There are many quantitative biohackers in today’s data-driven generation who like to track all kinds variables and trends as best exemplified by the Quantified Self movement. While I like using data to analyse longer-term trends, I am more of a „Qualitative Biohacker“. Rather than rigoroulsly recording all the biomarkers our body provides (e.g. blood results, weight, brain activity, caloric intake, energy level, REM sleep), I like to biohack myself in a more qualitative manner by subjectively judging how my body reacts to different environments. With that said, I like to share some of the lessons learned from traveling I have discovered coming back from a 2-week backpacking tour through the Balkan countries.
Too Many Fruits
The Balkan region is blessed by many sun hours and hot weather. This means that there is an abundance of wonderful fruits and veggies that grow in the backyards of many rural farmers. My girlfriend and I got to enjoy a whole lot of peaches, plums, grapes, tomatoes and cucumbers. While the latter two didn’t give me any problems, I noticed that especially the plums and the peaches in excess were aggressive on my teeth and disrupted my digestion.
Pretty much every snack consisted of one these fruits. The plums were exceptionally tasteful and aromatic but I tended to go overboard with them which left me bloated and farting like a donkey. Back in Germany I don’t nowhere near consume as many fruits as I did during this trip. Eating as much as fruit as I have done for the past two weeks, was definitely too much for my body to handle. Therefore, my verdict on fruits is that they are good and tasteful to a limited amount. Any amount beyond what my body is not accustomed to and I don’t perform well.
Feeling Sluggish Without Caffeine
I have written about how I want to use this trip to Reset My Caffeine Sensitivity. Getting off caffeine at least once a year for an extended period of time is probably a smart move in order to regain some of caffeine’s energy-boosting effects and appreciate the taste of coffee anew.
Balkan people love their espresso accompanied by a self-rolled no-filter cigarette. While I am a non-smoker and didn’t find the cigarettes appealing in the slightest, the smell of freshly brewed espresso definitely lured me into the dark side of caffeine. I have had a total of 4 espresso shots throughout the trip. This was not ideal for resetting my caffeine sensitivity but then again it wasn’t so dramatic either. Considering that a shot of espresso has an average of 40 mg caffeine in it and a cup of brewed coffee boasts an average of 133 mg caffeine, I shouldn’t worry too much about the caffeine I got into my system. Usually, I have one cup of brewed coffee in the morning. This means that my 4-time exposure to caffeine which was three times less than my normal dose of 133 mg probably didn’t screw up my quest for improved caffeine sensitivity.
Nevertheless, I felt kind of sluggish without a coffee in the morning. But as expected, once I replaced the coffee with a proper breakfast the urge for caffeine was pretty much gone. And by the way, when it’s 35°C outside, you don’t really feel like drinking hot beverages anyway.
As I write this post, I pretty caffeinated from a double espresso. It feels good but only slightly more intense than before the trip. It doesn’t give me super powers either. My conclusion is that a 2-week period is just too short to give my body a break from caffeine. Considering that I have been drinking a cup of coffee pretty every day for the past 15 months, it would be foolish to assume that a mere 2 weeks would undo my quasi-caffeine addiction. I guess a 2-3 month period would be more appropriate to get the job done.
Resetting Circadian Rhythms
It felt really good to spend most days out in the sun and the nights sleeping in the tent amids the wildness of Albanian mountains. I notice this every time I sleep outside: my body just seems better regenerated and I find it much easier to rise in the morning. This is probably due to the earth’s negative charge that the body is exposed to which allows to recover better. In the end, this is how earthing mats work by balancing the postitive charges our bodies accumulate over the day.
Being a city person myself, it was really interesting to observe how my body tended toward more natural circadian rhythms. With little artificial light around in the mountains I found myself going to sleep around 10 PM and usually waking up round about 6 AM feeling really energised. For me this unusual as my normal sleeping times fall between 12 AM – 8:30 AM. For most of mankind, people have been living by the natural circadian rhythms the human body is accustomed to. Once you allow to gravitate back to this natural state, sleep becomes better and the day is spent with more energy.
Too Many Omega-6 Fats Causing Inflammation
Pretty much everything in the Balkan is cooked or fried in vegetable oil. Be it delicious Ajvar, Burek, or Stuffed Peppers – there is copious amounts of veggie oils. Of course, the Omega-6 fatty acids of these refined oils disrupt the Omega-3 : Omega-6 ratio massively and act pro-inflammatory in the body. I didn’t have a high-quality Omega-3 fish oil supplement with me to counteract the deleterious effects of the Omega-6’s. I noticed some increased inflammation in my achy joints and on impurities on the skin.
Next time I wil bring a good fish oil supplement with me. I have good experience with THIS brand.
Eating More Organ Meats
As I have written before, I like Organ Meats. As opposed to us educated Westerners who scoff at organ meats and prefer muscle meats instead, people in the Balkan countries are true to their traditional cuisine and greatly enjoy organ meats. You can easily find brain, liver, tongue, kidney, lung or heart on many menus of many street-by kebap shops or more upscale restaurants. Organ meats are deeply engrained into the Albanian and Macedonian cultures.
As opposed to many Paleo folks who can’t stomach the taste of organs, I actually really enjoy the taste of these nutritional powerhouse meats. I probably had liver on 4 or 5 occassions with each recipe having its own unique twist. I also got to try lamb’s lungs which tasted identical to liver. I would like to try testicles some time in the future as fellow blogger MAS has done before.
In the past few months, organ meats have kinded drifted off my nutritional radar. Knowing how many nutrient-dense they are, I will go back to having calf’s liver at least once a week.
Taking Time Off From The Gym
Taking some time off from the gym allows for supercompensation. Giving my joints and ligaments a well-deserved break from pretty much 3 months of lifting straight feels good again. Being in the gym week in week out can become quite monotonous. This is where an active recovery break can be really helpful.
However, I wasn’t totally inactive either. I played around with a few bodyweight workouts taking no longer than 10 min which included wall-supported handstand pushups, regular pushups, chinups on tree branches, wall sits and walking lunges. I will do more of these bodyweight movements in the coming weeks as they are true indicator of functional strength and motor control.
In any case, in Kosovo I accidently stumbled upon a gym which had a good Balkan beat playing and some jacked bros inside. I couldn’t resist the temptation and got in there for two back to back upper and lower body workouts. Considering that Kosovo had been bombed to shreds in the late 1990s, I was surprised that the gym had old but very decent Nautilus equipment. I got a chance to play around with the really old-school Nautilus Duo Squat Machine. Also, it was an interesting experience to discuss different training concepts with some of the Kosovan trainees there.
All in all, it really was an awesome trip through a total of 6 countries (Croatia, Montenegro, Albania, Kosovo, Macedonia, Bulgaria) that has taught me a lot about myself and my girlfriend. We met so many kind people who were genuinely friendly and just outrageously helpful.