Tim Ferriss and the Four Hour Body
In the next few posts, I’m going to feature a free interview between NY Times best-selling author Tim Ferriss and myself covering:
- His Cheat Meal Secret System (cool stuff…I tried it on the weekend)
- How he got super-strong with just a few sets & reps each week
- The one type of alcohol he says is OK on a fat loss diet
- And much, much more
By the way, you really need to get this book…it covers fat loss, secrets to amazing sex, better sleep, running long distances faster (without a lot of running), getting stronger, amazing sex, and becoming a better athlete…oh yeah, and secrets to amazing sex. There might also be a massive sextion devoted to better sex. I think.
Now let’s get started!
Craig Ballantyne: Hey everyone, this is Craig Ballantyne from TurbulenceTraining.com and I have a special guest with me today. He is a New York Times best-selling author and the author of a new book called The 4-Hour Body. His name is Tim Ferriss. Tim, welcome to the call.
Tim Ferriss: Thank you for having me.
Craig Ballantyne: And let’s maybe just start with how you would describe this new book. Is it some kind of owner’s manual to improving your health and fitness? You have the word “superhuman” on the book, is it more than just health and fitness?
Tim Ferriss: The book is really, the way I describe it – keep in mind, I live in Silicon Valley – but it is a hacker’s guide to the human body. So if you’ve ever seen a choose your own adventure book where you can choose your own path based on what you want to do, what you want to experience, I’ve spent the last three years testing everything from maximal muscular gain to strength, ultra-endurance, sex, sleep with some of the best scientists in the world.
And the book, the subtitle I think is a good description which is – so it’s “The 4-Hour Body”, and then “An Uncommon Guide to Rapid Fat-loss, Incredible Sex and Becoming Superhuman”. The reason uperhuman is in there, which you mentioned – the original title of the book was “Becoming Superhuman” – and the superhuman really just refers to one of two things.
People doing things, accomplishing things they think are impossible, like pulling 400-500 pounds off the ground if they’re currently at 200 or running 50-100 miles or just losing the last 10 pounds of fat, or things that most people consider superhuman. So a lot of those things would also fall in that category.
So for a person who’s only ever run 5K, running a 10K might be a very big deal to them, and it should be. But, also in the broader world if you run 50K to most people that’s impossible. So really teaching people how to accomplish the impossible in very small steps.
Craig Ballantyne: Yes, very good. And definitely the emphasis of your book is doing things fast, which is what people are going to really enjoy. I read the book from start to finish, although your book recommends not doing that, I did that on Saturday afternoon. I went through the entire book.
Tim Ferriss: Wow.
Craig Ballantyne: Yes, hopefully you’re not mad at me.
Tim Ferriss: No.
Craig Ballantyne: I skipped over the running chapter a little. I definitely read the sex chapter. That sounds like it was a heck of a lot of fun, but we’re going to leave readers to read the sex chapter on their own.
Tim Ferriss: Yes. Some chapters were more fun to research than others. That’s true.
Craig Ballantyne: I’m sure they were, yes. So even before this book you were definitely running toe-to-toe with the Dos Equis guy, being a candidate for the world’s most interesting man. And you certainly even did a whole lot more experiments in this one. And you mention the term “experimental lifestyle”, kind of an introduction to the book. Can you explain what that is and why it’s so important?
Tim Ferriss: Absolutely. So the book is really also a guide to becoming a good self-experimenter. That doesn’t mean you do anything dangerous. It doesn’t mean you do anything extensive. It just means that rather than relying on an annual checkup or two visits to your doctor per year as an indicator of health and longevity and all those things, instead of relying on just memory alone if you’re going to the gym naturally do a few simple things track a few simple variables to figure out exactly how you personally can get from point A to point B as quickly as possible.
And to give you an example of how that can work, how quickly that can work, for me personally when I was able to figure out exactly how many rest days I required, the range of motion, I required to improve my deadlifts – I put on about 150 pounds, actually closer to 165, in the span of less than six months. And it could have happened much faster. And that type of progress is not impossible.
Craig Ballantyne: Yes. You also have people who have never run more than five miles who you get to 50 miles, mountainous ultra-marathons in 12 weeks, which I know sounds again impossible, but it’s not.
Tim Ferriss: The only way that you get to that point is by doing small experiments. And there are a lot of tools that are available. There are free tools. Certainly online you can go to sites like patients like Me where you can look at people who are replicating clinical trials and sharing data, but instead of 10 people in a study you have a thousand people on a website. Alternatively, you can look at tools like Zeo, for example. Zeo is a device. I think it costs about $200, that you put next to your bed, and you wear a headband and it will track all of your brainwaves during a sleep, or before sleep, so you can identify exactly if you’re improving your sleep and how you’re improving your sleep by changing diet and things like that. So by doing that I figured out how you can use cold or saturated fat to improve the quality of recovery during sleep, for example. And these are all really easy to do.
So the experimental lifestyle certainly applied to my first book. The 4-Hour Workweek. And most people know me for time management productivity, but I’ve tracked almost every workout I’ve done since age 18 so my obsession with the physical tracking predates the productivity work, the work at least, by at least a decade. And the experimental lifestyle is going into anything you want to accomplish, any goal, and testing assumptions and tracking a few important things. And I think that applies to relationships, that applies to business, and it certainly applies to the human body.
Craig Ballantyne: Now when someone’s doing a fat-loss program, and we’re going to talk about that quite a bit, would you have any recommendations of some of the most important things for someone to track during their fat-loss program that will guide them, that will really keep them within the course of success?
Tim Ferriss: Absolutely. I think the first and most important – there are actually two things. Well, I’ll mention three actually. So the first, and this is more of a baseline than a measurement, but it’s getting a before photograph. Most people who want to improve their condition do not get before photographs because they’re embarrassed, or they dislike it for whatever reason.
If you look at, and this is something I did, view an analysis of the transformational challenges that have been done in the last decade or so. And you look at the most successful, like Body for Life, and you look at the winners the one consistent factor or element. Sometimes their workouts are different, sometimes their diets are different, but they all use their before photographs very effectively, maybe putting them on the refrigerator, etc. So that would be step number 1. And the photographs are really important, the visual part of it.
Step number 2 would be, and this is something that even very intelligent people miss, is body composition. So you don’t want to track weight alone if you’re losing fat because it’s very common. Let’s say even if you’re not doing resistance training, if you increase your protein intake because you’re removing refined carbohydrates let’s say or starches. There’s a very, very high likelihood that you’re going to add some muscle mass. And if you’re only tracking your weight it can appear to be a plateau when, in fact, you’re actually losing a tremendous amount of fat, two to five pounds a week or more in some cases. That’s step number 2.
And number 3, for the same reason if you’re on a budget and let’s just say you can’t get body composition analysis, like caliper analysis. I recommend a few other things like Bod Pod of you have access to it. Certainly, in the U.S. it’s not very difficult. Or DXA scan for example. If you don’t have access to these things you can use circumference measurements. So you could use a simple tape measure to measure around the middle of your thighs, waist, the widest point at abdomen and let’s just say upper arms and the bi bicep is all pretty easy to measure.
And what you’ll find is that, even if your weight doesn’t move, if you’re losing inches in the right places that signifies that you’re losing body fat, particularly if you’re still maintaining your strength. So those would be a few points that I think are very commonly overlooked, even by very smart people when they’re tracking fat loss.
Craig Ballantyne: Yes. I remember in the book that you mentioned your father really regrets not having taken those measurements. And we hear that quite a bit from the people in our transformation contests as well.
Tim Ferriss: Yes, absolutely. I mean it’s extremely common. And the other thing my dad regretted. So my dad lost estimated – and I’ll explain that in a minute. I mean he lost, as you read, about 90 pounds of fat and gained probably between 20 and 30 pounds of muscle. However, because he didn’t have his starting body composition it was impossible to tell. Now he was 245-250 at 5’6″, so you can estimate based on a few things.
However, really he, like you said, regrets not having those starting points because it would have allowed him to appreciate his progress much more. He came very close to quitting a few times when his weight seemed to – it didn’t plateau, but instead of losing 20 pounds a month he was losing seven or eight pounds a month. And he was doubling and tripling his lifts over that same period of time. So he was very clearly gaining muscle, but because he hadn’t measured it, it looked like he was slowing down or plateauing which weren’t the case at all. So very, very important to get the baseline before you start.
And that’s true with blood testing too. I mean I’ve done thousands of blood tests. And one of the problems with doctors in the U.S., and I suspect probably most doctors in Canada as well, is that they’re very good at diagnosing a problem once it’s a problem. So you’ll get your blood test results back, and they’ll say, “Okay, this is out of range. We need to address that.” Or “This is out of range. We need to address that.” And the first thing a doctor will do, and I know a lot of good doctors, is they’ll scan through the sheet and see what’s out of range, and they’ll just pay attention to those because those are the problems.
However, if you do blood tests more frequently what you can see is if let’s say your albumen levels – or let’s say testosterone, something a little better known, is dropping 10% with each test over three months, six months, that’s a problem. And you can address that with an intervention really early if you catch it, but the doctor’s not going to do anything until it’s out of range and that’s when you have a really serious problem. So getting that baseline and looking at the trending is really, really important no matter what type of change you’re after.
Craig Ballantyne: Now, when your dad was going through those struggling periods. And a lot of people listening to this call are going to go through those same sorts of things. First of all, what were some of the things you said to him to get him to keep going? Was there some type of a force because it was going to be in the book? And then in addition to that, what technical points did you give him that kind of helped him get his weight loss back on track, or fat loss back on track?
Tim Ferriss: Yes, absolutely. So the first was it wasn’t that forced because it wasn’t clear that he was going to end up in the book at all. I prefer to keep my family out of the limelight as much as possible. So I don’t think that was a huge factor, the potential of being in the book.
The most important thing I did, one of the most important things, was to tell him when I expected he would have problems. When I expected that he would want to quit. And so the first thing I said is, “It’s normal.” So most people face self-doubt and what they perceive as plateaus at a few different points. So the first is probably going to come two months after you start. So if you have a lot to weight to lose like he did, 250, he’ll lose 20 pounds the first month or 25 pounds and then let’s say 17 pounds the next month.
And then the third month is, it’s pretty consistent with most people. They’ll lose let’s just say less than 10 pounds. And not always the case but very frequently, and that’s when people get demoralized, and they look at what they perceive is a trend in slowing fat loss and they’re like, “Oh my God. The month after this I’m probably not going to lose any body fat.” And then they quit.
So I told him that’s going to happen. It doesn’t mean that you’re not losing body fat. It means that you’re gaining muscle most likely, increasing bone density, things like that. And I also then at that point said, “The way we’re going to address that and accelerate it so you feel like you’re making more progress is increasing your protein intake.” So we increased his protein intake and timed it such that he was consuming, I think it was 30 grams of protein within 30 minutes of waking up. That’s the easiest way to remember it.
And he went from – I’m lacking the exact numbers in front of me – but something like an average over three months of seven or eight pounds of fat loss per month to 17 pounds of fat loss per month as soon as he changed his timing of protein. Because my dad, like many people, would wake up, have a cup of coffee and do whatever, he was doing, read the newspaper for an hour to an hour-and-a-half before having his first meal. And that very negatively affects fat loss on a number of different levels.
The other point, this is actually related to my mom – my mom also lost 30 pounds – was water intake. So two of the most common mistakes that people make. Number one not consuming 30 grams of protein within 30 minutes of waking up, certainly within 60 minutes. And number two is really under consuming water. And for whatever reason women have more trouble with this than men. There are a lot of women who just dislike drinking water, which for whatever reason, and I don’t know why this is the case but it is true, much more common among women. So forcing people to have even just three or four more glasses, let’s say 12 ounce glasses of water per day, can make a significant difference.
Craig Ballantyne: Okay, well that’s easy enough. And hopefully people listening to the call will implement those two things if they’re struggling right now.
Tim Ferriss: Yes, absolutely. They’re simple. And the guiding question with this entire book, whether it was improving vertical jumps, hitting home runs, whatever – there are 50 topics in the book – the question was what are the smallest changes that produce the biggest results. And what you find is that you don’t have to do a complete overhaul of everything you do all at once. In fact, I think that’s usually a bad idea.
Rather you start by making a few small changes like eating 30 grams of protein in 30 minutes of waking up. Easy to remember, you make it part of your routine. And secondly, you might just replace the milk in your coffee with two teaspoons of cream, for example, and add some cinnamon to improve insulin sensitivity. Just by doing that – milk’s a very interesting one, but I’ve seen people who’ve stalled on the slow carb diet, the diet I describe in the book, one of the diets I described. And they removed just the dairy in their milk, and then they immediately lose an additional two to five pounds per week, which sounds unbelievable and it is on some of them, but for whatever reason, and I have some theories of mechanisms. That’s also the case. So if you start to add these small things together the cumulative results are pretty impressive.
That ends Part 1 of 3 of my interview with Tim about the “4-Hour Body”. I know that info will help you, but it gets even better in the rest of the interview.
Now when you’re ready, let’s move to Part 2 of the interview where Tim and I discuss:
- Why You Want the Minimum Effective Dose for Results
- His RKC kettlebell training
- And how he dramatically improved his deadlift