New Year, New You? One CEO’s journey to optimise energy + recharging and avoid ‘magic pill’ start-up BS…

TL:DR;
Why me? Founder of a 4 year old business with 3 kids under 10, on a journey (5-years-long and counting) to have more ENERGY for the things that matter. To me - that’s business, family and friends. While balancing me-time for exercise/self care and maximising quality of sleep/recovery.

And feeling.. well — happy, despite the rollercoaster that 2020 has been with economic turmoil and business challenges, school closures and ‘living at work’ wfh and increased… anxiety in our day-to-day. (Disclaimer: not a doctor, went to a lot of doctors and therapists, please do your own research as every body is uniquely different and will respond to things in it’s own way)

Why this post? Because this is the most frequent discussion I have had with other founders / CxOs of high-growth tech companies in 2020. And because we all get frequently targeted by (other) startups pushing ‘a magic pill cure’ to meet increasing demands which all adults have in the surreal ‘new normal’ .

I hope my experience can help you challenge that BS for a more individualistic ‘YOU’ approach, and have a healthier 2021.

Disclaimer: NOT an actual VC

As VC-backed founders, we are responsible not just for the progress in our business, but for maintaining ourselves in a top state — physical and emotional — because WE are the ones who investors have backed (especially if you are in a pre-series B company)

The best way you can instil great habits in your team and inspire investor confidence is to lead by example. (And in my case, also ensure I have enough energy to give 110% as part of being both a founder and an adult with a young family).

Gone are the days or ‘stay up all night for 5 years in a row and ride it out in your early 20s’. I have an ‘adult founder’s dilemma:

  1. I want to give 110% to my work and my team — which, to me, equals working for 10–12 hours of the day without needing any coffee, loving what we do, bringing energy to everyone I meet with or zoom with — and not feeling it’s ‘work’ for one moment.
A few of the Zamna team celebrating…

2. I also want to give 110% to my family, which — with 3 young kids — is a tall order. On weekdays, that means the other 3–6 hours of the day is dedicated to being really present and having the energy to pour into dealing with good and bad stuff that comes up in little people’s lives (to them, it is ALL big stuff) as well as being a partner who is engaged and supportive, rather than coming to her husband with a cup in an outstretched hand asking ‘fill me’. (We all have bad days, but 80/20 rule..)

Just an average night in at home, Lockdown II style…

We are talking about 2 types of energies here: physical (what athletes call endurance) and emotional (which also feeds endurance — more on that later).

What I learned in the last 5 years is that there are several ways to ‘hack’ the system to increase both, simply by creating habits and calibrating the body (I was surprised to discover that focusing on the body drives both physical and emotional endurance).

When I say body, I include the chemical and hormonal balance which is largely responsible for our emotional — and psychological — (self)regulation, sense of well-being and ability to tackle challenges without feeling like our soul is burning out.

Inflammation. We all have it. Whether we are aware or not…is another question.

In the age of COVID, I’ve also researched a lot on how to make the body a BAD HOST for a virus attack — and how to address underlying inflammation (we all have this, by the way — but this post isn’t a lecture on healing chronic inflammation, it’s a share of ‘stuff I do’ because — well — I’ve talked extensively to other founders about it throughout the surreal year that we’ve had in 2020.

A note: I have done this for the last 5 years, so it’s not a ‘fad’ - it has seen me through 3 rounds of fundraising, getting married, and going from 1 to 3 kids.

Truth is, when it comes to optimising energy / brainpower / rest, ‘one size fits all’ / ‘one pill a day is all you need’ is a lie. Because we are individuals. And because we are much more complex than anything one magic pill can claim to ‘optimise’.

Here is a list of ‘stuff I do every day’ that empowers me to deliver what my work family and home family need:

I am *not* a morning person. Not even if I’ve slept a ton.

MORNING

1 Take nascent iodine + serrapeptase (both anti-inflammatory, best taken on an empty stomach)

2 Make a protein/fibre shake for breakfast:

  • high-grade plant-based protein powder (I’ve tried soy, pea and other proteins)
    +
  • Fibre powder — essential, it’s the equivalent of eating a crazy amount of apples and ‘healthy’ granola. Turns out us humans actually can’t eat enough in the day to get the amount of fibre our bodies need. This is a great hack!

3 Make a turmeric/ginger non-dairy latte (anti inflammatory, gives energy + regulates and manages sugar cravings)

Note: I (eventually) found plant-based milks with the least ingredients in them. Turns out, instead of 2–3 some brands have up to 9?! things in plant milks — and add a bunch of nasties. Watch out for that. But ‘always read the label’ is another post in and of itself :)

My alter ego, having a weekly pizza

LUNCH

4 Salad + Plant-based… anything. I love burgers, sausages, shawarma, cheddar, steaks, soft cheese spreads, pizzas, meatballs… turns out ALL of these are available in plant-based delicious vegan alternatives which means (put simply) that I can choose not to put any (bi)products of mass farming/antibiotics into my body, while not compromising on taste. [note: try as many brands as you can, you WILL find the ones you like]

I also avoid gluten anything and use pasta made of rice or buckwheat (it’s a thing!), quinoa, lentils, beans as a base to get more protein — and fibre.

5 After lunch, I take 1st lot of supplements:

  • Probiotics + Enzymes (so the body can get maximum goodness out of what I’ve just eaten)
  • Super strong high grade multivitamin (reading the label comes into this a lot)
  • ‘Fish’ Oils (you can get vegan ones made from seaweed, that’s how fish get them in the first place — yay no need for farmed fish)
  • Spirulina (more algae goodness ;)
  • Flax Seed oils (oils are key for brain power)
  • Slow release Vit C
  • Zinc (helps body absorb Vit C — and hard to get in diet)
  • Liquid Curcumin (more turmeric — strong anti inflammatory)
  • Vit D liquid pill (because sun sets at 4pm in UK I’m the winter and I work indoors in the summer)
NOT how I ever feel anymore.. thanks to supplements!

AFTERNOON:
When energy (traditionally) starts to drop, I take these to help brain function and energy (note: speak to a functional doctor + nutritionist about these and pls do tests to see how your individual body responds…)

Although a big veggie snack with more plant based protein (energy source 💪) also helps maintain steady energy. Our kids remember a line from a documentary on food — ’ ‘if you want to be strong like an ox, eat like an ox’.

7 — After the veggie snack, I take 2nd lot of supplements:

  • High dose Vit Bs (a post in itself as they are a huge range and key to so many functions)
  • Ginger +Gingko
  • 5 HTP
  • Ubiquinol (pre Co-Q10, worth researching for brain performance)
  • Selenium
  • Power up on liquids — water, green tea and another turmeric latte
  • Take Collagen supplement (this is NOT a beauty drink — collagen is the most common protein in our bodies, which is worth supporting — and a high grade collagen supplement provides 10+ grams of protein, which is excellent for energy in the afternoon)

There’s a ton of research on ‘things we can take that stimulate body wellbeing and optimal brain connections’ — and it’s a very individual approach, so I suggest getting tested to establish what you need to calibrate and improve on. A good starting point is the York test or Dutch test, or you can read up about supplements and experiment taking them for X amount of time.

Before dinner:

  • Liquid iron supplement (needs to be on an empty stomach, superb for energy — and it’s the most ‘you’re defficient in this’ I hear from founders— even mega meat eaters)
  • Liquid chlorofill (more sea goodness ;) + more liquids

EVENING

8 Dinner: More plant-based protein-heavy goodness. Getting enough protein is actually easy on plant-based diets, but it needs some thinking while shopping in advance. I live with someone who loves food shopping and cooking so I’m extremely lucky because I absolutely do NOT like it. He does. Win-win! But seriously, I’ve learnt the hacks when it comes to ingredients and speed — another post there though.

9 After dinner, take 3rd lot of supplements:

Not my actual pills. Though some dolook similar!
  • More digestive aids, including activated charcoal + probiotics
  • Supplements for joints (chondroitin/calcium)
  • Magnesium (excellent in the evening, near impossible to get in diet)
  • L-theanine — to aid clarity of thought throughout the day and to respond in a calm and collected way to whatever rollercoaster the day throws up.
  • Allicin — this is a key one in the age of Covid. High grade allicin is the acting ingredient in garlic which is what they use in hospitals to kill MRSA (it’s nature’s most powerful fighter). I take it every day as prevention (because inflammation in all humans to some degree) and liquid allicin at the first sign of a cold (totally gross but works super fast). Our family haven’t had a major cold in 5+ years, and that’s something with 3 kids in primary school (also known as germ spreaders)

11 Exercise

This should be on your own terms. For example, I am not one of those ‘up at dawn for a run’ person. If I run, it’s only because something scary is chasing me. And barf to 6am yoga. Just not my thing — my body is happy to be up but will say FU if I try to force that :) 1am yoga before bed? Yes please. Body happy = don’t care if it ‘sounds weird’ to anyone else.

This is a separate post in itself but daily exercise is absolutely possible — especially post-Covid / in lockdowns. When we stopped travelling to and from work or in between meetings, we gained so much time. (Most of my circle in tech did — I appreciate this isn’t the same for all professions by a long shot!) I experimented with timing and frequency of exercise. I’ve been able to do daily workouts (80/20 tule, don’t be harsh on yourself) even for 20–30 mins it has made a difference to quality of energy and sleep.

If you ‘don’t have space’, get try random places in the house. For motivation, try exercising with a glass of wine (or gin)+ Netflix!

This was my ‘gym’ during lockdowns: I wedged a (cheap!) stationary bike in-between the kids toilet and bath, and asked them not to do n2 in this toilet so that they didn’t stink out mummy’s gym… 😂 The room was too short for a yoga mat in front of the sink so I would open the door and my legs would stick out into the corridor but hey — who cares? A workout is a workout 👍

A glass of red helps me sit on this bike for over an hour

A few (non wine related) exercise hacks I experimented with and found helpful:

  • take zoom calls sitting on a stationary bike or walking on a treadmill (I put moved my bike from kids bathroom to next to my desk)
  • Do ‘weights first’ before you get too tired if you think weight training is for you (sitting on a machine is much easier later)
  • find video workouts you don’t hate online — soooo many free ones including HIIT, yoga etc
  • Get your kids involved (I teach them dancing meaning we all perform mal coordinated random movements but the cardio is 👌 and we love the music choice because we get to pick it! Yay)

SLEEP

11 Before sleep 4th lot of supplements:

  • Extra oils (flax + omega)
  • L-theanine
  • L-Arginine
  • CBD

I use CBD if the day requires extra winding down, but because I haven’t had tea/coffee in 5+ years so I don’t need to ‘come off’ the buzz like I used to after 10–12 cups of caffeinated drinks a day (that was my reality a few years back which landed me in a not so healthy state).

L-Theanine is one of the many L elements I would suggest researching (I also take L-Arginine which is amazing for the heart), and these also impact your circulation + ability to calibrate brain synapse-firing to process everything from the day while dreaming, learning and recovering overnight .

I am one of those UNLUCKY people who can’t function on a couple of hours sleep — I need almost 8 hours a day. However. What I found is that my body can do Mon-Fri on 6+ hours quite comfortably *if needed* provided I have maintained the input/output habits of supplements and dietary intake.

12 Other ways I hack sleep is:

  • Diffuser with essential oils by the bed (on a timer)
  • Himalayan salt lamp by the bed (turn it on for 30 mins pre sleep and your brain produces the chemicals needed to wind down in low light)
  • devices to shield against Geopathic Stress and Electro Pollution (worth researching, depending on your geography)
  • Music. My other half was a professional DJ and has always been aware of bringing energy up and down for long sets.. discovering go-to soporific songs is a surefire way to hack sleep quality. There are sounds that imitate brainwaves (a lot of meditation apps have ‘music’ sections for this specifically). What I like best is using mantra and yoga chanting to get into a trans-like sleep promoting state.

I tested this last one a year ago, when I was on overnight flights between Dubai and London every couple of weeks and *had* to find ways to maximise sleep in economy. Music anchoring was really powerful.

  • Wearables to measure sleep quality + wearable-based alarm that wakes your brain when it’s on an ‘up’ part of the sleep cycle rather than deep or in REM sleep — to ensure you wake up feeling energised and restored.
  • Room temperature — if you have aircon, experiment with how your deep sleep responds to more or less heat in the room. The results surprised me. I have aircon on, even during the winter, and sleep best 17-19 degrees.

I could go into greater detail on each one of these, but for now I will end here.

Hope it’s a helpful share on ‘where to start’ either research or experimenting for yourself in a few ways. Whatever speaks to you and your body.

My personal journey continues to optimise energy, in experimenting and testing with what works and what doesn’t. If you have any tips, share away.

Life is short, I intend to enjoy it to the max. Optimal energy + recharging are my weapons of choice, no matter what 2021 throws at us.

Zamna is an award-winning VC-backed software company building GDPR compliant identity platforms for the aviation industry.