Welcome to the human breaking point.
2,149 elite athletes have assembled in Bigfork, Montana to press the boundaries of their physical and mental endurance in the Montana Spartan Beast & Sprint; over 13 miles of tortuous obstacles, mud pits, and a range of other hellish ordeals trying to overtake the willpower of its competitors. A familiar face to Spartan Race enthusiasts emerged with the victory. His name is Ben Greenfield, and if you’re unfamiliar, it isn’t just his repeated successes in Spartan Race series that makes him notable, but rather how he is doing it, and how his approach portends a generational shift in maximizing athletic and mental potential.
Ben Greenfield is an athlete that doesn’t need a brilliant science mind training him because he is that mind. With a Master’s degree in Exercise Science & Biomechanics, his celebrity is also growing as a result of authorship in the new school of wellness optimization. This is consistent with the general vibe of Spartan Race celebrities. The organization’s CEO, Joe De Sena, is a best-selling wellness author and former Wall Street exec turned Ironman triathlete. Generally speaking, Spartan Race personnel trend toward broad life successes and Ben is in the wheelhouse of this theme of brains-meets-brawn, like a walking lab experiment for the human potential for which he is both scientist and subject.
...with one notable exception. He is steadfast in only using approaches which complement, rather than override, the intended design of human physiology.
Maximizing mental and physical capacities has a very ugly past in sports, and more generally, a very ugly present in our culture. It is more than jaded fans watching nearly an entire generation of baseball sluggers exposed as cheaters, or the disappointing fraudulence of an American cycling hero. The tragedy extends to the health of the participants, addressing one variable problem- the need for more strength, or the need for more speed- with solutions that treat all other aspects of bodily health as a casualty in the war for athletic dominance. This crude approach for short-term gains at the expense of long-term health is mirrored in our most pressing societal problems. The United States makes up just 5% of the world’s population, yet consumes 75% of the world’s prescription drugs, with a staggering 15 million Americans abusing these prescriptions for recreational or otherwise non-medical reasons. Widespread opioid addiction has become the cascading result of our simplistic pain management “solutions”. Over 13% of Americans now take antidepressants with concerning potential links to psychotic behavior, and Modafinil is becoming a recreational productivity booster with disregard to the stated side-effects.
This type of reckless ignorance in addressing complex systems of the body is what invigorated Greenfield’s passion for optimizing performance with a healthier and more sophisticated understanding of human physiology.
Call it “biohacking” if it involves the healthy upgrading of the body. Call it “neurohacking” if it involves the healthy upgrading of the mind. Both are invaluable in maintaining Ben’s status as a perennial Spartan Race frontrunner. Trending aspects of physical optimization, such as ketosis and quantified-self devices have been tweaked and perfected by Ben’s approaches, then applied not only to his own athletic endeavors, but also by his growing online audience. With millions of views on his Youtube channel and an increasingly popular podcast, Ben has become a true rarity; an athlete at the top of his game, that doubles as the intellectual educator of his domain. If you ask Ben, it may be his neurohacks, rather than his biohacks, that provide his most esoteric advantage. Some 40 years into the popularization of gym memberships, protein shakes, and the like, competitors with challenging athletic or career goals are just now beginning to value the performance of their minds as being inexorably linked to the performance of their bodies. And a great place to start one’s understanding of cutting edge brain optimization, is the word “nootropics”.
Nootropics are substances and ingredients which can expand capacities of the mind such as focus, willpower, emotional resilience, and even fundamental capacities of intelligence like pattern recognition and creativity. Some are common vitamins you may know, some are rare plant extracts you likely do not. Needless to say, the capacities they are used to improve form the foundation of every finish line push in a Spartan Race, not to mention anyone trying to push out of bed for a morning gym session, or power through a late afternoon work deadline. Ben is particularly interested in nootropics which achieve this by working with, rather than overriding, the intended function of the brain’s neurochemical pathways. Simply put, nootropics, unlike reductive science approaches of the past, are designed to increase the net capacity of the brain’s information processing, rather than improving one aspect at the expense of a litany of side effects. Nootropics aren’t new per se, but quite new is their easy and effective use. That is because there is no single ingredient that magically creates a genius mind such as in the movie Limitless. In actuality, the complexity of various mental functions require what’s known as a nootropic “stack”- that is to say, a supplement containing a comprehensive list of ingredients in precise dosage relation to each other- which each serve different functions for improved mental and emotional capacity. Some improve focus, some enhance emotional resilience, some improve the bioavailability of other ingredients, etc.
In particular, Ben works with Neurohacker Collective, a San Diego area startup specializing in products that designed to empower and broaden human consciousness. Their flagship nootropic stack Qualia is Ben’s staple supplement for mental nourishment which is a woefully overlooked category paralleling physical fitness. Achievements at the outer edges of athletics, career goals, or the arts are a dance between the body and the brain informing its movements, decisions, and emotions. Qualia is one of the first products that has prepackaged all the various ingredients needed for comprehensive mental optimization into a single nootropic supplement, and they are currently inviting the public to own a stake in their mission of addressing brain health with products that demand overall health improvement as a prerequisite for being greenlit.
Ben believes as alcohol begat coffee, coffee is about to beget nootropic stacks en masse, supplanting the abusive use of prescriptions neither designed, nor good for, daily supplemental use. Rising from the shadow of CTE concerns in the NFL and other impact sports, research is ramping up to see the utility these new nootropic stacks could play in the future repertoire of sports medicine and wellness.
As Ben’s career moves forward, his larger mission appears headed for clear victory regardless of the outcome of any individual race. He is helming Millennial athletes to exit sports healthier than they entered them. In a country overrun with prescription drug abuse, he is illuminating emerging fields that can optimize mental and emotional capacities minus the cascading destruction from opioid addiction and antidepressant misuse. The path to clearheaded, scientifically sound optimization in competitive arenas has been as circuitous and challenging as Spartan races themselves. Ben Greenfield has emerged as a champion within the ranks of his sport, but it is the approaches he is a champion of, that may prove to be his greatest cultural legacy.
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