Today I’m stoked to introduce one of my favorite authors, bloggers, and personalities, the Grokman himself, Mark Sisson. We had a blast chatting last month in Austin, and I couldn’t wait to get him on the show…
Wait, You Don’t Know Who Mark Sisson is? Really?
For starters, he’s a 58-year-old with a 6-pack.
Okay, now I have your attention.
Mark Sisson is one of the veterans of the Paleo/Primal/Ancestral Health movement, and I very much doubt we’d be where we are today without his intelligence, dedication, and passion for helping others improve their lives.
He is a rebel who takes great satisfaction in beating the tar out of conventional wisdom (what exactly is fat free food, anyway?). He also loves bacon, dark chocolate, fine wine, and long walks (or short sprints) on the beach.
But more importantly, this man is changing the world. Although he already has literally tens of thousands of glowing testimonials to vouch for the efficacy of the primal/paleo lifestyle in fat loss, muscle gains, and improvement to biomarkers of health, he says he won’t stop until he affects 10 million lives. But, knowing Mark, even 10 million won’t be enough.
Mark is a former running and triathalon phenom, best-selling author of the Primal Blueprint (and others), founder of MarksDailyApple.com (one of the most popular health websites in the world), and a bone fide cool dude. We had a blast chatting last month at PaleoFX and I was totally psyched when he said he’d love to sit down with me and let me pick his brain.
But before we get to the show, I’m going to say (write) a few words…
As I mentioned in my last post, the Fat-Burning Man Show is currently the #2 Health Podcast in the United States (right behind Jillian Michaels) and top 4 in 3 countries!!! I launched the podcast only a month ago, and it already has tens of thousands of loyal listeners and I simply cannot believe how much positive feedback you guys have sent me.
I want to offer my sincerest thanks to everyone who has helped get the Fat-Burning Man to where it is today. You, my readers, listeners, and watchers, have played an enormous role: sharing articles and podcast episodes with friends, encouraging family members to check it out, and regularly visiting yourself. So thank you! None of this could have been accomplished without you. I’m humbled and I truly appreciate your support.
America is in the midst of a health and obesity epidemic and it’s getting worse. The collective health of this country is falling off a cliff. Average Joes, grandmas, children – no one is being spared. I am extremely passionate about reversing this trend and helping as many people I can. We’re all in this together, and while we may not be 100% correct about everything, I believe with iron-clad conviction that we have an answer that has the potential of improving the lives of millions of people.
Though his blog, best-selling books, and various other endeavors, Mark has stoked the fire. The movement is accelerating; I can’t think of a better time to interview a seasoned veteran who has been living an evolutionarily-informed life for decades.
In our interview, Mark and I cover the following:
- Why you shouldn’t run a marathon just to prove to your ex-girlfriend that you’re worthy
- How to build lean muscle as a string-bean ectomorph
- The story behind Mark’s Daily Apple
- Why you should consider using probiotics to improve gut flora instead of eating dirt
- Mark’s day-to-day intermittent fasting (a.k.a, a compressed eating window)
- The balance between play, risky sports, and avoiding stupid mistakes
- Why you shouldn’t throw yams at someone who wants to train while keto-adapted
- Why you shouldn’t put on a squirrel suit and jump out of a plane when you’re drunk and stoned
- Why bickering on discussion boards about whether or not eating a bean will kill you won’t change the world
- Mark accidentally spills the beans about safe starches (sorry, Mark)
- And, of course, how we’re going to beat out Jillian Michaels and take over the world
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Want more from Mark? I don’t blame you.
- Visit Mark’s blog and PrimalBlueprint.com
- Grab The Primal Blueprint
- Check out his popular vitamins, the Damage Control Master Formula
- Protein more your style? Check out the Primal Fuel Shake
Transcript of Interview with Mark Sisson
Hey, Mark, thanks so much for joining us!
Mark: Hey, Abel, it’s great to be here! Thanks for having me.
Abel: Awesome. I wanted to share with you Mark, on my Facebook fan page a guy named Bill Brennan said “I grew up in a small college town where Mark Sisson was in college writing phenom.
I was in high school and definitely remember his budding fame at the time. He, like yourself and others in the Paleo/Primal movement, have such interesting stories about how you got involved.” So, Mark, your fame, even from your college days, precedes you! But for others out there who don’t know it, how did you get into all of this Primal/Paleo madness?
Mark: “Well, like anything, I think it, for me, was an evolution—a microevolution. I was a runner in college, a distance athlete, and trying to increase my performance, improve my performance in any way that was legally possible, which included extra miles, running as many miles as I could, trying to manipulate my diet to get the most, extract the most number of miles out of—miles “per gallon” or per calorie; trying to improve my recovery time. So I’ve always been interested in that aspect of human performance at the elite level. But, as so often happens to people of my generation, we did too much. We did too much, too soon. We didn’t know how bad—how devastating—running might be for the average person. And I was pretty much an average person. I don’t have a lot of genetic legacy in terms of being an elite athlete. I was, you know, sort of middle-of-the-road, maybe toward the elite end but certainly not in the elite category if you look at my raw numbers, my DO2 max, for instance.
Mark: I just worked really, really hard. Ultimately, I think I worked too hard, and the wheels fell off, and went in my mid-20’s, and I started to—as I was running faster and faster and gaining notoriety and starting to win some races and qualify for the US Olympic trials, the more fit (in a strict time sense) I became, the sicker I became. And I started to get upper-respiratory tract infections, I started to get injured. So my career ended very early because of all of these mis-steps. And I wound up taking a real hard look at where I was in my life and having come into this initially with the idea that I wanted to be healthy and fit and all the things that people want. I sort of lost sight of that in the pursuit of performance. So I kind of back-tracked and said, “Okay, what is it going to take to be lean, fit, strong, happy, healthy—all the things I want—without having to sacrifice so much, without having to tear my body apart and miss out on all the good times that people my age tend to experience.
Mark: I mean, when I was an endurance athlete, I don’t think I stayed up past 11 more than a couple of times a year because I was just so fried from the training. So all these things conspired to make me re-examine where I was, and the first thing that I realized is that I did not have to train so hard to maintain a decent body composition. The next thing that I realized was that I’d been sacrificing my health in terms of how little fat I was consuming. And when I started eating more and more fat in my diet, it not only did not negatively impact me, it positively impacted me.
Abel: Funny how that works!
Mark: So increasing the fat in my diet…all through this time I was already into evolution and had been interested in it in college. In my first book that I wrote in ’82 (came out in ’83), The World Track and Training Book. So that’s been out almost 30 years. I really call upon evolution as a sort of guiding force in terms of extracting performance as an athlete training. You have to look to evolution. So all of these things combined. Over the years I wound up pulling together my ideas on training, my ideas on diet, including increasing the amount of fat. And the last piece to fall in place was getting rid of grains. I really held on to my right to eat grains, dammit!
Abel: When did that change?
Mark: About 11 years ago now. And that was just me finally taking a stance, saying, “Look, I’ve done all this research that shows that grains are pretty bad for you. Maybe I’ll do my own 30-day experiment.” And I did. And it was transformative. All the things that we talk about today—the arthritis in my fingers—that I thought was just going to be with me for the rest of my life—disappeared in those 30 days. The irritable bowel syndrome I had my whole life: that disappeared. Some lingering sinus stuff I used to get at the end of hay fever season: that disappeared. It was so crystal-clear to me that grains were at the root of a lot of things that I had assumed were just natural effects of me getting older. You gotta dig that I was already 47, 48 years old when I finally adopted this final aspect of the primal/paleo way.
Abel: Yeah! And you were kind of a lone wolf at the time, right? Just experimenting on yourself for the most part?
Mark: Certainly! I mean, I was doing research for the last 20 years. Most of what I’d done over the course of a day was to read books, read studies and to figure out, “Where do I fit on this spectrum of people who are seeing in research or discovering through their own methods?” And I kinda had to carve out a path that worked for me. But there’s nothing new that I’ve put together—I’m the first one to admit.
Mark: I mean, all the stuff that I talk about, people have talked about before I started talking about it. That’s for sure. I just sort of borrowed bits and pieces from people like [Loren] Cordain and Jack [Kruse] and Melvin Konner and Boyd Eaton and [Nell] Stephenson and going way back. And my mission was always to put this in a story that the average person could understand and go, “Wow! Now I get how my body works.”
So my mission has always been to educate people—and do so in a way that makes use of the science for sure—but also tries to describe it in ways that are understandable and easy to get and, at times, humorous I think.
Abel: Yeah! Definitely. And I think you’ve done all that exceptionally well. You know, the average person certainly isn’t going to be slogging through medical journals and that sort of thing. And they shouldn’t have to, ya know? Like, living this sort of thing, this sort of lifestyle doesn’t necessitate that. So I think one of the things I love about your blog is that it is very readable and entertaining as well.
Mark: Well thank you! And you know, we make a big effort to continually put new spins on the kinds of things that we’ve been talking about. Because, you know, this blog has been in existence almost six years now. And when I started it, I said, “Well, I’ll writes something every day for a year, and then I’ll run out of things to write, and that’ll be the end of that.” Well, all it did was open up tremendous new tangents and possibilities of things to discuss. This is sort of what’s led to my new book, which is coming out in a few months, “The Primal Connection,” which takes the whole Primal Blueprint concepts of the expectations of our hunter-gatherer genes, and goes far beyond diet and exercise and looks at social structure, work situations, family situations and tries to paint a picture that draws on anthropology and evolutionary biology and science, but then provide practical insights into how to get the most out of one’s life.
Abel: Yeah, I’m really excited about that, and hopefully we can talk a little more about that later. But getting back to what you said about your genetics and body composition: so now obviously you’re jacked if anyone’s seen your pictures or met you in person, but I would imagine when you were running a hundred miles per week or doing triathlons, you couldn’t really support that muscle mass.
Mark: It’s funny, because people in the old days would say that I was pretty muscular for a runner.
Mark: So when I was a marathoner and I weighed between 142 and 145, everyone else around me weight 125 to 135, and I’m 5’10”. You know, I weigh 20 lbs more than that today, and I have the same body fat. So I really chewed up all my lean tissue, especially my upper body tissue, despite the fact that I lifted weights a lot. I was really into lifting to the extent that it was possible at the end of a 20-mile run some days. But I was very aware that lifting weights was going to be somehow beneficial even to an endurance athlete’s overall career and criteria. But, yeah, with the diet and the chronic cardio that I was doing, it was almost impossible to keep any lean muscle on besides what I required in my legs and, you know, lower body to propel myself.
Abel: Right. Yeah, I remember when I was running marathons, I was 147, 148. And now I’m well above 160, and I have a lower body fat at this point. And it just looks and feels incredibly different. And it’s just mostly the way that it feels. It just feels so much more balanced this way. But I was wondering, Mark, what’s your natural body type? You know, all other things equal…
Mark: Nah, I’m a skinny guy. I’m an ectomorph type. You know, my dad was 5’ 11”, 145 lbs for most of his life. He’s still alive, he’s gained a little bit of weight. But well into his 50’s he was under 150 lbs. I have two brothers who are about my height, and one of them probably weighs about 135 to 145. So I come from lean stock, as they say. You know, just skinny, to the extent that you say, “What was the selection process to become a runner?” Well, it’s because I couldn’t do anything else! You know, I wasn’t big enough to play football and survive that. Maine was a big hockey state and I just got beat up enough as a 10-year-old and 11-year-old playing hockey that I realized I didn’t want to do that. So I kind of naturally gravitated towards running, since I lived two miles from school and I used to run to and from school just as a means of transportation.
Abel: Interesting. So being a hard gainer, what does your weight routine look like?
Mark: Well now It’s kinda funny. I do as little as possible to maintain. Because I’m gonna be 59 in July, and you realize, at some point, you recognize that, despite the fact that I have access to all the top information and the best diet, there is a decline in performance as you age, and I did hit my peak at 35, and now I’m just trying to just preserve and maintain. The main focus in my training is to not get injured because I like to play. So I like to spend a lot of time playing Frisbee or hiking or paddling or snowboarding. And I like to do those without injury. So most of my training is contemplated to support the sorts of movement that would be required in these other pursuits that I just described. So I only lift twice a week. I lift pretty much full bodyweight stuff. Sometimes weighted with a weight vest, but typically its pull-ups, pushups, dips, squats, lunges, pull-downs; you know, just upright rows, maybe. I do some ballistics stuff, box jumps, stadium stairs, sprints and things like that.
Abel: Cool! Shifting gears a little bit, right now actually I’m writing a short book on fasting with one of my researchers, and we spoke a little bit about this before and I know you just wrote a bunch of posts about it, so I wanted to make sure we covered it, but others would be interested to hear: how do you do intermittent fasting? How is it incorporated into your life? I know that, philosophically, it’s not really a strict schedule, from what we talked about before.
Mark: Yeah, it’s not a strict schedule. On the other hand, I do, many days, have a compressed eating window. I will eat at 7 o’clock at night and then I won’t eat again until 1:30 or 2 o’clock the next day. So I’ve got maybe a 6-hour window from 1 to 7 that I’ll maybe eat two meals, and then I won’t eat again. But I almost don’t even call that intermittent fasting. And I don’t know why, I mean, it fits that category. I just started to kind of look at that a while ago and, well, I tend to tell people that I only intermittently fast when I travel, when I know I’m gonna be on a plane that will have crappy food at best or won’t be serving any food. I’ll be rushing through airports and things like that. Then it’s easy to just say “okay, I’m trained for this, I know how to burn fat.” Yeah, I use this opportunity to not eat and stay focused. Listen, when you and I were hanging out in Austin, at Paleo FX. There was an example of where I went from 7 o’clock one night to 9 o’clock the next night because of travel.
Abel: Oh, wow!
Mark: So when we went to that barbecue place for dinner that night, that was a ways after I had previously eaten. But that was fine. I’m trained to do that. I just don’t…because I like to eat, I don’t force myself to fast on a schedule. But between the compressed eating window and the occasional travel—you know I just got back from Africa—
Abel: Yeah, that sounds awesome! How was that, by the way?
Mark: Oh, it was fantastic, yeah. But it there was a 34-hour door-to-door travel coming back. And it’s a good example of choosing to intermittently fast when it’s forced upon you just the way it was when our ancestors were forced to fast. They would never choose to fast, but when it was forced upon them, they did very well.
Abel: Shifting gears a little bit again, I want to talk about your site a bit. I know personally you have a lot of strong opinions. But you’re pretty diplomatic on Mark’s Daily Apple and in your books. And that’s one of the things I really like about it [the site]. But as I mentioned in one of my last blog posts, you’re one of the only blogs I comment on, despite the fact that I read most of the other ones because I think you foster a really positive community and environment. Are there any points when you feel like there isn’t a good compromise? What’s the good and the bad of walking the middle road there?
Mark: Well, that’s a good point. Because it’s come up recently that, at some point, as these fringe pursuits begin to emerge, some of which run counter to what I’ve espoused over the years, I may have to take a stance on it. A good example that’s been talked about quite a bit in the popular Paleo press for the past few months is ‘safe starches.’ You know, I’m pretty clear that while there are some safe starches, it’s not a route that I would recommend going. It’s not one I would want to choose to do. My take on glucose in general is that the less glucose you can consume in a lifetime, the better off you are.
Mark: And that doesn’t mean that you can’t have a baked potato or a sweet potato every once in a while, or have a day of 350 grams of carbs if that’s what you want to do—these are all just choices. But my choice is to reduce the amount of glucose I take in in the form of exogenous carbohydrate. And as such, I’m not a big fan of the concept of ‘safe starches.’ I get all the carbs I need from the vegetables and some fruit that I consume, and I consume, and I consume a good amount of vegetables, so it’s not like I’m in a deprivated state.
Mark: So I really don’t see a need to supplement my glucose production or my carbohydrate intake with safe starches. That’s just one example of an area where I felt, well, and see! Now I’ve done it! You’ve made me do it, Abel!
Abel: [laughs] Sorry, Mark!
Mark: You’ve made me come out and take a position where I would normally be this diplomatic guy standing in a line. But at some point—and we’ve had this discussion over the years with my staff—which is the forum. We had a Mark’s Daily Apple forum and it got way out of hand. It got very contentious early on, and I shut it down for two years.
Abel: Oh, did you really?
Mark: Yeah. And at some point, it seemed like a good idea to bring it back and to do a bit more in terms of moderation. So I brought the forum back, and now it’s probably the most popular forum in the Paleosphere on the Internet. And I stay out of it. And I do so on purpose so I allow people to kind of air their stuff. And it’s still moderated, I have staff—worker bees—who will moderate because there’s a crapload of spam that filters in there and we have to kind of toe the line at some point. But I also allow more people to voice contentious opinions than other forums might. But that was the compromise that I made to open the forum back up rather than have all that stuff happening on the comments section of the main Mark’s Daily Apple site.
Abel: Right, right—and that makes sense.
Mark: And the other thing is that, you know, some of these guys have their blogs and they’re answering every comment and, you know, if I answered every comment, I wouldn’t be able to write the content that I write. I don’t have the time or the energy to answer every comment. I appreciate the comments. Believe me, I read them all, I check them all out. But it’s very rare that I’ll even answer or respond to a comment, particularly to old post. Sometimes comments come in from a post I wrote a year or two ago, and you know, that boat has already sailed.
Abel: Yeah, and I remember you talking about that when we were in Austin, about how a lot of your traffic does come to those posts you wrote two and a half years ago, so if someone is commenting on that, it would be tough to kind of piece-meal respond to those comments in perpetuity.
Mark: Yeah! Well what that does, and that’s exactly right, because half of my new traffic comes from organic Google searches and they might happen across a post I wrote literally three years ago and that’s their first experience with Mark’s Daily Apple. So then they read it, they like it and they start to catch up and usually don’t comment. Then, two weeks later with a big, “Whew! I just spent the last two weeks catching up on everything you’ve ever written on this site, Mark, and now I wanna comment.”
Mark: And I do appreciate the comments. But one of the things that’s happened is we also have a lot of regular commenters. You’re one of them. Some of them kind of answer those questions for me. They’re knowledgeable enough about what’s going on or they have enough insight that any of the questions that might be directed at me can be answered by other commenters.
Abel: The veteran grokkers!
Mark: Yeah, we’re gonna have to give ‘em a badge or something.
Abel: Yeah, totally! Talking about the future of Paleo, I wish we had talked about this a little bit more on our panel, but I whole-heartedly believe that in order to affect as many people as possible , the discussion should really be focused on “What is optimal for the health of modern humans?” as opposed to getting too caught up in what some imaginary cave-person may or may not have consumed eons ago. And so, a lot of people are kind of bickering, as you said, on discussion boards about whether or not eating a bean will kill you. And doing that won’t really change the world. And I know we talked about this earlier; it seems like you’re a lot more interested in moving forward rather than kind of dwelling in the rabbit holes.
Mark: Well, yeah! First of all, my dream for the primal blueprint was to involve (I use to “invite”) as many people as possible. And in order to do that you have to make the concept palatable. And so it’s not exclusionary, it’s inclusionary. I try to open enough pathways and doors for people to go “Oh, I could do that! I think this 80/20 rule sounds good, I think I can live with something like that. I don’t have to give up red wine. I don’t have to shut down everything I’m doing to count my calories and weigh things out.”
Abel: Thank God.
Mark: “And, I don’t have to give up dairy, I can have some cheese. The system says that I can have a little bit of cheese.” So I try to be as inclusionary and invite as many people to play along with us as possible. And the effect of that has been phenomenal. Because that’s what’s brought a lot of people and, I think, given a lot of people the kind of almost immediate results that they were seeking. And that’s borne out by the tens of thousands of testimonials that we have now.
Abel: Yeah, that’s amazing.
Mark: And from there, using the evolutionary template and the sort of proof in modern genetic science, we can look at ways that we can incorporate 21st century technology into all of this. So it doesn’t have to be recreating history. And, you know, with what you said, with the fact that our ancestors didn’t eat this means I can’t eat this. I look at it more in terms of, “Tell me what I CAN eat, not what I can’t eat.
Mark: And if there’s a supplement that might fit into what we’re doing here, that might make my life easier, it’s probably better off taking that than forgoing it entirely or turn into a fast food joint and just say “Well, I can’t make it until the next meal, I’m going to sacrifice the rest of the day by chowing down on a burger and some fries. So we try to incorporate as many ways of making this a doable thing and a lifestyle and a sustainable one for as many people as possible. In the 21-Day Total Body Transformation I start to talk about the spectrums of food and the fact that there are no right or wrong answers here.
Abel: Yeah, I like that.
Mark: And as long as you know the ramifications of your choice, then you’re fine. And when we talk about grain, we can talk about how, on the on end, wheat is pretty nasty for most people. So if you choose to eat wheat, at least know what you’re getting into. On the other end of that grains spectrum, you’ve got white rice, which is what Paul Jaminet calls a ‘safe starch’. And, you know, I don’t pick the rice off my sushi. I order sushi every once in a while, you know, I’m not a Paleo Nazi or a Primal Nazi. I mean, I have a bite of bread every once in a while.
Abel: [gasps in surprise, laughs]
Mark: But I know what my limits are. And one bite, dipped in some virgin olive oil gives me the taste sensation I was looking for. Now it’s time to move on. It’s really when you start to chow down on a whole bowls of cereal or a whole loaf of bread or French toast every day—that’s when you get into real problems.
Abel: Yeah, and you’ll feel that, too.
Mark: Yeah. So if people say, “Well, wait a minute, what about legumes? Because half the world lives on legumes.” I’ll say, “Well, I could tell you why I don’t eat them. But if you want to eat them in moderation, it’s definitely not gonna kill ya! And if it’s something that makes you happy in the short term, then go for it.”
Abel: And as far as the movement goes, Paleo is still in the fringe, it’s still gaining steam. What are your predictions on where the movement’s going? It’s already subsumed a lot of other mini-movements. But do you think it’ll ever be mainstream? Like, what if we become the conventional wisdom?
Mark: Yeah, well, watch out! You know, I’m just a cynic at heart…
Abel: Oh no!
Mark: …and I don’t see the masses embracing this lifestyle concept. And the reason is, people like their Cinnabons too much. They like their Coca-Cola. They like their Haagen Dazs, their McDonald’s burgers. And the marketing forces are still too strong to keep that machine going. So I think Primal and Paleo become this grassroots movement. And there’s no doubt it’s growing, it’s grown almost exponentially in the last few years. And it grows by people like you and me talking to a small group of people or a neighbor who’s lost 50 lbs going up to another neighbor, and theat neighbor goes, “Wow! What did you do?” And they start to think about it and…
Abel: They start eating better!
Mark: Exactly! One-to-one, one-on-one, real-life testimonial-type experiences. And that’s where it gathers momentum; that’s where it fosters loyalty. The single greatest testimonial I ever get is, “Yeah, it’s great that I lost 75 lbs, but I know I can live this way for the rest of my life, and that’s what’s really empowering.”
Abel: Yeah. Absolutely. Alright, so, Mark, I told my readers and listeners that you’d be coming on and asked if they had any questions for you, and so I’m going to read a few of them for you, and if you could oblige, I know they’d really appreciate it.
Abel: Cool. And so, the first one is from Matt, and he says, “Can you ask Mark how to find a balance between his rules of play vs. avoid trauma/stupid mistakes? My play is pretty aggressive: rock climbing, downhill mountain biking, etc. And often I find that my enjoyment is limited by how comfortable I am with pushing the envelope. How can I determine if my fears are standing in my way and keeping me from the enjoyment of the progression or natural way of avoiding trauma and keeping me safe?
Mark: Well, that’s a pretty heady question. And that’s a very complex one because it has to weigh a number of different factors. The first thing I always ask someone who’s engaged in any kind of quasi-risky behavior is why are you doing this? What is your motivation? I’m not going to judge it, but I’m going to ask you to justify it for yourself. This is typically the question I ask people who say they want to run a marathon. Because I’ll say, “Why do you wanna do that?” And if it’s just a lifetime achievement, that’s great, but if it’s to prove to their ex-girlfriend that they’re worthy, it’s probably not legitimate enough of a reason to undertake what’s clearly going to be a compromise on your health in pursuit of a goal that may have some substantive personal satisfaction. For sure—it did for me. Rock climbing, downhill skiing, hang-gliding, base-jumping, I know a lot of people who do these things. These are always calculated risks. So when you get to Primal Blueprint Rule #9 – Avoid Stupid Mistakes, you just really have to start thinking before you act. This guy I know, Jeb Corliss, he’s the wingsuit man. I don’t know if you know who he is, but he’s the guy that jumps out of…
Mark: And he’s got the wings, too, yeah! He’s crazy. And he says, before every jump, what he says is, “I expect to die.”
Mark: And then he does whatever he can to not make that happen.
Mark: But, I mean, that’s some pretty heavy stuff.
Abel: It is!
Mark: And that’s a warrior attitude, by the way. If you look at the warrior mentality, it’s going into every fight expecting to die, but being prepared to do everything possible not to.
Well, if you start to apply that to extreme sports, to risky sports, you have to weigh ‘do you have a family that’s going to be affected by your risky behavior?’ If it’s just the adrenaline that you like, are there ways that you can mitigate the possibilities of severe trauma? There’s a kid who’s setting records all over the world for free-climbing without a rope.
Abel: I saw that, yeah!
Mark: And it’s a 3,000-foot climb. That’s a thing where ‘one false move, and your life is over.’ That’s pretty much on the edge. And, again, I’m not going to judge the choices. If that’s what thrills you, if that’s what gets you up outta bed every morning, then you’ve got some pretty cool stuff going on, if that’s what your life is about and your pursuit and you’re passionate about it. I mean, a lot of people aren’t passionate about anything.
Abel: Well, that’s true.
Mark: And I feel pretty badly for them. You know, they lead very safe lives, but they’re not passionate about anything. So, the long-winded answer, I don’t know that I have an answer. At some point, you sit down and you weigh out the pros and cons, and you make sure that every time you engage in risky behavior that you are not, you know, drunk and stones. So you can make the kind of decisions you need to make on the fly. And then extract the most out of life.
Abel: That makes me think—just going along with that—for some people who have never really done this before: a lot of people have never incorporated sprinting into their workout routine. A lot of the chronic cardio crowd. So I get this question a lot, “What do you tell people who are just getting started with that sort of exercise?”
Mark: Go into it easy. This is…you’ve got a long life ahead of you and you’ve got a lot of potential progress as long as you don’t get injured. Do DON’T get injured. When you start sprinting, if you’re actually starting running, you might even start with a couple of sessions of just jumping rope to get some spring action in your Achilles and your plantar fascia. If it’s running we’re talking about, after a couple of series of that you might wanna just do two sprints at 60%, the first day just to kinda feel the legs out, see what happens. You don’t wanna go out there and be a high school hero at the age of 35.
Abel: Yeah, disaster.
Mark: You know, when the last time you ever laced up the spikes was at the senior track meet. And now it’s years later, and you remember what it feels like to go fast, but your body can’t do it. So with these sprints, you do have to start to take them easy and methodically. But, as long as you do that, progress happens fairly linearly. And within a very short period of time, you’ll be at a point where you’re exerting maximum output for anywhere from 10 to 40 seconds anywhere from 5 to 8 times. Then you’re done, and you don’t have to do it again for another week. It’s a very effective exercise. And for people who want to get to the next level in terms of body composition, it’s absolutely essential to incorporate sprinting as a part of that.
Abel: Yeah, I did a video about this when I was transitioning away from doing marathons and running for long periods of time at the same pace started just working sprints into those runs—it was incredible how quickly my body changed in a very positive way. And I felt a lot better, too. And it’s just like, all the muscles that were gone and all that fat that was there totally shifted away.
Mark: No, it’s almost a universal thing. And it doesn’t have to be running. It can be…you can do it on a stationary bike. If you have bad knees or if you’re a person who is older or more overweight than you’d like to be, outside your body composition, then cycling is the way to do it, or the elliptical machine. Some people even do it in the pool.
Abel: Yeah, the pool would be an interesting one.
Mark: Yeah. And I’m talking about running in the pool or swimming in the pool.
Abel: Yeah, in Austin in the summer that can definitely be an appealing way to do that, tell you what! Alright, here’s another question from a guy named Mike. He says, “Lately, everyone (including myself) is having a bit of a recurring romance with ketosis. I’m currently 6 feet tall at a semi-chubby 205. Right now I’m training for a Spartan Beast in Vermont. I clearly need to shed some extra baggage. So how would someone in my position train for an endurance-based event while being keto-adapted?—noting that many in the Paleo community would just toss yams at the question.
Mark: It’s entirely possible to be a keto-adapted endurance athlete. I touched upon this briefly in my Paleo FX talk. One of the things about being keto-adapted is that it’s really a commitment. And once you’re keto-adapted and once you’ve made the necessary dietary changes, and some of the training changes to increase mitochondrial biogenesis and increase what we call the metabolic machinery that’s involved in using ketones and ramping up fat metabolism, you can go long periods of time at a very high output and not have to depend on glycogen stores or an exogenous feeding of glucose. It takes a little bit longer to do this, it takes months of training. But there are a number of athletes that are doing this now, including two of the guys who basically wrote the book on ketosis: that’s Stephen Phinney and Jeff Volek. Both of them are athletes in their own rights. One is an Olympic lifter and the other one cycles, century rides. And they do this completely ketogenic. The problem comes when you think you’re going to be a ketogenic athlete and then you start to slide into, “Well, maybe I’ll have 100 grams of carbs, maybe 120 grams of carbs. Because what that does is… the cutoff is about 60 to 70 grams of carbs a day for an athlete. And once you get past that, then you shut off the ketosis. And the danger zone is when you’ve turned off ketosis but you haven’t supplied enough glucose to take over that new fuel partitioning. So the idea is that you’re either going to be a sugar-burning athlete taking in 300 to 400 grams of carbs a day and training for the Spartan races, or you’re going to be 100% keto and keep the carbs at less than 70 a day. And in that middle ground lies epic failure for a lot of people. For most people, I would say. So you kind of have to pick and choose where you want to be. And if you’re willing to be on the side of that keto-adapted athlete, there is the possibility that you could drop the weight and the possibility that you’ll probably perform even better than if you were just depending on carbohydrate and glucose.
Abel: So how much time would he have to give himself before a race to get adapted?
Mark: I mean, I think it’s a three to four month adaptation period. And during that time you have to ramp up your long-slow distance and if you’re doing trail running if you’re doing a little metabolic conditioning stuff you have to be very careful about how you do it and not go into the anaerobic zone too much. Now you can go anaerobic once in a while and come back down. I’m pretty much a keto-adapted athlete and I’ll play two hours of ultimate Frisbee on the weekend, and I’ll do a lot of sprints, but because I have a lot of time to rest in-between, the way you do in soccer, I don’t feel like I’m depleting glycogen I just feel like I’m burning fat and I’m able to completely do anaerobic, ATP-type sprints and recover very, very quickly and easily. I’m usually the kind of guy that, at the end of a two–hour game, I’m out –performing everybody because, you know, they’re all toasted. They’re all out of juice.
Abel: Now, what about carb cycling? That’s something that you used to do a lot of, I imagine, but you probably don’t anymore?
Mark: Well, I don’t do any carb cycling at all. I used to be…I didn’t even call it carb cycling, I was just at I carb a loaded every day of my life. I had 1,000 grams of carbs just about every day of my life for 15 or 20 years. And that’s because I was training as hard as I was. In my running days, that meant 100 to 110 miles a week, in my Triathlon days it was 50 miles of running and 250 miles of cycling and 25,000 meters of swimming. Plus anything else you had to do in the weight room and other things, too.
So, in those days, I just slammed down the carbs willy-nilly, a-la-Michael Phelps at 12,000 calories a day (which I think is a bit of an over-estimate). In terms of carb-cycling now, if you were a sugar-burning athlete, and I don’t mean to use the term disparagingly, but if you’re an athlete who has chosen to continue to rely on glycogen stores, then it seems that the best way to manage weight an fuel-partitioning is to do an appropriate amount of carbs, not an excessive amount of carbs. So if you’re a guy who’s doing one hard work-out a day, it’s probably appropriate that you take in 250 to 350, maybe 400 grams, but not much more than 400 grams of carbs per day. NOT 700 or 1,000 or 1,200. And in that regard, you can maintain that appropriate amount of carbohydrate intake and continue to train the way you do and, hopefully, in the process, ramp up your fat-burning machinery a little bit. You won’t be doing much with ketones, but you’ll be ramping up your fat-burning ability.
Then there’s another group of athletes who are trying to do what we call ‘train low, race high’. So they train on low glycogen stores, and they try to ramp up their fat metabolism. Again, they’re still not really taking full advantage of their keto-adaptation. But they’re training at low glycogen, and then, days before either a really hard work-out—maybe one that’s going to have massive amounts of intervals in it—or the day of a race, they’ll carb-up. They’ll fill their glycogen stores up. And, again, these are all choices, and I don’t purport to have the answer. Because if I did, I’d be coaching a world-class team of athletes. These are choices, and we’re still trying to work out the variables that give you the best possible outcome for that choice.
Abel: Yeah! Cool, another question, this one’s actually from me. I was talking to Dave Asprey a couple of podcasts back, about supplementation vs. whole foods, especially in this modern world. And we were getting on the subject of pros and cons of eating moldy, rancid brazil nuts as opposed to supplementing with a synthetic. Could you talk about that a little bit—what supplementation looks like today?
Mark: Well, again, it’s on a spectrum of what’s appropriate vs. what’s eccentric. An example I might use is someone who’s living in the northern parts of the US for the winter. And you don’t get out and you don’t get any sun. Why would you not supplement with 4,000 to 8,000 units of vitamin D a day? You know, if you can’t get sunlight and you’re not getting probably the single-most important vitamin—and again, not to assign value to a vitamin, but vitamin D is hugely important—then I think you’d be remiss in your pursuit of health to not take a simple vitamin D supplement. So that’s an example I would use. Another example I would say is that we tell people we need to re-balance our Omega-6 to Omega-3 ratio. And the first thing you do is cut down the Omega-6. That’s job #1 is to find ways to eliminate the Omega-6 in your diet. Having done that, if you can’t find ways to increase the amount of Omega-3, then taking an Omega-3 fish oil capsule, highly refined, high DHA, high EDA fish oil capsule, is a very legitimate appropriate choice, taking advantage of 21st-century technology to achieve a balance that your genes expect you to be consuming in a whole-food diet. But because you don’t always have access to line-caught salmon at $30/lb, this is a good alternative. Another one that I have started to rely on much more heavily myself is probiotics. Our guts are a major part of our digestive tract, of our immune system. And when we are out of balance, we call it dysbiosis, and it can happen as a result of stress, it can happen as a result of having been sick, of a course of antibiotics, a number of different ways it can disrupt the healthy flora in our gut, it REALLY negatively impacts us. And how our ancestors dealt with that is that they ate dirt every day. They weren’t trying to eat dirt. But, you know, you pick up something off the ground, you eat it, you don’t think about washing it. And that’s how they were able to populate their gut with healthy bacteria. So I take a probiotic every day. And I just started, after having known about this and having researched this for the last 20 years, and actually having been a little skeptical of it for most of those 20 years, I’ve started to come around. And I realize by my taking a probiotic probably does more for my immune system than taking massive amounts of vitamin C or vitamin D or cutting back on sugar. Because the gut is the first line of defense with the immune system—the skin and the gut—are the first lines of defense. And if the bacteria or virus that’s trying to invade can breach those, then you’re set up for trouble. Then you’ve gotta rely on the immune system in terms of white blood cells and so on.
Abel: Yeah, I really try to focus a lot on probiotics. It’s funny, Alysson—oh, by the way, she says, “Hi, Mark!”—around the new year, she got a little sick with something and she had to take medicine. And once she did, basically she started getting sick for the next few weeks because all of her probiotic gut bacteria were pretty much wiped out when she took the antibiotic. Neither of us ever really get sick and I think that most of that is because we have a lot of kombucha, fermented foods, sauerkraut, we make our own yogurt, things like that. And it’s amazing how much it’s helped.
Mark: Yeah, and I think it’s a classic case where people take an antibiotic and maybe they need to take an antibiotic, I’m not suggesting that antibiotics are necessarily a bad thing, I mean they’ve probably saved more lives than any single medicinal protocol in the last 50 years.
Abel: But they’re not tic-tacs.
Mark: Right. They’re over-prescribed, and even when they do save a life they cause some residual damage. And the best way to address that residual damage is with a good, broad-spectrum probiotic. So, again, that’s just another example of something where you say, “If our ancestors didn’t take supplements, why should we?” Well, because we’re not eating the way our ancestors ate. We’re trying to emulate it, and we’re trying to give our genes what our genes expect of us, but in some cases it’s just not possible. You know, I take a potent antioxidant supplement, because I know that the foods that were prevalent 10,000, 20,000 years ago were much higher in anthocyanins and zeaxanthins and kerotines and polyphenols and all of the other potent antioxidants that assist us in avoiding oxidated damage. Those aren’t present in those amounts in presently-grown foods today. And we seem to subject ourselves to a pantload more stress than our ancestors did. You know, our ancestors’ stress was holy crap I’m gonna die or, eh, it’s another day, whatever.
Abel: Or, hey, there’s a tiger!
Mark: But our stress is, you know, hours and hours of agonizing over getting the report in on time, or whether or not the mortgage payment is going to make it this month or the noisy neighbor next door. Whatever it is, we have the 45-minute commute to work that’s 90 minutes today. We have an inordinate amount of stress and stress, cortisol, is a huge complement in the oxidative stress that happens to people. So I’m just looking for ways that we can address some of these challenges that we face, understanding that we possess a forty-thousand-year-old set of blueprints that was drafted in the two-and-a-half million years of time that humans evolved as hunter-gatherers. And here we are in our pin-striped suits, doing things a little bit differently. And how can I honor the expectations of my hunter-gatherer genes in a way that’s comfortable, convenient, pleasurable, doesn’t involve a lot of sacrifice or a lot of time or effort? I’m really kinda preaching a quasi-hedonistic lifestyle here. I mean, man! We get to eat beef and lamb and pork and turkey and chicken and fish…
Abel: Heh, yeah, that’s awesome!
Mark:…and vegetables and butter and cocoa and lots of chocolate and wine! I mean, who out there thinks that we’re sacrificing a lot?
Abel: Not me!
Mark: Well, who isn’t already in the Paleo/Primal sphere?
Abel: Yeah, that’s true. So, we’re coming up on time, Mark, but I know you’re working on a new book, that, as usual, examines the incongruence between how we evolved and how we live today. So why don’t you talk a little bit about that?
Mark: Yeah! It’s called “The Primal Connection”, and it came about because of my recognition that once people get the diet in, and once people get the exercise, they come to me and said, “This is great, I’ve got my health taken care of, but it still feels like there’s something missing. I wake up every day feeling like—maybe homesickness, but I’m home. It feels like there’s something missing or that I’m not getting the kind of fulfillment that I deserve.” And so we wanted to look at—again, what are the expectations? What is the hard-wiring of our brain that would cause us to have, really, a default setting of being happy and content and fulfilled, and yet how we screw that up, how we’ve mis-managed that with the way we’ve set our lives up and set our careers up. And so now it goes back, and there’s a lot of anthropology involved, there’s a lot of looking at the science and the experience of hunter-gatherers in modern tribes so it looks at family situations, group situations, social situations, you know, how do I orchestrate my set of loved ones and friends and create this circle around me that’s supportive, rather than having 5,000 Facebook friends, most of whom I’ve never met, you know? We talk a lot about the necessity of getting out in nature, not just because it sounds like a good idea, but because the brain is hard-wired to want to smell the smells. There are certain chemicals that we get that our brains expect of us that are available to us on walks in nature that we can’t get in the city. There are sounds that certain receptors need to hear, to kind of get us back to resonate with our environment and these expectations. So it’s really kinda cool. And the ultimate iteration of this is that there are 12 steps that you can take to kind of regain that sense of contentment and fulfillment and happiness and joy that you may have felt was missing. And you thought it was because you made a bad choice in your marriage or you made a bad career choice, but it may be, in fact, available to you just by taking some of these steps.
Abel: That’s so cool, I can’t wait to read that! When is that coming out, was that in September?
Mark: Coming out in September, September 17th is the release date.
Abel: Awesome, awesome! Well, before we go, I know I just sent you that awesome news that right now I’m ranked #2 in health podcasts…
Mark: Yeah, that’s crazy. That’s fabulous!
Abel: …right behind Jillian Michaels. So I wanted to ask you, Mark, how are we going to take down Jillian and Conventional Wisdom?
Mark: Hey, listen, I think Jillian’s coming around, I think there’s more and more stuff that she seems to be getting and incorporating in to what she does, and so, no haters here. However people can change their lives in a positive way, I’m all for that. I just think that we have a way that’s a lot more user-friendly than being screamed at, and eating 12,000 calories a day and then trying to burn off 6,000.
Abel: Yeah. But I think it is important that we all acknowledge—and this is kinda how my podcast started off—was just acknowledging how wonderful it is when anyone loses any amount of weight. You know, when they reach that goal, regardless of how they get there. But, I totally agree, Mark, your way and the Paleo way and all of this, in my opinion, is the most sustainable and probably the most enjoyable way to do it, especially if you can give up cakes—at least give up gluten cakes!
Mark: Yeah, I agree.
Abel: Well, Mark, thank you so much. This has been a real pleasure, and I look forward to talking to you again, soon.
Mark: Yeah! Always a pleasure talking to you, Abel!
Abel: Alright, thanks a lot!
Mark: Take care.
Abel: The man knows his stuff, doesn’t he? Cool! Well, if you wanna hear more from Mark, be sure to check out his website—one of my favorite blogs on earth—MarksDailyApple.com. And also check out the show notes at FatBurningMan.com for a lot of the things we talked about today. And remember, I’m giving away a free copy of my book, the LeanBody Lifestyle and all the bonuses to the person who writes the most thoughtful review on iTunes. So, please, take a minute and do that and head to my website, the FatBurningMan.com, sign up for the e-mail list and shoot me your iTunes handle, and I’ll be sure to get that to you!
So until next week, eat real food and be happy! I’ll talk to you guys soon. Cheers!