The Question That Changed This Pro Sport Doctor's Life
We’re lucky to work regularly with Dr. Ara Suppiah, personal physician to many of the world’s best professional golfers, an ER doctor who’s the Chief Wellness Officer of Florida Emergency Physicians, and an Assistant Professor of Medicine at the University of Central Florida Medical College.
We recently caught up with Dr. Ara and learned more about his background, how he found his true calling, and what health optimization advice he’d give to anyone (hint: it’s not to overexert yourself).
Here’s our conversation with Dr. Ara:
Joovv: You work with some of the biggest names in professional golf, like Phil Mickelson and Bubba Watson. How did you get started in the sports world?
Dr. Ara: I’ve loved playing sports since I was a little kid. Soccer, badminton, tennis, track...you name the sport, and I loved playing it. I always tended towards tennis, and was a competitive player in my youth in Malaysia. Sports competition and training was a huge part of my life. I had aspirations to be a pro tennis player when I grew up but my height got in the way! My mum and coach convinced me that I was too short to make a career in tennis.
However, as fate would have it, I was awarded a merit-based scholarship by the British government to study medicine in the U.K., so off I went to Liverpool University and became a physician in 1995.
I had trained as a surgeon, and then in the ER. Then one day whilst working in the ER, I encountered a junior tennis player who had sprained his ankle. And then he asked me a question that changed my career forever: “When can I compete again?”
Joovv: What happened next?!
Dr. Ara: It was a life changing moment. In that instant, I realised that despite all my training, I had no real idea of how to treat an athlete’s ankle sprain.This interaction disturbed me to a point that I decided to pivot my academic focus and study sports medicine (in my own time whilst training in Emergency Medicine), and also chose to study golf (my personal addiction).
Almost exactly 2 years later, I started working on the European PGA tour. I smile whenever I reflect on that moment. I immediately realised this was my perfect job as I get to live vicariously through my players! 20+ years later....and I still do!
Joovv: You’ve worked in pro sports for a long time. What’s a trend you’re seeing now in performance that anyone can adopt?
Dr. Ara: I’ve seen many fads over the years. The one trend I see now is the increased awareness, focus, and acceptance of recovery as a competitive edge. More pro athletes and teams now consider time in active, planned recovery as time “in training.” When an athlete (or anyone, really) takes the time to recover properly, they’re unstoppable.
Joovv: Tell us more about recovery.
Dr. Ara: Recovery is your edge. Most athletes are wired to train, to push through despite not feeling great. Very few people are wired to actively recover. It’s an afterthought. And yet, if you recover better than your competitors, you can train harder and compete for longer.
It’s what will separate you from the competition, and bring you from average to the best. When your training is matched with rejuvenating recovery, you build resilience. Resilience is the hallmark of any great athlete.
That's my goal with my players. And anyone that I work with for their health goals.
Joovv: Is recovery your #1 piece of advice for athletes? What are your top three recommendations for athletic and overall health optimization?
Dr. Ara: First and foremost: sleep as much as you can. Never compromise sleep. Its free medicine and a huge edge when it comes to performing at a high level for a long time. Ask Usain Bolt and Roger Federer if you don't believe me! We need to make sleeping and napping a badge of honor!
Second: If you plan to train, plan to fuel and plan to recover. If you don’t plan to succeed, you are planning to fail. This is why I personally use Joovv, and why I use Joovv for my athletes, because it promotes recovery deep in your cells. Get your genes tested so you know exactly how to fuel (for example, a test can show you how well you handle sugar and fats). Learn and perform breathwork whilst in the sauna, in front of the Joovv, or in an ice bath.
Third: Know your vitamin D levels. If there is one blood test that you absolutely have to get done for overall health and performance (yes, I know there are a lot), it would be Vitamin D. It controls about 3,000 processes in the human body ranging from fat burning to immunity to sleep. You can't afford to be low! And genetic testing will tell how well you make vitamin D from your skin's exposure to UVB light. Some people just can't make enough of it through natural light exposure.
Joovv: Why do you recommend Joovv to your athletes?
Dr. Ara: Red and near infrared (NIR) light has been utilized for health for centuries. There are many well-documented benefits, but the two with some of the most robust amount of science are:
Light therapy’s positive effects on the mitochondria to produce more energy within the cell, which in turn powers the cells to perform its designated function, repair, and remove waste. The mitochondria are how we as humans survive, function, and thrive. When our cell function is optimized, so are our bodies and minds.
Natural light helps you sleep deeper and recover both physically and mentally. As you can imagine, that's something every pro athlete wants. When margins between success and failure are minuscule, every edge counts. I suggest my players use one of Joovv’s larger systems—like the Joovv Quad or Elite—every day for full body therapy in the morning and in the evening, for 10-15 minutes at a time. If they are carrying an injury that I have assessed and diagnosed, I sometimes add the Joovv Go NIR for “spot treatment” 3-4 times a day in combination with a variety of other modalities ranging from pharmaceuticals to acupuncture.
Joovv: You currently use the Joovv Quad. What types of results have you noticed since incorporating it into your daily routine?
Dr. Ara: I love my device. I use it every day, for 10 minutes in the morning and evening! I've noticed a huge improvement in my vitality, sleep, and an extra bonus....my sex organ works like a champion. That's a great side effect!
Joovv: What other health-related topics are you really curious about right now? What keeps you up at night?
Dr. Ara: I’m infinitely curious, but right now I am studying genetics and epigenetics and how to utilize AI and machine learning. These topics weren't mainstream when I was in medical school, but they are here to stay. There are so many claims on the genetic front and I'm trying to decipher how much of it is true.
Something that is always on my mind is childhood obesity. We are planning on occupying Mars, have self-driving cars, can print organs, and yet, we have an increasing childhood obesity epidemic worldwide. That isn't progress to me. Let's address this problem before going any further, because children are our future.
That's what I’m passionate about and that's the work I would like to be most remembered for. I’m always looking for that next question that will change the trajectory of my life’s work, like that junior athlete so many years ago.
Follow Dr. Ara on his Instagram & Twitter @draraoncall, and his website www.draraoncall.com.