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The Health Stack: with Geoffrey Woo

By Matteo Franceschetti
December 04, 2020
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Geoffrey woo
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Health is based on three pillars: sleep, nutrition and fitness. I chat with some of the most interesting people I know to discover more about their Health Stacks: the behaviors and products they use to stay healthy and fit.

Recently, I had an hour-long Zoom conversation with Geoffrey Woo. Geoffrey is the Co-founder and Executive Chairman of H.V.M.N., a health-focused company that manufactures and sells products supporting a ketogenic diet, and nootropic supplements. I spoke with Geoffrey about where his interest in human enhancement came from and how he uses his body’s intuition to guide his health.

Highlights

  • Geoffrey's interest in health and human enhancement began in 2013 after he sold his first company and went on to co-found H.V.M.N.

  • The three most important pillars of health for Geoffrey are nutrition, physical activity, and sleep

  • Geoffrey follows a ketogenic intermittent fasting strategy for his diet

  • Instead of rigorously tracking health KPIs, Geoffrey takes a more intuitive approach to his body and wellbeing

  • Introspection and intentionality are daily practices for Geoffrey

How I started my journey in health and human enhancement

I grew up in a suburb of Los Angeles, and have been a California kid my entire life. I come from an engineering, computer science background, and I apply an engineering-first mindset towards human performance and metabolism. I am fascinated with the limits of our physiology and metabolism both in terms of human enhancement, as well as how some of these techniques can also improve a lot of the chronic conditions facing our society today.

There were two main catalysts that started my interest in health. One was back in 2013 when I sold my first company, and had a little bit of time to just explore my intellectual interests. All of my smartest Stanford friends were working at the Googles and Facebooks of the world, essentially helping to target people with ads. I thought, people are making better robots, AI algorithms, and ML algorithms, why aren't people trying to make better humans? That thought began an interesting deep dive into, "Hey, can I enhance myself?" I started off as a selfish endeavor. Then, I realized that there might be something possible there. 

The second catalyst was the thought of working on the science fiction, transhumanist future as a cool mission. I remember playing all these cyberpunk video games as a middle-schooler where you could use bionic eyeballs and arms, and while that’s pretty Sci-fi, I think we're just at the cusp where true human enhancement is possible.

I started to wonder if we could build 'better humans.'

Then, my more recent interest and expansion into metabolism and physiology came from meeting and befriending elite performers. It became more of a challenge for myself personally to keep up with their level of fitness. I had always had a strong intellectual curiosity, but was never an elite athlete like them. After studying their lifestyles, I decided to prioritize fitness and health in my life, as well.

What matters most to me in health and wellbeing

I think of health in terms of three main pillars that affect us everyday - nutrition, activity, and sleep.

For nutrition and diet, I follow a ketogenic intermittent fasting strategy. Essentially, I ramp up or down my carbohydrate intake depending on my activity level. It’s similar to cyclical keto, and I use the dimension of either time, macronutrients, or types of food to control that metabolic state. When I think about diet, I optimize for a metabolic state of ketosis, versus restricting certain foods. If you want to get into the physiological metabolic state of ketosis, and you can use macros, time restriction, or exercise to get there. I will fast for probably six, seven days a week, and I'll do a 16-18 hour intermittent fast. I usually have my first meal after noon, around 1-2 PM and I'll have my last meal before 8:00 PM. In terms of measuring outputs from ketosis, I've been playing around with CGM for the last five years and then use pretty regular finger sticks. I use Keto-mojo or Freestyle Libre, or just finger stick, to measure ketones. I like dipping into ketosis, usually, I like to target achieving it at the end of my fasting period. I want to see at least 0.3, 0.4, 0.5 mmol/L ketones.

In terms of my nutrition, I eat everything. I primarily eat animal meat and seafood. I try to have a baseline low carbohydrate diet with pretty minimal carbohydrates unless I'm expecting to do a lot of workouts. If I know I'm just not able to exercise because I'm super busy at work, I'll eat zero carbs, whereas if I know I have time to be active, I’ll up my carb intake. I eat steak and eggs pretty regularly.

I usually try to do a workout soon after that first meal. I try to get in a workout at 3-4 PM while there's a little bit of sun.

For exercise, I like changing it up, but my gym reopened recently, so I want to get back to power Olympic lifting. I try to train 60-90 minutes every day. I do a lot of dynamic barbell movements because they provide a good mix of power and functional flexibility. Generally, I like to do a lot of bodyweight exercises and try to do some cardio, as well, such as long bike rides or hikes, but mainly I prefer more powerful, explosive movements. 

The main movement I'm working on right now is the snatch and clean. It's like a lift combined with a power clean. It involves multiple functional movements together, versus just a standard squat or bench press. Those are very good for targeting specific muscle groups, but less functional in terms of performing compound movements. I’m inspired by elite athletes, so I'm not just trying to target hypertrophy or getting big but rather trying to take a more functional and resilient approach to fitness. For example, if I need to climb over obstacles when I'm out hiking, or if I need to lift something, I’ll be able to do it. Earlier in the pandemic, I did murphs 45 days in a row, like a CrossFit workout, to change things up. Murphs involve a one mile run, 100 pull-ups, 200 push-ups, 300 squats, and a final one mile run. 

I'm not a professional athlete, but when I want to push myself with activity, it becomes more of a ritual to me around discipline, versus optimizing for individual workout sessions.

When I do exercise, it's more the ritual and discipline of doing something every day versus, 'Hey, I'm going to actually vary my workout against my restfulness rate on a machine.'

The third pillar of health to me is sleep. I think it can be super challenging for busy entrepreneur types, or anyone that's type A, to have good sleep hygiene. I also see a lot of sleep challenges across elite athletes and folks in the military. I know a lot of entrepreneurs who struggle with their sleep because they have a lot of things going on, and they can't fall asleep. Recently, to help my sleep, I started listening to a chill podcast to take my mind off the day and drift into sleep. Also, I try to avoid too much light and screen time before I sleep.

The things I prioritize to stay healthy

I try to train my intuition around my body instead of tracking KPIs around my health. One thing that I observed a lot from a lot of elite performers was how attuned to their body they are.

As a culture, I think we've lost sensitivity to what it's actually like being hungry, or when you are feeling emotionally stable versus anxious.

I've tried to almost become an anti-bio hacker, so I try not get overwhelmed by all the data and be more intuitive. That's not to say that I don't think these metrics are useful. Instead, I use these metrics to help hone my actual intuition.

I like to do quarterly blood draws to measure my lipids and hormones. There's a website that lets you order your own blood measures, it’s Private MD Labs. You can order whatever blood tests that you want, and it’s good data to keep track of.

For my mind, I meditate. I like Naval's perspective on mediation because it puts no emphasis on technique, but rather just doing nothing. I know a lot of elite athletes use it, and it focuses on being present, regardless of what you’re doing in the moment. You can be present if you're exercising, making music, or if you're simply sitting on a pillow. These are all prescriptions, or all rote physical manipulations to try to get you to a very similar flow state. My hypothesis is that when an Ironman champion is in flow state, winning or breaking the world record, or when a military operator is hitting a target, or when a Zen Buddhist monk is in a meditation, they are all in an enlightened state. I think Naval touches upon it when he says he's not trying to do anything, instead, he's trying to just do nothing. He doesn’t even force himself to meditate. This idea resonates much more with me than trying to just focus on my breath alone, which I find to be boring. 

In my experience, I need a different physical manifestation to reach more of a flow state. I like doing something passively physical, such as hiking or walking. While it’s tough to do that in San Francisco, I've been able to achieve this on long, 15 mile hikes out in the wilderness where I can unplug. That’s been a good way for me to center and think.

The products I use

I try to make things simple, and not necessarily add too many apps or products. I'm pretty thoughtful about using products that are actually helpful for my healthspan and longevity goals, and I do use a few key apps.

 

I use a lot of biomarkers, such as blood and glucose monitors. CGMs are great, whether it's Levels or Freestyle Libre, to help understand the diet component of your health. I'm excited when there's more data that can be tracked continuously. I know that a number of groups are working on continuous ketone monitoring, and hopefully we get even more analyses in the near future. Outside of the core nutrition, I like to track my HRV. I've experimented with both Oura Ring and WHOOP to track HRV.

I also use Strava. I like Strava because it's hard for me to visualize a 40 mile bike ride without it, and it helps me track personal records. 

I really like hot saunas for recovery. I’ve traded recovery tips with elite athletes, and I’ve basically played with everything in terms of recovery tools. I think a lot of it just involves more gizmos and toys, but I find a hot sauna to be consistently helpful for me.I’ve added HVMN supplements and I've been macro-dosing zinc bisglycinate chelate for immunity purposes and magnesium glycinate and magnesium l-threonate for sleep purposes.

The health product I would build

I would build a continuous monitor for glucose, ketones, insulin, and lactate. Glucose is a second derivative of what I think is the core mechanism, insulin. That data is useful for athletic performance as well as your LDL, HDL, and triglycerides.

I believe that in the future of personalized medicine, you will have real time measurements of all of the key biomarkers, as opposed to what a quarterly blood draw like what we have now.

A lot of folks who study insulin in academia look at it as the primary factor in judging insulin resistance and sensitivity, and glucose is more of an assessable bio-marker and a proxy for insulin. The main question I have is, can we build something to find the primary variable?

My number one health hack

I try to always remember to be intentional. A lot of us are on autopilot in life. It's important to take a few seconds to breathe before you, for example, workout, listen to a podcast, or have a conversation. Instead, I try to think, “I'm excited that I get to do this” or “I'm grateful that I get to do this.” One thing that I've been thinking a lot about is that we all “get to do this.” What I mean by that is that a lot of people who died this year don't even have the opportunity to even get to do something.

A centering around a notion of gratitude and faithfulness that we actually get to do things, helps.

It just sets a mind state that I think is really conducive towards being in flow, as well.

My health struggle

My number one health struggle is controlling my anxiety and sleep. There's a lot to be anxious about in 2020 across personal and family lives, the cultural and political environment and the economy. A way to quiet the mind would be valuable, not just for me, but for a lot of people. I've personally seen the difference in terms of quality of thinking and my emotions when I'm not sleep deprived.

My morning routine

I get up around 7AM. I wake up and try to get some natural sunlight. I'm lucky to have access to a rooftop so I can get sunlight in the morning and set my circadian rhythm correctly. Oftentimes, I'll have a ketogenic coffee in the morning with our MCT oil, and then go right into my morning productive blocks. It depends on the day. I try to keep either the most important meetings early, or just leave that block open if there's nothing pressing to do to just think. A lot of us don't give ourselves enough time to think.

One of the silver linings of COVID is that I can cancel a lot of meetings, and have more time to think. I don’t need to be at the office since everyone's working remotely. If I have a chance to have an open block in the morning, I’ll use that to think, process, and plan. Again, it depends on what's going on, but I think just having open time to digest is valuable.

My nighttime routine

I try to be in bed before midnight. I'll often work into the night. It's hard for me to shut off, so that’s something I need to improve on. I’d like to have better discipline to shut off work when it's 9-10 PM. You'll often find me on email as late as 11PM, but think that might be an okay vice.

What keeps me up at night

Too many interesting things to learn about and work on keep me up at night. Obviously, some little fire drills with my business here and there also keep me awake, but honestly, there's just so much cool stuff to think about and do. So I’d say what keeps me up at night is 10% fire drills, 90% wanting to understand everything in the universe; that's the impossible limit that I aspire to. That's going to be a never ending challenge for me.

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