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How to improve your physical & mental performance with simple hacks

Chronic stress and permanent lack of energy not only have a negative effect on our well-being, but also reduce our personal performance.

In this post, we’ll talk about what simple (“simple” doesn’t always mean “easy”) physical & mental “hacks” you can use for yourself to not only reduce your stress levels, but also perform better in the long term.
In this context, it is very important to realize that personal productivity has a lot to do with your physical and mental performance. Keeping yourself well in body and mind is therefore indispensable in my opinion.
How can we do that? By adjusting certain parameters such as nutrition, fitness, exercise and mindset. Because, if you adjust some elements in these areas, you will have more energy available, which you can then invest in your productivity. Therefore, we will now look into some of these areas.

Nutritional Basics

Nutirtion

A balanced and healthy diet can have a significant positive effect on your energy and health. A good diet is basically not complex, but it requires certain basic principles that must be observed.

1. Hydration
Do you know that just 3% water loss from sweating during exercise results in a 19% loss of strength?
Even outside of training, it is important to ensure sufficient fluid intake, especially for the kidneys and the brain. The kidneys use water to flush substances out of our body that it no longer needs. Blood, which consists mostly of water, ensures a good distribution of nutrients in the body. And your muscles, by the way, consist of about 75% water.
Your mental performance also benefits from improved hydration. With enough water in your body, you will have improved information processing and the processing of your memory will also function better.
How much water should we drink per day? For this I use this formula:

Body weight x 0.03 in the minimum (or 0.04). Example: at 70Kg body weight, this is 2.1 liters per day. But this is only an approximate not certain.
By the way: If you eat enough fruits and vegetables, your body will also get by with less water, because fruits and vegetables are largely made up of water.

2. Eat the rainbow
The more vegetables you eat in your diet, the better. I recommend you to fill half of your plate with vegetables at every meal.

Also, an adequate amount of fruit usually contributes to good health in the absence of a particular disease.

As for fruits and vegetables, here’s a nice phrase to remember:
“You have many colors to choose from, so Eat the Rainbow!”.

3. Focus on high quality proteins
Your body needs adequate protein to perform well and stay efficient. Eat good sources of protein, such as eggs, poultry, fish, low-fat curd cheese, cottage cheese and/or vegan sources such as kidney beans, lentils, tempeh, etc.

I recommend you to take 1.2 – 1.4 grams of protein per kilo of body weight per day. A little more is also fine.
If you are a vegetarian or vegan, you can get high-quality proteins from cleverly combined foods (such as rice with beans). Even with hemp protein or hemp seed shakes, for example, you can usually manage to reach your required daily stint.

4. Use healthy oils and fats
But fats make you fat, right? That is wrong. Our body needs fats to function well. We should only pay attention to the quantity and quality of fats.
Fats that you should avoid at all costs, or severely limit, are trans fats, which are formed when oils are heated too much or several times over a long period of time. Trans fats are found in convenience foods, chips, fast food, baked goods, potato chips, etc..
Sources of good fats include canola oil, olive oil, flaxseed oil, hemp oil, avocado oil, walnuts, cashews, pumpkin seeds, etc. Butter is also fine if you don’t overdo it with consumption.

5. The right carbohydrates

Carbohydrates are also an essential part of a healthy diet. Just make sure you get good sources and the timing of when you eat them.
Focus on long-chain (i.e. complex) carbohydrates, such as potatoes, brown rice, quinoa, bulgur, whole grain breads, etc. Avoid or reduce short-chain carbohydrates, such as white bread or highly processed white flour products. But bear in mind: if you eat white bread or sugar with an easily digestible protein source, for example, shortly before training, then this is optimal and you can use the sugar immediately. But the training should be intense or strenuous enough.

Digestion

You are what you eat, right? Not quite! I would like to add to this statement:

“You are what you eat and absorb too!”

The better your digestion works, the more efficiently you can utilize your food. In other words, with better digestion you can gain more energy, which is then freely available to you. Let’s take a brief look at how you can improve your digestion and thus also energy production.

1. Focus
Digestion starts in the brain. A conscious focus on what we eat stimulates our production of stomach acid and saliva. Both elements are especially important and necessary for a well-functioning digestion. My recommendation: Try to leave your cell phone, TV, laptop, etc. out while you eat and concentrate only on the food: to eat consciously, so to speak.

2. Chewing
Digestion already begins in the mouth or with your thoughts. When chewing, the food is mixed with saliva and this starts the digestion process. Sufficient chewing relieves your stomach and saves energy. I recommend chewing at least 20 times and depending on the consistency up to 30/40 times. Try it: it’s a real game changer!

3. Eating under stress?
When we are stressed, less saliva and stomach acid is produced. When you are stressed, it is best to do a short relaxation exercise and then start eating.

4. Water march
I myself once read the tip to drink a glass of water a few minutes before eating to stimulate my digestion. In my experience, it does good and that’s why I recommend it. Bonus tip: If you’re someone who overeats, have a protein shake 30 minutes before you eat. You’ll reduce the risk of overeating afterwards.
Understand and learn to balance stress

Stress has become a big dangerous factor for many people, although stress in itself is nothing negative – provided it comes in cycles and is not permanent. Stress sets certain physical reactions in motion that are essential for our survival in certain life situations.

The problem is just that many people are in a state of permanent stress. Common stressors are relationships, work, social media, smoking, alcohol, fast food and heavy metals.

If we do not manage to balance our stress and relax again, this can have negative effects on our health in the long term:

  • A weakened immune syste
  • Decreased sleep quality
  • Reduced gastric acid
  • Poorer satiety & more ravenous hunger
  • Increased visceral fat (= more abdominal fat)

A healthy diet, sufficient physical exercise, targeted breathing exercises, concentration exercises and also a mental reorientation can significantly reduce, or prevent or compensate for stress.
By the way, we often experience stress only because we are mentally complaining about something we are doing. For example, our tax return wouldn’t stress us out so much if we didn’t mentally resist it so much, but just did it without complaining. You can find out more about stress and cortisol here. 

Fitness, Health & Performance

In my opinion, good fitness is not just nice to have, but one of THE cornerstones of good health and increased performance. Let’s take a look at how you can keep your body fit.

1. Train your muscles
This is not just about looking smart. Stronger muscles increase your metabolism, reduce inflammation and strengthen the immune system. Now it doesn’t do much good in the long-term if you only work out your muscles 1 time in 2 weeks. For example, I recommend you workout 3 times a week for 30 minutes. Whether you go to the fitness center, to the park, or work out at home, it’s up to you. The main thing is that you do something to activate your muscles. Nevertheless, the higher the resistance, the stronger you become. And this is indirectly dependent on your immune system. The healthier and stronger you are, the more powerful you will be.

2. Stay flexible
Muscles need flexibility and joints need mobility. Personally, stretching exercises (such as mobilizations) give me super energy boosts and a freer body feeling. Also, stretching exercises have helped me a lot to release tension and reduce pain.

I recommend Mobility Training, Yoga, Tai-Chi or similar disciplines to create and maintain a flexible body. By the way, Mobility Training can also be used as a good warm up before a workout, while static stretching is good for relaxation: never before a workout, unless you use the PNF method.

3. Daily exercise
For most people, more daily exercise can be easily integrated into their daily routine:

  •  Bicycle instead of car
  • Take the stairs instead of the elevator
  • Stand more instead of sitting
  • Getting off one streetcar stop earlier

Here’s my challenge to you: walk 7000 steps every day for a week and see what happens to you. Also keep in mind: exercise boosts your brain power and also activates your creative potential. But again, without any distractions.

4. Nature is the key
Nature brings a very special level of well-being to our lives. We come from nature, that’s where we spent most of our evolution, so we should spend as much time as possible in nature nowadays. I myself usually quickly experience the great effects a day in nature has on my mental and physical well-being.
Nature (especially green forests) has a very positive effect on our nervous system. If you are stressed and just can’t switch off mentally (and otherwise) I recommend walks in the forest and in the sun. These are true energy and immune boosters.

5. Pay attention to your breathing
People who work hard and are often under stress tend to breathe shallowly. This in turn leads to more cortisol being released. A permanently high cortisol level can have negative consequences such as inflammation, an increased pulse rate and damage to the immune system.
Through your breathing, you can consciously shut down and relax your body. A couple of times a day, consciously breathe in and out through your nose into your abdomen (diaphragmatic breathing). Make sure you stand upright and take a few minutes to do this. In the following I will give you two variations of diaphragmatic breathing.

Variation 1:
First, consciously notice your breath for a minute without changing it. Just let your body do it and observe it.
Then consciously take 15 breaths. Slow down your breath (but do it in a relaxed way and not too spasmodically). Inhale through your nose into your belly. Feel your belly bulge outward. Then breathe out through your nose again.

Variation 2:
Sit up straight. Inhale through your nose for 4 seconds, hold the breath for 2 seconds and exhale for 4 seconds. You’ll repeat 10 times, doing 3 sets (for a total of 30 breaths). Bonus tip: Use your tongue to activate diaphragmatic breathing by pushing it up into the roof of your mouth and closing your mouth. Then begin to breathe slowly.

Sleeping

According to UC Berkeley Sleep Lab Director Matthew Walker, sleeping may be THE most important pillar to your well-being. I take a similar view. I contend sleep is THE #1 tool for physical and mental recovery. Of course, that doesn’t mean that the other factors like exercise and diet are therefore unimportant.

Below I would like to recommend 5 small rituals for your evening routine that can help put your body in a relaxed state.

1. Relaxing after work
Listen to your favorite song on the way home from work. If you work from home because of Corona, take a walk after work with or without music.

2. ToDo-List
Write 3 – 6 things on your to-do list for the next day. Putting these things on paper can help you to be more likely to actually get these tasks done the next day.

3. Gratitude
Write 3 things you are grateful for. Start with the sentence “I am grateful for…”.

4. Deep breathing
Add a 5-minute deep breathing exercise to your evening routine.

5. Complete silence
Find a place where you feel comfortable. Turn off your mobile phone, laptop and all other electronic devices. Now close your eyes and concentrate on the here and now. Practice “being aware”.

You made it! Now you have reached the end of the article. Did one or the other tip wake up your curiosity? I advise you to experiment with the tips from this post and see how these changes affect you in the long run.

By the way, I would like to note: The title of this post described that these tips are simple. However, simple does not always mean “easy”. But simple often means good! At least that is my experience. I wish you a lot of fun experimenting and the best performance!

If you’d like to read more posts like this about fitness, nutrition, health and mindset, visit my blog here:

Michael Bachmann (1979) is a trained communication specialist FH and has been working in the fitness industry as an online trainer and business personal trainer since 2011. Michael has specialized over the years in leaders who want to feel better in their body and increase their energy level. Michael works holistically and with a unique (online) concept. Together with Oliver Bertschinger and Triple Eight Solutions he also conducts corporate courses on optimizing personal productivity. More details here.