Love it or hate it, exercise does wonders and should be a staple in any person's lifestyle. The goal of this section of the guide is to give you a simple plan to help you get on the right track in terms of exercise. The advice in the Hacking Exercise guide is synergistic with the Hacking Diet and Hacking Cognition guides, each of which are important components to helping you reach your fitness goals. Whether your current exercise level is couch or Olympic rower, there is always something you can do to improve your performance!
The exercise training that you do should be targeted to fit your individual goals and preferences.
If you want to build muscle mass, you should focus on resistance or body weight training and train all of the main muscle groups in your body 2-3 times per week. If you want to build your endurance capacity, you should look to practice an endurance sport such as running or cycling for a minimum of 45 minute, 2-3 times per week (increase the duration and frequency as you go). If you want to build up your anaerobic and explosive power on top of your aerobic endurance fitness, consider team sports that involve sprints (soccer or basketball) or adding in sprinting or explosive movements to your endurance or weight lifting workouts.
Over time your body adapts to your workouts and you may find you get stiff and sore if you try something new, even if you are usually fit and strong. Build up any new activities slowly to make sure you don't injure yourself. Also, try to make time to warm up and cool down properly, including stretching, as this will minimize your risk of injury. Consistent training will yield the best results, so if you have an injury, illness or are not able to recover properly from the training sessions, then reduce the frequency or intensity of your sessions until you are able to cope.
Diet will vary according to your specific exercise goals.
- The current gold standard of nutrition for endurance athletes is to 'periodise' your carbohydrate intake (i.e match your intake of carbohydrates to the training sessions completed), eating more carbs around heavy workouts and reducing intake during lighter training.
- There is a growing trend for endurance athletes to experiment with a low carbohydrate, high fat diet, as this increases your ability to burn fat during exercise which, hypothetically, should mean you can exercise for longer without running out of fuel. The scientific literature has not yet reached a consensus as to if this diet improves performance.
- Regardless of diet, the addition of exogenous ketones can improve endurance performance. Research has recently shown that ketone ester drinks taken along with carbohydrate can lead to improved performance with elite level cyclists improving their times by over 2%1.
Muscle Mass or Strength Gain:
The current recommendations state that in order to increase your total muscle mass, the most important consideration is to have a net positive energy balance (i.e, consume more calories than you burn). Therefore, aim to eat at least 1000 calories over maintenance each day (as measured by basal metabolic rate)
- breakdown of macronutrients for weight gain (totaling ~3000 calories/day for someone weighing 80 kg): - protein: 2-2.5 g per kg body weight (e.g., 200g for someone weighing 80 kg) - carbohydrate: 3-5 g per kg body weight, more on days you exercise. Aim to consume carbohydrates from natural foods, with low glycemic index and limit simple sugars with high glycemic index (e.g., bread) to meals before or after workouts/practices (e.g., 300g on workout days, 200g on rest days for someone weighing 80kg). - fat: fill out remaining calories in order to reach caloric intake goals (e.g., 110g for someone weighing 80kg)
However, there are a number of strength athletes who have achieved improvements in body composition from a low carbohydrate, high fat diet OR through intermittent fasting without compromising their performance.
- breakdown of macronutrients for weight gain (totaling ~3000 calories/day for someone weighing 80 kg):
- protein: 2-2.5 g per kg body weight (e.g., 200g for someone weighing 80 kg)
- carbohydrate: 0-1.5 g per kg body weight, more on days you exercise. Aim to consume carbohydrates from natural foods, with low glycemic index and limit simple sugars with high glycemic index (e.g., bread) to meals before or after workouts/practices. (e.g., 150g on workout days, 60g on rest days for someone weighing 80kg)
- fat: fill out remaining calories in order to reach caloric intake goals (e.g., 170g for someone weighing 80kg)
- intermittent fasting: you can do so if you desire to, but it may not have a clear positive or negative effect on your mass gain goals. If you choose to fast, make sure you place your workouts inside your feeding window (e.g., feeding window between 12pm-8pm, workouts from 3-5pm).
It is now believed that nutrition and diet are more important than exercise if you wish to achieve weight loss.
- Options for diets include a Paleo diet and a Keto diet. (see Hacking Diet for more details).Please note that regardless of your exercise regimen, you cannot "outrun" a bad diet. If you wish to pursue the ketogenic diet, consume <35g/day carbohydrate, and We highly recommend sticking to foods with low glycemic index, and pursuing a diet high in fat and low in carbohydrates (aim for <120g/day carbohydates with low glycemic index, about 1-2g/day protein, and fill in the remainder calories with fats to achieve your basal metabolic rate).
- intermittent fasting: intermittent fasting has been shown scientifically to be helpful for weight loss. We have outlined specific protocols in the WeFast page as well as the Hacking Diet page. Options are listed below (written as number hours per feeding window). We recommend gradually working your way down this list - 16:8 fasting : eating ratio (Lean Gains), per day - 20:4 fasting : eating ratio (Warrior Diet), per day - 60 hour / week fast (Himalayan Fast): fast for 60 consecutive hours each week. Eat normally during non-fast days
Your fueling and supplement needs will vary depending on the sport you play and the intensity of your training. This is a list of the supplements considered by the American College of Sorts Nutrition to have sufficient evidence for their use in a sporting setting:
- Beta-Alanine: acts as an intra cellular buffer to prevent muscle acidosis.
- Carbohydrate drinks: You only need to take on extra carbohydrate for exercise lasting longer than one hour.
- Creatine: 5g / day. Many athletes find creatine to be helpful for energy.
- Caffeine: 100-150mg pre-workout or during workout can improve your performance by .
- Nitrates: acts
- Protein supplements: add necessary amount to reach total protein intake of 0.5g/kg body weight per day. most commonly sold in powder form, to be mixed with liquid drinks (e.g., water, milk)
Other supplements you may wish to consider include:
Measurements to Track Performance
- Can you go further or complete more reps each workout?
- Heart rate: as you get fitter your heart rate will be lower for a given power output or speed.
- V02 max: track if you have endurance related goals in aerobic exercise.
- Times on benchmark tests: examples include rowing times or cycling times in trials.
- Weightlifting ability: you should follow your coach and/or your specific weightlifting program to establish adequate measures.
- Body Mass Index (BMI): record every week. The body mass index is a compound measure calculated as follows:
(weight in kg) / (height in meters)^2
- In clinical medicine, a BMI over 30 is considered "obese", BMI between 25 and 30 is considered "overweight", and BMI lower than 20 is considered "underweight". Obesity is divided into grade 1 (BMI 30-<35), grade 2 (BMI 35-<40), and grade 3 (BMI ≥40), as per the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) study, one of the most robust clinical studies of obesity prevalence and trends2.
- Body Composition: record every 12 weeks. Body composition, including percentages of lean muscle, fat and bone mineral content, is best measured with a DEXA scan. However, an approximation can be obtained with body fat calipers3.
- Lipids (optional): record every 12 weeks. A lipid profile is important to obtain, as it may help assess your risk for cardiovascular diseases. Ideal levels are: low density lipoprotein (LDL) < 100 mg/dl, high density lipoprotein (HDL) > 40-60 mg/dl, triglycerides < 150 mg/dl, and total cholesterol < 200 mg/dl. Note that the best predictors of cardiovascular disease risk are HDL and triglycerides. In order to get a better risk assessment, LDL can be fractionated and you can measure LDL particles. Small and dense LDL is associated with increased risk of heart disease.
- Glucose, Hemoglobin A1c (optional): record every 12 weeks. normal levels include: fasting glucose < 100 mg/dl, random glucose < 200 mg/dl, Hemoglobin A1c (HbA1c) < 5.8%.
Step 3: Optimization
In order to make the most progress, you should regularly look at the changes to your performance, physical and biological markers and adjust your protocol as you see fit:
- Training program: In order to improve physically, you should increase the frequency and intensity of your exercise training as you get fitter and stronger.
- Diet: Utilize apps such as MyFitnessPal and a food scale to track your macronutrient intake to a T. Base these numbers on your basal metabolic rate, type of diet, and your body composition goals (increase muscle, lose body fat).
- Weight gain: A good rate of weight gain is roughly 0.5-1 kg/week. If you're not meeting this goal, we recommend increasing the carbohydrate intake by 25-50g per day, and tracking your weight change over the next week-long period. Carbohydrates with lower glycemic index are favorable.
- Weight-loss: A good rate of weight gain is roughly 0.3-0.5 kg/week. If you're not meeting this goal, we recommend decreasing the carbohydrate and fat intake, and tracking your weight change over the next week-long period. Carbohydrates with lower glycemic index are favorable.
- Other: If problems with recovery are experienced, consider increasing calories eaten.
- Sleep: assess every 2 weeks. If problems with recovery are experienced, consider adding more sleep (1-1.5 hours more, at night or as naps).