On any given day, Evolution Trainers, a 10,000 square foot facility in Mountain View, Calif., is sprawling with members, three-quarters of whom are local tech employees, engineers, venture capitalists and M&A lawyers routinely exercising to reverse the damages of desk life.
“Folks living the Silicon Valley dream often have sedentary jobs, overloaded work schedules, and little to no free time,” says Peter D’Epiro of Evolution Trainers, who holds certifications in strength and conditioning, functional movement systems and eating modification. He and other trainers at the top-rated Silicon Valley gym tailor exercise and nutritional programs to help individuals reclaim their physiques, which can get sidelined during the course of a busy work-week.
Meanwhile, David Silverstein, CEO and founder of Colorado-based consulting firm BMGI, advises Fortune 500 companies around the world on how to stay sharp and keep a competitive edge by thinking innovatively, which can get sidelined when management gets buried in sales figures and reports.
“Nowadays everyone wants to be data-driven,” Silverstein says. “That’s great but your competitors will have the same data, so you’re all going to come to the same conclusion. That’s why you always have to infuse some element of creative thinking.”
Silverstein’s universal advice to both corporate and startup leaders: “They owe it to themselves and their stakeholders or investors to improve their mental fitness. A CEO not working at full mental capacity runs the risk of losing his or her company’s competitive edge.”
In his book Become an Elite Mental Athlete, Silverstein distills the latest research in cognitive science and neuroscience to explore ways we can boost our brain power to make better decisions. He cites research by UCLA and the University of Pittsburgh that studied 94 brains and found that the worst-hit brain areas of obese people were those most vital to higher-order reasoning, judgment, and decision-making.
So here’s a list of simple lifestyle changes from Silverstein to help startup CEOs stay at the top of their games, followed by D’Epiro’s optimal workout routines for the time-starved business leader. Read on for the top 20 peak performance tips.
Silverstein’s 10 Daily Tips for Mental Peak Performance:
Even though LeBron James may be the best basketball player in the world, he keeps training to stay on top and to achieve an even better game. Corporate leaders should be mental athletes, too. – Silverstein
1. Rehydrate often: The brain is composed of 75 to 80 percent water, which means that dehydration can affect proper brain functioning. Keep a carafe (a sleek one) of water by your desk so you could constantly rehydrate throughout the work day.
2. Balance your caffeine: Caffeine heightens awareness but is detrimental to deep thought. One cup of coffee is great. Even better: green, white and black teas include a substance called L-theanine which stimulates alpha waves.
3. Determine how much sleep you need and get that quality sleep every night: It takes one hour of sleep to pay for every two hours of functional wakefulness. If you remember your dreams, chances are you are sleeping well.
4. Train your working memory: Think of your working memory as your brain’s desktop. The more you can keep on your desk for instant access and comparison, the better. Studies have shown that working memory is responsible for at least 25 percent of the variation in fluid intelligence among individuals. There are a variety of apps, websites and software to help you do this.
5. Increase your stamina by task switching: Fatigue is a signal you’ve been activating the same neural pathways too long. If you have reached a point of diminishing returns, switch tasks and be amazed at how much energy you have gained.
Diet tips to boost your brain:
6. Consume choline: It improves brain speed and memory. It’s found in almonds, broccoli, egg (with yolk), peanuts and peanut butter.
7. Feed your brain the right fats: These are omega-3 and omega-6 essential fatty acids (EFA), and the brain needs a ratio of 4:1 of omega-3s to omega-6s.
But according to a study by Dr. A.P. Simopoulos in Biomedicine & Pharmacotherapy, in Western diets, the ratio of omega-6 (think vegetable-oil fried food) to omega-3 EFA is 15:1, leading to many diseases.
To get omega-3s, look for cold-water fish such as salmon, sardines, herring, anchovies, tuna, and mackerel. Flaxseeds, walnuts, and walnut oil are also good sources of omega-3s. Look for specially marked omega-3 eggs whenever possible. The notion of eggs raising blood cholesterol was disproven years ago, so feel free to eat eggs daily.
8. Choose foods that contain more acetylcholine: The chemical acetylcholine is a neurotransmitter that determines your brain’s processing speed found in cruciferous vegetables like broccoli, cauliflower and Brussels sprouts, bok choy and kale.
When your acetylcholine levels are high, you feel creative, but low acetylcholine significantly decreases brain speed, resulting in “brain fog” and “clouded thinking” which is what you experience when your thinking becomes disjointed.
Exercise tips to boost your brain:
Remember that your brain needs lots of energy—it burns 20 percent of your daily calories. Research has shown that the gains from exercise were most dramatic in brain areas critical to learning and memory.
The brain has lots of blood vessels, just like the rest of the body, so that means that exercise will help keep the brain’s blood vessels healthy, too.
9. Remember to exercise. Exercise to remember: Findings such as these have led neuroscientists like Peter Snyder to say that exercise is the best memory enhancer. Running and other forms of aerobic exercise have been shown to create new brain cells in the parts of the brain associated with memory and thinking.
10. Keep your brain guessing: When choosing among different kinds of aerobic exercise, choose a competitive sport or activity that involves movements that you’re not able to anticipate. For example, basketball, tennis, soccer, and even ping-pong are better than golf or swimming, where the movements are much more predictable as opposed to requiring fast reaction.
D’Epiro’s 10 Daily Fitness Tips for Physical Peak Performance:
This is a real world list, and one that a real professional would espouse to a time-starved client. -- D’Epiro
1. Be realistic, be reasonable: Rome wasn’t built in a day, nor will your fitness and your physique. Look to the science of behavior modification and work on changing one habit at a time… just one. Don’t start working out at high intensity for seven days a week and follow every latest diet fad.
2. Get an interval timer: Get the app or order the actual timer from www.gymboss.com. It will allow you to program two different timed intervals, one for work and one for rest. Rather than thinking that you need huge amounts of time for exercise, use the timer for short and effective high-intensity interval workouts.
3. Learn “Tabata”: The trendy workout regimen lasts only 4 minutes, but it’s an intense 4 minutes. Clinical research proved very successful at improving fitness and altering body composition. At 8 rounds of 20 seconds of work and 10 seconds of rest, the Tabata protocol or any similar variation will give you fast and effective workouts. Use a timer to program these interval workouts, hit start, and it will be over before you know it.
4. Swing, baby, swing: Building on the theme of efficiency and effectiveness, the kettlebell swing gives you the most bang for your buck in terms of working your whole body, getting your heart rate up, building strength and power, improving posture and just about everything. Find a reliable StrongFirst certified kettlebell instructor near you using the instructor locator at www.strongfirst.com.
5. Stand up: Consider using a standing workstation, either full time or alternating it with your seated work station throughout the day. You’ll burn a few more calories and condition yourself to an upright and healthier posture versus the Neanderthal posture promoted by staring at a screen all day in a chair.
6. Don’t eat at your desk: Leave your workstation for your lunch break. “I always tell my clients: ‘notice the term is lunch break, not lunch typing, lunch coding, lunch working!” says D’Epiro. “Give your brain a little siesta.”
7. Read a book: Our favorite pick at Evolution Partners is Power of Full Engagement. Learn from the anecdotal stories about real people, and learn how to manage your energy better to be more efficient which might then leave time for exercise.
8. Move: By any means and mode necessary. Take walks, go to the gym, workout at home, follow videos on YouTube. Whatever you choose to do, just make sure you move your body as it was intended. We weren’t designed to sit at a desk all day.
9. Lather, rinse, repeat: If you have the choice between a nice long workout once or twice a week or very short workouts most days of the week, you’re going to get better results from short, effective workouts more frequently. This is in line with the last tips: learn the Tabata protocol or the kettlebell swing, then perform that short, intense, timed workout frequently.
10. Do what you do best, hire all the rest: “Most strength and conditioning coaches I know don’t sit and tinker with their computers during breaks,” says D’Epiro. Fitness professionals seek the appropriate professional to fix things like their broken car or computer rather than trying to do it themselves. This clears up your schedule for more exercise and physical activity.