Professor Andy Galpin is a tenured full Professor at California State University, Fullerton. He is the Co-Director of the Center for Sport Performance and Founder/Director of the Biochemistry and Molecular Exercise Physiology Laboratory. He is a Human Performance scientist with a PhD in Human Bioenergetics and over 100 peer-reviewed publications and presentations. Dr. Galpin has worked with elite athletes (including All-Star, All-Pro, MVP, Cy Young, Olympic Gold medalists, Major winners, World titlist/ contenders, etc.) across the UFC, MLB, NBA, PGA, NFL, Boxing, Olympics, and Military/Special Forces, and more. He is also a Co-founder of Absolute Rest, BioMolecular Athlete, and RAPID Health & Performance.
In this interview, I speak to Professor Andy Galpin, one of the world’s foremost experts on human health & performance. We discuss the key components of health & fitness for those in high performance careers.
Q: What are the most common myth you see in people approaching health transformation & improvement?
[Andy Galpin]: Responding briefly can be challenging, but I’ll do my best. Most of my career has been spent working with professional athletes. More recently, however, I’ve been focusing on our executive health program at Rapid Health and Performance. Our clients are typically high achievers, people with significant wealth or demanding schedules, so my insights often revolve around their experiences.
One common misconception I’ve observed is the belief that one’s physiology is unchangeable, that they’re “naturally a bad sleeper,” “unable to gain muscle,” and so forth. Most of the time, this isn’t the case. Physiology is, in fact, largely malleable. While genetics indeed play a role in our overall health and capabilities, the impact of lifestyle factors and habits often outweighs genetic predispositions, primarily because we have control over these factors while we can’t alter our genetics.
I can’t count the number of times people have come to our sleep company, Absolute Rest, with declarations like, “I’ve been a bad sleeper my whole life” or “I’ve tried everything,” only to discover that they are not inherently bad sleepers, but they simply haven’t yet pinpointed why their sleep is poor.
So whether you’re dealing with poor sleep, low energy, difficulties gaining strength, or any other persistent health issue, remember that with the right approach, it’s likely that you can find a solution. It’s all about understanding and controlling what’s within your grasp.
Q: How does stress impact our body?
[Andy Galpin]: When we talk about stress, it’s common to perceive it negatively, but that’s not the full picture. One issue we often encounter is anthropomorphising physiology, biology, and chemistry. There are no “bad” chemicals, just chemicals. There are no “bad” things about the body, they simply happen. Stress, in particular, is crucial as it’s our primary mode of responding to the world. I’d even argue that our superior ability to adapt to stress is one of the unique strengths that set humans apart. Your body was built to handle stress, making it one of your most high-performing functions.
However, it’s not always productive to view stress as something that needs to be mitigated. Let’s take an example: if someone is experiencing high levels of stress, we usually think they need to be calmed down. And yes, often that’s true. But sometimes, it’s quite the opposite. Perhaps they’re feeling depressed, lethargic, and lacking energy. They don’t necessarily need more relaxation; they’re already over-relaxed. What they might need is stimulation, energy, a touch of anxiety even, to push them further up the emotional spectrum.
So, when addressing stress in high performers, it’s not always about advising them to take it easy or work less. Sometimes that’s impractical, or they’re simply not willing. Therefore, it’s crucial to offer better solutions. In some instances, they may not need less of something, but more. Consider someone with high anxiety levels – simply telling them to “chill out” probably won’t work. What they need is to find a way to burn off that energy. That’s a more effective solution. Telling high-energy individuals to simply dial it down isn’t practical or helpful.
Q: How do passive strategies make a difference to health & fitness outcomes?
[Andy Galpin]: …we generally categorise our approaches into passive and active strategies. Passive methods might involve supplementation or changing an aspect of your environment – such as the oxygen or CO2 concentration in your bedroom or altering the temperature. These one-time changes don’t require your ongoing, active involvement. They are particularly beneficial for individuals who are resistant to more involved strategies. They make a single adjustment and it continues to work for them, which is pretty remarkable.
On the other hand, active strategies demand more engagement and ongoing effort. These might involve deeper work, addressing psychological issues, or learning how to better control your body’s regulation systems. These aren’t innate skills but ones that need to be acquired and practiced regularly. This could be through breath work, exercise, or other involved practices.
Our goal is typically to identify what a person is enthusiastic about undertaking actively. Can we spark progress from that point? If someone is excited about breath work, sauna, or any other active method, we’ll start there. Even if it might not be the most effective approach in our view, it’s crucial not to dampen their motivation. Let’s capitalise on that energy and foster progress.
Then, for those who are less willing to engage in active strategies, we turn to passive methods. You could repeatedly advise them on the benefits of exercise, but if they’re not going to follow through, it’s better to move onto passive strategies where they can still achieve some victories.
Q: Is there a difference between health & fitness?
[Andy Galpin]: Asserting that one is healthy without being fit is a tough proposition. The hard truth is that a lack of fitness tends to correlate with subpar health, and this isn’t a bold claim on my part – it’s a conclusion that is well-supported by objective research. However, it’s crucial to clarify that fitness alone does not guarantee comprehensive health.
Our unique approach in our program is to take a holistic, 360-degree analysis of our participants’ well-being. We’re not exclusively concerned with their strength or their bloodwork. We scrutinise every aspect of their lifestyle and environment. This includes everything from their diet and water sources, to the kind of soap they use and the quality of air in their bedrooms.
Additionally, we’re interested in how these factors affect their emotional state, appearance, and performance. This detailed investigation extends to examining everything that the body excretes. We analyse stool, urine, saliva, blood, hair – all with the aim of gaining a comprehensive understanding of an individual’s health.
And when I say we’re considering everything that enters or affects the body, it includes mental health aspects too. We evaluate the stressors in a person’s life and how they’re managing them. It’s essential to know if they’re feeling low on energy, upset, happy, or experiencing any other emotional states.
In scientific terms, we’re trying to measure what’s known as allostatic load, which considers the total stress or strain on the body from all sources. It’s a method of acknowledging that every factor counts and nothing is isolated.
Our ultimate goal is to use this comprehensive analysis to identify the most crucial health improvement strategies for each individual. In essence, we aim to convert complex data into simple, strategic solutions.
Q: Why is health and fitness not being included in business education?
[Andy Galpin]: Navigating this topic can quickly lead us down a rabbit hole. If we scrutinise it too much, it might even exacerbate the situation. Your point is that business programs aren’t teaching people about health. Well, let’s consider medical programs. In the US, medical students receive a mere 30 to 60 minutes of nutrition education throughout their entire medical education. So, before worrying about business experts not teaching health and fitness, we should consider that even medical professionals are falling short in this area.
There are legitimate reasons for this, however. We could argue that these subjects should be left to the respective professionals. For instance, you wouldn’t want me teaching my exercise science students about finances. It’s probably not the best idea. So, entrusting these areas to those who specialise in them seems sensible.
Certainly, maintaining good health is crucial for longevity in running a company, so I understand your perspective. But it really boils down to the age-old adage that the three most important things in life are health, wealth, and relationships. Neglect health and relationships, and even a wealth of resources becomes problematic.
So, my advice would be to remember this: even if you were to focus solely on wealth in a given program, it’s crucial to manage your relationships and health. Without taking care of these aspects, true wealth remains elusive.
Q: What are your views on wearables and consumer health-tech?
[Andy Galpin]: Tools like fitness trackers can be quite valuable for basic calibration and awareness. Often, individuals think they’re active, but when they use a fitness tracker, they realize their activity levels fall short. Many people don’t have an accurate perception of their activity levels, so such tools can enhance self-awareness. They’re also great for accountability, especially if you know someone else will be monitoring your progress.
Now, there are indeed a lot of positives to this. As we progress, I’m convinced that emerging technologies will play an increasingly significant role in enhancing our health and fitness. While the current fitness trackers are quite basic, future technologies promise to be much more impactful.
The challenges arise when we consider health monitoring techniques like blood tests. Most people avoid these because they’ve previously had experiences where the results didn’t lead to any significant changes. They get their bloodwork done, the doctor points out a few issues and suggests general advice like eating better and exercising more, but there’s no concrete action plan. The problem here is twofold. Firstly, we lack comprehensive knowledge about what “healthy” blood should look like, so advice tends to be vague and unhelpful. Secondly, people don’t know what to look for in their results.
This is precisely why our programs have garnered so much interest. For a long time, we’ve been using detailed bloodwork to optimize performance in athletes. Our software, Vitality Blueprint, allows for comprehensive analysis, providing customised supplementation plans, exercise programs, and micronutrient-based nutrition plans, all automated and focused on health optimisation rather than medical diagnosis.
Even if you can’t use our software, it’s essential to get regular bloodwork done. Even if nothing changes immediately, having a record of your health over time is crucial. For instance, if you suffer a head injury and suspect it’s affected your testosterone levels, a doctor won’t know if there’s been a change without previous records. Knowing what’s normal for you is the key to interpreting these results.
Looking towards the future, we’re seeing the emergence of digital health platforms that can provide highly personalised advice. With enough data, we can create a digital replica of your physiology and run countless simulations to determine the optimal training, sleep, or supplementation program for you. This technology is not too far off, and those who have the necessary data will reap the benefits. If there’s no data, we can’t create a meaningful digital replica of your health.
[Vikas: …digital twins sound like a game-changer!]
[Andy Galpin]: Absolutely. Numerous digital twin technologies are available for individual organs, like the heart, lungs, kidneys, and liver. Although no one has accomplished a comprehensive digital twin for the entire body yet, we are making progress. There are a few companies that have developed whole-body digital twins aimed at improving exercise performance. They might not be perfect, but they’re getting remarkably close. So, yes, these tools are indeed available and are making promising strides.
Q: How important are the basics?
[Andy Galpin]: While I don’t have a secret formula to share, there are some fundamentals we all need to heed. You need sun exposure, proper hydration, and a balanced, consistent diet. Physical movement is essential, as are purpose and social connection. These elements are probably what you’d find if you Googled the top 5 or 10 aspects of maintaining health. Yet, even with all the individual nuances I encounter working with numerous clients, I’d still underscore these points. It’s essential to stick to these basics.
Q: What’s the ROI on investing in your health performance?
[Andy Galpin]: Here’s a fascinating story you might appreciate. We have a client in our company, Absolute Rest, which offers the world’s most advanced sleep system. This client is a trader who decided to track his sleep quality against his trading performance. In just a few weeks, and retrospectively looking at his sleep data, he realised that his sleep quality was directly affecting his trades, resulting in gains or losses of millions of dollars.
Notably, it wasn’t about having horrific sleep but about slight variations in his sleep quality from night to night. He identified these fluctuations as costing him millions due to their impact on his decision-making skills and cognitive function. So, when he was informed of the price of our programme, he didn’t bat an eye. He had already seen how poor sleep had cost him millions of dollars.
From an MBA perspective, you can dedicate yourself to studying markets and honing your trading skills, but if you’re neglecting fundamental elements like sleep, you’re setting yourself up for potential losses right out of the gate. That’s a real-life story of how integrative health can directly impact professional performance.
Indeed, I can share another compelling example. One of our clients is a baseball pitcher, and we’ve discovered a strong correlation between his REM sleep and his command – his ability to control the ball’s movement. We can predict how successful he’ll be in controlling the ball the next day, based on his REM sleep quality. If we can predict it, it implies we can also influence it.
So, if we’re dealing with athletes whose peak performance is essential on specific days, say for the Super Bowl, you can bet we have some leverage there. We can effectively dial in on their physiology to achieve optimal performance. It’s not a cheap process, but it’s feasible and highly accurate.
From a financial standpoint, many clients who aren’t necessarily invested in exercise or health per se are still drawn to our programs. They’re not interested in the health aspects, but they’re keen on achieving a greater return on investment. To that end, we can absolutely help. We’ve seen returns in the hundreds of thousands of dollars, virtually overnight.