Updated: Apr 22
My personal search for performance started when I was about 7 years old.
I would turn up to soccer practice an hour early, and keep practising for a few hours afterwards until it was too dark to see the ball. This evolved into exercising; push-ups, crunches and the like. By the time I was 9, I was lifting weights to make myself stronger, bigger and faster. By the time I turned 16 I was deeply interested in nutrition and how to improve the muscle on a cellular level. Learning how the right foods and nutrients can make a huge difference was pretty eye opening to a young teen, especially when it came to the individual biochemical mechanism of action that each nutrient performed within our body. Following this path I was then fascinated by the endocrine system, and became fully engrossed in studies relating to hormones. I would have easily spent a thousand hours reading study after study on the subject, with dozens of nights spent reading until the sun came up.
In the last year or two my attention shifted towards the brain, and increasing cognitive performance, overall adaptability, and accelerating skill acquisition. This attention was not just regarding knowledge, and how to learn faster, but towards altering the brain on a physical level, altering biology and neurology, for enhanced performance towards whatever goal was desired. This research led me towards Nootropics (discussed later) and later towards biohacking the rest of the body and its other various functions, like sleep, muscle growth, body fat levels, balance, speech, digestion, etc.
Following from my previous article on personal growth - if I could improve all of these areas, just imagine how much I would be altering the course of my life for the better.
So, what is biohacking?
‘Biohacking’ as the practice has been commonly referred to, is simply the concept of performing an action that elicits a certain favourable biological response. Often these actions serve no other purpose than to elicit a known and desired biological response.
Although this term sounds complex, it’s fairly simple if you cut out the science and just look at the ‘before & after’ components.
Me doing [X action] = [Y changes, inside my body] = [Z desired effects to my body or behaviour].
It is the practice of optimising your physiology, psychology and biology for your chosen beneficial results. Results like wellness, health, longevity and performance (physical & mental) are all common desirable goals worthy of optimisation.
One example that is shared with over 1 billion people every day would be drinking coffee. We know coffee contains the chemical caffeine, and we definitely feel the biological response when we drink a cup of that delicious brain juice. Results like boosted alertness, lessened tiredness, and increased productivity & happiness are the hallmark uses of coffee. To demonstrate how popular this biohack is, over 2.25 billion cups of coffee are consumed every single day; they aren’t all drinking it just because they’re thirsty!
Exercise is another popular biohack. We know the body responds to exercise with beneficial results like fat loss, muscle gain, lengthened lifespan, reverse in aging, decreased risk of hundreds of diseases, better mental health, etc. These are all the result of biological reactions happening in your body in response to the action of exercise.
[X Action] = [Y biochemical effect] = [Z Result], thus, biohacking!
Other examples include, listening to music, drinking alcohol, watching TV, watching sunsets, playing sports, playing video games, sleeping, meditating, dieting, stretching and tons more.
There are many fields and practises that fit into the realm of biohacking.
The largest are:
Nutrigenomics - using foods, supplements and specific nutrition to create a desired response in the body. Think, dieting to lose weight, drinking a protein shake to help improve muscle, using supplements to improve the performance of your body or brain, or even drinking alcohol to relax.
Exercise Physiology & Biomechanics - Effortful physical activity for the sole purpose of facilitating: losing body fat, improving strength, increasing bone density, growing muscle, becoming fitter, rehabilitating movement functions, or just being a healthier version of yourself. It’s an odd concept, to effortfully expend energy for no purpose other than to stress the body, in order for it to adapt and improve above current levels; no other animals do this (that I know of).
Chronobiology - day and night cycles affect your body’s physiological processes and so we can use methods and actions to ensure we have truly synched with this cycle in order to better optimise the thousands of processes occurring in response to this unshifting daily cycle. Any mismatch in our processes and the cycle can have detrimental effects within us, including depression, shortened lifespan, faster ageing, and reduced mental & physical performance.
Technology - technology is fast becoming a hugely popular tool for monitoring and improving our health and daily routines. Branching from this area is the quantified self movement, whereby everything that can be quantified within and around the body is then tracked and seen as a metric that can be improved through trial & error (eg. step count, heart rate, blood tests, sleep quantity, calories, books read, and screen time, etc).
Given the enormous reach that technology has, it’s without saying that it can improve our lives by helping us with our biological processes. Common examples include things like sleep trackers, heart rate monitors, exercise machines, headphones, televisions and phones. The phone in your hands, or the smart-watch sitting on your wrist right now may even be used for biohacking, if done right. However the true performance enhancing tech is less common, in-fact it’s often a secret to the general population, and is often expensive; however this is proportionate to the huge results they give. Further down the rabbit-hole of tech and biohacking, there are people who implant tech into their bodies, to fuse man and machine, so they can upgrade their body to acquire new senses such as weather detection, echolocation, blood chemistry, or even things like magnetic forces.
Psychology – Improving things like your mindset, motivation, emotional wellbeing, happiness, empathy and thoughtfulness. The state of your psychology can have big effects on your body, and studies within the last 30 years have proven that the state of your body can also have huge effects on your psychology. There are some very fascinating studies on the reciprocal relationship between the two. Performance psychology and its subsets have also grown substantially (more than 5-fold) within the last 12 years.
Neuroscience - by using the modern scientific method and modern measurement devices like the fMRI or EEG, we can see the mechanisms within the brain, and how they relate to our abilities and behaviours. We now have a much higher resolution into how our brain perceives the world, and how we react in response to it. This feedback allows us to surmise which of our actions, or which chemicals, have beneficial results in our brains, that may cause us desired feelings or enhanced desirable functions (like verbal fluidity, or accelerated learning). We know that things like sex, eating, winning, and social inclusiveness, increase certain neurotransmitters, like dopamine and serotonin, that make us feel good. We’ve also learnt there are easier ways of creating favourable reactions, like drinking coffee to increase dopamine ‘the productivity hormone’, or breathing in certain patterns to lower certain hormones like cortisol. There are also methods to grow new brain cells, neurons and synapses to increase our mental performance, intelligence and mental health, while removing things like brain fog and unproductive thoughts. We can even slow or reverse brain ageing. Neuroscience is often a mixture of chemistry, biology, and psychology.
Genetics - these can be analysed through blood or salivary samples. Once analysed we can see whether we may have predispositions for certain illnesses, as well uncovering how our body processes certain nutrients or other chemicals, which shed light onto what we may benefit the most from eating or taking. For example, a test may reveal that you have the ApoE-4 gene, and may benefit highly from taking DHA fish oil to prevent Alzheimer's.
This is only a short list of the many areas, as biohacking is incredibly diverse, and many of these areas have heavy overlap.
Hopefully you’ve gained some insight as to how incredibly powerful biohacking can be when equipped or adopted into your lifestyle.
Biohacking may seem very new-age, a bit out-there, and very complex, but it’s something that we as humans have been doing for hundreds of thousands of years. If we look at simple anthropological data we can see that the most successful hunters in tribes were usually given the most nutritious parts of the animals (organs) and generally got the best pick of partners to procreate with (thus hacking the genetic results for more offspring with an aptitude for successful hunting). This was a shared understanding by the tribe in order to increase the harvest of future hunts, to improve the efficacy of the tribes efforts and ensure group survival.
There are thousands of examples in the animal kingdom as well. One humorous study found that dolphins will sometimes gather in a group and chew on a pufferfish to get high, in order to increase social bonding and elicit happiness among the group. We also know that gorillas beat their chests, which increases their testosterone, and bears biannually alter their diet to gain large amounts of body fat for hibernation.
Pro's and Cons.
Biohacking can be detrimental (drugs, alcohol, etc), but if we focus on the scientific literature, and we take the imperative to control our biology for the betterment, the results are nothing short of life changing.
Don’t miss the opportunities awaiting. You can optimise yourself. You can be a better version of yourself. You can start biohacking.