Meet Mark

Let me introduce myself. My name is Mark Sisson. I’m 63 years young. I live and work in Malibu, California. In a past life I was a professional marathoner and triathlete. Now my life goal is to help 100 million people get healthy. I started this blog in 2006 to empower people to take full responsibility for their own health and enjoyment of life by investigating, discussing, and critically rethinking everything we’ve assumed to be true about health and wellness...

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May 25 2016

8 Essential Tips for Primal Men

By Mark Sisson
41 Comments

8 Essential Tips for Primal Men FinalMen 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.

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.
  • Get some sun exposure every day. Be smart about it, though. Avoid burning. Frequent bouts of low volume sunning are better than infrequent bouts of heavy sun. Failing that, take vitamin D.
  • Get lots of sleep. Optimize your sleep hygiene.
  • Eat zinc, found in red meat and oysters. It’s one of the building blocks of testosterone.
  • Lose weight, as excess body fat can depress testosterone and losing weight restores it.
  • 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 used to get it but don’t anymore, something’s up. Frequency of morning erections is a reliable measure of andropause, the male version of menopause characterized by a reduction in free testosterone.

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.

Prefer listening to reading? Get an audio recording of this blog post, and subscribe to the Primal Blueprint Podcast on iTunes for instant access to all past, present and future episodes here.

TAGS:  men's health

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41 thoughts on “8 Essential Tips for Primal Men”

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  1. Interesting point about iron! I never really thought about it as something that sticks to you (like zinc or fat soluble vitamins). I’ll have to keep that in mind.

  2. I’m definitely one of those guys who tried to pack on the pounds to pack on the muscle, but it ended up being an inordinate amount of effort. Sure, I can certainly get toned, but getting jacked would require so much devotion, time and energy for my body type that I probably wouldn’t have the time to enjoy it. So I’ve become happy with the great gains I’ve made (and continue to make) within a reasonable amount of dedication. Being Primal certainly helps, since when I stick to the diet and lifestyle tips, my body changes for the better (without an excessive HIIT routine several times a day).

  3. I try to do what you listed above–80-20 rule applies. And I still have sex a few times a week, but I seldom have morning wood anymore. I am 69, so maybe that is the reason why.

  4. This was a good reminder that I need to inject some more sprinting/brief high intensity exercise into my weekly routines. I enjoy hiking, walking and the range of bodyweight-based exercises I do every week, but the sprints and sprint equivalents have been lacking.

  5. For me, the easiest meal to skip, by far, is breakfast. I’ve never been one to be hungry when I wake up. Just the thought of it makes me feel gross. I’m fortunate because it makes IF on a daily basis much easier, since sleep takes up most of that gap time between my last meal.

    1. I’m the same way! Most mornings the thought of eating right when I wake up makes me queasy. Nowadays I don’t eat anything until noon and then get all of my calories through lunch, dinner, a big snack and a protein shake.

      1. I think it’s best to think of skipping breakfast as really just delaying it.

        Breakfast is the first meal of the day technically. So I think psychologically it may be easier for people to think of it as a challenge to see how far they can delay breakfast rather than skipping it. That way they don’t feel deprived and it takes the focus on how long they can last till lunch.

        I get up a 4am. Have some green tea, do my warm up, then hit the waves by 4:30am and surf for about two hours. Then I come home and usually do some planking, pull ups, pushups or HIIT on my spinner bike. Then I eat. Usually between 7:30 and 8.

        But that’s about four hours after I got up. Did I “skip” breakfast? Or did I just delay it?

        It depends on your perspective.

  6. When I lost weight, I noticed some definite improvement in energy, stamina, and a general lust for life. I’m sure there were many psychological changes going on to account for the improvements, but an increase in testosterone was most likely a major contributor.

  7. I always thought of myself as someone who’s not a competitive person by nature; in fact it’s something that I usually avoid. But then again, I can think of non-traditional examples of competitiveness in my life (ones that aren’t in the arena of sports). For me, the focus is not about beating someone else as much as it is proving myself to be exceptional in a particular task. And I suppose that’s what really drives effectively competitive folks: competing with yourself, not others.

  8. I found # 8 particularly interesting. I never thought of it as an indicator that free testosterone is in check. I suppose it makes a fair bit of sense though. I’ve been trying to sleep enough lately to get rid of my “raccoon eyes.” Hopefully implementing some of these tips will help me out a little.

    1. Raccoon eyes can also be related to food allergies/sensitivities. Doing a solid primal elimination diet is a great way to identify what may be contributing… Then again, sleep is key as well 😉

      1. Interesting! I’ll have to be aware of what I’m eating and try and figure out any possible culprits. Sometimes it seems like I’ve slept enough and they’re still around.

  9. Great list! BTW, I’m bringing my Primal books with me to Paleo f(x) so when you see a 43-year-old dude charging you with his wife, 13-year-old daughter, and 2-month-old daughter right behind fear not… I’m just looking for your autograph! 🙂

    The one thing I’d add to this list is to ensure you know WHY you want to improve your health… this was huge for me. I was fat, lazy, and drinking far too much not so long ago. And I realized I was likely headed for a heart attack or stroke (or both) since it runs in my family.

    So, in order to not have this happen I now eat clean and work out consistently… this is my why and it continues to help me power through the tough days even though, honestly, most of my days are now pretty awesome since I feel so much better!

  10. Good stuff. As to the body type. I always told my clients (ex personal trainer) “Aim to be fit and healthy in the body shape/type you’re a!ready in, not the one you’re not in, or may never achieve.®”

    Men have the advantage of not being assaulted with “right” type body imagery from not only the media but those around them, but it has shifted somewhat where far too many men not genetically gifted struggle way too much to be the body type they were not born to be. I’ve known a few men who have ruined their health fighting their nature by overtraining, overeating or consuming way too many cr/ppy supplements, either OTC or illegals.

    As a hard gainer myself it took me into my late 30 s to finally come to grips with my body type and nutritional needs. I’m the guy who can go long and hard with fewer calories.

  11. Morning wood… Huh? Oh, that. Not being a guy, I had to think about it for a second.

    Regarding zinc, it’s a good thing for both men and women. Get it from food if at all possible since it can block absorption of copper when taken as a supplemental isolate.

  12. OK Mark, you’ve done a super job on essential tips for Primal Women and Primal Men. Now, to be politically correct …

    1. Yeah, you’re so right, since intersex people are not really “people”, they are simply a good excuse to crack up an ignorant “joke” on a comment board.

      And trans people are also pretty laughable I suppose, even though there are very ancient traces of their existence and also studies on their presence in other animal species. So, truly, those people are delusional and not Primal at all!

      Never heard about how a psychologically safe community is an important aspect of the Primal lifestyle?

      Unlike you, I think it would be very important (not to mention: interesting) to have more studies on the health of intesex/trans people, with or without hormonal supplementation (an aspect that concerns all kinds of people, btw, since you can lose gonad function for many reasons).

      I would put Mark’s silence on this subject on the fact that he simply doesn’t know much about it and isn’t helped by the fact that the scientific community has to face people with your kind of mentality when comes the time to get funding.

  13. I’d like to do more meal skipping, but dang it, I wake up hungry as a bear out of hibernation which rules out a good IF method like 16/8. It’s easier for me to skip lunch. Maybe a big low carb breakfast, then waiting until dinner would be beneficial. I think Mark refers to it as “early and late” in one of his posts on fasting.

    1. I feel you there, Old Hank. Then again, I am twenty one and could eat an entire buffalo with room for ice cream. I thought that I was in your same boat (getting extremely hungry when waking up) until I messed around with my carb timing after reading the “sleep low article.” I didn’t do what the athletes in the article did, but reading it made me realize there are so many ways to balance things and shift macros around which is what gave me the ability to wake up, drink my coffee and feel great. Not thinking about food all the time isn’t something I could have comprehended a few years ago. Any way, my point is just keep playing with it before you make up your mind that your body works a particular way. It’s amazing how adaptive we are.

  14. Might just collapse these excellent tips into “embrace your morning iron” 🙂

  15. Morning wood just killed me, love it! The primal eating style has definitely fueled a a very healthy sex life at 49! I eat a lot of pumpkin seeds on the zinc front as well + red meat + oysters + lifting. Big believer.

  16. Really liked the embrace your body type part. I can’t get big. It will never happen. 10 years of bodybuilding proved that. I build mass quickly to a certain (very moderate) size and then it stops. If I push any further I just develop tendon issues and muscular injuries.

    Same with a six pack. It will never happen. I don’t have the genetics for that shape, and the way my body stores fat and the thickness of my skin rules that one out.

    In the right light, and flexing just right, in the right pose, when I’m at my absolute leanest, I can simulate a six pack pretty decently…for a moment.

    That’s the dirty secret about six pack abs. It’s entirely genetic. Once you get to a certain leanness, they are either there or they aren’t. But that doesn’t sell books and videos. So the six pack abs myth goes on.

    My cousin is just the opposite. He had a six pack when he was seven years old. He has the classic athletic musculature with long bellied muscles, tight waist, wide shoulders and think skin. When we both started lifting in high school our gains we very close for a year or two and then he just kept getting bigger and eventually competed. I stayed the same size. I could manipulate things by focusing on specific exercises, but it was more shuffling of mass that an accumulation.

    To this day, I can’t gain past a certain level and my cousin bulks up as soon as he even touches a barbell. I think he can even visual gains it comes so easy for him.

  17. So women should not skip breakfast?, good, now morning wood has it’s usefulness. Wait till I tell my wife!!!lol

  18. I’m 47 and female, and my Paleo Doc has me on testosterone. He thinks the lack thereof is causing or contributing to the chronic inflammation that hasn’t allowed my lower back to heal from the contractions of 2013. I’m not convinced, but, following the doctors orders (and with nothing to lose) I’m smearing the stuff on a couple of times a day. There’s not much information around re testosterone for women…

    1. Testosterone is important for women. It would be nice if there were more research on it. I know for myself I need to supplement. It affects mood, libido, cognition. Maca also seems to help. I wonder how much hormones and neurotransmitters are affected by environment and habit. For example, does bowing to cultural pressure to be less aggressive reduce testosterone levels?

  19. Hi Mark,

    Great post, full of essentials for men. Now as you have become a staple in terms of lifestyle and well-being I am sure there’re thousands of us or maybe more that have come in terms with being Primal as a family.
    Both me and my wife benefit each day from your wisdom and kindness to do what you re up here. What we are left with is our children. I read most of the articles about our of-springs: I remember that great article about how school should be and there’re some tips about babies or toddlers.
    Still I would appreciate more articles on this. Here’re some starting questions:
    1. What age teenagers should start lifting?
    2. What age teenagers should start practicing a sport regularly?
    3. How much should be fun&play and how much should be studying at the age of 9? What if he’s 12 years old?
    4. Maybe one of the most important question: how should we as parents help our children deal with city’s stress? With all this noise, air pollution and crazy pace they see daily all around them? I as many others lived on a small village and I could spend my energy daily on bike all over the hills or just running around. Today my little one has just some organized parks with in place fixed toys. There’s no randomness or that much of a space, hills and so on.

    Thanks,
    Florin.

  20. I already donate blood regularly–every 8 weeks, as permitted. Interestingly, the American Red Cross now advises regular donors, including men, to take iron supplements. I’ve started doing that, and feel like my workouts have really improved.

  21. Regarding Morning Wood: “If you used to get it but don’t anymore, something’s up.”
    -Or not.

  22. Great tips! One thing I wanted to note is that the calcium in dairy doesn’t interfere with iron absorption if it’s coming from an animal source (heme iron). It only interferes with plant-based iron (non-heme iron) absorption.

    This is because in plant foods, the ferric iron (Fe+3) needs to be reduced to ferrous iron (Fe+2) in order to be absorbed, usually this is where vitamin C takes action. The Calcium (Ca+2) and ferrous iron, are both absorbed via the same transporter (divalent metal transporter 1, DMT1) so that’s where they compete.

    Heme iron from animal sources use a different transporter to be absorbed intact into the intestinal cells via HCP (heme carrier protein) and calcium has no effect on this mechanism.

  23. As a woman, I just have to say that I think men who have such low body fat % that you can see their veins is absolutely disgusting*. Don’t get me wrong, it’s totally sexy when a guy has muscle definition and is relatively lean, but if I can see your veins popping out, or even worse, the actual muscle striations (<3-4% BF) that is TOO LEAN!

    *If veins are only visible because said man is actively working out and using his muscles at that moment, it is not so much an issue, but if they're popping out all the time, even when he's just relaxing – yuck!

    1. If the guy is healthy, I don’t see why you’re saying it’s disgusting, and if he’s not healthy, he should be helped with his body image issues, not pointed and laughed at. Unless, of course, he’s doing that for his career as a professional athlete and not for his personal body image (but it’s still not okay to ridicule him).

      It might not be your sexual fantasy, but that doesn’t concern anybody else than you and your partner, and if body shaming is not right for women, it shouldn’t be done to men either.

  24. “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.”
    Can you please elaborate on this Mark? 🙂 Is that to say that increasing testosterone within natural levels doesn’t result in increased muscle protein synthesis?

    Greetings from Denmark! 🙂

  25. Embrace your body type – I like the thought of this.
    While eating healthy and exercising can help get a better body, we still need to be aware of the type of body we have.