Men I know. I am one, after all. Have been for many years. For the most part, I enjoy it. It’s worked out really well for me. I don’t find it particularly difficult to be a man. Once I dialed in the basics of this Primal stuff, my health improved and my fitness became more well-rounded and applicable to the things I enjoyed doing. I haven’t struggled much. But many people do. And while the majority of Primal advice is geared toward humans in general, I’ll just get this out of the way early: These “men’s tips” all apply to many women, too. And many of the “women’s tips” from last week’s post also apply to men. But ignoring the gender-specificity of general trends serves no one. Everyone has the capacity for competitiveness; men tend to have more. Both genders can benefit from fasting, but women are more likely to have negative responses. Men and women both need sleep; lack of it hits women harder. That’s all. As always, if you recognize yourself in these tips, go for it!
1. Skip a meal every now and then
As you recall from the women’s tips post, women have a lower tolerance for meal skipping. Men have a better chance of thriving on it. I suspect they should try. A good rubric is “eat as infrequently as you can without negative effects.” If you can eat twice a day without getting irritable, experiencing metabolic slowdown or fat gain, or feeling stressed, eat twice a day. The longer you can go in between meals, the better you’ll get at burning fat and, I’d predict, the longer you’ll live.
Don’t graze. Eat meals (not every one).
2. Mind your iron
Excess iron is inflammatory and a potential oxidant, and male bodies have no system for shedding it. If we want to limit iron, we either have to bleed, destroy our red blood cells with lots of exercise, or reduce our absorption of it. Studies indicate that a modest reduction of iron is a smart health strategy for most men who want to live long and well and enjoy better insulin sensitivity.
Dietary polyphenols in colorful fruits and vegetables, tea, coffee, and red wine all reduce iron absorption. Pretty much any of those healthy “superfoods” we hear about have iron-chelating properties. I’m talking about curcumin (from turmeric), quercetin (from apples, onions, and many other plant foods), grapes—the colorful spices and herbs and plants.
Don’t get crazy about it, now. You still need iron. Be sure to get a full blood count to confirm you actually need to do anything. But keep it in mind, especially as you age.
3. Lift your iron
Everyone—man, woman, teen, seniors—needs to lift heavy things, if only for health and fitness reasons. But there’s also another component: aesthetics. The “ideal” male physiques (and there are many) depend heavily on strength training. You don’t have to be a bodybuilder or squat heavy or even use weights at all. You do have to manipulate weight in the face of gravity on a regular basis, though, even if it’s your own.
Being and looking strong helps you make your way through life, get out of sticky situations, boosts confidence, and makes you better at everything.
4. Inject intermittent intensity
Whether it’s running sprints once or twice a week, going really hard in the weight room, climbing a tree until your heart pounds against your breastplate, going bouldering, approaching the beautiful woman, starting that business you’ve always dreamed about, surfing a big wave, or practicing holding your breath underwater, there are real benefits to punctuating your comfortable life with intermittent bouts of physical, mental, and psychological intensity. Even though most of us no longer have to practice these behaviors for sustenance and survival, learning a martial art or hunting may also be worthy pursuits that inject intensity.
Put something on the line. Get a little scared. Get uncomfortable.
5. Mind your testosterone
Testosterone is perhaps the primary determinant of a man’s sexual function, muscle protein synthesis, physical strength, bone health, psychological health, cognitive function, energy level, confidence, and risk of getting diabetes. In short, every male should strive to optimize their testosterone levels if they care at all about quality of life. How?
Eat adequate amounts of saturated fat, monounsaturated fat, and cholesterol. We use fat and cholesterol to make sex hormones, so a deficiency in either can depress testosterone levels.
Lift heavy things. The resultant increase in T doesn’t seem to change the effect of the training, but the benefits persist into other areas of our lives.
Don’t eat too little. Excessive calorie restriction can be as bad as excess body fat.
That’s the low hanging fruit.
6. Compete, but not too much
Most men have a competitive streak. This is mostly due to biology; while the hormone oxytocin promotes altruism and cooperation in women, it promotes competitiveness in men. Don’t suppress this. Suppressing innate characteristics rarely works. Embrace it. Steer it.
This may mean joining an adult sports league or being the guy to take initiative and set up a recurring pickup game of something each weekend with your friends. It may mean standing up for yourself at work, asking for that raise, or starting your own business.
Balance your competitive streak with appreciation for the fruits of your drive. Win the game, but enjoy playing it. Make the money, then use it to improve the quality of your daily existence and those you care about.
7. Embrace your body (type)
It’s usually women receiving this message, but it’s also important for men. Maybe more so since they don’t receive the message much. Well, here it is:
Not everyone has the capacity to pack on 30 pounds of muscle. For some people, it’s a real struggle just to keep weight on. That’s me. While I can maintain a fairly good physique with decent muscle mass, I remember pushing myself about six years ago to pack on even more muscle. I did, but I had to eat more than I was comfortable eating and train more than I wanted. In the end, I hurt my shoulder bench pressing too much, was sidelined for a few weeks, and lost most of my gains.
Not everyone can get to Men’s Health model levels of leanness and vascularity. Heck, even those models are rarely walking around like that year round. If it’s not your job, you don’t need to kill yourself, depress your testosterone, and ruin your libido trying to maintain sub 10% levels of body fat.
This doesn’t mean you give up trying to improve your body composition. Keep strength training and sprinting. Keep moving. Keep eating right. You can still get stronger, faster, fitter, and leaner. You will improve, and that’s good enough.
8. Learn from morning wood
Waking up with morning wood is a decent barometer for testosterone function, sexual health, and overall robustness. You’re quite literally raring to go.
If you never used to have it but get it every morning, you’re doing things right. You’re getting good sleep, your sex hormones are functioning, you’re recovering from your workouts, you’re eating well. In men, virility and health go hand in hand (similar to fertility corresponding to health in women).
I’ll just say this again so you don’t mistake me: if you’re a woman and you feel driven to compete, or you absolutely love intensity in your life, do it. These tips are more likely to be critical for the average man, but they potentially apply to anyone.
Thanks for reading, everyone. Now, I’d love to hear from you.
What other tips do you suggest for men? Lemme know and I may throw another post together.
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Mark Sisson is the founder of Mark’s Daily Apple, godfather to the Primal food and lifestyle movement, and the New York Times bestselling author of The Keto Reset Diet. His latest book is Keto for Life, where he discusses how he combines the keto diet with a Primal lifestyle for optimal health and longevity. Mark is the author of numerous other books as well, including The Primal Blueprint, which was credited with turbocharging the growth of the primal/paleo movement back in 2009. After spending three decades researching and educating folks on why food is the key component to achieving and maintaining optimal wellness, Mark launched Primal Kitchen, a real-food company that creates Primal/paleo, keto, and Whole30-friendly kitchen staples.