Dr. Brandon Marcello is in the business of making superhumans.

For nearly 20 years, he's worked to enhance the performance of Olympic and collegiate athletes, and now Marcello is studying the future of soldier training for the U.S. Department of Defense. Marcello recently shared what he's learned from nearly two decades of research into the superhuman at the High Performance Living Symposium hosted by Equinox Fitness in New York City.

While Marcello emphasizes five crucial components of a holistic approach to peak performance, he says it all means nothing without enough sleep. And according to him, sleep deprivation has been proven to cause poor nutritional habits. "All of this is nothing without the foundations of sleep and nutrition," he says.

But when that alarm goes off and it's time to start your day, here are the five areas that require attention to help you perform your best.

1. Eat for 100 trillion.

This refers to all the bacteria that live in our digestive systems. Dr. David Perlmutter of the American College of Nutrition and the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine, who also spoke at the Equinox event, encourages people to be conscious of their eating habits. The same way a pregnant woman is told she's eating for two, you're eating for the 100 trillion bacteria in your gut.

This might not be pleasant to think about, but Marcello says the makeup of your gut can influence your blood pressure and stress levels, regulating how excited or calm you are in a given situation. It also influences how you metabolize food--that's why some people seem to eat whatever they want and not gain weight.

The best ways to regulate the microbes in your digestive system? Limit the use of antibiotics--unless medically called for--and eat fermented foods like yogurt and kimchi, says book author and food authority Michael Pollan.

2. Schedule walking meetings.

You've heard it before: Sitting is the new smoking. Marcello says he can't stress enough that sitting for three hours can change your blood makeup for the worse. "Movement stimulates cognitive abilities," he says. "That's why we need more treadmills in the office. Take those walking meetings."

3. Take control by taking a breath.

"Mindfulness" has begun to feel like a buzzword when it comes to mental health. Marcello says simply breathing deeply, and thinking about your breath, is mindfulness. Breathing, he adds, is the link that helps us switch between a fight-or-flight mindset--that is, our involuntary nervous system and a conscious, controlled approach to coping. Remembering to take a mindful breath can help you make the crucial shift from reactive to proactive.

4. Don't be a human cashew.

A default posture for a lot of people, according to Marcello, is to slump forward from a tensed lower back and pelvis, creating the shape of a cashew from hips to shoulders. That means all the bones, organs, and muscles in between are out of alignment or under pressure in unnatural ways. This causes digestive and nervous system issues, neck and sternum pain, and even jaw and tooth issues. If you're experiencing any of these, it could be a result of bad posture.

5. Change your lights. Get a plant.

Marcello says when he works with athletes to design a lifestyle for enhanced performance, he takes a look at all the environments in which they spend time--even their bedroom. He recommends replacing all fluorescent lights, because they strain our eyes and brains. And he always urges clients to get a plant--specifically a snakeplant, or mother-in-law's tongue--because it emits oxygen at night to enhance breathing while you sleep.

Published on: Nov 22, 2016