400kcal liquid carbohydrates to fuel most of carb losses
  • Post-workout meal (by 10am or so): Fiber heavy clean food (e.g. oatmeal, bread).
  • Rest of the day: Strictly only liquids in about 25%/25%/50% ratio of fat/protein/carb by energy content. Potentially add some sodium to the drinks.
  • The first challenge with an all-liquid diet is there is no fiber and other insolubles in your stomach to provide automatic caloric pacing for absorbing energy slowly over several hours post meal. In other words, you can’t rely on 3 big meals without fueling your fat cells (which you want to avoid). Secondly, you might not be able to rely on senses such as hunger to control your eating. Therefore, I do two things (1) I count all calories during this day, (2) I drink small amounts (200-300kcal) every hour until bed time. 
    In my case, I know my base metabolic rate is about 2100kcal/day and my pre-race workout is about 900-1000kcal, so I focus on getting 2100kcal + 1000kcal + 400kcal(buffer) = 3,500kcal during this day.

Race Day:

  • Immediately after waking up: 10dl or more water, 50mg caffeine (that’s about a cup of black tea) and some sodium (that’s accessible e.g. in table salt). 
    [After the water, caffeine and 20hrs of liquid diet, it is likely that you’ve cleaned out the ole’ pipes, so there shouldn’t be anything solid in you now.]
  • Race day breakfast (2-4 hrs before start): 100kcal(25g) protein, 100kcal(10g)fat, 300kcal(75g) carbohydrates from fruit/veg juice and maltodextrin.
  • DURING last 90min before start: 200kcal(50g) carbohydrates from maltodextrin and fructose in a bike bottle (7.5dl).

The three most common responses to the idea of a liquid diet I get are:

  1. Q: Dude, I knew you were crazy!
    A: I’m sorry I can’t respond, maybe my wife can.
  2. Q: Aren’t you hungry all the time?
    A: No, you should get the same nutrients, just liquid. The key is to “drip feed” yourself like you were getting an IV, but through your mouth! This way your blood sugar remains somewhat steady.
  3. Q: So what do you drink for liquids?
    A: Protein I take from pure whey, casein or soy powder, depending on what is easiest available. Fat from oils or oil capsules, which are standardized and available everywhere. Carbohydrates I get from a combination of fruit and vegetable juices and maltodextrin powder (or in the worst case scenario, from energy gels). It might sound crazy to eat maltodextrin gels (e.g. GU) during the day before a race, but if you truly want to eliminate GI issues, one of the most important things is to rely on proven food and not experiment with “local cuisine” within 24hrs of your race. While packaged fruit juices are readily available in any country or city, you should limit fruit juice (since its mostly fructose) intake and make sure to get a mix of carbohydrates. Other examples of drinks that are available anywhere in the U.S. are Muscle Milk, V8 vegetable juice, Almond/Rice milk from which you can easily get a mix of carbohydrates as well as fat and protein. 

It goes without saying that this is based on my own 10 years and 50+ races of experimentation and I’m sharing this only as a thought and not taking any responsibility if this protocol screws up your A race!

**) Of course it is possible to still create conditions for gas or pure water absorption in your digestive system, but that’s a matter of race time nutrition. Avoid eating or drinking too much fructose (aka fruit sugar) or drinking a gallon of sea water, for example.

The Spreadsheet – Exposing my tracking madness

Most of my friends know that I have a tracking spreadsheet and diary that covers many areas of my life from happiness to body and brain performance for the last 10+ years, but no one really knows what’s in it. Which is probably a good thing. And since the Triathlete magazine re-published their entertaining article about my quirky habits, I’ve received  several emails EACH DAY from strangers asking for “your tracking template”. That’s all nice and good. But given the – what seemed to me – very high interest in this geeky topic, and strangers’  time spent emailing me (and my time responding to most of them), I thought to share my thoughts about tracking and how to make it effective.

First, similar to the benefits of learning an underlying phenomena vs. memorizing formulas in physics, I think it is much more impactful to think and understand the purpose and benefits of tracking, rather than pick up a (spreadsheet) template from someone else or another company in business setting.  In fact, if you were to take my spreadsheet, you’d track completely useless things, such as number of pushups each morning (see below).

STEP #1:  Purpose and benefits of tracking? Why?

I have no idea why you might need tracking, but here’s why I do it and why I think it can be applied to many areas, from corporate performance to your own life: 

1) Tracking, especially manual rather than automated, brings attention to an important issue

  • As an example, I track and write down the number of hours I slept each night, because I suck at getting enough sleep, but I’ve learned – the hard way – that sleeping is the single most important performance factor for me athletically and at the office in the form of creativity, short term memory and attention span.
  • Another thing I conveniently avoid is doing functional strength and core exercises, but I know from experience that I won’t be able to stand up and run relaxed after a long triathlon “time trial” race bike ride unless my lower back and some other core muscles have been trained well before a long race. So: I write down the minutes of “core exercise” every morning.
  • And last year my co-workers challenged me to a push up competition and despite my bulky build, I didn’t have the endurance to do more than 35 pushups in a row. After less than two months of tracking pushup reps every day (and consequently doing it 6 days a week), I easily did 100 non-stop.
  • If your goal is to drop weight e.g. for a race, weighing yourself every morning and writing it down will already make a big impact in getting to your goal (search for academic studies on this if you don’t believe me)
  • Ask yourself: what is it that I know I, my team or my company should be doing, but I/we don’t. Start tracking it every day and you’ll have a new level of focus tomorrow!

2) Tracking and diary can help find patterns and cause–effect relationships

  • This is probably the stuff the quantified self movement talks most about. Someone found that if he stood minutes on one leg, he slept better the following night. This correlation and cause-effect relationship was found with simple tracking and analysis (although it probably does not stand scientific scrutiny).
  • As an example, I simply write down the minutes of each exercise each day and a qualitative description of my workout. That has helped me discover why I got injured: I ran too many days in a row (easy to forget unless you have a record of it), my bike seat was too high and destroyed my lower back the day after a ride. Or, I can go back a year or two and study the pattern leading into Ironman Hawaii triathlon or my best race, and simply copy the 7 days preparation leading into my next race.
  • Ask yourself: Assuming a successful / unsuccessful event (whether at work or something else), what success ingredients would you like to study afterwards to better understand the ingredients of success.

3) Tracking and historical data is the proof and takes emotions and politics out

  • Is your business unit growing, shrinking, catching up a competitor? Are you truly getting fitter or just “feeling” better or worse? Data brings objectivity and democracy into decision making (how often does the highest paid person’s opinion win in a corporate debate?) and performance evaluations.
  • For example, I have separate section in my spreadsheet where I write down my Heart Rate, Power/speed/time and Perceived Effort for certain standardized workouts, every 1-2 weeks. I don’t have to guess whether I’m fitter or not, data tells me. That could be 20min all out effort on a bike trainer, 15minutes of running at 6min/mile on a treadmill or 5x200yds in a pool with average best time.
  • Ask yourself: What are true markers of success in what you’re trying to achieve and track it in a standardized way on a regular basis.

4) Tracking  hacks for personal wellness and happiness

  • I happen to be a happiness-seeking person. (some argue there are 6.97Billion of us on the planet with that disorder). Turns out happiness is a choice and there’s research that says writing three things you’re grateful for and excited about each day, rewires your brain to be happy. Well, I do just that on my spreadsheet.
  • Last and maybe least, a little diary detailing your life adventures is a convenient way to remember what happened, say, on August 20th in 2010 in your life. (I got married).

The reason for all the things I track – from caffeine intake to daily mood to resting heart rate to heart rate variability to running KMs to “feeling 1 to 5” – fall into one or more of those above four categories. If you ask yourself the questions I listed above, you should be able to come up with a list of things that might be worth tracking.

STEP #2:  How to track to make it all work at minimum cost with maximum impact?

If you have listed all the things you want to track, you might want to consider a few things that actually make you successful in tracking:

  •  Make your tracking “platform” accessible from anywhere, anytime. For personal use, I use a Google Spreadsheet that I can access anywhere with GSM or CDMA cellular data coverage even if there’s no WiFi.
  •  Avoid platforms that easily disappear or are tough to port to the new new thing. In other words, paper diary is not very convenient when you want to do it all through Google Glasses and voice recognition in 2014.
  •  Use a platform and template that easily allows you to manipulate and analyze your data afterwards, whether to look for correlations or change units, formats or add new data fields. I’ve found a simple spreadsheet with rows as dates and columns as data fields to be best for this reason.
  •  Create a habit to track your data every day. For me this is 30-45seconds immediately after waking up every morning and another 30-60seconds every evening as part of my wind down routine.
  • There’s a big difference between measuring “Outcome Goals” and “Success Ingredients”. In general, the latter is much more actionable and more useful for tracking. For example, your or your company losing a competition is an outcome, but increasing your running mileage or increasing customer retention might be a much more actionable Success Ingredient that you can affect on a daily basis. 
  • Lastly - and very importantly - structure your tracking habits and template so that you can be as actionable as possible with minimum effort and (time) cost. For example, avoid tracking things that you obviously will not use for any actionable future benefit, avoid checking or tracking your data more frequently than needed (e.g. a CEO is unlikely to make new actionable decisions every hour based on the same data stream, while a consumer Internet user acquisition hacker might need to track data every 30 seconds. At home,  tracking your resting HR or weight 6 times a day isn’t going to help you make any actionable decisions about it.) For me personally, I track things on a daily basis and mostly make bigger decisions about my habits (or athletic training) on a weekly or monthly basis based on the data.
  • (potentially) Automate some tracking and reporting or alerting; although, this may not help you bring attention to what you’re tracking.

I hope that helps you to build your own tracking template that works for you. If requested, I’m of course happy to share my template, but you may just end up doing hundreds of pushups each day, when you should be sprinting on a track, learning to speed read or increase your revenue per visit!