I have often thought to myself “how healthy am I?” As I describe here, healthy food and lifestyle was always part of my life. Furthermore, (I think) my diet is excellent, I frequently exercise, have great family medical history, and maintain a low stress life.
Given that I feel healthy and am already highly focused on my health (my room mate accuses me of eating too much ‘grass’ and claims that’s what cows are for) one might ask, why worry about it? The truth is, I am not worried about it, I am just fascinated by it. In my mind the human body is one big interesting, complex, multivariate feedback loop ripe for an optimization project. And like any game, once you think you may have worked out how to ‘win’, winning becomes quite compelling and addictive.
My own game started with getting involved in competitive sports including triathlons and mountain running races. I was always amazed that how seemingly small tweaks to nutrition could have such vast effects on my performance outcomes. As my overall food consumption increased, I started experimenting with simple things like reducing glycemic index load, increasing overall nutritional load, and playing with pre-event nutrition combinations. Perhaps the most extreme experiment is as outlined by my former multiday event buddy Tom Watt:
“What I had you doing was a protocol I based on some research done at the Western Australian Institute of Sport in 2003. They showed that you could attain very high levels of glycogen storage in muscles by performing short duration, high intensity exercise, followed by carbohydrate intake 24 hours prior to an athletic event, without the need for traditional tapering and carb loading over a number of days. The drink I had you swilling was just lucozade sport (I.e. A hypertonic, short chain carbohydrate solution). “
In short it worked… I followed the program as above, including the short burst training coupled with gulping 2-3 litres of lucozade sport in the 24 hours leading up to the event. I completely blitzed the intensive day one course and pushed 110% the entire time. I ended up carrying one of my team mates for the last leg of the race and finished with what felt like excess energy.
Although I was able to influence performance outcomes, the more interesting outcome was general vitality and feeling healthy – something that I didn’t want to loose when I eventually tapered my training.
This journey eventually led me to being highly specific about my diet, having crazy theories about nutrition that find their roots in control theory (a topic that fascinated me during my engineering studies), and working at a cutting edge consumer directed Wellness & Health Startup.
In Feburary 2011 when we started designing our initial WellnessFX diagnostics panel I thought, ‘why not try experimenting on myself a little now that I have access to real data’.
As such, I designed a three phase personal systems biology experiment on myself. The goals of the experiment were to a) determine if I could (positively) move my personal system biology by following fairly generic advice contained in various blogs, nutrition books, and health articles and b) determine if a more targeted and data driven approach could make any difference to health outcomes.
I mapped out the experiment in stages as follows:
Stage 1: Personal Systems Biology Baseline
Stage 2: Self Educated Interventions
Stage 3: Personalized, Data Driven, Professionally Guided Interventions
The following posts in this series outline the experiment and associated outcomes.
Follow Zak @ZakHoldsworth