I wear a Whoop strap to track my daily cardiovascular exertion, my nightly sleep, and my daily “recovery” based on my resting heart rate (RHR) and heart rate variability (HRV).
Since I started wearing the strap in November 2019, the analytics have motivated me to tweak my daily routine to emphasize sleep and recovery. I feel better day-to-day. I respect the power of sleep. I no longer suffer frequent aches and pains (from overexertion). And I’ve cut my wine consumption (from every night to four nights a week).
Of course, I still do over-exert myself, and I pay the price.
This past weekend (Father’s Day weekend, 2021), I did not go gentle into that good night. However, I managed to survive with a few choice recovery strategies. Below, I detail my weekend according to Whoop, including the elements of my daily routine, which may or may not be helpful for others striving to live active lives (while also boozing), and my top recovery tools.
For reference: I’m a 44-year-old father of two young children. I am 5’11”, 155 pounds, 6.9% body fat. A lifelong competitive runner, I am addicted, though I try to limit myself to every other day. I stretch two or three times a week. Once or twice a week, for weight-bearing exercises, I do push-ups and pull-ups and swing kettlebells. Otherwise, I am supremely active (like the guy in the video below).
My diet is “limited” by most standards: I haven’t eaten grains, dairy, or beans for 20 years. What may seem like fanaticism is my attempt to thrive: I’ve had autoimmune disease for twenty-five years (including ulcerative colitis and type-1 diabetes). I do drink wine.
During the day, I live like a monk. Most nights, I party like Andrés Tabárez.
According to Whoop, I woke Friday morning with a “green” recovery. I felt great. Although my HRV hasn’t gone above 90 since the second vaccine shot (which concerns me), I had a reasonably good HRV (85) and RHR (43).
Whoop says they measure RHR “using a dynamic average weighted towards your last period of slow wave (deep) sleep, when your body is in its most restful state.” Recently, my sleep has been so disastrously fragmented, I look to my night’s lowest RHR reading for more insights into my recovery.
On Friday during sleep, my lowest RHR was 38.
My analytics looked good. I felt good, I hadn’t boozed for several days, and I hadn’t ran hard for several days. I was ready to go.
My Morning Routine
I usually wake around 6:30-7:00 am, thirty minutes before my children At this time, Karen (my wife) may or may not be awake, but it doesn’t matter, I invariably throw on some shorts, step outside, and stare at the sky while drinking my morning elixir (details of elixir here).
Besides my elixir, staring at the sun first thing is the most crucial part of my morning routine. Watch the video below to learn about the most badass part of the human body (at least in name): THE SUPRACHIASMATIC NUCLEUS.
I never eat breakfast, the most pointless meal of the day (for most people).
I’ve practiced some form of time-restricted eating for ten years, usually limiting my “eating window” to 2-7 hours. I limit my morning intake to a single cup of coffee with a 1/4 teaspoon of l-theanine powder (I drink Lifeboost Coffee) and an occasional microdose.
On most mornings, I write while drinking my coffee. Today, the first Friday of the kid’s summer, I promised myself I would limit my writing to one hour before engaging the children. In any case, If I must, I must. So I drank my coffee while editing an essay and then spent some time with the kids.
After a painful interlude of tedious games, I negotiated a run. The kids promised to stay at home inside with the doors locked (with access to Mommy on my daughter’s iPad).
I ran extremely hard for 7ish miles, maintaining a 7ish pace–essentially as long as I could run quickly. The air was warm and light without a trace of humidity–perfect. The stats (below) reveal a maximal effort, my hardest run of the season.
For inquiring Whoopers: I wear my strap several inches above my wrist, as directed by Whoop. I have tried the bicep band with little impact on my strain. I prefer the wrist.
When I got home, the kids were alive and grumpy, and somehow the house was a chaotic mess. I was hyperventilating, absolutely pouring sweat, primed for a joyful day.
I got into a terrible fight with the children, the details of which I’ll spare you. Thankfully, we managed to meet my friend Charlie and his son Jax at the pool in the afternoon.
With all the action, I didn’t have time to eat lunch, so I skipped the meal and prepared for an epic, Dionysian feast, the likes of which might destroy me.
I ended up fasting until dinner at 6:00 PM–a 22 hour fast–limiting my “eating window” to 2 hours.
For dinner, I ate two grilled duck legs, several servings of boiled potatoes, and pan-seared zucchini (recipes here). I also drank four glasses of FitVine Cabernet.
After dinner, we walked down the street to a block party, where the DJ played 80s music on an enormous sound system. The sun had descended below the rooftops, yet the heat endured, inscribed on the faces of the people packing the street. Neighbors sent us commiserating nods. I nodded, inspired by the good-natured hum, the conversation brightened with laughter, which issued from open doorways.
When we returned home, I had two servings of Van Leeuwen Ice Cream, which is “vegan,” a hateful term I use here only for pure explication. I also had several handfuls of raw macadamia nuts.
Later, I watched the Sixers beat the Hawks to force a Game 7 on Sunday evening. I went to bed, slightly agitated and seemingly sober.
I clocked a 20.5 strain for the day, close to the highest possible strain (20.7): the 12th most active day out of nearly 3k Whoopers in my home state, PA.
I woke on Saturday morning after a bad night of sleep (5:43 hours total) feeling already dead–to be expected but not necessarily embraced.
It was a terrible night of sleep. I woke multiple times, and then for good around 4:00 AM.
Laying in bed, thinking about life and death, I decided to do a NuCalm session, which eased me back into sleep for an additional hour or so.
When I finally got out of bed, around 7:00 AM, I saw my HRV had tanked by nearly 40 points (48), and my RHR had increased by ten points (53). My nighttime low for RHR was 48.
In the past, I would have tried to defy my bad sleep and hangover by running just as hard as I had the previous day, banishing any lingering alcohol with intense sprinting, a cycle of relentlessness that worked well throughout my thirties: booze, sprint, booze, sprint, never stop.
Now, I accepted I should rest as much as possible or risk pain, injury, and the certitude of early death.
It was a lazy morning with the kids, strolling around the Farmer’s Market, swimming at the pool, and finally retreating home for a late lunch. I did manage to get in a 20 minute sauna before lunch.
I usually eat the same lunch every day, when I do eat lunch, with slight variations (detailed here). Today, I ate around 2:00 and then felt the death tiredness of summer’s siesta, so I prepared for a NuCalm.
I consider the NuCalm system the cornerstone of my recovery. I generally have a hard time relaxing; with the birth of my second child, our son, I lost the ability to nap.
The NuCalm has helped restore my afternoon nap routine, and has proved to be tremendously beneficial for my state of mind. Today, I tried a 40-minute NuCalm session, during which I slipped into 13 minutes of light sleep and 24 minutes of much-needed deep sleep.
The NuCalm set me straight.
But there’s no recovery that a Saturday night feast won’t destroy.
On Saturday, we ordered a full rack of ribs from a local place, the Lucky Well, which I ate (once again) with boiled potatoes and steamed asparagus. I drank a bottle of FtVine cabernet, chilled for the summer. Then, an hour or so after dinner, I ate more Van Leeuwen Ice Cream with two Urban Remedy Superfood Chocolate Chip Cookies.
For the day, I logged a mild 12.4 strain.
I had wanted to get a good night’s sleep on Saturday evening, but I didn’t give myself enough time in bed. When people tell me they sleep for a certain amount of time, I ask: “How long were you in bed?”
The answer is inevitably the same as the total amount of time in bed. But no one sleeps the entire time in bed.
The value of a fitness/sleep tracker like the Whoop is accurate analytics, which empower you to make changes. If you spend seven hours in bed and you think you’re sleeping seven hours–you’re playing yourself.
On Saturday evening, I spent 7:48 in bed, but I only slept for 6:06.
My recovery was not as terrible as I might have expected–just good enough to ensure I could take a nice run and feel good on Father’s Day. I had recovered a bit of my HRV (60), and although my RHR was still high (53), I went down to 46 during the night.
Our Father’s Day plans included a brunch for my father-in-law and an afternoon at the pool, so I had to move quickly to ensure I could squeeze in my run, go to the brunch (where I wouldn’t eat a thing), and come home to eat before the pool (I preferred not to fast until dinner again).
The weather had shifted, the air thick with humidity. I repeated the same run as Friday, perhaps running more intensely and sweating more profusely, shirtless in my short shorts and running shoes.
By the time we returned home from the pool on Sunday, I felt relaxed, even exuberant. Still, I was ready for another Nucalm. This time, I mainly registered light sleep, less deep sleep, and a few minutes of REM, which mystifies me, although I feel profoundly restored whenever I register REM for a nap.
The NuCalm people say one session can replicate an entire sleep cycle in some concise amount of time. Nonsense, I think, but then I feel so good after a session, so who knows?
My wife cooked a great Father’s Day dinner, including coconut milk mashed potatoes (recipe here) and a whole grilled chicken. Did the Sixers lose Game 7? Of course. And did I drink too much FitVine wine again? Yes. And did I go back to the ice cream and superfood cookies again? Yes. And did I have a terrible night of sleep? It wasn’t so bad. For the day, I ended up with a 20.4 strain, which put me 12th again in PA.
It was a good weekend. I ran my two hardest runs of the year in a single weekend, buffeted by too much booze and too little sleep. This is not how you perform optimally, obviously. But life is about more than “optimal performance.” What is performance, after all? Carrie Battan, in an anecdote from a New Yorker article about Dave Chapelle describes my mind set:
When Chappelle received the Mark Twain Prize for American Humor last year, Aziz Ansari told a story at the ceremony, which was later aired on Netflix, about Chappelle’s urging him to eat some magic mushrooms after a show. Chappelle argued that, in twenty years, tripping on psychedelics would make for a far better story than “You got some sleep.” “I said, ‘Dave, you’ve got a point. Let’s eat those mushrooms,’ ” Ansari told the audience.Carrie Battan, in the New Yorker
Of course, sleep is crucial. And I am currently trying to recover my sleep after about 6 months of terrible night-after-night sleep.
But I’m not going to let bad sleep derail me from living as I want to live with my mind and heart attuned to the purpose of life: family and friends, joyous dinners, love and learning.
Living in this way, to me, is optimal.