What's the key to mastering endurance training without ruining your overall health? I talk with Mark Sisson, author of Primal Endurance and publisher of one of the world’s most trafficked health blogs, MarksDailyApple.com. We discuss how he applies his primal health philosophy to endurance athletes—why fat-burning is critical, why you should keep your exercise patterns unpredictable, and how weight training can really make a difference. We'll also talk about Mark's early years, his progression towards a primal diet, and what he's got cooking in his Primal Kitchen.
In this episode we cover:
9:24 Mark’s progression to a primal diet
13:20 How burning fat is the key to endurance
19:00 Why you should shift your exercise patterns
26:20 How weight training contributes to endurance
30:30 Maximizing high-intensity interval training
32: 41 Mark’s new Paleo food offerings
Links We Discuss
Chris Kresser: I’m Chris Kresser and this is Revolution Health Radio.
Hey, everybody, it’s Chris Kresser. Welcome to another episode of Revolution Health Radio. Today I’m excited to welcome Mark Sisson as a guest on the show.
Mark is the author of the Amazon.com best-seller, The Primal Blueprint, and publisher of one of the world’s most trafficked health blogs, MarksDailyApple.com. As a former top endurance athlete riddled with ailments that defied treatment from conventional wisdom, he made it his mission to heal his body and help others do the same. Today he successfully runs a leading education and supplement company, publishing house, and food line, which offers invaluable nutrition, fitness, and lifestyle resources to the huge market of individuals who benefit from his ancestral health model of “living awesome”.
I’ve known Mark for several years now, and he’s obviously a huge voice in the primal/Paleo/ancestral health and nutrition movement. I think he’s one of the wisest and most balanced voices in the movement, and so I’m really looking forward to talking to him about his background and history, the challenges that he overcame, how he came to ancestral health in the first place, and specifically his thoughts on primal and Paleo nutrition for endurance athletes, since he has a background in endurance training. I think that will be of interest to a lot of people who listen to the show. And then a little bit about what he’s up to in terms of making healthy foods available on a wider scale, because I think that’s really exciting. So let’s dive in.
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OK, now back to the show.
Chris Kresser: Mark, it’s a real pleasure to have you on the show. I can’t believe we haven’t done this sooner, but I’m glad we could finally make it work.
Mark Sisson: Great to be here, Chris, and I was thinking the same thing! Really?! We haven’t done this?!
Chris Kresser: Yeah, seriously! Well, here we are, and both of us have written so many—it has to be in the hundreds or even thousands for you—blog articles.
Mark Sisson: Thousands, yeah.
Chris Kresser: Yeah. Articles about nutrition and health, and I think sometimes it’s really interesting for people to kind of see beyond that, a little bit more about you and how you came to this and why you started writing all of those articles in the first place. So maybe we can wind back the clock and talk a little bit about what you were up to and what wasn’t working and what led you to this whole movement in the first place.
Mark’s Early Years as an Endurance Athlete
Mark Sisson: Sure. Well, I was always interested in being healthy. I think I got that from my mother who wasn’t necessarily that healthy but was always reading books on how she could achieve health. I started reading Adelle Davis and books like that in my early teens and initially got this idea from Adelle and from Ken Cooper and so on, and later, Robert Haas, that if you put in a lot of miles, if you did a lot of cardiovascular training, you would train your heart and you could be impervious to disease and you would live a long, healthy life. So I started off as an endurance athlete, as a distance runner, and I fueled my miles by eating a complex carbohydrate based diet, so I ate a lot of carbs. Not all of them were complex, by the way. A lot of them were crappy sugars and things like that.
Chris Kresser: Sure!
Mark Sisson: So many runners think, “Well, I can get away with that because I’m putting all the miles in and I must be burning it all off, so probably they don’t even count.”
Chris Kresser: Yeah.
Mark Sisson: But over the years, I got really pretty good as an endurance athlete. I was a fifth-place finisher in the US National Championships and Marathon in 1980. I finished fourth at Ironman two years later. I was performing well, but I was falling apart on the inside. I had arthritis in my feet. I had chronic tendonitis throughout most of my joints. I had irritable bowel syndrome. I had heartburn a lot. I had hemorrhoids. It was like, “Oh, my God. What’s going on here?!”
Chris Kresser: Right.
Mark Sisson: Here I was, trying to be healthy. I got sort of taken down this path of endurance and performance, and while I became fit, I became quite unhealthy. So I actually had to retire not just because I was beat up and falling apart, but because there was no money in endurance sports in those days.
Exercising like crazy but your health is falling apart? Read this.
Chris Kresser: Right.
Mark Sisson: I had to get on with my life, so I retired.
Chris Kresser: How old were you at that point, when all this was going down?
Mark Sisson: I was 29 when I did my last true full-on endurance contest as an elite.
Chris Kresser: So you had to retire before you were 30 because of all these problems.
Mark Sisson: Yeah. A lot of elite endurance athletes don’t even peak until they’re 32, 33, or 34.
Chris Kresser: Right.
Mark Sisson: Because it takes that long to build up a tolerance to pain, I guess! Anyway, so I sort of rededicated my efforts to how I could be strong and healthy and fit and lean at the same time without having to put so much time and effort and sacrifice and sweat and struggle into getting there. I was looking for hacks before the term “hacks” was ever invented, I think, and that started, really, my long, 30-plus-year endeavor to find ways in which I and other people could achieve a level of health and fitness and still enjoy life and still enjoy every bite of food and extract the greatest amount of pleasure and fulfillment from every possible moment.
I wrote a couple of books back in the early ‘80s, some of which were really based on training, but eventually my whole reason for writing was more to explain some of the epiphanies that I had when I left endurance sports and realized that by shifting my diet and by shifting my training strategies around, I became actually that healthy person that I had always wanted to be.
I started blogging in 2006. The first couple of blog posts I wrote were on Art De Vany’s site as a guest blogger, and they got a tremendous amount of traction on his site and were kind of reposted a couple of times, and I thought, “Well, I’ll start my own blog.” I started Mark’s Daily Apple in 2006, so we’re in our 10th year now. When I say “we,” now I have a staff of editors and researchers, and it has really come into this way of trying to explore every nuance of health, fitness, diet, exercise, medicine—living awesome. It’s kind of funny because the first year of Mark’s Daily Apple, I thought, “Well, I’ll really dedicate myself to writing. I’ll write a post every day for a year, and at the end of a year I’ll have written everything there is to write about the topic.”
Chris Kresser: Right!
Mark Sisson: So much for that plan!
Chris Kresser: Yeah, exactly!
So what was the progression for you? I played basketball at a pretty high level in high school and then got recruited to play in college, and I remember my coach would take us out to pregame meals at pancake restaurants or pasta restaurants. This was part of the whole dogma at that point, carb loading before physical activity.
Mark Sisson: Yeah, it was universal throughout any true sports program. It was all about the carbs. That’s when I read Robert Haas’ book Eat to Win. I think he sold two or three million copies, and it was really about how to fuel for endurance activity, and that included not just running and cycling and triathlons and basketball, but tennis and… every sport was essentially put into the same basket that required that you eat a lot of carbohydrates to somehow fuel the muscles in order to last longer and not hit the wall.
Chris Kresser: What was the kind of aha moment for you in that, where you started to question that? And then did you go directly from that to kind of a primal, Paleo type of thing before it even existed, or was there a progression for you? How did that happen?
Mark’s Progression to a Primal Diet
Mark Sisson: There was a progression, and it started with me eating more healthy fats. That’s something I realized fairly early on, that I needed to eat more healthy fats. And as I stopped running and cycling and swimming so much, I thought, “Well, if I’m not burning off these calories, something’s going to happen to my body. I’m going to get fat.” And I saw that I wasn’t getting fat. I had kind of allowed my appetite to dial itself back. I didn’t feel compelled to eat everything on my plate at every meal. I realized that a lot of what happens with body composition happens as a result of how we eat, the food choices themselves as well as the amounts that we choose to eat at each meal. So eating more fats was part of the epiphany, dialing back my appetite, realizing that breakfast wasn’t the most important meal of the day for me.
Chris Kresser: Right.
Mark Sisson: Also, I cut my training way back, but I was a personal trainer for a number of years in the late ‘70s and early ‘80s. I was training with people, but because I had been an elite athlete, for me, running 12- or 13-minute miles, jogging, was easy for me, walking or hiking with my clients was easy, riding the bike was easy. I realized, “Wow, I’m not losing any of my fitness. Even though I’ve dialed the intensity of my aerobic workouts way back, as long as I do a couple of high-intensity workouts for myself once or twice a week, I can stay as fit or fitter than I was when I was actually racing.” That was another epiphany.
And the final epiphany happened about 16 or 17 years ago when I decided to give up grains. I had done all of this stuff—I had cut back on the sugars, increased the healthy fats, dialed back the training to a more humane level—and it wasn’t until I gave up the grains for 30 days just as an experiment of one, and my arthritis went away, my irritable bowel syndrome went away, the upper respiratory tract infections that I would get several times a year went away, any kind of lingering sinus stuff went away, the heartburn went away, and I thought, “Wow, this is fascinating because even though I’m in the field of researching food and exercise and diet and the combinations and how they work together, and even though I’ve come across articles by the likes of Loren Cordain and others that somehow indicate that grains are not necessarily the best possible thing you can eat, I defended my right to eat grains because I had done it for most of my life.” So when I realized, “Wow, if I give up grains and I notice that amount of change in my body, imagine how many tens of millions of people might be doing the same thing.”
Chris Kresser: Absolutely.
Mark Sisson: That was the real kicker for me.
Chris Kresser: Where did that idea come from? From reading Art’s stuff or Loren’s early work?
Mark Sisson: It was even before that. This was well before any of the De Vany stuff. I mean, it started back in the late 1990s, when a friend of mine, Doug Kaufmann, had espoused a theory—not necessarily that I agree 100 percent with it, but he’s a pretty smart guy—that a lot of cancer is a result of fungal infections and that all these fungal infections came as a result of eating grains, and grains in the diet.
Chris Kresser: Right.
Mark Sisson: I had spent a lot of time conversing back and forth with Doug Kaufmann, and at the same time, my wife was going through a period of having… She’s always experimenting with diets, one of the many things I love about her. She has experimented with diets, and she had had some success with giving up the grains, and she just said, “Hey, Mark, why don’t you try giving up the grains? Clearly you’re not where you need to be yet. You still have the gut issues. You still have the arthritis,” which I just assumed was a natural part of being 45 years old, but it turns out it wasn’t.
Chris Kresser: Yeah.
How Burning Fat Is the Key to Endurance
Chris Kresser: So you had these epiphanies, and I’m sure most of my listeners know the history from then to now. You wrote Mark’s Daily Apple, which has become one of the most popular blogs in the health and fitness space, and you’ve written a number of books. The most recent book is Primal Endurance, where you go into more detail about what we’ve been talking about so far. I love how you’ve laid it out with slow down, balance out, chill out, eat primally, and then combining brief high-intensity workouts with complementary movement and lifestyle practices.
Let’s break down each of those a little bit more because I’m sure that I have a lot of current endurance athletes in my audience or recovering former endurance athletes that can probably relate to your story and are looking for a way that they can maybe continue doing their training, at least to some degree, without destroying themselves in the process.
Mark Sisson: Agreed, and I’d add, too, that that this strategy applies to anybody who’s at the gym, trying to lose weight.
Chris Kresser: Sure.
Mark Sisson: You have all these people who go the gym, and their trainer puts them on the treadmill for 40 minutes and cajoles them into burning 500 or 550 calories or whatever it is, running hard on the treadmill. The first thing we talk about is slowing down. It sounds trite to say, “Well, in order to race faster, you have to train slower,” but the reality is in order to race more effectively and efficiently, you need to burn fat. This all comes down to how well you burn fat, and I have to take a step back, and say for those 30 years or 40 years that we were carbo-loading, we were carbo-loading from the point of view that once you run out of glycogen in your muscles, you hit the wall.
Chris Kresser: Right.
Mark Sisson: The assumption was if you can manage glycogen, then you won’t hit the wall, and the best way to manage glycogen is by carbo-loading and consuming Gatorade during the event and eating the bars and the gels and the packets so that you get some exogenous carbohydrate and you don’t have to tap into your glycogen stores. Well, what we realized—just in the last five or six years—is that the best way to manage glycogen depletion is to learn to become really good at burning fat. If, as an endurance athlete, you can become good at burning fat, then you don’t tap into your glycogen, you don’t have to eat those gels, and eventually you become good at burning ketones, which are better than carbohydrate and better than glucose for the brain, but it all comes back to how you burn fat. So whether you’re an elite athlete trying to burn fat or you’re a guy in the gym or a gal in the gym, needing to lose 20 or 30 extra pounds, they both come back to how well you burn fat.
Now, the problem is you don’t burn fat by revving your heart rate up to 75 or 80 or 85 percent of its max heart rate. We used to think that, but now what we know is that when you’re in that zone that I just described, you’re in what we call a no man’s land. We call it the black hole of training. It’s too high to be really good at burning fat until you’ve trained to burn fat, and it’s too low to be creating any aerobic threshold advances or VO2 max advances. So all you’re doing at that 75 to 85 percent of your max heart rate is training to hurt. It’s just causing your heart to have to pump really, really hard without really any metabolic adaptations or adjustments being made by your body. Yeah, you become good at learning how to hurt, but is that really what you want?
Chris Kresser: Yeah! Retirement at age 29!
Mark Sisson: Exactly. So if we take it back and we say, well, there’s a heart rate at which we know that you can put a lot of oxygen through your body and most of that oxygen will go toward burning fat, so if you slow it down and let’s say you limit your heart rate. The number we use is 180 minus your age. I’m 62 now, so I could train at 118 beats a minute, which used to be laughable for me. I liked to train at 155 to 175.
Chris Kresser: Yeah.
Mark Sisson: But training at 118, one thing I know is that I can talk to a training partner or I could breathe entirely through my nose at that heart rate, which means I’m not building up lactic acid. I’m just using oxygen, so I’m becoming efficient at burning fats. Now, that may sound kind of good at first, but what happens eventually is when you become more and more efficient at burning fat, as long as you limit that heart rate to 180 minus your age, then we know that you’re putting a lot of oxygen through and you become more efficient.
So when I started out, maybe I was doing 10-1/2-minute miles at that 118 beats per minute, but if I kept that and didn’t go into the black hole and didn’t go into that no man’s land, eventually I’d be running 9:30s and then 9-minute miles and then 8:30. And we know, because of the heart rate, that I’m getting these faster times, but I’m still burning mostly fat. Now you’ve developed this efficiency at burning fat to the extent that when you do start to ramp up the training and put some time in the gym, doing high-intensity stuff that we can talk about later, put some time on the track, doing very high intensity, but very brief intervals, to train the high end, you can race at a higher level of physical output. You can put out more watts on the bike, or whatever metric you’re using, faster minutes per mile, than the guy running or riding right next to you. Because he’s a sugar burner, he’s depending on carbohydrate. You’ve learned how to burn fat, and you did it by slowing down to become more efficient over time. Does that make sense?
Chris Kresser: That makes perfect sense.
So what about this idea that consistency is the key and you just have to get on the bike or you have to do your runs, and you have to do the same thing every day, and that’s the key to success?
Why Shifting Exercise Patterns Is Important
Mark Sisson: Well, we say that inconsistency is the key to success because part of this has to do with periodicity. You and I have written about the fractal natural of life for a long time. Robb Wolf has written about, and De Vany has written about it, and the fact that humans did not evolve with metronomic patterns. We evolved with this fractal randomness throughout our lives.
Chris Kresser: Yeah.
Mark Sisson: And that’s how things like the hormetic effect of a cold plunge once in a while can have a good effect, but over time it might be detrimental. When we get to the point where we’re training the same thing every day and we get into that metronomic pattern, two things happen. First of all, the body says, on the one hand, I know how to do this. I don’t need to adapt that much. But parts of the body—the joints and the heart, in particular—go, “It’s an overuse pattern now. I’m doing too much for no reason to change, and yet you’re putting me through these paces every single day.” The heart wears out over time. It really does. And the joints wear out over time. They get repetitive motion issues, and they get imbalances.
So the best thing to do is to sort of find ways to shift the pattern as often as possible. If you’re a runner, you only need to run two or three times a week. Your body knows how to run. The rest of it is how you reconfigure your fuel partitioning so you learn how to burn more fat than glycogen, or how to have fun doing the workouts and find more ways to play.
One of the things we talk about in Primal Endurance is I play two hours of ultimate frisbee once a week. It’s a very fun, very fast-paced game. It’s nothing but 8- to 10-second sprints interspersed with jogging and recovery. But (a) it’s the most fun I have all week, (b) it’s probably the hardest workout I do all week, and (c) because of its fractal nature, it’s not like, “OK, I have to do 50 times 10-second repeats with a 2-minute rest.” It bounces all around, depending on how intense the game is or what the requirements are of the particular point being played.
Chris Kresser: And you don’t have to think about any of that. It’s totally unpredictable.
Mark Sisson: It’s totally unpredictable.
Chris Kresser: You’re outside, you’re with other people, and it’s been shown that exercising with other people has certain benefits that you don’t get from exercising alone.
Mark Sisson: And I would argue that that workout makes me a better 10K runner than putting in 30 miles a week of just rote practicing at a high heart rate to hurt myself.
Chris Kresser: Yeah, and this is why concert violinists play tennis and do other things instead of just play the violin for eight hours a day, every day.
Mark Sisson: Exactly.
Chris Kresser: The people who are at the highest levels, at least.
This kind of fits in, I think, to some degree, to the “chill out, be intuitive and not regimented” idea, that sometimes more structure is not what we need in order to perform better. It’s actually less structure and more of a kind of gut sense, like responding to a gut feeling, about what we need.
Mark Sisson: Well, there was a time when I would have a two-month plan written out in front of me. “These are the workouts I have to do.” And unless I got sick, I would do those workouts religiously every day, regardless of how I felt when I woke up.
Chris Kresser: Yeah.
Mark Sisson: “Today it says I have to run 10 miles at 6:45 pace. That’s what I’m going to do. Tomorrow it says I have to go to the track and run 16 times a half mile at 2:25 to 2:28. That’s what I’m going to do.” Well, I guarantee you, in retrospect, I left several amazing marathon performances on the track because I should have taken the day off instead of doing what the chart said to do that day. I was not intuitive about it. I was completely the opposite. I was anal about it. I was completely like, “OK, this is what I have to do in order to be one of the best in the world. I have to dig down. I have to do something every day, with very few days off,” and what we find is when you train—and particularly on the hard days—you need to recover. The body only responds in a positive way when you recover from your training by getting stronger. What we see so often happening in the endurance community, in the elite training of any young athlete because they’re working with coaches who are aggressively trying to put hundreds of people through their program in the hopes that they might find one or two that rise to the top, is you see this burnout mentality, where kids—and even adults—can’t handle the workload because they haven’t really gotten into assessing how they feel that day.
So we say when you wake up some day and you just don’t have it, you don’t feel like it, take the day off. Or if you go to the gym or the track or get on the bike and you get a couple of miles down the road and you don’t have it, walk home. Save it for another day. Do not feel like just because you said you were going to have to do something on your program, that it needs to be done. In fact, there are many times when it probably absolutely should not be done if your goal is to improve and to do so by retaining your health and making your workouts fun.
Chris Kresser: I think that’s such an important concept. I find myself talking about allostatic load with my patients, this idea that there’s a certain wear and tear that comes with adapting to the stresses of life, and when we consider what our optimal exercise program should be, we need to take into account all of the stressors and all of the other areas of our life, too. If you’re talking about a single mom who has a full-time job and two kids and she’s burning the candle at both ends, is CrossFit and doing five WODs a week really going to be the best exercise program for her, given all of the other stressors that she has in her life? Or should she take that into consideration and design a program that is not going to send her into a permanent catabolic state?
Mark Sisson: I think that’s one of the issues with CrossFit, in general, the WOD mentality of three days on, one day off. It’s only right for a couple of people, ex-military kids who don’t know what to do with their lives, or former collegiate football players. Look, CrossFit has come up with some amazing programs. The philosophy, in general, is awesome. But it certainly does not behoove a young single mom with kids to go do five WODs a week.
Chris Kresser: Yeah, and unfortunately that’s a concept that’s lost on a lot of people, and I end up cleaning up those messes in my practice!
Mark Sisson: Yeah.
Chris Kresser: We’ve talked about slowing down, balancing out, chilling out, the importance of eating. We touched briefly on getting away from high-carb diet dependency and this idea that we need that for glycolytic exercise and becoming more fat adapted. Let’s talk a bit about high-intensity training, how that fits into this whole picture.
How Weight Training Contributes to Endurance
Mark Sisson: One of the things that we didn’t do in my decades as an endurance athlete, and none of us did, really—the marathoners, the triathletes, the cyclists, the cross-country skiers—was we didn’t go to the gym and really focus on power, and yet you know that one of the things that happens in a long endurance contest is, yes, you run out of fuel (though if you learn how to burn fats, you can counter that particular issue), but we also run out of power. We haven’t really trained the muscles to sustain power over a long period of time, partly because we’ve never really gone to the gym and put a real load on those muscles. When you ride a bike, you’re doing, I don’t know, 10,000 repetitions of a 15-pound load, right? When you’re pushing the pedals down. Maybe even a 30-pound load, but not a several-hundred pound load. It’s the same when you’re running a marathon. You’re doing lots of repetitions of a very light weight. And so what we did is we sort of replicated the concept in the gym by doing a little bit heavier weight and a little bit fewer repetitions, so maybe do 15 to 20 repetitions of a weight that you could do for that, but it didn’t really train your power, your absolute power.
So we looked at what it takes to sustain power over a longer period of time, how you could sort of replicate that in the gym, and one of the ways you can do that is by loading the muscles, the particular specific muscle groups up, with a significant load and then working them to exhaustion with the idea that when you can’t repeat one more good repetition with form the workout is over, regardless of how many you think you want to do.
An example would be to take a deadlift. Somebody starts with a deadlift, and their maximum deadlift is only 200 pounds because they’re an endurance athlete. That’s fine, so you take 80 percent of that, 160. Then you start working at 80 percent of your max weight, and you do as many repetitions as you can, which might be two or three. You wait 10 or 15 seconds, you do as many as you can, you wait 10 or 15 seconds, you do as many as you can, and eventually when you can’t do one last one without either hurting yourself, which we don’t want to do, or maintaining good form, the workout is over. A lot of people would do this workout. They’d go the gym, and within a minute and a half, the first workout is over. Well, go home! Literally, the workout is over. Go home!
Chris Kresser: Nice to have your gym at home in that case!
Mark Sisson: Yeah! But as you build into this and you’re able to sustain power over time, we find that you can get up to 6 or 8 minutes of this type of a workout, where you do two repetitions every 10 seconds for 8 minutes. And at that point, you say, “OK, so I’ve been able to sustain that power. My choice is to keep going up to 12 or 15 minutes, but now that I know that I can sustain it, I’ll increase the weight now to 180, up 20, and start the process over again.”
Over time, you literally recruit muscle fibers deeper and deeper, they become stronger and stronger, they become able to sustain the power over a longer period of time, so that what it looks like when you’re racing, let’s say you’re on a bike and you have a thousand feet of climbing ahead of you in the first part of the race. Normally you’d go up with 100 percent power the first hill, but the second hill, in the old paradigm, you might have only been able to sustain 92 percent of power, and then the third hill, maybe 78 percent of power. Well, now you go up the first hill with 100 percent of power—and this is assuming, obviously, that you’re still within your aerobic capacity. The second hill, 100 percent of power. The third hill, maybe 95 percent of power because you’ve trained specifically those fibers deep enough to sustain that power over a longer period of time.
That’s one example of this high-intensity training that we can do in the gym, and again, it doesn’t take much time. It’s not like you have to do 15 different exercises. It might be two different exercises. For some people, it might be one exercise that you do. It could be weighted squats. It could be weighted jumping squats. There are a number of choices, and we talk about that in the book.
Maximizing High-Intensity Interval Training
The other thing is to do intervals. And I want to talk a little bit about intervals as a form of high-intensity training. Again, in the old days, a lot of the intervals were tailored and titered down according to the distance of the race that you were doing. So if you were a miler, you might do 200-meter runs, but if you were a marathoner, you might do mile repeats. Well, a mile repeat has its place, but there’s a point at which we talk about doing very high-intensity sprints so that even a marathoner is going to be doing all-out sprints, maximum effort for 20 to 30 seconds, and then stop. And then two minutes of rest in between, not a Tabata, but two minutes of good rest in between. Then do it again, maximum, all out. And we find that five, six, maybe eight of those once a week are enough to generate substantial benefits to all but the most elite of the elite athletes. I say “all but the most elite of the elite” because they’re just adding some other stuff, but they’re still working under the same premise.
Chris Kresser: Right. What’s interesting about this, of course, is that it more closely mimics the ancestral pattern of movement. We know that hunter-gatherers averaged somewhere between 8000 and 15,000 steps a day, and they would walk for long periods and were foraging, and then that would be punctuated by brief bursts of energy when they were hunting or fleeing a predator or fighting or something like that. It makes so much more sense. We’re not trying to do a reenactment of the Paleolithic Era, but at the same time, our bodies evolved under certain conditions and are hardwired for something like that.
Mark Sisson: Yes, that’s exactly right. It’s not like we’re trying to recreate any sort of pastoral, idyllic environment that existed hundreds of thousands of years ago—if one did—but what we are doing is taking advantage of the adaptation that is hardwired into our DNA, into our genes, as a result of those millions of years of evolution, repeating those same sorts of behavioral fractally over that period of time.
Chris Kresser: It makes perfect sense.
For folks who want to learn more, where can they find the book?
Mark Sisson: Well, the book is on Amazon. It’s Primal Endurance. It’s on Amazon and at finer bookstores everywhere. We also sell it on our e-commerce site, PrimalBlueprint.com, and there are links to that from my blog, MarksDailyApple.com.
Mark’s New Paleo Food Offerings
Chris Kresser: So, Mark, before we finish up, prior to starting this recording, you and I were chatting a little bit about what’s going on for us, and you were telling me a bit about some of your new food initiatives. I’d love for you to talk a little bit more about them, because I think for the first few years this Paleo/primal movement was somewhat insular. I feel like, to some extent, we were talking to each other a lot. And now it’s starting to expand, and a big part of that is making this kind of food available on a wider scale. I know that’s been one of your big initiatives lately, so tell us a little bit about how that’s going and what you’re up to.
Mark Sisson: Well, it’s going great, thank you. A few years ago, we recognized that there was a need for certain types of foods in the marketplace that were not available to most people who were looking for them. That would certainly be Paleo/primal eaters but also gluten-free, clean-eating people and just foodies in general. Oddly enough, when you start to eat clean, when you eat Paleo or primal or ancestrally, you realize that there are five kinds of meat you’re going to eat next year. There’s lamb, pork, beef, chicken, turkey, a couple of kinds of fish, and maybe 17 vegetables, right? And then what makes the difference is what you put on them—the sauces, the dressings, and the toppings.
So Primal Kitchen Foods emerged a little over a year ago with the mission to create foods that not only imparted a taste sensation to the meal that you were preparing, but also added the functionality of the herbs, the spices, or the healthy fats.
Our first product was a mayonnaise made with avocado oil and organic eggs and organic vinegar from non-GMO beets and some sea salt, and it has just taken off. It’s crazy how much traction there’s been with this mayonnaise. We realized that mayonnaise was sort of the holy grail of the Paleo community. All of a sudden, people who couldn’t eat chicken salad or tuna salad or even potato salad—and its resistant starch—could now eat all of these things with a mayonnaise that not only tasted like the mayonnaise they wanted it to taste like, but was healthy for you, was good for you.
Chris Kresser: Yeah. And it is delicious. I really enjoy it. We often make our own mayonnaise, but that can get a little time consuming, so it’s nice to be able to order it!
Mark Sisson: Half the time you make it, it doesn’t turn out right, and then it doesn’t last that long.
Chris Kresser: Exactly.
Mark Sisson: Now we have a chipotle-lime flavored mayo that’s coming out, that people are just eating by the jar because they’re dipping all their vegetables in it and all their taro chips and things.
Chris Kresser: Cool.
Mark Sisson: We have a line of salad dressings, the Primal Kitchen dressings. We have a Greek vinaigrette right now, which is made with oregano oil—spectacular—and a honey mustard vinaigrette. Again, avocado oil is the only oil in both of those products.
And then we have this new collagen bar. It’s a grass-fed collagen bar with 15 grams of protein, more collagen than in a cup of bone broth, and it tastes phenomenal.
Chris Kresser: I was hoping you’d bring that up because I have a confession: I can’t stand most protein bars. I’ve never been able to eat them. They all just taste the same to me. They’re way too sweet, and they just taste fake and crappy. Full disclosure: Mark sent me some bars to try, and I was like, “Oh, another protein bar. Here we go.” Then I took a bite, and I’m like, “I’m actually enjoying this. I’m liking it a lot! This is a protein bar that I can actually get behind!” And I love that you use collagen because particularly people who are eating a high-protein diet, they’re getting a lot of methionine-rich protein sources, and we know from the research, of course, now that collagen is really important to balancing out the higher intakes of methionine, which is, of course, one of the big arguments for bone broth.
So congrats on that because that’s a nut that needed to be cracked, and you can take it from me, a protein bar critic, that if I like it, you’re definitely doing something right.
Mark Sisson: Well, I appreciate that. You know, it’s interesting because it’s tough to make a bar that everybody likes, right? Some people like the nougat-type bar. We made a bar that you have to work at a little bit. You have to chew that some!
Chris Kresser: Yeah, it is chewy, but it’s not overly sweet. For me, that’s a really big thing, and it’s just clean. There’s nothing in it that shouldn’t be there.
Mark Sisson: Yeah, thank you.
Chris Kresser: Yeah, it’s really fantastic to see the impact that you’re having, Mark, and it’s just been great to get to know you, and I’m looking forward to continuing this world-changing effort with you.
Mark Sisson: Well, likewise, Chris. Obviously I admire what you’re doing, training a whole new generation of docs to do what we do and what you do. Again, I can’t believe it’s been this long already, how many years it’s been.
Chris Kresser: I know! It’s crazy!
Mark Sisson: You keep up the good work yourself.
Chris Kresser: Thanks, and I’ll see you at Paleo f(x), I’m sure.
Mark Sisson: You got it, man.
Chris Kresser: All right. Take care.
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