Meditation and Powerlifting

My Brilliant Friends,

I used to think meditation was for religious people, or Buddhist monks. I first tried it in high school though and noticed some very real benefits to sitting, breathing, and focused mind exercising.

More than just “clearing” the mind, it’s a practice of setting yourself back to zero. Equilibrium.

Meditation helps me to take root in myself and come from a place of solid foundation. I’m aware of myself, who I am, why I think and feel what I do in specific situations, and how I react to cues. Knowing this through quiet breathing and awareness of the things that live in my mind allows me to let it go and just be myself.

During my first powerlifting meet, breathing and awareness helped me to stay calm and focused. More than the amount of weight I was attempting, the newness of everything, the nervousness of being there for the first time, and being in front of the judges and spectators could have been an overwhelming wave of stimuli. I warmed up a bit and went to my car to turn on the emWave2, for some breathing, calming down, and focusing. This substantially leveled me out and positioned me to utilize all my skill and strength that I had built up during training. I successfully achieved my goals for squat and deadlift. Bench press wasn’t a great concern, but I did hit a PR as well.

EmWave Powerlifting Meditation

Some short and long term benefits of meditation that I experience:

  • Calms nerves
  • Self awareness. Seeing where thoughts come from, identifying fears.
  • Letting things go that are necessary baggage
  • Reduces effects of lack of sleep
  • Focus and concentration improve
  • Ability to be clear minded in the middle of stressful situations
  • increases oxygen to the brain and rest of body
  • Happiness
  • Pure joy and bursts of laughter, if you get deep enough long enough
  • Helps relationships, from increased self-understanding
  • Mind healing. You become aware of traumas, sources of stress, and become empowered to work through them.

For powerlifting, it’s invaluable. Anything that requires a high level of performance can benefit from focused breathing and mental equilibrium.

At the 2014 California State Championships in Irvine, I pulled my first “official” deadlift of 391 lb. Watch me take a deep breath in and out before grabbing the bar, in front of the judges and everyone.

I didn’t really know if that was gonna come across as weird, but I wanted to give it a try because it’s something I do at the gym before challenging sets. Most often, at the peak of our performance demands, the challenge isn’t in our musculoskeletal capabilities, but in our minds’ ability to allow that power to be released in full.

On my hardest training days, when I had trouble getting myself to put on my shoes and get out the door, it was a battle of my mind. I didn’t want to face the heavy weight on the bar, for fear of failing, fear of getting injured, fear of being weak. I dragged myself many times to the gym when I did not want to go. And when I got there, most of those days I performed better than ever once I tucked my head under the bar and lifted it off the rack. The key was to jump through the fear, grip the bar, and do what I knew I could do.

Tim Ferriss encouraged me through his book, The 4-Hour Workweek, to “feel the fear and do it anyways.” He challenges his readers to identify the worst case scenario, the thing we feel most afraid of, and when we do that, we realize it’s not so bad after all.

To do this, especially in the moments of paralyzation from our greatest fears, it helps to have trained yourself to go the route of courage. I’m more able to face challenges now if I am meditating regularly and identifying my weaknesses, my kryptonites, and simply knowing that they exist. I recognize my weaknesses in real time because I know them. I practice pausing before I react, focus on the problem at hand, and harness my resources and skills to effectively address the problem.

When the problem is a heavy weight in front of me, and fear of getting crushed by it, getting injured, or embarrassed, it’s in the mind that I first address all of this. I take a moment away from the bar, close my eyes, and take a deep breath or two or three. I concentrate on the breath going out, revel in my brain’s love of oxygen, and come back to my core self. I become me again, let go of the thoughts and nagging possibilities, and when I’m clear and strong, I open my eyes and step up to the bar.

Only then can I grip the bar, suck in air, and crush it.

To powerful living,

Steve

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Steve EmWave2 Meditation Powerlifting

Note: the links to the EmWave2, which is a heart-rate variability device used to aid in meditation, and the book The 4-Hour Workweek by Tim Ferriss, are affiliate links with Amazon.com. I get a percentage of their sale if you use the link to make a purchase. I only share things that have made a significant impact on my life in this blog. Hope you check them out and enjoy!

On Being Recovered

How do I know if I’m ready to train again? Recovery can be a difficult thing to measure. Rather than focus on the doing, I focus on the being. No matter how well I eat, how much sleep I get, and how hard my last training session was, I measure my recovery based on Symptoms. This is how I feel upon waking. After reading this you might think these are soft and subjective measures, and they totally are. But I trust these signs because my mind and body are connected, and I have noticed that I benefit most from training when I feel all these symptoms.

Symptoms of being recovered:

1. Waking up fresh in the morning. You open your eyes and feel

  • Calm.
  • Positive energy.
  • Positive excitement.

2. Heart Rate Variability is high with minimal effort.

  • During breathing awareness practice, or meditation, you are able to focus quickly.
  • If you have the EmWave or other HRV measuring tool: You are able to get to Green or high HRV relatively quickly and you are able to stay there relatively easily. Compare this to any other day’s mental performance.
  • You have high control of your mind, and your mind is quiet. You are excited and thinking of what you can do or accomplish as you wake up and get your day started.
  • You have easy control of your breath, and breathing feels good and your lungs feel strong. You can breathe deep, both in and out.

    Taking a quiet moment in my car to breathe and get my HRV higher before my powerlifting meet. This helped me to stay focused throughout that tense, crazy day and hit two PR's.
    Taking a quiet moment in my car to breathe and get my HRV higher before my powerlifting meet. This helped me to stay focused throughout that tense, crazy day and hit two PR’s.

3. Joints and muscles are happy

  • You have good control of your body and legs feel strong under you as you get up and take your first steps.
  • They are willing to do the work you want them to do.
  • Your body may still feel a little tight or crusty from previous training, but it is quite responsive and good to go.

That’s it.

If I wake up and feel these symptoms, I train.

Symptoms of not being recovered:

1. Waking up stale in the morning. You open your eyes and feel

  • Tender
  • Low Energy
  • Negative

2. Heart Rate Variability is low and takes a lot of effort to raise.

  • Or just never gets to a high state, if you are using a device to measure it.
  • You have trouble taking deep breaths in and out.
  • You cannot get negative, repeating thoughts and emotions out of your head – even when you sit down to meditate.
  • You cannot focus.

3. Joints and muscles are like cement that hasn’t dried.

  • They feel like yesterday’s joints.
  • Rather than sore, you feel achy.
  • They don’t want to work for you.

If I wake up and have these symptoms, I know I’m not recovered. I refrain from training, even if it’s been two days, even if it’s been two weeks. I don’t care, I know that no good will come of it.

If you’re not recovered, don’t worry. Just realize that you are in a state of getting stronger or more resilient, and you just need to take more time to get there. Don’t push it. Look into meditating or deep breathing upon waking, journaling, getting some sun, and eating well. Supplements help too. Above all else, sleep until you awake fresh and feeling the positive symptoms described above.

I don’t have much time now to lift, and have been taking up to two weeks off between training sessions. That’s why I make the most of each session. I don’t go unless I know I am ready to take on the cost of growth. Nutrition helps to maintain muscle mass and strength, and allows me to go on these long stretches and still come back to train at where I left off. With late nights at work and then early mornings the following days, I refrain from training even if I had the two or three hours free. There is a biological cost to training that we must pay in order to benefit. Training while not fully recovered is like taking out a loan while already deep in debt. You just end up deeper in biological debt.

Stay wealthy. Cook while the frying pan is hot, let your body and mind tell you when that is, and do everything you can to recover.

To powerful recovery,

Steve

Make Butter Coffee

My Brilliant Friends,

Have I told you about butter coffee? Creamy, smooth, and delicious, it gives me immense energy and focus. I first started having this concoction with breakfast, and found that it helped me in strength training. Eventually, I just had more butter with it and didn’t eat breakfast at all. I now go the entire day without any other meal, until dinner.

When I drink this concoction, I get mental clarity, sustained focus, and a predator state of mind and body that is unparalleled by energy from any other food. If I haven’t made it for you already, I’ll show you how so you can experience it for yourself.

At first, your body will need to learn to effectively absorb nutrition from fat. This takes several days to weeks for some people, especially if you are not in the habit of eating a lot of fat. Most self-described healthy eaters do not eat much fat. Keep your regular meals at first and just have this coffee with breakfast or an hour before training. You want to feel it out and do what works best for you.

Basic Butter Coffee Recipe

Ingredients

  • 30-35 grams of coffee beans for two cups of single source coffee
  • Two tablespoons grass fed butter
  • One teaspoon high quality MCT oil

Method

  1. Boil water (or start brewing if using the basic coffee machine)
  2. Throw the butter and MCT oil into a large blender
  3. Brew the coffee and add it to the blender
  4. Hold down the top of the blender lid with a dish towel and blend on high for 20 seconds

That’s it.

Of course to make it even better, here are things to consider:

Get The Best Ingredients

The quality of your ingredients lends to the flavor, level of energy, and creativity you will get from your cup.

Single Source Whole Bean Coffee

Single Source Coffee for Clarity

Single source coffee beans are grown, harvested, and processed on one estate or farm. All other beans, sometimes called blends, are mixtures of beans from two or more estates. Single source beans come without the added time of storage and transportation. Coffee is vulnerable to mycotoxins, which can cause headaches and jitters. Mycotoxins are inevitable, but through good practice and minimal exposure to the environment they can be suppressed. The less time from harvest to your cup the better. I didn’t know how much of a difference this would make until I gave single source coffee a try. I noticed significantly better results. Even when I was tired, I had calm mental clarity from it, not just a jittery buzz. No crash in energy, and no headache. Now I always look for coffee that lets me be even-keeled and fierce. There are two types I drink primarily, but you can find others if you look for them.

I found a great tasting single origin coffee in a local store. I really enjoyed the flavor of this light roast. It was from Alto Mayo Estate, a single coffee farm in a mountain region of Peru. The coffee smelled amazing, roasty and smooth. I had great results from this coffee every day, feeling clear minded, focused, and strong when I drank it. If you have a quality grocery store nearby, find a single source coffee with the roast intensity that you enjoy most.

The key to finding good coffee anywhere is to verify that it says “single origin”,”single source”, or”single estate”. I don’t pay attention to the phrases Fair Trade, Shade Grown, and Certified Organic. While they do hold social value, they also warrant a higher price tag. Whatever you choose to buy, drink it and test it yourself for absolutely positive symptoms. Do not assume it’s good based on the label or the price. The whole point is to find something that allows you to accomplish greatness.

With that being said, some blends may be okay if they are from the same roaster. If you know the beans are roasted at the same facility and are blended there, they may be as good as single source. But again, try the coffee and make sure it brings you mental clarity and sustained focus.

Grass Fed Butter: Nourish Your Soul, Body, and Mind

 Grass Fed Kerrygold Butter Cubes

Grass fed cow butter is the key to creating the smooth frothiness of your concoction. It’s important that the butter is from grass fed cows. Cows that are 100% or almost completely fed on grass are healthier and happier beasts. Butter from such beasts makes me a happier beast. The ultra nutritious elements like healthy saturated fat, CLA, omega-3 fat, butyric acid, vitamin K2, vitamin E, and beta carotene are elevated in cows that eat grass only. There are two types I tried, and both are excellent.

KerryGoldSilver
Get Kerrygold Unsalted Butter

The most reliable brand that I get from Trader Joe’s or Whole Foods is Kerrygold Unsalted Butter. It’s an awesome Irish butter that comes in one-cup bars. If you don’t have a store nearby, you can get in online. It’s a little more than the store price, but it is worth it if you can’t get it anywhere else. I get a box of 20 at a time and stock them in my freezer.

AnchorUnsalted
Get Anchor Unsalted Butter

My other go-to butter is harder to find on the west coast of the U.S., but it can be found in some other countries more easily. I love Anchor Unsalted Butter from New Zealand grass fed cows.

On a recent trip to Asia I was stoked to find Anchor butter from a Jakarta store. I had never used it before, but it was surprisingly good in my coffee. The subtle flavor and smooth texture pair well with the cacao and vanilla I use.

The Best Quality MCT Oil

 Brain Octane MCT Oil Spoon

MCT turns the light switch on in my head. Medium chain triglycerides (MCTs) are fatty acid chains of 8 and 10 carbons in length. C-8 and C-10 fats absorb through the gut into the bloodstream to the brain fast, where they can be utilized as energy in the form of ketones.

Ketones have been found in research to be more efficient brain fuel than glucose, and I feel the difference. When my brain has this fuel source, I have more clarity, better mental function, longer sustained focus, and no crash. It also brings my body into a fat-burning mode. This has been shown to help regulate body weight, and it’s certainly proven true for me. MCT oil is usually derived from coconut and palm kernel oil, and there can be a very slight coconut scent to it.

There are several different brands out there, and the quality of the MCT oil is determined by purification and processing. Purification affects the concentration of C-8 and C-10 versus other types of fat that are not MCT. Processing includes how the coconuts are stored and pressed, and where they are from.

My go-to bottle is BULLETPROOF® Upgraded Brain Octane Oil. It is the most concentrated version of MCT oil out there. It consists only of C-8 fatty acids.

Bulletproof Brain Octane Oil
BULLETPROOF® Brain Octane Oil

NOTE: This fuel is intense! I recommend using the regular MCT oil first. It will help to make a smoother transition to this different energy source.

Bulletproof XCT Oil I used to have this regularly in my coffee before I tried Brain Octane oil. It has both C-8 and C-10 fatty acids. This is a good starting point if you haven’t tried MCT oil. It isn’t as intense as Brain Octane, and I think it would be the best choice for learning the effects of MCT oil on yourself before venturing into the more intense version. Flavor is slightly more coconuty than the following Viva Labs oil that I also have used. This is a very clean product that I can rely on for top performance.

Coconut Oil

I have used high quality coconut oil before in my coffee, when I ran out of MCT oil. Coconut oil will add a lot of flavor, but in my opinion it’s overbearing. Also, it is not a sufficient substitute for MCT oil. There is only a very small percentage of C-8 and C-10 fats in coconut oil, contrary to common belief. The majority of advertised “MCT” oil here is C-12, which actually does not act like the shorter chains in energy utilization.

With that being said, if this is your only source of MCT, it will still provide you with some benefits of fat-based brain energy. And I’ve talked to some friends who really love it. Plus it’s delicious for cooking chicken curry dishes. Maybe I’ll post on that later. If you’re getting all of your MCT from coconut oil, use four tbsp or more. As a flavor or C-12 supplement, use one or two tbsp.

Viva Labs Coconut Oil
Viva Labs Coconut Oil

Flavor and Creativity

These next few ingredients are what make my butter coffee taste so good, compared to ones you find here and there in shops and cafes. I add these elements every time I make my concoctions, and have had the most amazing conversations with friends, breakthroughs in strength training, and mental performance after having it.

Vanilla

Madagascar Vanilla Bean Powder

This is my favorite hack for butter coffee. Vanilla bean has amazing flavor and also has flavonoids that enhance creativity. I add this without fail to my coffee concoction every morning.

Check out the BULLETPROOF® Upgraded Vanilla I use, which is an heirloom Madagascar vanilla bean. It has an unforgettable cherry wood fragrance and takes my mornings to the next level. I use about 1/16 of a teaspoon. Keep it sealed in the freezer for maximum flavor retention.

Cacao Butter

Cacao Butter

Second only to vanilla bean, cacao butter is another flavor and nutrient must-have for me. It’s the pure fat of cacao beans and this is what they use to make white chocolate. Cacao butter gives a rich, gourmet scent and flavor to the coffee. It has the concentrated elements of chocolate that enhance your creativity and brain power.

The one I use every morning is BULLETPROOF® Upgraded Cacao Butter, hand harvested from a single source in South America.

Chocolate Powder

Chocolate Cocoa Powder

I add chocolate powder to my butter coffee to make it rich and dark. Good chocolate, like good coffee, has flavonoids and antioxidants that enhance brain and performance. Gauge the flavor, it can be rich and quite bitter. Start with about a teaspoon or less.

BULLETPROOF® Upgraded Chocolate Powder This one pictured above is from heirloom cacao beans.

Xylitol

Xyla North American Hardwood Birch Xylitol

My coffee has no sweetener, but my wife likes hers a bit sweet. This stuff of nature is the perfect solution if you want to be in ketosis yet want that rich sweetness in your coffee. This will not trigger your insulin response, unlike sugar. And it tastes naturally sweet, unlike stevia.

Xyla North American Hardwood Xylitol. The best type, pictured here, is made from North American birch trees. The cheaper brands are made from Chinese GMO corn. I recommend using one to two teaspoons per cup to start. It has about the same sweetness as regular cane sugar.

Building Blocks and Fuel

These ingredients can be added as needed for the different types of activities you do on any given day. Add these one at a time and observe whether you benefit from them.

Grass Fed Collagen

Grass Fed Hydrolyzed Collagen Protein Powder

Collagen is one of the building block of your tendons, skin, and hair. It is needed for repair of tissue after training, and makes your skin more vibrant when you provide yourself with enough. Unlike whey protein, which caused gas and bloating, collagen has been problem-free for my digestion. For these reasons it is great for strength training, tissue repair, and skin and hair boost.

BULLETPROOF® Upgraded Collagen Protein  Super fine-grade and from grass fed cows. It’s processed with enzymes rather than heat, which prevents damage of the proteins. I generally only add collagen on the day of, and up to three days after, a training session.

My wife, on the other hand, has it every morning in her butter coffee. She simply feels better and more energetic with some protein. Use at least one tablespoon.

Creatine

Creatine Monohydrate

I add a baseline dose of creatine every morning with my coffee. Without causing huge swelling of muscles, this simple nutrient has allowed me to maintain strength and muscle mass for longer periods of time between training sessions. It is one of the key supplements I use to increase longevity of strength. Creatine also boost brain function.

Now Foods creatine monohydrate  This brand has been my go to for years. No side effects, suggesting it is clean and pure. Use 1 teaspoon or 5 grams daily.

METHODS TO MAKE MAGIC

I’m laying this recipe out for first time dabblers in butter coffee. The way you make your coffee will affect how it feels, tastes, and energizes. Even for more veteran practitioners, small hacks can give you a better concoction. To have delicious butter coffee it must be three things: Hot, well-brewed, and well-blended. How you set up the ingredients and the order in which you prepare it can be the difference between a floating oil slick and a creamy concoction of joy.

Prepare Water First

Start a kettle on the stove before anything else, as you will need time to prepare the other ingredients and want the water hot when you’re ready to brew. If you’re using a normal coffee maker, get it all set up with beans and start brewing. Use spring or well water for the best flavor. Water has as much flavor and texture as any other ingredient that goes into coffee. Make your coffee with tap water and you’ll taste the tap.

For the Pour Over technique, prepare about a quarter cup more water than the amount of coffee you plan to make.

Prepare Blender

As the water heats, get all your ingredients into the blender. You will need one that holds at least four cups or one liter, because the liquid will expand like crazy when you blend it. I use the KitchenAid blender, which is not the highest-end thing out there, but works just fine for this purpose:

KitchenAid Blender Tangerine
My faithful blender

Note: The stronger the blender, the finer the foam. You can get an incredibly smooth concoction with the VitaMix Blender.

Brew the Coffee Into the Blender

You can brew your coffee however you choose. If all you have is the classic coffee maker, just use that for now. My all time favorite method of coffee brewing is the Pour Over technique. Coffee tastes the best when I make it this way, but a close second is the French press, and honestly after that it’s just the normal coffee maker. Hario Filter Cup Pour Over Brew Method

The Pour Over Technique

Hario v60 Dripper KettleHario Ceramic Filter Cup Paper FiltersHario Ceramic White Filter CupHario Hand Ceramic Coffee GrinderHamilton Beach Coffee Grinder

The pour over technique requires a kettle with a thin pouring spout, as well as a filter cup and filters. Here is how I brew pour over.

Gear:

 Method:

  1. Boil water in the dripper kettle and turn off heat.
  2. Grind coffee beans to slightly finer than medium granularity. Any finer and it will take forever to brew and you will get too much acid. This is how fine you want your grounds for pour over brewing:Single Source Ground Coffee Alto Mayo EstateYou can use an electric grinder like the one I have above or a hand grinder if you want to have more evenly ground beans. This takes a lot more time and effort though.
  3. Fold the crimped edge of a paper filter, open up the filter, and place into the ceramic cup.
  4. Wet the filter paper by pouring just enough hot water along the edges of the cup. This gets rid of the flavor of the paper.
  5. Dump the ground coffee into the filter paper.
  6. Starting from the center of the cup, slowly pour water in an outward spiral until you cover all the beans with water. The grounds will start to breathe and expand. Let the gas escape and as the grounds deflate, continue to pour in the same spiral manner until you have poured all the water. The pouring should take about 3-4 minutes total.

Brew directly into the blender to save time and keep your coffee hot. Here’s an honest picture of my set up, dirty dishes and all. I want to give you an idea of how you can brew directly into the blender. Note that with my blender in the dish rack, it allows me to brew at a more comfortable level than if the blender were up on the counter top:

CoffeeBrewingSetUp

Blend It

Once the coffee is brewed and in your blender with the other ingredients, place the lid on securely and cover the top with a dish towel. Hold down the towel over the lid tight while you blend it on the highest setting for 20 seconds.  Depending on the quality of your blender, the coffee may punish you if you don’t hold it down.

Blending Grass Fed Butter MCT Oil Coffee

Marvel at the creaminess.

Pouring Grass Fed Butter Coffee Into Mug

Store it

Keep the rest in a thermos and drink it through the morning.

Black Thermos Blue Zojirushi

These are my two favorite containers for coffee.

  • ThermosThe Thermos is larger and holds a full two cups of coffee, fairly hot through the day.
  • ZojirushiThe Zojirushi is smaller but keeps coffee radioactive hot the entire day.

Dosage

Up the dosage on the butter and MCT oil slightly after a week or two, if you can glean the benefits without having the runs. You can always lower amounts the next time if you don’t feel as good of an effect.

MCT

Don’t change the MCT dosage drastically. Try increasing by a teaspoon each week, making sure to observe the quality of focus. You don’t want to end up dizzy or give yourself digestive issues by taking too much in the beginning.

Butter

If you’re hungrier, add more butter. Try increments of one tablespoon. Use the minimum effective dose.

That is it. Try it in the morning, about an hour before a training session, or before any task that will take a lot of brain or body power. You’ll be restless the first few times if you don’t have a world or two to save.

I had butter coffee as fuel for a 370 lb. squat and 391 lb. deadlift at my first powerlifting meet, a 5k in under 23 minutes with no training, and the LA Downtown Ketchum Stair Climb, which was a stair climb to the top of a 76-story skyscraper, in 19 minutes. These are not Olympic numbers, but I did all this without needing tons of protein or carbs immediately before or after. I hope you find that reasonable amounts of healthy fat as a source of energy puts you on a different level from just pounding protein and carbs.

Let me know in the comments if you try this and how it goes for you! If I’ve made this concoction for you before, let others know how it tasted what it felt like to drink it. I think a lot of people are curious about what butter in coffee would be like, and they will be surprised by how good it can be if done right.

Live powerfully,

Steve

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Copyright © 2016 Steve Ko, All rights reserved. Photos and articles are created by me, unless otherwise stated and credited.