What you're seeing is that there are a number of feedback loops that result in a phenomenon where the best players play the longest. Jeff Bercovici - Episode 79
When you look at the world's greatest athletes, past and increasingly present, you'll notice that many of them are past what we would consider "prime age" for peak sports performance. One example is NFL quarterback Tom Brady, who is over 40 years old. Despite already winning multiple Super Bowl championships and being the fifth-oldest player in the League, Tom shows no signs of slowing down and proves he can still improve his performance. How can one maintain or achieve such elite performance in the face of natural aging?
This was the question that drove Jeff Bercovici, the San Francisco bureau chief of Inc and an athlete in his own right, on a quest to find the answer. After talking to top players, coaches, and sports scientists, such as the aforementioned Tom Brady, Serena Williams, and Carli Lloyd, he laid out all his learnings in his book "Play On: The New Science of Elite Performance At Any Age".
I think everything in sports science is happening first at the level of elite athletes and then trickling down to the rest of us. So we're seeing that with nutrition now. Maybe in a somewhat unscientific shotgun way. But I do think over time we are all probably going to get more personalized nutritional and health recommendations that are based on our genetics or epigenetics or in other ways targeted to us. Jeff Bercovici - Episode 79
Geoff: Jeff, great to have you on the program. Usually you're the one interviewing me, so it's great to have the hot seat turned around for this time.
Jeff: It may be great. I don't know. It depends on what your questions are.
Geoff: Well, I would say that you're probably one of the unique reporters that covers the intersection between human performance and technology. Recently published a great book, 'Play On.' I think there's a lot of directions to riff off here. But perhaps given our audience's interest in nutrition and diet protocols, there's obviously a number of sections talking about that bone broth, Tom Brady's non-nightshade diet.
What are some of the interesting things that you've discovered over the last few years around diets. Obviously in our community people are very much instrument intermittent fasting kitchen diets. How do you synthesize all this noise?
Jeff: Nutrition was a really interesting area to research in part because there are so many myths around it. There are so many athletes out there who are practicing one diet or another that they fervently believe is contributing to their performance. But when you talk to the scientists, there's a pretty strong consensus that the more extreme and intervention is or the more specific and innovation is the less probably clinically validated it seems to be. The less data there is behind it.
But when you talk to the scientists, there's a pretty strong consensus that the more extreme and intervention is or the more specific and innovation is the less probably clinically validated it seems to be. The less data there is behind it.
Something like Tom Brady's diet which gets a huge amount of attention because he's the best player in the biggest sport in America. If you ever talked to an introduced about it, they'll say, "It's a good diet. It's a healthy diet for you to eat." Because he eats a ton of vegetables and whole grains and lean meats. But all the weird specific stuff about it that makes it so much fun to talk about is WOWO science. There's nothing there.
Geoff: I'm curious in terms of anti nightshade which is like tomatoes and-
Jeff: Tomatoes, potatoes, I actually do not know what ... That's a good question. One of the nitrates, I think peppers ... I think some peppers are nitrates. Right?
Geoff: Like bone broths seemed to be something that you thought it was actually a legitimate?
Jeff: Yes, absolutely. Bone broth is just basically collagen it. I mean there's a lot of data around collagen and supplementation showing that it's really helpful for basically tendon repairs, so you can see how it could be helpful for older men. Which means both it helps your tendons repair faster from injury after physical activity, but it also helps them repair from micro injuries that you would 'suffer' when you're in the course of training. It helps your tendon to basically create new cross links in the tissue matrix that makes it stiffer and more responsive to returning energy when you're doing something like running.
So collagen supplementation for exercise has been pretty well documented and that's something that I think a lot of people heard about for the first time because of Kobe Bryant and his bone broth. When he got into his mid thirties, he started drinking bone broth I think it was before every game. And he would ... When he was on the road traveling with the Lakers he had to ... He had like an advanced person who would go to every hotel and show them how to make bone broth exactly the right way.
It's the kind of thing that sounds so weird that it sounds like it's going to be pseudoscience, but it totally checks out. Whereas on the other hand, the thing where Tom Brady doesn't eat any nightshades and he doesn't eat strawberries. It seems to be not a good thing to do because-
Geoff: It seems arbitrary. I think it's perhaps one way to look at it. I mean I don't think there's any data one way or the other. He just chose random food groups not intake.
Jeff: They're not that ... I mean there are a lot of diets that say nightshades are pro inflammatory, various other foods are pro inflammatory and that's something where there's a ton of research going on. But right now there's not a connection between inflammation and aging and performance. It's not as simple as someone like Alex Guerrero, who's Tom Brady's health guru as he is putting forth.
Like the idea that if you have less inflammation in your body you're going to feel better and perform better and therefore you should do everything you can to tamp down your body's inflammation. That is very tenuous.
Geoff: I think a couple of the themes that were in your book that rings true in our experience in our community and our customers is that puritization cycling in and out of different types of exercise. But also I think nutrition also applies and this puritization context is important. And then personalization against your genetics. I mean I think those two seem to be the confounding factors where everyone has their holy war with.
Carbs are evil or fats are evil and I think people are just missing. I think the real context that people need a personalized towards our goal and they're tortured genetics. What do you think of that concept?
Jeff: I think you hit the nail on the head. And that's where it gets really tricky to say anything definitive or prescriptive around nutrition because absolutely it seems like we all process foods or nutrients in somewhat different ways. When I say something like, "Tom Brady's diet doesn't have any science behind it." That is true but it's also entirely possible that in 20 years we'll have the data in to say, "Oh it turns out this was actually the perfect diet for Tom Brady's body."
He truly does respond to nightshades in this sub optimal way and strawberries actually did cause him to have extra fatigue and whatever. We just don't know that now. I mean this is one of the things that got me interested ... the topic in sports in the first place ... in the topic of athletes and aging. Because elite athletes in general have a very different approach to their health than the rest of us do. For the vast majority of us health is basically public health, it's population health. We're told things that are true for 95% of people.
It's probably true for us and that's good enough. Elite athletes that's not good enough for them. Their bodies are worth so much, their performances worth so much their teams, they need to be at their physical peak. They actually are getting much more personalized nutrition advice, much more personalized surgical advice. They don't get these rule of thumb answers that the rest of us get.
I think everything in sports science is happening first at the level of elite athletes and then trickling down to the rest of us. So we're seeing that with nutrition now. Maybe in a somewhat unscientific shotgun way. But I do think over time we are all probably going to get more personalized nutritional and health recommendations that are based on our genetics or epigenetics or in other ways targeted to us.
Geoff: I agree with that. I mean I think you can just look at the interest in your book but also in the growth of our community. I think the audience listening is interested in exactly that. How do I perform better not on the population level because that's just an average of all of human population. It's probably in a mostly for better or for worse are done on college age, predominantly Caucasian men.
Right. That's literally the basis of most clinical studies. So does it have application to a black 60 year old woman? Maybe, maybe not. I think that's where the room for personalization is I think captured a lot of attention and interest. I'm curious, what was your favorite anecdotes from doing this book? I mean me just reading it, it just seemed like there's a lot of fun adventures that you were just playing around with and meeting great human beings.
Trying to figure out the wine bath and that being shut down and so you can do the wine bath. Or I thought the passage with Eric Potter at who is the head psychologists were able, special warfare was really interesting. Actually spoken to him I guess in a different context. But I mean I thought his passage around like the psychological approach of slow is smooth, smooth is fast resonated with me a lot. What were some of the funnest people you met? What were some fun anecdotes and what has really stuck and resonated in terms of feedback or advice?
Jeff: Eric Potter ... he was the first head psychologist for the navy seals. And talking to him was really cool because he is just so obviously the real thing. When you talk to him he has this very quiet magnetic matter and you are like, "Wow, I can see why the world's greatest warriors will listen to you." And hearing someone whose insights and performance are drawn from something that's life or death.
There's a lot of people out there giving a lot of performance advice that is questionable. And they ... you're like, "Would you really lay your own life on the line with that?" But he's talked to people who have done it. So that was a really neat experience. God, there were so many. I mean I thought for me getting to hang out with Meb Keflezighi while he trained and riding around in the van with Bob Larson.
Meb is retired from competitive running now but he was basically the top American male marathoner for many years. First American to win the Boston marathon in decades, part of this resurgence of American distance running which had really fallen off for a long time. And Bob and Meb both played a huge part into coming back.
That was just awesome to ride in the van with Bob while Meb was in the final stage of training for the New York marathon. And hear all of these tales from somebody who probably had more stories from American running than anyone else. And another just great thing for me, the best reporting trip I did was going up to Victoria in British Columbia. And hanging out with this guy Trent Stellingwerff who is a Canadian sports scientist and his wife Hillary Stellingwerff is a middle distance runner who was training at the time for Rio.
Trent is amazing and he loves his job and what he does so much and he's one of those people who is so smart and just so eager to communicate. To have other people understand why he loves what he does as much as he does. I just learned in three days it was like a masterclass.
Geoff: It relates to an audience question here. Frank asks, "After talking to a number of top athletes, what is a common misconception that people have of famous athletes?"
Jeff: That's a great question.
Geoff: I have my own perspective here but curious to hear your answer.
Jeff: I think a really common misperception that struck me during my reporting is that there's this idea about how they do their jobs, which is that it's all about this kind of intensity. I mean I think of like Gatorade commercials or Nike commercials where you watched them training. And it's all them screaming at each other like, "Yeah, do one more." And sweat is flying off them. But when you actually watch them training, it's very focused.
A lot of the emphasis in their training is on precision rather than on all out ... I mean there was a place for all out intensity. But it's really a job for them and they approach it in a very professional way or at least the ones who are really smart and forward thinking approach it in this very precise, dialed in deep focused way. That to me was just at odds with how sports is marketed to us.
But it's really a job for them and they approach it in a very professional way or at least the ones who are really smart and forward thinking approach it in this very precise, dialed in deep focused way. That to me was just at odds with how sports is marketed to us.
Geoff: Add to that in the sense that I think to cut it at that highest level, you just have the genetic talents and sometimes they don't have that much discipline. You talked a lot of NFL teams, it's like half the guys are elite specimens and they're super serious about their craft, the Samurai of their craft. But the other half are eating skittles and candy half of the time and we're just trying to get them to a normal, reasonable diet.
And I think that the conception is that these are ultra disciplined warriors in their practice. It's surprising that sometimes they can get away with just being super talented. And I think that's a misconception that at least is something that has stuck with me.
Jeff: You know who said that to me? John Welbourn, he was an NFL lineman for like 10 years. Now he runs a company called Power Athlete and he said that, "The fittest guys that he played within the NFL never worked out." He said they just literally didn't have to work out. That's what he said.
Geoff: I think it's literally some people are just not fair. I think it's like if we're just Einstein or even just a super genius. It's like, how do you get super smart? I don't know. He probably doesn't know. He just ... I just can't see math equations-
Jeff: But it's all over the place still because Colin Kaepernick, that was training at one of the performance centers that I went to for some of my reporting. I mean you look at him and his muscles have muscles. He's one of those guys. But then he also probably did work out more than anybody who is on the 49. I mean when I was there to coach specifically told everyone to ... their NFL power strength coach was like, "Everybody go I don't want to see you in the facility for the rest of the day."
They had done like an hour, very focused, intense workout in the morning and he was like, "Your job for the rest of the day is to recover." And Kaepernick went right to the gym and spent four hours just lifting every piece of metal in the entire gym. He probably has those genetic gifts and-
Geoff: And the-
Jeff: He's a freak, has a freakish work ethic too.
Geoff: And I think that's where you get truly the top of the top. And I think that also brings to the ... I think one of the more important threads in the book that at least resonated with me was the notion that the people that I think end up being the greatest seem to have a longevity to them. And it seems like the mental capacity for the game or their endeavor increases linearly while the body potentially starts breaking down.
But the people that can really be the top of the top, like Tom Brady, Serena Williams they basically can maintain their best shape longer than most. And I think that reminds me of how do you keep having a childlike curiosity towards our own craft? Because I feel like in a lot of people's everyday lives they get jaded or blase about their everyday existence. So I think just like getting inspired on how these elite athletes are able to find newness and freshness in their day to day routine. It was inspiring for me.
Was that a pattern that you thought that resonated as sound something that the hockey guy that like just love the game. Some of these interesting characters that you profiled?
Jeff: I think that is absolutely a pattern. And what you're seeing there is a number of feedback loops that result in phenomenon where the best players play the longest. I mean partly that's because they have the opportunity to play the longest. Everybody wants to keep paying them to do what they do. But there's also two mechanisms really jumped out at me. One of which is what you just alluded to which is their ability to sustain that sense of joy and love of what they do.
That was something that I heard from every sport psychologist that I talked to. When I said, "What makes players who have the longest careers different from everybody else?" It really is that they love the game. They have more of a sense of joy than anyone else. John McEnroe was talking to Roger Federer. He said, "He loves the game more than anyone else I've ever met." John McEnroe has met every single top tennis player of the last 40 years. So when he says that, that really carries weight.
I mean you think it's almost too perfect that the best tennis player of all time is also the guy who literally loves tennis more than anyone at all time. But that's not a coincidence. That's how it works. Tom Brady, after he won his Super Bowl, he said there's two things that I love to do in life. Play football and-
Geoff: Watch football.
Jeff: No it's play football and prepare to play football. He's talking about like reading playbooks and sitting in classrooms and getting people to stretch his body out. He loves that. That's sense of intrinsic motivation is something that it's not that common in athletes because these are people who have to approach a game like it's a job.
So they need to be able to shut off that part of the brain that says like, "Okay this is just about fun and being silly and it's okay to lose." They can shut that off but then they can also selectively turn it back on or they can have both of those programs running in parallel. It's a fairly unique psychology and there's not that many people who have it.
Geoff: Have you tried to apply that to your personal life? Because I think that inspired me to look at doing the podcasts, running the business. How do you just maintain that excitement of the craft? Have you just looked at writing or reporting or the endeavors that you do and you're like, "I'm going to try to brainwash myself to think that this is the greatest thing possible." Have you tried ever reverse psychology yourself into that mental state?
Jeff: That's a great question and the answer is I think that it's easier for me to do that than it was for people like Federer and Brady. Because for me and for most people I haven't reached the pinnacle of what I do. I can constantly challenge myself with new things. And writing this book was part of that. I said, "Okay, I'm at this phase where writing long form magazine features and I feel like I've gotten pretty good at it and I want a new challenge to keep my brain feeling young and stimulated and ..."
I personally like my job best when I feel like I'm in about ... When I'm in water that's about six inches deeper than I am tall. And I'm always having to fight just a little bit to keep my head above the surface. So writing this book allowed me to do that. And now I've written one book and I'm like, "Okay, I want to write another one," because I feel like I can do it better next time.
How do you do that when you're Roger Federer and you've won more Grand Slam tournaments than anyone in history? But the answer is he does it because he's actually improved. I mean when you look at him, his backhand is better than it's ever been. It's gotten noticeably better in the last few years. He developed this new shot called the SABR that was like a totally new technique in tennis that nobody was doing.
I guess that is a useful template to follow if I ever find myself in danger of becoming too good at what I do. But for now it's really just being aware of where I'm weak and where I can learn new things and using that to keep myself dialed in.
Geoff: I want to move to another audience question here. Sean Gigans asks, "Who's your favorite athlete, period and why?" I mean do you have an answer? Is there a great answer there?
Jeff: It probably would have to be Federer because combination of I love tennis, I've watched all of his great matches live over the years. He had this phase of his career where he was like a little too perfect and it was boring. But since he has gotten into his mid thirties and he had his first injury and you saw his career seemingly start to tail off a little bit and then he had this resurgence.
I feel like everybody who has found themselves on the other side of 30 and thinking like, "Oh, is that it for me? Am I just destined to be a worst version of myself physically, if every year for the rest of my life?" We're just all rooting for him. He's become so inspirational and easy to connect to emotionally and also his tennis is just ... Are you a tennis fan?
Geoff: I grew up playing tennis. I was just going to add that in my high school tennis court, there's Pete San Francisco High School Championships. Southern California is a hotbed for tennis. Like Lindsay Davenport ... I think I remembered seeing Sharapova playing when she was just coming up into the professional ranks. I remembered when I was in middle school my tennis coach was saying, "Look out for Federer. He's such a beautiful, elegant player. He's going to be number one."
Jeff: Oh wow that's-
Geoff: I remember that conversation on the tennis court in Torrance, and it's true. He's a very elegant tennis player. I think especially if you see adults pick it up like, "You didn't grow up playing tennis." People strokes are very awkward or they look goofy but-
Jeff: It's beautiful to watch. It's like watching some beautiful player. It's so soothing to watch him play. I mean there's different players that I love for different reasons and one of the reasons that I love tennis is because I love tennis fans. I feel like tennis fans are so sophisticated about ... In every other sport you have your team that you root for and that's who you root for. And you ... people are like brutes.
But tennis fans are so sophisticated the way they watch tournament and the way their allegiances change over the course of a tournament or even over the course of a match. And they will really get behind someone just because they're playing beautiful tennis that day. So Federer, I feel like a lot of people love watching him just because he's beautiful.
Geoff: I agree with that. I think you consider yourself like a serious amateur athlete. Would that be the right way to put your consideration there. But I'm curious, how did you get so interested in sports in human performance? What's your personal trajectory here?
Jeff: I guess serious amateur athlete. I think I would have to embrace that at this point. I think that would surprise anyone who knew me 10 years ago but it's definitely become a pretty huge part of my life. I grew up playing as much sports as every other vaguely sporty kid. Well into high school did everything and not very well. In my 20s I was like a weakend warrior type person, didn't do anything very seriously.
But then in my early thirties I got into playing soccer which I wasn't good at. Had played as a kid, never really had any talent for but I just got into playing with this Delta Rec league in Brooklyn and just got obsessed with it. Immediately I was like, "Oh, this is what I need to be doing with all my free time." And I would go to soccer classes, I'd the sign up for soccer clinics on the weekend-
Geoff: I mean that's pretty hard core to go from not really just I'm going to take classes. I'm going to get tutored in soccer.
Jeff: It happened like that. It was one of those things where, like the six inches of water to deep. Where I felt like, "Oh, I can almost get this. I have the ... If I just get a little more fit and I just worked on." It always felt like it was just alluding me a little bit and it still does and I think it does ...
I mean that's one of the things I love about soccer and I actually love about all sports is the better you get at it, the more you realize how much better you could be at it. I talk about this with my cycling partner that I ride with most of the time. We talk about how it's like false tops when you're climbing.
You always think like, "Oh I'm cresting. I'm starting just starting to crest this hill. And when I get to the top of it, that's going to be the top and then I'm going to be the athlete I've always wanted to be." And then you get up to the top and you're like, "Oh shit. There's three more stretch backs."
You always think like, "Oh I'm cresting. I'm starting just starting to crest this hill. And when I get to the top of it, that's going to be the top and then I'm going to be the athlete I've always wanted to be." And then you get up to the top and you're like, "Oh shit. There's three more stretch backs."
Geoff: There's more levels to this game.
Jeff: But that's like it's disheartening in the moment. But then it's what really sinks its hooks into you and keeps you going for years and years and years. So playing soccer, it's how I rediscovered myself as an athlete as an adult. But then the injuries that I had and the limitations that I ran up against, when I tried to go basically from zero to 100 in the course of a year is how I got really interested in basically the age part of it.
Geoff: That's actually a great segue to another question from Laura Daily. She actually asks, "What did you learn about yourself?" I mean I don't know if she actually knew you had some injuries, but it's actually really relevant. What did you learn about yourself when you suffer a serious injury that puts you out of the game for awhile?
Jeff: Oh, that's such a great question. For me it was about six months of Rehab before I was cleared to do whatever I wanted and then it was probably-
Geoff: I guess you zoomed out of the for a context-
Jeff: I'm zoomed-
Geoff: I don't know if she knew that you had a serious injury but perhaps she was just asking generally. But I think it also applies to yourself obviously.
Jeff: I've been playing soccer for a couple of years and my back had gone out on me a few times. And then after one game it just went out spectacularly on where I had like the lightening bolts going down my legs and I was on the floor. And I had to crawl to the phone to call someone and it turns out I didn't-
Geoff: You were just running around and just like, well he's tweaked your back.
Jeff: It was it tightened up on me after the game. And then I got home and I picked up a bag of groceries and that was actually when I crumpled to the floor and couldn't get up and I had an MRI and they said ... They literally came running after me out to the street and said, "Don't leave. You have to get surgery right away." Because I had herniated two discs so massively that they were pressing ... they were completely surrounding the nerves to my legs.
And they said, "If you wait longer than 48 hours to get surgery, you'll probably have permanent paralysis and other symptoms." I had this emergency surgery and my body was pretty messed up for awhile afterwards. But it was a lot of rehab before I could really resume full activities. And it's interesting because what I learned about myself was ... It was one of those experiences in life that people go through where you get totally broken down and then you have to build back up from nothing.
And I feel like those experiences are the ones who you really discover who you are. Because the life that you build it doesn't happen by happenstance or a nurturer or anything. You're really saying like, "Okay, these are the things that mattered to me in my life and I'm going to work really hard to get them back. And I'm going to show myself that I have the ability to work really hard to get them back."
Because it's not just that I was lucky or whatever. I cherish that experience and-
Geoff: I have a hunch that a lot of people who have been through similar experiences feel the same way about it.
Jeff: Yeah, I think it's almost free in some sense where you get to recraft your own narrative and in some sense.
Geoff: I wonder if in your reporting on elite athletes ... I can imagine this being soul crushing for some. I think some segment of the people that have a debilitating injury just I'm done. I can't come back . Or do they segment towards people that more spin it positively. Like, "Can I come back? I want to come back. I'm going to just do everything 110% to come back."
Jeff: I would guess it's the latter. I mean the research on happiness. I mean you're probably familiar with the study is basically on happiness being a set point phenomenon. And that people who for instance have accidents that leave them paraplegic afterwards tend to report the same self reported levels of happiness like a year out.
It doesn't happen right away but if they talked to them a year after or two years after, they basically say that they're about as happy as they were beforehand. So I'd be really interested in reading the actual data on this but I would guess with elite athletes that they probably are the type to treat it as a challenge rather than as something that they would be devastated by.
Geoff: I mean I think it probably depends on the person. So you can ... You also here. I mean this is more applied to the military case but people that have just ... They get their legs blown off or something, they'd really lose a sense of identity that I imagined the sport case. You're not necessarily getting to that level of changing our identity.
Because I guess in terms of a normal person or a casual athlete, you don't have your identity tied towards elite performance. But perhaps you would take that away from an elite athlete you disrupt their sense of self. So it might hit them even harder.
Jeff: That's a really good point. There's a lot of sports psychology that focuses on identity and how it's beneficial but also not beneficial to construct your identity around sports. And at the same time I also want to say that in those first few weeks after I hurt my back and I thought that probably I would never play soccer again, I was depressed. I felt a pretty profound depression around that. And that's just as somebody who played soccer three times a week.So I can imagine if it was your career and it was actually over because of an injury. That must be pretty devastating.
Geoff: I think one of the biggest topics that we've seen in the sporting community is recovery. I think this notion of recovery I think you covered it nicely in the book here, is that I think for like the longest period of time you had like basically amateur gentlemen sportsmen. Because there's no money in professional sports and I think people were just like, "We're going hard."
And really within the last I would say 10 years or so people are really focused on recovery now. What in your experience has been interesting? I mean just from a personal perspective on how you rehabilitated and came back into ... I mean you can clearly cycle and are you playing soccer now again?
Jeff: Right now I'm not, but basically just because I cycling takes up too much of my time.
Geoff: But you're basically back to close to normal or better than before, hopefully. I'm just curious in terms of the reporting, your experience, what has been some of the most interesting developments in recovery?
Jeff: I think that where you said that 10 year timeframe is about right. It's only been about 10 or 15 years that it has been treated as an equal leg on the stool to training and nutrition. That's really seen as now those are the three pillars of a performance program. Whereas I think that if you look 20 years ago it was more like training, nutrition and then over here in the corner is like this thing also there's recovery.
You might want to do some of that too. I think a lot of what's driving it is just a more sophisticated understanding of fatigue. More sophisticated understanding of the importance of periodization and building enough rest and downtime into a program, which is something that we've seen in American sports. Probably the most visible example of that to any American sports fan would be like what we've seen in the NBA. Where now every team rests healthy players during the season.
And it's something that's so obviously such conventional wisdom now that unless you are also watching basketball 20 years ago you probably wouldn't know that was considered a crazy off the wall thing. Did you need your resting, your healthy players during the season. And like Gregg Popovich would get fined for doing it-
Geoff: I remember that.
Jeff: They would blast him on ESPN, but that basically he was the one who figured out that like, "Oh, periodization is something you can do in team sports as well." It doesn't just have to be something that's part of a marathon training plan. As athletes in every sport, coaches in every sport have gotten smarter about that. They've realized like, "Oh now we have all these blank spaces in our program that we could be filling with something else."
So recovery has rushed into that vacuum in ways that have been both, I would say really necessary and helpful and beneficial and also in ways that are probably more marketing driven than science. Driven in that way.
Geoff: I was actually going to ask about that. I mean you've tried a bunch of cutting edge stuff where there's some clear highlights that were completely misguided and complete BS. What were some of the low lights or things that you thought were just completely crazy?
Jeff: That's the thing about recovery is that you can't really over recover. They'll say if you do like Cryotherapy every day, you do it three times a day sure. Hypothetically, it could tamp down your inflammation to the point that you're not getting the training adaptation that you want to get. You're not getting the full benefit of your training because your body is just immediately suppressing his own inflammation cycle.
That's the thing about recovery. You can't really over-recover.
But outside of that if you love the feeling of being in a Cryo chamber then sure do it all you want. I think it's given ... Especially given how much it costs to do I think it's pretty silly. Put in that line.
Geoff: The wine bath is probably pretty silly.
Jeff: The wine bath ... I mean even Amar'e Stoudemire. I talked to Amar'e Stoudemire told me that he does this Vino therapy. It's called where you bath in hot red wine and when he was playing for the Knicks ... There's one Vino therapy place in the country which is in Tribeca. And so when he was playing for the Knicks he would go there after every home game and take this wine bath.
And ... But even when I asked him about it, I was like, "So you do this thing, it costs like $400 every time you do it? What does it do for you?" And he's like, "Oh it's just like a bath."
Geoff: Feels good.
Jeff: Fuck, I don't know. I mean the NBA, I can't burn my money.
Geoff: And I think ... Because we're in silicon valley, I feel like where you see some of the ... I guess you would say similar behavior with I guess some of the characters of Silicon Valley obsessed with longevity and anti-aging. It seems to be like there's similar approaches or investigations around these cutting edge techniques. Did that inform your reporting? Did you see parallels there?
Because I know that in one of the ending sections of the book you talked about, Peter Thiel and his parabiosis. How do you see these threads coming together? I mean clearly there's some perhaps more relationship around optimization on the sports perspective and optimization in I guess cognition or productivity or longevity.
Jeff: Absolutely. It informed my reporting. I mean it was in my mind all the time and a lot of the sports tech companies ... I mean companies like human for instance, that I was keeping track of what they do and in some cases reporting on them in the book were all here. I mean this is definitely where the frontier of human performance and ... They don't use the word biohacking very much in sports but that's basically what these athletes are doing. They are biohacking. So the question exactly is what?
Geoff: Well, I guess it's like ... I'm just curious to hear the parallels. Your thoughts on the parallels. It seems like in the sporting world, clearly optimization focus on physical performance and in Silicon Valley there seems to be a growing thread around biohackers for longevity or cognition. Do you see these being related endeavors? Parallel endeavors? Somewhat overlapping endeavors?
Jeff: There are definitely related endeavors. I mean one big difference it has to do I would say with time. Which is that I think a lot of the stuff that athletes do that's more fringy or might have some benefit ... but the benefit is probably pretty marginal ... is basically because you can only train so much. You can't hit the gym 60 hours a week, so they have a lot of downtime.
When an athlete like a Colin Kaepernick, who does have that incredibly powerful desire to do everything in his power to make himself better. He's got a lot of extra time. I mean I'm not singling out Colin Kaepernick on purpose here. I don't know if he doesn't he really weird stuff. But he's got a lot of extra time on his hands.
Tom Brady has a lot of time on his hands when he's not sitting in a classroom or he's not in a gym to pursue things that maybe they make a .1 percent difference to his ability to compete. But he's like, "Yeah, hell I'm going to do that. Why not?" Whereas I feel like in Silicon Valley time is a thing that everybody feels like they need more of. And a lot of this biohacking stuff is even about finding more time in the day. Whether it's-
Geoff: Jim Ferris thing, run your business in five minutes or whatever like that staff. Like the productivity hacking.
Jeff: Or even like sir Phil Wagner, who runs Sparta science down in Menlo Park. One of these performance centers that they use motion ... sorry they use force plates to measure athlete's movements, to measure athletes the forces they put into the ground when they jump. And then they analyze it and supposedly can identify different movement patterns that they can retrain to help them either avoid injuries or increase their performance.
So he is a former semipro rugby player. Very super fit guy, still very fit and he's also has three kids and basically the way he manages to do a startup and do all of these other things is that he sleeps four hours a night. And he ... The way that he sleeps four hours a night according to Phil is he uses coherence training to synchronize his ... You probably know more about this than I do.
Geoff: Synchronizing his sleep. I remember reading about that.
Jeff: Basically to get himself right into deep sleep. And then he wakes up in the morning, he spends the first few hours in the morning sitting in red lights. Which supposedly stimulates, increases your mitochondrial output. Because of this he says he is basically able to sleep four hours a night instead of eight hours a night and feel exactly the same. He also uses the intermittent fasting to control his energy levels.
He said especially when he's traveling ... I know in different time zones, but that's because he doesn't have enough hours in the day. Right. So that's seems like a pretty big difference, right?
Geoff: Yeah. I don't know if I believe him. I mean that would be great if we could actually just sleep for four hours a day, that would be great for productivity and for everyone.
Jeff: Well maybe once we're able to examine his genetics -
Geoff: Understanding that !% of people that only need a four hour amount of sleep. Apparently there are just like genetics, I guess a phenotypes of people.
Jeff: That would be really funny if he's actually one of those people and he just bought this whole lighting system for his bedroom for nothing.
Geoff: I know you have some takeaways at the end of the book. But any highlights that have really stuck to in terms of takeaways that you applied to your personal life? Or even just putting it back out to the audience. What has that been the biggest highest delta things that you've just added to your life that are impactful?
Jeff: The biggest one I would say is ... Big part of the reason that I kept getting hurt when I was trying to become a great soccer player at 35 is I just had a really on sophisticated approach to training. I thought like okay, "I need to be more fit so I need to play more and I need to run more and work out more." And it was just this kind of more thing.
So really understanding there's no such thing as fitness without freshness was something that for me has changed the way that I think about everything. I really think about periodizing now for anything that I want to do. Not just playing soccer or not just cycling, but even something like writing a book. Or gosh, I don't know being on this podcast.
I'm constantly now thinking in terms of those cycles of building up and recovery afterwards and it's just a really useful concept. I mean you talked about periodizing for nutrition before and that's something that's now starting to catch on this idea. That anything you do periodizing for heat exposure, periodizing for sleep. It's one of those things like the Matrix. Once you internalize that idea you see opportunities to do it everywhere.
It's one of those things like the Matrix. Once you internalize that idea you see opportunities to do it everywhere.
Geoff: I think that will be a well accepted concept in the coming years. I think that'll be a big thing across all pursuits if you can imagine that being applied towards business functions as well. I mean people already doing Silicon Valley like sprints and waterfall all those sort of agile development techniques. I think people already are doing periodization but can make him a little more sophisticated perhaps. I think that seems to be a direction that seems to be promising.
Jeff: There are a bunch of concepts like that in the book that are so ... Once you understand them they're so self evident that it almost becomes hard to imagine that there was a world that was so backwards about it and that world existed as recently as it did. It's almost like you're trying to explain to someone why it's good to breath.
Geoff: What are interesting topics that you're looking forward to thinking about next? I mean we had a recent conversation around stoicism. What's percolating in your mind? What would book two be about? If there's any previous on that? What's interesting in terms of your day to day reporting? What's going on in Jeff Bercovici's brain right now?
Jeff: I'm delighted to say the last chapter of the book is the one where I talk about longevity and life extension. And that's definitely a topic that I have great interest in partly because it has so much ambivalence around it. And I generally think that ambivalence is a good tool as a journalist. It's like a splinter in your mind and it keeps you thinking about something.
Geoff: I'm actually curious about diving into this topic. What is the ambivalence about? Do you not want to live forever? Do you-
Jeff: I don't think I do want to live forever. I don't think I do want to live forever.
Geoff: Whichever audience poll like how many percent of the HVMN podcast listeners just want to live forever?
Jeff: But it's not just that I don't especially want to live forever. But it's that when I talked to people who do want to live forever about why they want to live forever, I often have trouble identifying with it. And then I also have trouble articulating why I have trouble identifying with it. Like often people will put it in very common sense terms. Like, "I just like being alive and I want to do more of it." Or, "I have things that I want to do and I feel like I can do them more effectively if I have 500 years that I could work on the same project."
And I don't know I just ... whenever I have one of these conversations my brain spends a long time afterwards thinking, "Why did I bother you? Or what's the ..." Is it because they seem selfish or self absorbed or arrogant or-
Geoff: No. I mean yes. Sometimes yes. The answer is sometimes yes. And sometimes no.
Jeff: I mean I think that when it's just somebody who seems selfish, that's less interesting and that's easy for your brain to put its finger on and move on. It's more when it's somebody who genuinely ... I feel like I really see eye to eye with that. Then afterwards I'm thinking like, "What's the missing puzzle piece here that I'm not understanding?"
I think that there are a lot of angles to understand immortality from or extreme life extension through. And it's something that is new enough as an actual prospect that I don't think that we've examined it through all of these angles. We have thousands and thousands of years of human thinking in religious traditions, philosophical traditions, ethical traditions that are all grounded in the understanding that we're never going to die. For not going to die, all of that stuff is suddenly up in the air.
I think that there are a lot of angles to understand immortality from or extreme life extension through. And it's something that is new enough as an actual prospect that I don't think that we've examined it through all of these angles.
Geoff: Right. I mean it is just like a Meta discussion topic. I mean I think from my personal perspective it just seems like an optionality opportunity, right. Like you can always I guess kill yourself so ... But can you have an option like live longer, learn to get more time just seems like a status quo thing.
Is it of default like you're going to die, like default on ... Why not just accept the default bit. Is one way to think about it at least from our baseline weight. I think about it.
Jeff: Well but then ... Okay so there were a whole bunch of assumptions built into what you just said that aren't necessarily true. You're talking about it as though the person that continues to be alive into the distant future is A you and B a person which a lot of people would disagree with both of those things. I mean I talked to Sam Altman about this the other day and he has this idea that you have the merge.
This merge that is already underway. We're already starting to merge with our devices and that's basically going to become ... Going to-
Geoff: Future humanity.
Jeff: Right radically accelerate where the singularity is going to happen. He didn't invent that idea but he's a believer in some form of it. He's like, "I actually think that this is going to happen in the next couple of decades and I'm totally have no idea how I feel about it. If you asked me if it's a good thing or not I can't answer that right now."
Geoff: That's interesting. I can think about ... I can talk about that all day.
Jeff: But you have to put that in quotes. Do you want to live forever? Every part of it?
Geoff: Well I think ... just take like the naive question. I think I would say that most people would want that optionality. But I think you open up that kind of worms. Like is you uploaded into computer and into the cloud, is that still you? Or is that just conscious stream that mimics you really well? That's like a philosophical question.
Jeff: I think that the ethical piece of it is also really interesting. How do we behave ... How would we behave differently if we were living with the expectation that we would still be alive in 500 years?
Geoff: I think everyone will do a lot less risk taking because you're not just losing 20 years of life. You're losing 2000 years of life. I think that would be interesting from a risk calculation perspective.
Jeff: Not just risk but sacrifice. I mean right now the thing in the world that we value the most highly, the thing that as a society that we esteem the most is when people sacrifice their lives for others. Knowingly sacrifice into the firefighter runs into a building, the nurse works in the Ebola ward where 50 percent of people who work in their die.
How does that work in a world where if you don't show up to work that day, you might live another thousand years? Is that just gone-
Geoff: Or it's just magnified even more because like the sacrifices, like orders of magnitude greater now. Sure.
Jeff: It's all questions.
Geoff: It's interesting. And but like really if magical being was like, "Hey, you and your current body you could get a thousand more years." You'd be like ... I feel I'd be like, "Okay, I'll take it." Am I thinking about it for two seconds? But it's like optionality play. I know that if I really don't like living, I could kill myself for the opposite it's not as easy to obtain.
Jeff: Now what if that magical being said that to you. When you said you can live a thousand more years, just so you know that's not going to happen to anybody else. You will be the only person from the 21st century that is still alive.
Geoff: I would take it. And if I really hate it I'd be like, "All right, I'm going to kill myself." Right I just straight up like an optionality bet.
Jeff: Because if you asked me that question, my first question to you is, "Okay, what's everyone else going to do? Am I going to be the ..." If I say no and then I want to live a long, healthy, normal human life span and then I wanted to end at what feels like a good time. I mean as the stoics would say, "A play should end at the right time." It shouldn't go on longer than it needs to.
But if I'm the only one who decides that and suddenly everybody else is landing to a 1000 and I'm 100 and I say, "Ah, see you later guys." Then maybe I'll feel like a sucker.
Geoff: Well any other last thoughts here? I mean this is a good time to end. I would love to get a sense of what else in terms of topics are interesting to you from a report perspective or from a book perspective. Sounds like longevity seems to be a recurring theme here. Anything else that tickles your mind?
Jeff: Oh Gosh. I'm always really interested in companies or technologies that feel like they have really far reaching impacts on society. I think that we're obviously living through times that are scary and I spent a lot of time thinking about climate change more than anything else. And like how has this society we're going to get over this particular home which we need to get over.
I'm on the hunt and always thinking about companies that have an answer or a big part of the answer. Like for instance, last year I wrote a story on Memphis meats. Which meat production for human consumption is responsible for a ridiculous part of global warming gases. There's a lot of interesting companies are on food science doing that. I mean right now I'm also really interested in any company doing anything having to do with direct carbon capture.
I just tend to believe that a lot of these answers are going to need to be driven by the profit motive.Just because that's the fastest way for anything to scale not exclusively, but I think that's got to be part of it. So when I hear about a company that's doing something where I say, "Oh they could make a ton of money solving one of our biggest global problems." That gets my attention.
Geoff: So this was out there with that kind of constraints, email Jeff. Thanks so much for being on the program. I think it was a fun conversation.
Jeff: Thank you for having me. It was great.
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