Tim Ferriss soared in popularity thanks to his ‘4-hour’ self-help philosophy on productivity, health and lifestyle optimization. This philosophy spawned several best-selling books such as the 4-Hour Work Week, the 4-Hour Chef, the 4-Hour Body and Tools of Titans. The last two books best represent his views on health, nutrition and supplements.
A graduate of Princeton University, Tim founded a supplement company in 2001 that he sold 10 years later to a UK-based private equity firm.
His podcast, The Tim Ferriss Show, that first aired in April 2014 still runs to date. It focuses on deconstructing the ingredients and habits that power world-class performers. The show was the first interview/business podcast to clock 100 million downloads and is currently just shy of a billion downloads. He has been an advisor and angel investor to numerous startups including Uber.
Tim’s passion for self-improvement and health is in part due to his experience of a childhood plagued by poor health. In his books, podcasts and interviews, he has over the years dropped hints on the supplements he takes, the reasons he does so and, sometimes, the supplement brands he recommends. We take a look at these mentions across different supplement categories.
Magnesium is one of the more abundant minerals in the body. It naturally occurs in many foods such as:
Magnesium is a cofactor in hundreds of biochemical reactions including protein synthesis, muscle function, energy production, bone development, nerve health, DNA/RNA synthesis, heart rhythm, blood sugar regulation and blood pressure control.
For its overall health benefits, Tim states in Tools of Titans that he does 400-500 mg of magnesium per day. This is just about within the recommended daily intake of 310-420 mg. There is no indication of what brand Tim uses.
Athletic Greens Ultimate Daily powder is a supplement that contains more than 70 mineral, vitamin and whole food ingredients - everything from spirulina and wheatgrass, to thiamine and folate.
Its expansive list of ingredients is why it’s considered a general purpose health supplement that’s designed to boost health and nutrition. That said, Athletic Greens Ultimate Daily’s key strengths are around digestion, immunity, recovery and blood sugar.
Tim says he takes one scoop of Athletic Greens Ultimate Daily per day to boost his overall nutrition and health. This is consistent with the product maker’s instructions on safe use.
You can buy Athletic Greens from their official website here.
Vitamin D (or calciferol) is the vitamin associated with exposure to the sun’s ultraviolet rays. Direct sunlight on the skin stimulates its production. You can however get small amounts of it through meals as well such as fatty fish, fish liver oil, beef liver, egg yolk, cheese and fortified foods (e.g. cereals, margarine, milk, soy).
Vitamin D plays a central or supporting role in numerous processes including strengthening bones, improving immunity, reducing inflammation, blood sugar regulation and mitigating cancer risk. A lot of the body’s organs have vitamin D receptors, suggesting vitamin D may play an even greater role than current science has established.
Vitamin D occurs in multiple forms. The two most important ones for humans are vitamin D2 (ergocalciferol) and vitamin D3 (cholecalciferol). Vitamin D2 is also referred to as pre-vitamin D and is produced by plants and fungi. Vitamin D3 is found in animal foods. Most vitamin D supplements contain vitamin D3 since it is more readily absorbed by the body.
In Tools of Titans, Tim mentions taking 5,000 IU (125 mcg) of vitamin D every day to strengthen immune function and overall health. This is way more than the 10 mcg recommended intake and 25% higher than the 100 mcg upper limit of intake. Still, experts state toxicity is unlikely at daily intakes under 250 mcg.
Krill oil is a health supplement made from krill, a small crustacean that is a major part of whale, penguin and other sea animals’ diet. Just like fish oil, its nutritional value is primarily derived from its nature as a source of the omega-3 fatty acids docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) and eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA). We’ll cover the health benefits of omega-3 in the next section.
Tim writes in Tools of Titans that he does 2-3 g of Viva Naturals Krill Oil every day for its positive role in brain and heart health. Experts recommend taking 250 mg of EPA/DHA for optimal health benefits.
Omega-3 is classified as an essential polyunsaturated fatty acid because the body needs it but cannot produce it. You have to get it from food, and where need be, supplements. There are three main types of omega-3:
It has however been proven effective in fighting or containing inflammation, diabetes, cancer and autoimmune disease. Tim takes 2,000 to 3,000 mg of omega-3 for brain and heart health according to Tools of Titans. The EFSA recommends a daily intake of 250 mg of EPA/DHA omega-3 fatty acids while experts in the US suggest a 1,100 to 1,600 mg range for ALA.
Joint and Gut Health
Bone broth is made by boiling the bones of animals. It can not only provide a nutritious soup but is also a key component of gravies, sauces and soups. Bone broth can be made from the bones of nearly any animal that is eaten for food - beef, pork, lamb, veal, turkey, chicken or even fish. Connective tissue such as ligaments, tendons, hooves, feet, beaks, fins and gizzards could also be used to make bone broth.
Research shows bone broth has multiple health benefits thanks to its rich nutritional content that includes multiple minerals and vitamins. For example, studies indicate gelatin (a key product of bone broth) may protect the gut’s mucosal lining. Gelatin also contains amino acids such as glycine and proline that support joint health. Bone broth may be effective in fighting inflammation, enhancing cognitive function and improving sleep.
Glutamine is an amino acid with multiple important roles. It’s found in many everyday foods such as eggs, milk, beef, corn and white rice. Virtually all foods that contain protein will have some glutamine. The average person’s diet is estimated to provide 3-6 g of glutamine per day.
The body does produce its own supply. In fact, glutamine is the most abundant free amino acid in body fluids including the blood. As an amino acid, glutamine is a building block for protein. It is considered conditionally essential since the body is unable to produce it in sufficient quantities during stressful events such as sepsis, trauma and strenuous exercise.
Glutamine is known to protect the gastrointestinal mucosal barrier and improve post-exercise recovery. Tim states in Tools of Titans that he takes 5-10 g of Optimal Nutrition Glutamine Powder for gut health and recovery. Experts do not recommend an ideal dosage or upper limit for glutamine. Studies have used doses as high as 45 g per day with no adverse effect reported.
Creatine is a compound that naturally occurs mainly in the body’s muscle tissue. It is popular in bodybuilding and athletic circles thanks to its reputation for enhancing muscle growth, strength and energy production.
The body produces its own creatine in the kidneys and liver from the amino acids arginine and glycine. However, this is not in sufficient amounts so you have to get it from the foods you eat such as red meat and seafood. The science mostly backs up creatine’s profile as a muscle building and performance boosting aid.
For muscle building and athletic performance, Tim writes in Tools of Titans that he takes 5g of creatine per day. This is well within the 3-5 g recommended daily dosage. Research indicates that as much as 30 g of creatine per day was not associated with significant side effects in healthy persons.
Branched-chain amino acids (BCAAs) is an umbrella term for the three essential amino acids:
Branched-chain is in reference to their chemical structure. The body metabolizes BCAAs to generate energy for muscles. Subsequently, BCAAs are found in greatest quantity in muscle tissue. You can get BCAAs from protein-rich meals such as beef, fish, chicken, eggs and milk.
BCAA supplements are popular among bodybuilders. That’s primarily because of its research-backed health benefits such as increasing protein synthesis, enhancing muscle growth, preventing muscle degradation and promoting energy metabolism.
As stated in Tools of Titans, 5-10 g 2-3 times each day is the amount of BCAAs that Tim takes for muscle preservation especially when he is fasting. This is well below the estimated daily requirement as outlined by experts. It makes sense because the average person will obtain a large amount of BCAAs through their everyday meals.
Tim does not endorse any specific BCAA brand.
Derived from the amino acids methionine and lysine, L-carnitine is a compound present in numerous meals but mostly animal-derived foods such as beef, lamb, poultry, fish and milk. The body also synthesizes it in the kidneys, liver and brain.
L-carnitine is considered a conditionally essential nutrient since certain health conditions such as kidney illness and premature birth can curtail the body’s ability to produce it in adequate amounts.
In Tools of Titans, Tim says he takes 2-3 g of L-carnitine per day for its role in improving fat burning and brain function. The body needs about 15 mg of l-carnitine per day from food intake and its own synthesis. A typical non-vegan/vegetarian person’s diet in the US provides between 24 to 145 mg daily.
That said, research shows one can take up to 4.5 g of L-carnitine per day with no effect.
Life Extension and Antioxidant
Spirulina is a supplement made from and named after a type of blue-green algae. Consumption goes as far back as the Aztecs. Used as a health supplement since the 1970s, global interest was reignited in more recent years following NASA’s proposal that it could be grown in space as part of astronauts’ food. Considered by some a superfood, spirulina is claimed to have numerous health benefits. Among the most notable is its role as an antioxidant that inhibits inflammation.
Tim mentions in Tools of Titans that he does 500-1,000 mg of Nutrex Hawaii’s Pure Hawaiian Spirulina every day for its antioxidant power as well as its positive impact on overall nutrition. There is currently no recommended dosage for spirulina. As a food, that could perhaps be explained by the fact the body has a means of safely excreting the excess quantity.
Nicotinamide riboside (also niagen) is an alternate form of niacin (vitamin B3). As with other forms of vitamin B3, it is converted into nicotinamide adenine dinucleotide (NAD+). NAD+ is fuel for many processes such as the repair of damaged DNA and fortification of cell immunity. Low levels of NAD+ are linked to aging as well as chronic diseases like cardiovascular illness, diabetes and Alzheimer’s.
In Tools of Titans, Tim discloses he takes 250 mg of Tru Niagen’s nicotinamide riboside supplement each day for its anti-aging benefits. This does seem to fall within safe bands - studies have found taking as much as 2,000 mg of nicotinamide riboside daily had no adverse effect.
California poppy extract
California poppy is a herbal flowering plant native to North America. Its extract has been used as traditional medicine and is today available as a supplement in tablet, capsule, beverage or liquid form. California poppy extract’s health benefits are attributed to the multiple alkaloids it contains. These alkaloids have been shown to improve sleep, ease anxiety and alleviate pain. They are thought to do so by stimulating GABA neurotransmitter receptors.
Tim writes in The 4-Hour Body that he takes a few drops of California poppy extract just before bed to increase his REM sleep. As he does not specify the brand he uses, it’s unclear what amount of dry extract the drops contain. The standard supplement dose in capsule or tablet form is 80 mg per day.
Huperzine A is a compound derived from the Huperzia serrata (Chinese club moss) or Huperzia selago (fir club moss) plants. Its medicinal properties were first formally identified in the 1980s. Huperzine A has been shown to improve cognitive wellness.
It is regularly used in the treatment of Alzheimer’s, dementia, schizophrenia, depression and other mental health conditions. Huperzia A is also applied to the management of sleep disorders. Its health benefits are thought to be the result of its ability to increase levels of acetylcholine, a learning neurotransmitter central to nervous system function and memory.
In a blog post, Tim mentions that doing 200 mcg of huperzine A everyday before bed improves his memory and REM sleep. This is consistent with clinical trials on huperzine A which mostly use doses of 200-500 mcg per day.
Melatonin is a hormone produced by the brain as a response to darkness. It is central to maintaining your circadian rhythm and inducing sleep. Melatonin is the primary reason blue light is considered detrimental to healthy sleep - blue light inhibits melatonin production.
For most people, the body produces the amount of melatonin it needs. However, individuals grappling with insomnia or that want to sleep almost as soon as they enter bed may have to take a synthetic melatonin supplement.
Writing in The 4-Hour Body, Tim says he takes 1.5-3 mg of timed release melatonin to help him fall asleep faster. This is in line with the recommended dose of 1-6 mg per day.
Not many people can boast the depth of influence Tim Ferriss has built in the health and lifestyle. So supplements that he singles out for their benefit certainly deserve attention. He does not shy away from endorsing specific supplement brands when he believes they offer a more compelling product than their peers. These supplements are not a magic bullet for healthy living but given the degree of scientific studies that back up Tim’s claims, they are worth taking a closer look at.
• Daily Supplements
2. Athletic Greens
- Purpose: Digestion, immunity, recovery and blood sugar
- Dosage: One scoop per day
- Get it on Amazon here.
3. Vitamin D
- Purpose: Bone health, inflammation reduction
- Dosage: 5,000 IU per day
- Get it on iHerb here and Amazon here.
4. Krill Oil
- Purpose: Brain and heart health
- Dosage: 2-3 g per day
- Recommended Brand: Viva Naturals Krill Oil (Get it on Amazon here or iHerb here)
- Purpose: Cognitive and cardiovascular benefits
- Dosage: 2,000 to 3,000 mg per day
- Get it on Amazon here and iHerb here .
• Joint and Gut Health
1. Bone Broth
- Purpose: Support joint health, enhancing cognitive function and improving sleep
- Dosage: 1-2 cups per day
- Recommended Brand: Kettle and Fire Bone Broth (Get it here on Amazon here or iHerb here)
- Purpose: Gut health and recovery
- Dosage: 5-10 g per day
- Recommended Brand: Optimal Nutrition Glutamine Powder (Get it on iHerb here and Amazon here)
• Athletic Performance
- Purpose: Muscle building and athletic performance
- Dosage: 5 g per day
- Get it on Amazon here or iHerb here.
- Purpose: Muscle growth, protein synthesis and promoting energy metabolism
- Dosage: 5-10 g 2-3 times each day
- Get it on iHerb here and Amazon here.
• Life Extension and Antioxidant
- Purpose: Antioxidant
- Dosage: 500-1,000 mg per day
- Recommended Brand: Nutrex Hawaii’s Pure Hawaiian Spirulina (Get it on Amazon here or iHerb here.)
2. Nicotinamide Riboside
- Purpose: Anti-aging benefits
- Dosage: Not specified
- Recommended Brand: Tru Niagen (Get it on Amazon here or iHerb here)
• Sleep Optimization
1. California poppy extract
- Purpose: Improve sleep, ease anxiety and alleviate pain
- Dosage: 80 mg per day
- Get it on iHerb here and Amazon here.
2. Huperzine A
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