A simple look at optimal human health

Running-At-Sunset

Homo sapiens, or modern day humans are basically hairless sweaty apes with large brains and small stomachs. This is how we evolved:

  • Wake up with the first light of the day;
  • Eat one (maybe two) meals of local seasonal foods including a large amount of seafood and marrow from bones of other animals;
  • Be naked in the sun all day;
  • Swim in the ocean;
  • Be moderately active collecting food and fresh drinking water;
  • Watch the sunset;
  • Go to sleep on the earth in darkness.

Humans lived every day like this on the East African rift for 300,000 years in perfect synchrony with the daily and seasonal rhythms of the sun, the earth, the moon and stars.

Lets expand a little all of the points mentioned above:

Wake up with the first light of the day
Humans have detectors for light in the skin (melanopsin) that detect the first rays of morning light before sunrise and wake you up by releasing cortisol.

Watching the sunrise and the all the varying frequencies of the morning sunlight are absorbed by the eyes and skin to build hormones, neurotransmitters and set the circadian rhythms of every cell in the body.

Eat one (maybe two) meal of local seasonal foods including a large amount of seafood and marrow from the bones of other animals
One meal consumed during the day allows for beneficial intermittent fasting for the rest of the day and ketosis at night during sleep.

Humans evolved larger brains and immune systems than our primate ancestors by accessing the fatty acids and other key nutrients such as DHA & iodine from the marine food chain, along with the marrow from the bones of other animals.

Fruits and vegetables traditionally varied geographically throughout the seasons, so make the most of a the variety of these foods available to you.

Be naked in the sun all day
Humans are basically hairless primates that can run around on two feet. This adaptation allows for several evolutionary advantages, such as the increase of the amount of sunlight that the skin is able to absorb.

Visible sunlight is absorbed into the skin to convert or produce hormones, such as Vitamin D, which is critically important to optimal human function.

Other benefits include an improved circadian rhythm, increased blood flow, brain function, dental health, mitochondrial function and sex hormone production.

Swim in the ocean
Humans have traditionally lived near the oceans and river ways and have evolved over time to eat seafood. Swimming in the ocean provides another source of electrolytes, salts, and other micro nutrients that may be difficult to obtain through the modern diet.

Be moderately active collecting food and fresh drinking water
Humans have always been moderately active animal. Nomadic by nature, they had to walk or run everywhere, and had to carry their belongings with them as they moved from location to location.

Humans also have a great need for a daily supply of fresh clean drinking water. The human body is roughly 60% water, with the brain and heart being composed of approx. 73% water. Additionally, plasma (the liquid portion of your blood) is approx. 90% water. Plasma helps carry blood cells, nutrients and hormones throughout the body.

It’s possible for the body to survive several weeks without food, but the body can only survive a few days without water.

Watch the sunset
The eyes and skin pay attention to the waning frequencies of light at sunset to prepare the hormones of the body for sleep. The absence of light at night is a signal to release the hormone melatonin to facilitate regenerative sleep at night.

Go to sleep in darkness
The absence of light is a very important signal for cellular circadian rhythms and metabolism. Proper circadian rhythm promotes quality sleep, helps keep the cells healthy and contributes to optimal performance.

Concluding
A very simple look into a template for optimal human health. Remember, there is no one size fits all. However, by applying these practices to the modern environment of generally poor nutrition, constant over stimulation, inadequate time in the sun and disrupted circadian rhythms, we may be able to prevent and even reverse many of the chronic diseases that affect so many people today.

Humans need to relearn what is a species appropriate diet and lifestyle. The diet and lifestyle that previous generations have lived which shaped our evolution throughout history. The closer you can emulate this natural lifestyle, the less likely you will develop one of chronic diseases of life.

Characteristics of traditional diets

Delicious  portion of  fresh salmon fillet  with aromatic herbs,

From the Weston A. Price foundation.

Characteristics of traditional diets

  1. The diets of healthy, non-industrialized peoples contain no refined or denatured foods or ingredients, such as refined sugar or high fructose corn syrup; white flour; canned foods; pasteurized, homogenized, skim or lowfat milk; refined or hydrogenated vegetable oils; protein powders; synthetic vitamins; or toxic additives and artificial colorings;
  2. All traditional cultures consume some sort of animal food, such as fish and shellfish; land and water fowl; land and sea mammals; eggs; milk and milk products; reptiles; and insects. The whole animal is consumed; muscle meat, organs, bones and fat, with the organ meats and fats preferred;
  3. The diets of healthy, non-industrialized peoples contain at least four times the minerals and water-soluble vitamins, and TEN times the fat-soluble vitamins found in animal fats (vitamin A, vitamin D and Activator X, now thought to be vitamin K2) as the average American diet;
  4. All traditional cultures cooked some of their food but all consumed a portion of their animal foods raw;
  5. Primitive and traditional diets have a high content of food enzymes and beneficial bacteria from lactofermented vegetables, fruits, beverages, dairy products, meats and condiments;
  6. Seeds, grains and nuts are soaked, sprouted, fermented or naturally leavened to neutralize naturally occurring anti-nutrients such as enzyme inhibitors, tannins and phytic acid;
  7. Total fat content of traditional diets varies from 30 percent to 80 percent of calories but only about 4 percent of calories come from polyunsaturated oils naturally occurring in grains, legumes, nuts, fish, animal fats and vegetables. The balance of fat calories is in the form of saturated and monounsaturated fatty acids;
  8. Traditional diets contain nearly equal amounts of omega-6 and omega-3 essential fatty acids;
  9. All traditional diets contain some salt;
  10. All traditional cultures make use of animal bones, usually in the form of gelatin-rich bone broths;
  11. Traditional cultures make provisions for the health of future generations by providing special nutrient-rich animal foods for parents-to-be, pregnant women and growing children; by proper spacing of children; and by teaching the principles of right diet to the young.

Protein shakes before or after your workout

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Protein is necessary for muscle repair and growth. It is an essential macronutrient that is required for optimal function.

For this reason, many people consume protein supplements in the form of shakes along with their workouts.

However, the optimal time to have a protein shake is an often debated topic.

Some believe it’s best to drink a protein shake before a workout, whereas others argue that after a workout is ideal.

Myself personally, am a fan of the train fasted, compete fed philosophy.

How much protein do you require?
The Recommended Daily Allowance (RDA) for protein is 0.8 g/kg of body weight.

The RDA is the estimated amount of a nutrient a person needs to avoid a deficiency. It doesn’t specify the amount needed to optimize body composition or health and performance.

Most research suggests that people who routinely strength train may need double the RDA, or 1.6 g/kg, to support muscle recovery and growth.

A protein shake is a good option between meals, either as a snack or around your workout. They typically contain 25–30 grams of protein per scoop.

The magical 30 minute window
Many people within the health and fitness industry believe that drinking a protein shake within 30 minutes of completing physical activity will maximize their results in the gym.

Previously, it was been thought that consuming protein within this window gave the athlete the best opportunity to build new muscle mass. More recent research however, suggests that this window is much longer than 30 minutes and may not be limited to the post-workout window.

Today, it has become widely accepted that total protein consumed throughout the day is probably as important to building lean muscle than the actual timing.

Whilst I am a fan of training in a fasted state, I do use branched-chain amino acids (BCAAs) on occasion and my morning coffee is usually combined with some collagen. Whilst technically it breaks the fast, the collagen provides a small amino acid boost pre-workout, fuelling the muscles and generally resulting in improved physical performance.

On the other end of the spectrum, there are people who just don’t respond well to training without eating or drinking something beforehand. If you fall into this category then a protein shake post-workout will still contribute to muscle repair and growth.

That being said, here are some of the benefits of taking some protein during the pre-workout window.

Increased protein synthesis
Pre-workout protein, specifically BCAAs, will help fuel the muscles during physical activity. BCAAs do not need to be processed by the liver, so after being consumed, they head directly to the blood stream to be used by the muscles.

Taking protein prior to your workout primes the pump, starting protein synthesis during, rather than after your training session.

A pre-workout serve of BCAAs increases amino acid delivery to the muscles during physical activity. Taken alone or as part of a complete protein, such as whey protein powders, BCAAs inhibit muscle breakdown. The result is an even higher level of net protein synthesis.

Carryover effect post-workout
There is also a carryover effect of nutrients taken pre-workout. Protein synthesis can stay elevated for as long as 3 hours after consumption.

What does this mean? Consuming protein pre-workout will elevate amino acids within the blood both during and after your workout is over. This elevation of blood amino acids will not only trigger protein synthesis but help prevent excessive post-workout muscle breakdown.

Fat burning
Taking BCAAs along with some coffee pre-workout can be extremely beneficial during periods of low carbohydrate consumption. Adding BCCAs pre-workout, when glycogen stores are low (they will be if you eating a low carbohydrate diet), will increase fatty acid oxidation (aka fat burning) during periods of intense physical activity.

In summary
The nutrients consumed around your workout are critical to building and maintaining your physique.

While protein shakes around workouts and between meals are helpful, make sure you’re getting enough protein throughout the day. Consuming protein from quality food sources should be your primary goal.

Additional supplementation using protein shakes can help you meet your goals.

While the post-workout shake has long been the go-to for many bodybuilders and athletes, consuming some protein in the pre-workout window may be even more beneficial, by supporting intra-workout muscle growth.

If you are generally healthy and getting a good amount of quality protein throughout the day, then a serve of BCAAs pre-workout will provide an adequate boost during your workout.

Foods for heart health

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Heart disease accounts for nearly one third of all deaths worldwide.

Your diet plays a major role in heart health and can impact your overall risk of heart disease. In fact, certain foods can influence your blood glucose response, blood pressure, trigylerides and cholesterol levels along with total inflammation, all of which are risk factors in heart disease.

Here are some foods that can improve your overall heart health.

Salmon
One of the best sources of anti-inflammatory omega-3 fatty acids which can lower the risk of irregular heart beat as well as plaque build up in the arteries. Wild caught is preferred over farmed.

If you’re not a fan of salmon or seafood in general, then fish oil supplementation is another option. Fish oil supplements have been shown to reduce blood triglycerides, improve arterial function and decrease blood pressure.

Blueberries
Rich in antioxidants and flavonoids, blueberries can protect against oxidative stress, decrease blood pressure and dilate blood vessels.

Citrus
High in flavonoids that are linked with a reduced rate of ischemic stroke caused by blood clots, and rich in vitamin C which has been associated with lower risk of heart disease, like atherosclerosis.

Tomatoes
Cardio-protective functions provided by the nutrients in tomatoes may include the reduction of low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol, homocysteine, platelet aggregation, and blood pressure.

Extra virgin olive oil
Rich in monounsaturated fats (MUFAs), extra virgin olive oil may help lower your risk of heart disease by improving related risk factors. For instance, MUFAs have been found to lower your total cholesterol and LDL cholesterol levels.

Avocados
Avocados are particularly rich in healthy monounsaturated fats, potassium and vitamins C and K. Regular consumption has been shown to reduce heart disease risk factors by improving cholesterol and blood triglyceride levels.

Butter
Butter is rich in fat soluble vitamins A, D, E and K, and other beneficial compounds like butyrate and conjugated linoleic acid. High-fat dairy products like butter have been linked to a reduced risk of obesity, diabetes, and heart disease.

Dark Chocolate
Dark chocolate is rich in antioxidants like flavonoids, which can help boost heart health. It has been associated with a lower risk of developing calcified plaque in the arteries and coronary heart disease.

Be sure to pick a high-quality dark chocolate with a cocoa content of at least 70%, and moderate your intake to make the most of its heart-healthy benefits.

In summary
The link between nutrition and heart health is getting stronger each year. The foods that you put on your plate and ultimately into your mouth can influence just about every aspect of heart health, from blood glucose responses, blood pressure, triglycerides, cholesterol levels and overall systemic inflammation.

Including these heart-healthy foods as part of a nutritious, well-balanced whole food diet can help keep your heart in good shape and mitigate many of the risk factors associated with heart disease.

Why organ meats belong in your diet

Instant-Pot-Chicken-Liver-Onions

There a few foods that actually deserve the title of “superfood”. Liver, along with many other organ meats like kidneys and hearts are some of the most nutrient dense foods on the planet. 

Our bodies evolved to eat these foods and to draw nourishment and energy from them. We didn’t spend millennia gulping down multivitamins and sports supplements.

Once a popular and treasured food source, liver, along with other organ meats, have fallen out of favour as nutritional staples.

The reality is that our palates and routines have evolved far from some of the foods we most need for optimal health. Instead, people are chasing the regular sugar highs that come with more modern, overly processed and hyper palatable “foods”.

Organ meats have an excellent nutrient profile. High in protein and low in calories, some of the key nutrients that are important to optimal human function are found in organ meats such as liver, include:

  • Retinol. The active form of vitamin A, which is crucial for healthy skin, fertility and pregnancy, vision, and immune health;
  • Choline. Critical for DNA synthesis, brain function, and a healthy nervous system;
  • Iron. Another essential nutrient that helps carry oxygen around the body. The iron in liver is heme iron, the kind most easily absorbed by the body;
  • B12 and folate. These nutrients are crucial for methylation, which affects everything from gene expression to the production of neurotransmitters to detoxification;
  • Zinc and copper. Zinc and copper work together to influence immune function, metabolism, and the nervous system. A single serving of liver provides enough copper for an entire week.

Sadly, most people today don’t like the taste of liver, and beef kidneys and heart aren’t high on the list either.

How to get more organ meats into your diet
Here are a few ways to get more organ meats onto your plate:

  • Pan fried. Liver goes well when fried with onions;
  • Bolognese sauces. Liver and other organ meats can be chopped or minced and then mixed with regular ground beef and added to pasta or vegetable dishes;
  • Burger patties. As with Bolognese sauces, chop or mince organ meats and mix it with ground beef to make highly nutritious burgers;
  • Adding lots of spices. By adding lots of herbs and spices, you can use strong flavours to help disguise its taste.
  • Soaked in lemon juice. Prior to cooking will reduce the strong flavour.

The bottom line is that liver and other organ meats like kidneys and hearts are a greatly underrated food source. Naturally nutrient dense and low in calories, they make a truely valuable addition to any nutritional strategy.

The Goblet Squat

Created by strength coach Dan John and named after the position in which the weight is held, the goblet squat is one of the simplest ways to learn and reinforce the basic squatting movement pattern.

It can be used as a mobility trainer, a warmup activity or as part of your workout proper. The goblet squat is so versatile that it might be the only squat you need in your workout.

The set up & execution
Similar to setting up for the kettlebell sumo deadlift, the athlete should take a comfortable stance, with feet slightly turned out.

With a dumbbell, holding it vertically by one end. Hug it tight against your chest. If you’re using a kettlebell, hold it by the horns. A medicine ball can also be used.

With your elbows pointing down and head facing forward, lower the body down and back into a squat, keeping the chest upright at all times (making sure not to fall forward or have excessive rounding the back).

Allow the elbows to brush past the insides of your knees as you descend. It’s okay to push your knees out. If your heels come off the ground at any stage, your stance is likely too narrow.

Finally, if mobility isn’t that great, squatting to the point where your elbows touch your knees if fine. In time, mobility and depth will increase.

Now, return to the standing position with a full hip extension (standing tall).

Pretty simple.

As mentioned earlier, the goblet squat is a great tool for teaching the squat in general and can be used as a mobility trainer. There isn’t a real requirement to go heavy, as higher volume sets with lighter loads will work very well.

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Taking the time to master the basics
Something that has been instilled in me throughout my military career is to be “brilliant at the basics”. A great lesson that can be applied to almost all aspects of life.

The mistake most people make is that they try to move too quickly into complex movement patterns before they have mastered proper form first. Often sacrificing technique for time or load.

If you really want to optimise your overall athletic performance, take the time to master the simple patterns first, like the goblet squat. You can alway add complexity to your programming later.

The simple movements patterns can also make the some of the most demanding and challenging workouts.

My training at 37-ish

Goals
Fitter. Faster. Stronger. Wiser.
With continued learning and adaptation. Always tinkering.

Context: 37-year-old. 180cm. 75kg. Soldier. Student.

Basically, I want live well into old age, being able to contribute to society and avoid chronic disease (for as long as possible).

How do we do this?

As a start point, using the basic human evolutionary blueprint and applying it to the modern environment, I have found that for me, it has allowed me to look, feel and perform to a pretty good standard without too much compromise.

Simply put, try to keep my metabolism as healthy as possible (by eating whole foods), keep enough muscle mass and remain as mobile (by being active) as I can so that I can actually get around and do everything I want to do for as long as possible… and hopefully help a few people out along the way.

Once again, the caveat is that this is what has worked for me so far…

Food
For those who don’t know me, I have been following Paleo type nutrition for nearly seven years now. For the most part it’s just eating whole foods as often as possible, and cutting out highly processed vegetable oils and sugars as much as practicable.

I rarely count calories and eat when I’m hungry. On occasion, I’ll track using a smartphone application to get a ballpark estimate of how balanced my food intake is. Generally, I’d say my macronutrient breakdown would be roughly:

  • 50-60% fat;
  • 20-25% protein;
  • 15-20% carbohydrate.

Is that keto? Technically, no. It would be pretty close and there would definitely be times through out the year that I would naturally cycle into ketosis.

I normally train in a fasted state, or after a cup of black coffee with some MCT oil and collagen.

My basic plate is a piece of animal protein with a bunch of vegetables and/or salad topped off with some butter or olive oil and sea salt. I eat plenty of eggs and I enjoy full-fat cheeses and dark chocolate (85% min). Mineral water, black coffee and red wine, specifically pinot noir are my drinks of choice.

Mostly I’m eating two meals per day, usually after I have trained. Most of my calories would usually be consumed in the final meal of the day. Mostly because I have more time available in the evening to prepare larger meals.

Another reason would be that I’m more likely to be sharing a meal after work with friends or family and sometimes it’s just easier. Being flexible and understanding the process is key here. There’s nothing worse than being “that guy or girl” who doesn’t eat at a group meal because it’s five minutes into a proposed fasting window.

Finally, when you’re a person who is generally a eating low-carbohydrate diet, getting all of your carbohydrates in the evening can replenish glycogen stores (energy stored in the muscles), and the elevated insulin response helps produce more tryptophan, which allows the process of converting serotonin into melatonin, leading to a more restful sleep.

On occasion, I will eat a third meal, typically if I’m doing a bit more physically at work, if I’m planning an evening workout or if I’m hungry. Super simple.

Intermittent fasting and time-restricted feeding. There is a difference. As mentioned earlier, I mostly eat two meals per day. One meal post workout and one at the end of the day. This is called time-restricted feeding. All foods are consumed within a window of time, for example between 12pm and 8pm.

Intermittent fasting is exactly that. Intermittent, meaning occasional. I am metabolically flexible, meaning that I am well adapted to using fats or ketones as an energy source, allowing me to go longer periods of time without feeling hungry or craving food. Occasionally on a low tempo day, I would dabble in a longer fast of up to 24-32 hours. This wasn’t very regular, maybe once every 8 to 10 weeks.

Most weeks I eat out with my team mates on a Friday morning at a local cafe, and with friends one night which would usually lead me to the local Vietnamese Pho restaurant.

Supplements
I generally don’t take a lot of supplements on a daily basis. I really try to get everything through whole food nutrition. My pre-workout is usually just a cup of black coffee and I randomly use a whey protein powder post workout. Outside of that, it’s only occasional cycles of fish oil, cod liver oil and magnesium.

Magnesium. This is probably one of the most important supplements for me. Mostly taken post workout or in the evenings prior to sleep. Magnesium is vitally important to over 300 biological functions in the body and these days it’s not that easy to get enough from diet alone. Add in some intense training or workloads, and your requirement increases.

During the winter months I spend a bit more time indoors and get a little less sun exposure, so I add about a 10ml of Nordic Naturals Cod Liver Oil every other day. The Cod Liver Oil is a good source of DHA along with Vitamins A and D, which have a variety of health related benefits.

Training
Strength and conditioning. The last 12 months I’ve focused on compound movements for general strength and conditioning such as deadlifts, power cleans and overhead presses. The break down of sets has varied, with a focus of no more than 10-15 working repetitions per movement.

Heavy Turkish getups (up to 50kg), farmers carries and high volume kettlebell swings have also featured consistently in my programming.

These three exercises are so good for you that you could almost base your entire strength and conditioning program around them and constantly see improvements throughout the year.

More recently, I have broken down my workouts into the following workout template:

  • Vertical press/pull, hinge and loaded carry;
  • Horizontal press/pull, hinge and loaded carry.

Really simple. But I’m finding that keeping it simple is working well for me. I can also finish most workouts in about 30 or 40 minutes.

I’m not setting any world records with my weight training but I’m fairly strong and athletic for a nearly 40 year old, 75kg guy. I’m rarely injured and generally have the energy to perform every day. Oh, I can also run reasonably quick.

Running. It’s been mostly interval work and 5km racing. Occasionally, I’ll run a longer distance out to about 8km, but the days of longer endurance distance running are in the past. For me, its too taxing on the body, and just takes up too much of my time. My preference lately has been to run 50m to 400m intervals and every now and then I just get out and run around for 20 or 30 minutes.

I’ve enjoyed running some of the major running events throughout the year. Firstly, it’s nice to have short term training goals, but I believe that it can give you a pretty good snapshot of how you compare physically (at least when it comes to running) across society in general.

In the last twelve months I have competed in the following events:

  • Mothers Day Classic, 4k (17:43min)
  • Run Melbourne, 5.2k (23:09min)
  • YMCA Fathers Day Run, 5k (23:37min)
  • Melbourne Marathon, 5k (24:14min)
  • Portsea Twilight, 4k (17:43min)
  • Sole Motive Sunset Series Zoo Run, 5k (22:47min)
  • Sole Motive Sunset Series The Tan, 4k (17:20min)
  • Run for the Kids, 5.2k (23:48min)

I also competed in two virtual races with the New York Road Runners (NYRR), where you track a run locally and upload it to a global leaderboard.

  • NYRR Valentines Day Virtual, 5k (23:02min)
  • NYRR NYC Half Virtual, 5k (22:25min)

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Right now my training consists of three days of strength and conditioning combined with two or three days of running (mostly easy/mid level efforts and some sprint work). Each workout lasts about 30 or 40 minutes. This gives me a total of about three to four hours of dedicated training per week which allows me to have more free time to enjoy some of the other things in life, such as coffee and hanging out with friends and family.

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Lifestyle
Living in Melbourne, Australia. This is home. Most likely for another 2 years. Being around family and friends definitely makes life a little easier. The importance of good social connections is often overlooked when it comes to optimising ones health and performance.

A key point to note here is flexibility. No-one is perfect and you’re aloud to make mistakes. Everyone is human, and we all have to live in the present day. I love a cup of coffee and can be always found at cafe on the weekend post workout catching up with friends. I have my nights out which will almost always end up at a local wine bar.

Sleep. This is really important if you want to be at your best. I’ve tried really hard to get as close to 8 hours a night of solid sleep. Having a cool and dark place to sleep is a good start, combined with a fairly standard daily wake time (ie: fairly close to sunrise) will set you up for success. There is whole post here to flesh out this topic alone.

Sleep quality will impact your energy levels, blood pressure, insulin sensitivity, body composition, overall immunity, heart disease risk. The list goes on… It’s the closest thing to the mythical “magic bullet” for health and performance.

This year will be my 16th as a soldier. Almost a lifetime. Whilst I don’t do too much soldiering these days due to my current role and position, I think it’s still important to keep those skills refined.

While it isn’t soldiering, I do like hiking and camping. Being outdoors is a pretty good escape. I try to get out every now and then for an overnight hike with friends, just to take some time out from the plethora of electronic devices and social media platforms that seem to take up so much of our lives today.

I was lucky enough to get away in January for a 3 week vacation to New York City. This was my fifth visit and it never ceases to amaze. I did a bit of sight seeing, revisiting some favourites, saw a show on Broadway, got to an NBA game and got to see my team win. Had the opportunity to meet new people and catch up with some old friends. I also drank a fair bit of coffee during the day and hot apple cider in the evenings.

Later this month I’m heading to the South Island of New Zealand for 10 days. I’ve never been and it’s something I’ve been looking forward to for sometime. I’m hoping to get a glimpse of the Southern Lights and maybe a bit of alpine hiking.

My parents have a holiday house on the Mornington Peninsula which I try to get away to every couple of months for a weekend. I’ve been going there my whole life and there is just something about coastal communities that is just relaxing.

My studies. This year I will complete a Diploma level qualification as part of a Bachelor of Nutrition. Doing this via correspondence which has it’s own unique set of challenges but overall I am enjoying it.

I don’t know what the next 12 months will bring, but I’m going to keep on tinkering and fine-tune ways to optimise health and performance as I move forward into the future.