“N of 1” – living the self experimenting lifestyle

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Crazy stuff is happening in big research laboratories across the world.  On the flip side there’s also smaller labs popping up, typically consisting of a smartphone, a laptop, lots of paper and a single participant (who also happens to be the researcher). I’m not one to subscribe to trends and fads much (every trendy hipster says that) but there is one movement I am really enjoying being a part of and watching take off: it’s called Quantitative Self or N-of-one lifestyle.  It revolves around self-experimentation to reach optimal results for the individual. This lifestyle produces empowered individuals with a deep intimate understanding of themselves.  It’s taking pride in being a little self-centered and that’s absolutely wonderful.

The big idea behind this movement is listening to your body to find out what works for it as opposed to relying on bigger researchers to tell you to do something.  For instance: want to know if going to sleep within 2 hours of your last alcoholic beverage affects your sleep? Design a way to test that! Go without drinking for a week and record your sleep quality, then drink until bed time for a week and again record the results.  The results may be obvious on this example but the point still remains: this is a powerful tool.
Many will ask “why do these self-experiments? You can use google to conjure up any set of facts based on reliable studies and work from there.” Let’s begin this discussion with how self-experimentation may relate to conventional scientific studies.  Conventional studies usually involve a lot of participants, in fact the more participants the more reliable the results tend to be. These studies are the basis of good information available to the general public and we should all utilize the information they provide. Personally I will read through studies trying to absorb their results into my mental library of knowledge but I never take any studies to be absolute; I do this because no matter how well the study was done I was not a member of the study and do not know how I would react/be affected.
Consider this instance: Creatine Monohydrate is a well researched supplement and most studies agree that users will see an increase in strength. Based on this I took my 5-10g of Creatine daily for a few years before I decided to take a small break from it.  During that break my lifts went up across the board and I did not fatigue as easily, after the break everything went back to normal.  Despite being extremely well researched Creatine does not work as intended for me, this does not mean I tell everyone “Creatine’s a big fat phony” it just means I don’t take it anymore.*

Overall relating this to health and fitness is simple, I isolate one variable in my training or nutrition and note any changes from the norm.  Here are some results I’ve gathered so far:
– I sleep best taking zinc and magnesium 30 minutes prior to sleeping

– 9 hours sleep daily is optimal

– My legs hypertrophy significantly when I run after squats and only fatigue faster if I do the opposite

– Creatine monohydrate has not had a significant effect on my absolute strength*

– My optimal range for daily fat intake is 75-85g.

– I perform much better on a high protein, high carb diet

Sure some of those things sound like I could have deduced them from scientific studies or even just ripped them from some other website… and to be honest much of my knowledge came from those sources, however I still tested the results myself. I experimented with each of these things and now I know, with more certainty, how each applies to me.  If I would not have done these experiments I might still be consuming 5-10g of Creatine everyday with little to no positive effects.

One community I have seen adopt this sort of self-experimentation lifestyle is the “If It Fits Your Macros” (IIFYM) community.  Many of these individuals regularly post about how they are calculating their macronutrient levels and what TDEE calculators seem to be the most reliable for them. It’s quite amazing to see how many of these people are living the scientific lifestyle without fully being aware of it.

There’s much more to the Quantitative self lifestyle than manipulations in nutrition and training while noting the results. It’s all about optimizing your life experience and finding the best fit for you in all facets you care to experiment with.  These days there’s no reason to not live this sort of life with devices like smartphones, fitbits, and (for some of the more hardcore) glucometers, regular blood testing through companies like wellnessFX. This is a movement wherein people are rediscovering that science is not just a collection of facts and theories, science is a methodology for a better life.

*like any good scientist I will be repeating this experiment soon to either support my current theory or shed light on another unseen factor.