Mark Sisson

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So, tell us about the guy behind Mark’s Daily Apple!

I’m a former elite endurance athlete who has made health and fitness my life’s work. In my younger days, I was on the track toward medical school for a while (BA in Biology from Williams College), but I got detoured by a different track – literally – and a dream of making the US Olympic team for the marathon. As the decades passed, I realized that my calling was as an independent researcher, critical thinker, motivator, and communicator – to get people to take responsibility for their health and fitness (often in the face of flawed conventional wisdom that can lead even the best-intentioned astray), and to inspire people to be open-minded, passionate, and enthusiastic about leading a healthy, happy, fit, balanced, active lifestyle, with the least amount of pain, suffering and sacrifice possible.

…the least amount of pain, suffering and sacrifice?

This is one of my favorite sound bites because it seems the diet and exercise industry today is calibrated toward exactly that: the idea that you need to struggle and suffer to drop excess body fat, achieve fitness goals, and be “healthy”. My most prominent motivator is the pursuit of pleasure and happiness in my life. There is not a single word on this website that does not emanate from that goal. Following the Primal Blueprint is first and foremost about pleasure. I try not to speak in terms of “program”, “regimen”, or “diet” when describing the Primal Blueprint. This is a way of life—a comprehensive blueprint just like you might find when building a house—and it’s based on modern epigenetic research and evolutionary biology.

My most prominent motivator is the pursuit of pleasure and happiness in my life.

The survival of the fittest selection pressure faced by our hunter-gatherer ancestors informs the lifestyle behaviors that our genes expect today in order to live a healthy, happy, energetic, long and productive life. Instead of pain, suffering, and sacrifice, I encourage Primal Blueprint enthusiasts to be flexible, and to “own” their choices not in the context of right or wrong, but simply to be well-informed about the consequences. Then, as we face these choices all day long that either promote or compromise our long-term health, we can feel empowered that we are in control of our destiny.

But you’re still super-fit, even past age 60. You must exert a ton of discipline, sacrifice and hard work in your daily routine?

Again, everything I do is motivated by enjoyment. I, indeed work hard in the gym to maintain my strength, flexibility, muscle mass, and explosive power as I battle the calendar. However, I greatly enjoy my sessions; I never, ever overdo it to the extent of compromising my health. And, truth be told, my main motivations for my workouts are, A: To LGN* with the least possible amount of training, and B: To play hard at my passions like Ultimate Frisbee, Standup paddling, snowboarding, slacklining and anything else I wish tackle with minimal injury risk and maximum competency (especially against the athletic younger guys that I have to guard at our epic Sunday afternoon Ultimate Frisbee battles).

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Coming from a background of extreme endurance training, I’m almost embarrassed to admit how little total exercise time I require to maintain an excellent fitness level and delay the aging process. Maximum results can be achieved in minimal time when you apply an exercise strategy aligned with your genetic expectations for health.

Uh, what’s LGN?

“Look Good Naked” – as my regular readers already know. Yes, I have a sense of humor too.

Tell us more about your mission at Mark’s Daily Apple and with the Primal Blueprint movement?

My mission is to change the lives of ten million people. Back in 2006 when I first published MarksDailyApple.com and counted my followers in the hundreds for a while, people probably scoffed at this as a throwaway line. Today, the primal/paleo/evolutionary health movement has gained tremendous mainstream acceptance. Every day, another little bit of science turns the corner to reveal and recalibrate what being healthy really entails, and the grass roots aspect of the movement continues exponential growth.

My mission is to change the lives of ten million people.

While my team and I have been really busy trying to build this website into one of the leading health resources on the Internet (today we have some 150,000 unique visitors each day!), the most credit goes to the readers who have created this amazingly dynamic virtual community. When one browses the Mark’s Daily Apple Forum, the dozens (sometimes hundreds) of comments that follow each daily post, or the mind-blowing Success Stories, it’s immediately evident that this is more than just a URL. This is by far the most gratifying aspect of the journey – being part of the authentic, tight-knit community of real people that gather at MDA.

What are the challenges faced by the primal movement?

We are still facing a tremendous amount of momentum toward disease and accelerated aging in high tech modern life. When we seek help or guidance, it’s easily to get manipulated – by the forces of BigPharma, BigAgra, and the massive amount of misinformation and hype that characterizes the mainstream health industry. I believe fundamentally in taking personal responsibility for everything that has ever happened or will ever happen to you – and this applies to health. I am convinced that this is the best, most proactive, effective way to live life. Now, more than ever, you simply cannot hand over your health to others. Take a look at the news: 40 million on their way to type 2 diabetes, a third of Americans morbidly obese, and on and on. I am passionate about changing this.

Now, more than ever, you simply cannot hand over your health to others.

So, to the skeptics I’ll say this: Try going Primal for 21 days. Assess how it feels to ditch grains and sugars from your diet and emphasize primal foods (yep, eating more delicious high fat foods). Try departing from the all-too-common chronic approach to exercise in favor of a genetically optimal blend of frequent low-level movement, regular high intensity strength workouts, and occasional all-out sprints. See how if feels to align closer with your circadian rhythm, dialing back your screen entertainment and getting deeper and more restful sleep each night. There is no greater empowerment than personal experience and breaking through the frustration and plateaus that you might have experienced from following conventional wisdom.

Can you give us details about your fitness routine?

I find creative ways to move throughout each and every day. A 10-minute break from my keyboard to play fetch with my dog, Buddha; a five-minute break to practice my Slackline skills (that usually turns into a 20-minute session!); a 30-minute easy stationary bike pedal in the gym on a recovery day. I also take a nice weekend hike of at least a couple hours, using my Vibram FiveFingers footwear of course. Those are my collective movement efforts.

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I also conduct two very high intensity strength training sessions in the gym each week. These sessions last for no more than a half-hour and involve free weights, machines, bodyweight exercises, and clever little challenges I might conjure on a whim using kettlebells, stretch cords, or whatever else is around the gym. When I’m away from home on business or vacation, I’ll do a simple (but still very challenging) bodyweight routine featuring pushups, pullups, squats, and planks.

My sprint workout is really my Ultimate Frisbee outing each Sunday. Our two-hour matches demand numerous brief all-out sprints going for the disc or playing defense, and tons of leaping, cutting, stopping on a dime, and so forth. Once a week is plenty for me, and in fact require a couple days of recovery every time. I’ll also throw in a no-impact sprint session on the stationary bike once a week. This allows me to work my top end and enjoy the metabolic benefits of sprinting without the impact trauma of running.

So, to the skeptics I’ll say this: Try going Primal for 21 days

What is your daily routine like?

Every day is a mix of business, family, and activity. I absolutely, positively make sure I get enough sleep every evening, and make sure that I get enough rest between workouts. On Monday mornings, I really take my time getting out of bed, since my body is hammered from Ultimate Frisbee! On most days, I’m quick and responsive in my communication and my level of focus and productivity. However, when I realize I need a break, I have no problem taking a break. Of course that means backing off when I’m tired, but also if I look out the window and notice ideal conditions for Stand Up paddling, I’m compelled to go. That’s what life balance is all about!

I do travel quite a bit, both for business and for pleasure. I love going to PrimalCon and other conventions organized by the movement, since the health of my virtual community is nurtured by making those real live personal connections as well. As I oversee the growing enterprises of Primal Nutrition and Primal Blueprint Publishing, I think my most prominent responsibility is as a manager of resources. So I spend a ton of time communicating and strategizing with my team, but also take plenty of reflective time to write, research, brainstorm and envision our direction for the future.

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Sometimes the varied roles and responsibilities I have can be a challenge to balance, so I feel it’s very important to hone my compartmentalizing skills and be disciplined in my focus. What I mean by that is when I’m at the gym doing my midday workout, I’m not jabbering on my headset. When I’m out to dinner with Carrie, I’m not preoccupied with a contract proposal that’s sitting on my desk. I’m a big fan of technology, obviously, but we have to optimize our use so that technology doesn’t compromise our enjoyment of life. I think mobile communication and hyper-connectivity are the most urgent areas to reflect upon and strategize optimal use. I wrote a bit about this stuff in the The Primal Connection.

In my leisure time, I read voraciously – mostly history, science, and medical journals (hey, someone has to). We actually filmed a video about my daily routine, with the emphasis on taking plenty of breaks from high intensity cognitive tasks

Can we hit you with a few more rapid-fire Q&As?

Sure!

What is your health philosophy?

Really, my health philosophy is surprisingly simple. I follow a diet based on an understanding of evolutionary science. I think it’s more important to eat, move, and live according to how humans are designed and not according to society’s artificial developments of the last 100 years. Fortunately, this type of lifestyle is not only incredibly healthy, it’s quite simple.

In a nutshell:

  • Fresh, nutrient dense, high antioxidant, preferably locally grown/naturally raised food choices
  • Daily activity – whether it’s the gym or a walk along the beach, it all counts
  • Plenty of quality sleep, sun exposure, play, and intellectual stimulation
  • Avoid all sweets and sweetened beverages. Once you break free, they lose their allure
  • Time for fun – don’t take anything too seriously
  • Ethical behavior – because what goes around comes around
  • Taking responsibility for yourself and your life – openness to new things and ideas

For more on my health philosophy see my book.

Fortunately, this type of lifestyle is not only incredibly healthy, it’s quite simple.

Tell us about your family.

Carrie and I have been happily married for over 24 years. Carrie is really coming into her own in the primal scene with her popular presentations at PrimalCon and her book (published in 2014) Primal Woman. She is heavily involved in Spiritual Psychology and attends many personal growth retreats as a facilitator. We’re recent empty nesters! Our daughter Devyn is in the design world and living in New York City. Our son Kyle is now a sophomore at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo.

Tell us about your political bent.

Well, I find politics entertaining at times, infuriating at other times. I’m not too political. People’s health and personal enjoyment of life matter more to me than politics and the hot air from the latest pundits.

What is your bottom line?

Easy! I am nothing short of outraged by the mass-marketing of deadly drugs, surgery, and lifestyles that do nothing more than destroy people’s lives. I believe humans have a right to something better – if we demand it.

You say some bold stuff. Do you have enemies in the food and drug business?

I don’t really care what people who have sold their souls think about me. I sleep at night!

Why should I listen to you?

You shouldn’t. I’m partly kidding, of course, but I do believe in critically assessing everything we come across, particularly if it has an impact on our health – including anything I say. I learn something new from my readers every day.

What kind of music do you like?

I love all kinds. I am partial to Earth, Wind and Fire; The Doors; REM; Pearl Jam; and The Police.

What is your favorite food?

My favorite food is a big, 20-ingredient salad with balsamic vinegar and olive oil. Really. (I know, I know. Lettuce???) But for 20 years now, I have enjoyed a daily salad in my trusty 6-quart Tupperware bowl. I throw in turkey, salmon or tuna, sometimes some nuts like almonds or walnuts, along with tons of veggies like bell peppers, broccoli, cucumbers and artichokes. I always say real men eat lettuce.

What is your philosophy when it comes to your customers and business?

Well, the most important thing to remember is that you can’t really separate the personal from the professional. People come first. Help people, only say yes if you can do it (be sincere), treat your employees as well as you treat your family, and your business will do well – that’s been my personal experience, anyway.

What are your top 5 values?

1) Respect
2) Balance
3) Excellence
4) Integrity
5) Curiosity: having a critical openness to new ideas

What are your top 5 pet peeves?

Where to start?

1) Impenetrable plastic packaging
2) People who don’t take responsibility for their actions
3) Telephone support for just about everything!
4) Dessert menus (the food we eat after we’ve … already eaten)
5) Doctors who would rather prescribe meds that prolong a condition rather than spend the time to educate the patient on the simple lifestyle changes that would eliminate the condition. No brainer.

How much do you sleep?

I’m pretty good about getting 8 hours a night. Sometimes more, especially in conjunction with high intensity workouts or stressful periods such as extensive travel.

What do you think about carbs?

Well, the Primal Blueprint models the eating habits of our hunter-gatherer ancestors. Carbs were a minor component of the diet, and the carbs they did eat were highly nutritious, complex, fibrous foods such as wild fruits, vegetables, and tubers. With all the controversy and bickering going on today, I want to explain that carbs are not evil per se, we just eat way too many of the wrong kind today. It’s undisputed that refined carbohydrates are a primary factor in contributing to obesity, type 2 diabetes, anxiety and depression, lack of energy, inflammation, metabolic syndrome and heart disease.

I want to explain that carbs are not evil per se, we just eat way too many of the wrong kind today.

You can read for days on the blog about all kinds of topics related to carb intake, but in summary I will say: Ditch all forms of grains and sugars if you want to live a long, healthy life. This will default you into a “low carb, moderate protein, high fat” diet by comparison to the Standard American Diet. Enjoy vegetables in abundance as the “bulk” of your dietary emphasis (not bulk of calories since calorically-dense animal foods and high fat foods will cover that). Enjoy fruits with some discretion – emphasize eating locally grown, in-season fruits and back off on the year-round consumption of highly cultivated, oversized, overly sweetened conventional fruits. Enjoy nuts, seeds, high fat dairy, and indulgences like dark chocolate, which collectively will contribute a bit of carb calories to your daily total.

If you are a high calorie burner such as an endurance athlete, heavy CrossFit exerciser, or young, growing athlete, you may need to look for additional carbs to fuel your fitness pursuits (this assumes you are completely satisfied with your body composition). In this case, good sources of supplemental carbs include sweet potatoes and other starchy vegetables like pumpkin, wild rice, quinoa and perhaps some legumes if you are not sensitive. If you carry excess body fat despite attention to food choices and devoted exercise, you can easily achieve breakthroughs by eating primally and moderating your carb intake in the manner described.

If you’re still here, I’m impressed. Here’s even more about me (the official bio):

I am the oldest of four children, born and raised in Maine. I was always interested in human health and athletic performance, probably because my father had been a top track and field athlete and inspired me to test myself at an early age (I even broke my leg at age two jumping off a rock for distance). By age 12, I was holding one-boy track meets in my backyard, running laps around the block and pole-vaulting with a bamboo pole into a dirt pit. My mother was always interested in achieving good health through nutrition, so I also began devouring books on health and nutrition.

I excelled at cross-country and distance track events in high school and at Williams College, where I was a pre-med candidate and received my degree in Biology.

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In fact, the running was going so well after college that I decided to forgo medical school for a few years (it’s at 31 years now) and concentrate on a running career. I trained seriously as a marathoner for another five years, racking up well over 100 miles each week in training. The effort culminated in a top 5 finish in the 1980 US National Marathon Championships and a qualifying spot for the 1980 US Olympic Trials. Unfortunately, by then the inhuman amount of training and weekly racing was taking its toll and I found myself constantly sick or injured. (Note to self: too much exercise is not a good thing). In fact, in my last year of competition, as a world class, extremely “fit” athlete, I experienced eight upper respiratory infections! Clearly I was ruining my immune system and my joints doing too much exercise. That’s when I started exploring nutrition and supplementation as a way to enhance my performance and to support my damaged body and bolster my immune system.

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The running injuries – osteoarthritis and tendonitis – precluded ever racing at a high level again, but that was just about the time that the new sport of Triathlon was starting to emerge, and I was immediately hooked. While I couldn’t run much anymore, I could certainly cycle and swim to my heart’s content…and I did. I spent a few more years racing triathlons, including finishing 4th place at the Hawaii Ironman, the biggest in the world at the time.

I finally retired from competition in 1988 and decided I would do whatever I could to help others avoid making the kinds of health mistakes that I had made. I figured I could use my pre-medical background, my degree in biology and an intense desire to unlock the health secrets that I knew were out there – answers to questions about health, wellness, anti-aging, safe weight-loss, nutrition and supplementation – to find the natural ways of achieving good health.

I wrote several books, including Maximum Results, The Fat Control System, The Anti-aging Report and The Lean Lifestyle Program (over 400,000 copies distributed). I edited the Optimum Health national health newsletter (circ. 90,000) from 1994 through 1996.

But most importantly, I saw the need for specific natural supplements to address the concerns of aging baby-boomers who needed nutritional “tools” to help them achieve better health. I was appalled at the amount of medications people were taking and the speed with which people were having surgery to address lifestyle problems. So I drew on my extensive research and science background to design natural state-of-the-art health-enhancing nutritional supplements and educational diet and exercise systems.

During this time, I also served for 15 years as the volunteer elected anti-doping and drug-testing chairman of the International Triathlon Union and as its liaison to the International Olympic Committee.

At the end of 2006, I decided to jump into the blogosphere to help foster compelling, critical and enjoyable health discussions. Soon after, I started cranking out books. So far, it’s been incredibly rewarding. For interviews, guest posts, questions, criticisms, and outrage, shoot me a line via the contact form. I’m more than happy to respond to your thoughts, and I try my best to answer every email I get.