HackCollege Exclusive: Tim Ferriss’ Tips to Hack Your Body
There’s many superstars in the fitness world as well. Beyond Jillian Michaels and and other popular diet/exercise gurus (Atkins, the people behind Weight Watchers, Jack LaLaine), there’s been some intelligent discussion regarding fitness on the Internet. Here’s looking at you, Mark Sisson and Steve Kamb.
But there’s only one person whose come out as a leading voice on both productivity and fitness. His name is Tim Ferriss, and he’s now got 2 #1 New York Times bestsellers – The 4-Hour Workweek (4HWW) and The 4-Hour Body (4HB). Tim is big on a no-nonsense philosophy, and his approach turns a few people off. I had purchased 4HWW but had only thumbed through it, and Tim seemed a little arrogant for my liking. I felt that way until I actually got to talk to him for HackCollege and realized he’s one of the nicest guys I’ve had the pleasure of working with. I’m not editoralizing, Tim was incredibly courteous and dealt with me through a few dropped calls and a bit of technical failure. For as busy of a guy as Tim, that speaks volumes.
Tim and I got to talk about one of my favorite issues – health and fitness, and I asked him to elaborate on how 4HB would apply to college students.
You might be surprised that Tim thinks college should be more than a factory for high-wage jobs. How is he able to drink cocktails, wine, and eat a multi-course meal while maintaining his figure? Find out more in our conversation below.
SQ: Alright, this is Sean Quinn from HackCollege here with Tim Ferriss of 4-Hour Body and 4-Hour Workweek fame. Hey Tim, how are you?
TF: I’m doing very well, thanks for having me.
SQ: No problem. I guess my first question is why the 4-Hour Body and why now?
TF: The 4-Hour Body was the book I wanted to write from the outset but the 4-Hour Workweek, after it hit #1 and it’s been on the list [NYT Best-Sellers] for almost 4 years now, gave me the access to scientists, the Ph.D’s, the doctors, the Olympic coaches, the professional athletes that I needed to write 4-Hour Body. In terms of why the 4-Hour Body in general, I just think that there’s so much misinformation presented about diet and exercise, sleep, sex, ultra-endurance, you name it, that I wanted to provide the definitive choose-your-own adventure guide to uncommon solutions to very complex problems and I attempted to do that with 4-Hour Workweek as it related to work and career, start-ups, etc., and I realized the same approach can be applied to the human body in general so the multi-graded testing, the split testing, really using a tremendous amount of experimentation; thousand of blood tests and really straight-forward to find some non-obvious solutions.
SQ: Sure, sure, sounds good. Alright, a little bit more abstract here I guess or maybe just a little personal, I guess. Can you tell me what you’ve eaten and how you’ve exercised in the past 24 hours, and how about your latest cheat day, so I guess how about last Saturday?
TF: I haven’t done any exercise in the last 24 hours unless you count a 15-minute brisk walk this morning that’s in line with the recommendations of Barry Ross, who trains world-record breaking sprinters, but 15 minutes of fast walking this morning. In terms of eating, I’ll just give you today, because it can get to be a long answer otherwise. Today, I woke up and had 500 mL of ice cold water. 2 capsules of a product called BodyQuick, then I went for my 15 minute walk. I then went to a Thai restaurant and had pumpkin curry, which included squash. I had a side of spinach, a chicken satay and a tom yum soup, which is a vegetable soup. I had a yerba mate tea and a unsweetened ice tea. That is what I’ve consumed today so far. My last cheat day – I had paella, dessert, I had an entire 12-course meal at the Tasty Kitchen in Los Angeles. I had pasta, bread, tons of butter, cocktails, wine, the whole nine yards. I do not hold back on cheat days.
SQ: Go big or go home, I gotcha. Would you make any adaptations to the 4HB for college students or people on a budget?
TF: I think this and realistically speaking, it is ideally put together for college students because where most programs fail and most protocols fail, is they don’t take into account real-world demands, whether that’s budget limitations or time limitations, so the guide from the very outset is a minimalist guide. So the average cost if you really push it, you can get the average cost per meal down to $2. There’s an example of that in the book, the sidebar on Andrew Hyde who did that.
SQ: That’s right.
TF: In terms of time effectiveness, that’s the entire premise of the book. Finding the fewest small changes for the biggest result so that I think it’s pretty well designed for college students. In fact, I followed a lot of what it’s in the book when I was in college myself.
SQ: Gotcha. I remember one of the things that stuck out to me most was one of those sidebars in the earlier chapters about Chipotle and how much college-aged kids love Chipotle. Literally, I’ll tell you right now I’m about 300 meters from one, at the college library of all places, so it’s definitely possible and I noticed that was one of the most adaptable portions. One of the things I wanted to talk to you about was one of the promotional offers for the book – you offered bonus gifts, I know I took advantage of that for the one book, and you even offered your chapter on the female orgasm for free. I was wondering why you chose to do that.
TF: Why I chose to offer the chapter or why I decided to offer the gifts?
SQ: A combination of both – I’m just curious what your promotional strategy was going into releasing this book, kind of off the heels of -.
TF: My promotional strategy among other things was to offer as much of the content as I could, just to blogs where I could max readership, so I did a lot with Gizmodo, TechCrunch, and Mashable. I focused on the 18-35 tech-savvy male audience first and foremost. That’s my group of early adopters and then I focused on bonuses that would appeal to that group, prior to the holidays. Since the book came out before Christmas, people bought two copies or three copies or even more. I offered them incentives to give it away as gifts, because I wanted to get them to as many as people particularly within in the first two weeks of launch.
SQ: I remember that actually. I remember starting to think about slow-carb dieting with Christmas dinner around the corner and it almost seemed like too much. Haha. One of the questions I’m actually most curious about, especially from where I’m at, most underclassmen – your freshmen, your sophomores – are subscribing to their university meal plans, which I honestly think are the biggest ripoffs in the world, but to parents, they’re reassuring.
SQ: So I guess what I’m asking – how should a student maintain the more slow-carb diet things on a meal plan where you’re fed with things like pizza and carb-heavy fried chicken sandwiches all the time?
TF: Yeah, you can do it – it’s really pretty simple. Just avoid anything white (bread, pasta, etc.) and stick to your basic protein and vegetables. It shouldn’t be incredibly difficult and most of the people we polled were able to maintain slow-carb dieting in otherwise restrictive areas like an airport or college.
SQ: Sure, sure, I know an example for me, I’m on a fraternity meal plan and the biggest thing for me once I went slow-carb was the salad bar. Just got some low-carb, low-fat dressing and just ate more. The day’s protein on top of salad and no tater tots or french fries or any type of high-fat, high-volume crap, really. Fat’s not bad, but it’s the high-carb stuff that would be getting made because it’s en masse for 80 or 90 guys.
TF: Right and as you said, fat’s not always bad. I went through a series of blood tests after eating only grass-fed beef and almonds for 21 days straight and saw no negative results. However, the problem is when you combine high-fat with carbohydrates. That’s when you get into trouble and get negative side effects. But if you keep them separate, you won’t have too much of a problem at all.
SQ: Sure. I mentioned earlier in the last question about being in a fraternity and one of the things that fraternities are known for, maybe it’s the Animal House stereotype and maybe it’s true, but it’s the alcohol intake. One thing I always noticed with starting slow-carb was the exception of 2 glasses of red wine a day, where in college you’re looking more at your straight liquors like vodka or rum or beer, which is grain-based, obviously. So I guess what I’m saying is in an environment like college where beer pong is ubiquitous, in a Greek organization or not, how can one sustain a plan like 4HB with that in mind?
TF: A few things you can do. Assuming you’re of legal drinking age, obviously, you can’t do straight liquours, but you can do things like a NorCal margarita instead of a vodka soda. You can Google that for more info. NorCal margarita is popular among paleo diets, and you can simply limit it to one day a week, and seriously enjoy that on your off day. Beer just does not simply fit into the slow-carb diet anywhere because maltose in beer metabolizes faster than table sugar and sometimes faster than glucose itself. If you can imagine yourself eating 2 or 3 Krispy Kreme donuts every time you have a bottle of beer, that’s roughly the impact you’re having on fat gain. I think that’s no real exaggeration. So enjoy in moderation or do it as much as you want – on your off day.
SQ: The funny thing is at least here in Gainesville, they strategically placed Krispy Kreme right next to the midtown bars. So regardless of how many beers you consume, you’re probably getting another dozen donuts on top of that anyway.
TF: Oof, yeah.
SQ: I guess something I was thinking – and maybe this is more 4HWW than 4HB, but you’ve used the Pareto Principle – 80/20 – in both 4HWW and 4HB. I know you’ve put your thoughts on this in 4HWW with careers, but if you were a college administrator how would you employ Pareto in streamlining higher education?
TF: What do you mean by streamlining? Eliminating classes?
SQ: Kind of, I remember one of the main points I get from skimming 4HWW was kind of do nothing but the essential – the minimalist perspective. I was curious how you would employ that – eliminating classes would certainly be in line.
TF: I don’t have a great answer for you, unfortunately, but my answer is — I’ll answer it slightly different than you might expect.
SQ: Sounds good.
TF: A big mistake college students make is viewing college as simply for job preparation. College is for making you a well-rounded human being who is capable of perspective and empathy and self-education. So focusing just on the classes just that you think would help you get a job, whether in economics or otherwise, I think is a bad decision. I know millionaires and billionaires who have not gone to college and I think that it’s a real source of insecurity – although they won’t say that very often – and I think principally you want to develop your curiosity and your focus on what you’re most interested in and achievement in any one of those areas. I was an Asian Studies major and it hasn’t directly tied into what I’m doing now but I enjoyed my time in college and many people spend time wishing they were back in their college days. So I wouldn’t view it as a factory for manufacturing high-wage workers, necessarily. I don’t have a good answer for that unfortunately.
SQ: I feel like what you just said though is probably more what I actually wanted to hear that perhaps answering my original question. I didn’t want to put it as bluntly as “Tim’s advice on college” but that’s a good answer for that. One of the things I really enjoyed and one of the things that honestly made me take you more serious is your suggestion before the book really took off is your suggestion for readers to be skeptical. To say “Hey, if this isn’t something you don’t think is working, then be skeptical. I’m not the expert.” So what encouraged you to put out that kind of disclaimer when normal diet books claim to be the end-all, be-all?
TF: Primarily I viewed my job with this book to train intelligent self-experimenters and I have absolutely zero desire to be the guru on who my leadership is depended on – that’s exactly what I don’t want. I want my readers to become accustomed to asking questions. I want them to determine what works best for them. I don’t want to become a crunch on which people rely to make decisions. The goal is to make them completely independent so they can filter through the bullies of bad science. That’s why I recommend from the very outset to read the book critically and skeptically.
SQ: Got it. For most students, the only kitchen appliance they own is a microwave and maybe a blender. Can you kind of explain the way to eat a 4HB breakfast without a full kitchen? You explained lunch and dinner in the book.
TF: Easy way to do it. If the goal is fat loss, you’re looking for 30g of protein within 30 minutes of waking up. My dad did that – he went to 5lbs of fat loss per month to 18.75lbs of fat loss in his first four weeks of making that one change. That could be hard-boiled eggs, but it could just be easily do cold water, ice, and unflavored whey protein with some almond butter thrown in for flavor maybe and that would be your breakfast on the go. That’s the most realistic solution for most college students, who cook less than I do, and I don’t cook much. Beyond breakfast, I’m always eating out.
SQ: I really liked that about the book. I always found the problem for me is that I’m a social guy – I use food more for going out than actually eating out, so it was refreshing to see that this guy goes out 2-3 times a day and is able to maintain a very healthy lifestyle. I’m kind of heavy on fat loss, because I feel like that’s where I and most college students are concerned. But I guess a little bit into muscle gain too. I was talking to some fraternity brothers who weren’t familiar with anything really regarding this and were sucked in with conventional wisdom who recommended things like EC Stack and AMPED! and some popular brand-name supplements. I was curious just for your thoughts on the natural supplements versus the commercial, popular supplements and whether or not that worked.
TF: That would be a very long answer – let me answer just specifically about fat loss. The biggest problem with most popular supplements is they are strong stimulants that can cause problems ranging from adrenal fatigue to sinusitis and I used strong stimulants all throughout college for fat loss including ephedrine, caffeine and aspirin in combination and it caused a problem. Long-standing bouts of fatigue and other defects. So I would absolutely analyze the stimulant use for fat loss. The alternative I arrived at was something called PAGG – policosanol, alpha-lipoic acid, green tea extract, and garlic. In the right doses. The green tea is decaffeinated, so it’s a non-stimulant approach. For college students on a budget, realize you do not need any of these supplements. They will give you a 10 percent of an improvement, but if you follow the diet well, that just means that you might be able to reach your goal in 5 weeks instead of 4 without supplements. Not a big deal. You can save a lot of money by avoiding supplements in general.
SQ: Awesome. If anyone wants to find out more about supplements, the slow-carb diet, the female orgasm (which I artfully avoided), you can buy Tim’s book at Amazon or fourhourworkweek.com. Thanks Tim, it was a great time. Really enjoyed speaking with you.
TF: My pleasure. And if people want to see sample chapters also they can go to fourhourbody.com and video clips and photos of all the crazy shit I did to myself.
SQ: Thanks again, Tim. Appreciate it.