Looking for an Edge: The Life of a Biohacker

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Eric Matzner does all kinds of things to try and upgrade his body and mind. (Adam Grossberg/KQED)

In Silicon Valley there's a growing community of biohackers -- people who are trying to "upgrade" their bodies and minds. We asked biohacker Eric Matzner if we could film what he does every morning to increase his productivity. Here's what he showed us.

Matzner is the founder of a company in San Francisco that sells nootropics -- supplements that are marketed as "productivity" or "smart" pills. You can read and listen to our two-part series on nootropics and Silicon Valley biohackers here.

While working on these stories, I talked with biohackers who are trying different ways to up their productivity. The conversations often started off with basic things that most people have probably addressed at some point in their lives -- like diet, exercise and sleep routines. But the list doesn't stop there. Here are 10 tactics I heard about from biohackers. Which ones would you be comfortable trying?

10 Things Biohackers Do in Search of Productivity


1. Hack Sleep: Biohackers talk a lot about how to sleep more efficiently and productively, often with the goal of getting by with sleeping less. Some use devices that gather data on your sleep. Others wear amber-tinted glasses before bed, which are supposed to help if you're staring at your computer screens late into the night.

2. Become "Ketogenic": This is the diet fad I heard about most often from biohackers. It's a low-carb, high-fat regimen that's supposed to make your body burn fat instead of sugar. Many biohackers boasted about having reached a total “ketosis," where their body is running on fat. This diet is actually not new. It was invented in the 1920s and has come into fashion several times since then.

3. Meditate With Apps: There are a number of smartphone apps that promise to reduce stress through short, guided meditations. I spoke with a number of biohackers who did quick meditations to calm down or focus. You can see how Matzner meditates in the video above.

4. Fast: The idea is that fasting periodically will increase your ability to focus. I met a group that fasted once a week for 24 or even 36 hours. Others fast for most of the day and eat their meals in the span of a few hours. It's thought that the hunger and lack of digestion make you mentally sharper and more aware.

5. Drink High-fat Coffee: Instead of mixing cream into their coffee, biohackers add things like butter, coconut oil, dark chocolate and collagen hydrosolate. The idea is that starting your day with the fat will make you more ketogenic. Some drink this in place of breakfast altogether, which many nutritionists have derided as a bad idea.

6. Take Nootropics and Other Supplements: The word "nootropic" is used to describe everything from caffeine and herbal supplements to chemicals concocted in a lab. The hope with nootropic blends is that they will make you sharper in the short run and have long-term brain benefits. The science on most of these substances is far from comprehensive or conclusive.

7. Use Prescription Drugs: Things like Adderall, Albuterol and Modafinil are popular in the biohacking world. Some doctors, like Vinh Ngo in San Francisco, will help patients get drugs that they want to use as a stimulant instead of for medical purposes. As someone who took Albuterol for asthma as a kid, I can attest that it does stimulate you. But I also know that my mother wouldn't let me take Albuterol whenever I wanted.

8. Drink Your Food: Companies like Soylent are making meals in a bottle, and the pitch is that you can save time by drinking instead of eating your food. The liquid-food approach to nourishment has become a bit of a trope to describe a productivity-obsessed atmosphere in Silicon Valley. Many biohackers I met had tried it. Some, at points, even relied solely on drinkable food for nourishment.

9. Microdose LSD: I did not meet anyone who had tried microdosing, but there's a whole subreddit where people discuss it. The thought is that small doses of LSD make you more creative and productive. How many people are actually doing this is hard to say. You can hear the hosts of Reply All who gave it a shot in this episode of their podcast.

10. Stimulate the Brain With Electricity: Transcranial Direct Current Stimulation, or tDCS, is the technical term. You basically hook electrodes up to your head and give your brain a little jolt. Now the voltage is super low, usually just a 9-volt battery. There are a bunch of companies that sell the devices direct to consumers. The idea is that it changes your brain state, and maybe makes you more creative or stimulated.

Dan Walsh, who works in marketing, sometimes uses tDCS, and he compared the buzz he got with eating a bar of dark chocolate.

“I approach it from a kind of kick in the pants kind of way,” Walsh says, “like I am really stuck on this creative problem and then zzzz, and let’s see what happens. Maybe it helps, maybe it doesn’t.”

But Walsh also mixes a bunch of biohacking techniques into his life. The following is Walsh's self-described productivity regimen.


Dan Walsh works in marketing and started taking some nootropics in the morning a few years ago.
Dan Walsh works in marketing and started taking some nootropics in the morning a few years ago. (Sam Harnett/KQED)
  • In the morning, he takes 500 mg Choline and 5 grams piracetam and 200 mg L-Theanine.
  • He also drinks high-fat coffee (16 ounces coffee, 2 tablespoons grass-fed butter, 1.25 ounces of 90 percent dark chocolate, 1 tablespoon coconut oil, and 12 grams collagen hydrolysate).
  • He takes 5 grams of creatine. If work has been really busy, he will start the day with 15 minutes of meditation to "get my head straight."
  • He has a no-prep lunch of raw almonds, cheese, olives, 1.25 oz dark chocolate and black tea.
  • For dinner he makes a large batch of meats and vegetables to last from Monday through Friday.
  • Before bed he takes a cold shower to help quickly fall asleep and sleep well.



  • Three times a week he runs 5 kilometers at 60 to 70 percent maximum heart rate.
  • One or two times per week he has a heavy weightlifting session followed by long meditations of one to two hours.
  • He typically augments his workout with 200 mg L-Theanine and 600 mg St. John's Wort, and sometimes uses HeartMath and/or the Binaural Beats app.