Dear Mark: Cold Weather Sprint Alternatives, Palm Olein, and Dark Circles

Winter SprintFor today’s edition of Dear Mark, we’ve got a four-parter. First, I discuss some alternatives to traditional outdoor sprinting for people in cold weather. Just because you can’t go run 100 meter dashes doesn’t mean you can’t get a fantastic sprint workout. Running is unnecessary. Next, I give my take on the suitability of palm olein in the diet. Nutritionally, it seems sound enough, but are there other concerns we should consider? Then, I tell you how you can get your questions answered on a future Primal Blueprint podcast. Last, Carrie gives a reader with chronic dark circles under her eyes some avenues of exploration for figuring out the cause.

Let’s go:

Would jumping up to and down from a 18′ to 24″ platform 10 times for 20 seconds be the equivalent of a 100 yard spring? Man it’s cold outside and I need an alternative.



Box jumps are a good exercise, but when you do them correctly they don’t really qualify as sprinting. I see a lot of people doing box jumps as fast as possible, sacrificing form and landing all hunched over with their knees up to their necks just to get to the next rep. You should be landing almost upright with minimal knee flexion so that you can absorb the impact. If you land bent over at the waist, sweaty and heaving, you’re asking for an injury. Doing box jumps – even for time – is great and I’d imagine the benefits approach an all out sprint. Just don’t try to turn it into a sprint by sacrificing form. Go as quickly as you can while maintaining good, clean technique.

There are other, perhaps better indoor options:

  • A better, maybe the best, indoor sprint alternative would be to grab a cheap used exercise bike off Craigslist. Go for one of the heavy older bikes like a Schwinn Airdyne, because they can take a ton of abuse and they usually go for cheaper than the newer ones. A quick and dirty (but effective) way to do sprints on your average exercise bike is to start slow as a warmup, work up to max RPM with minimal resistance, crank the resistance up as high as it’ll go, and sprint for 20-30 seconds. Drop the resistance back down and pedal slowly and lightly as you recover. Then, do it again.
  • Sprints on the elliptical are legitimately challenging. If you have access to one of these contraptions, go for it. Use a similar protocol to the exercise bike sprint I described above: start easy, work up to a high RPM, then crank up the resistance.
  • Indoor pool access? Do swim sprints. Depending on your swimming ability, do either 25 or 50 meter sprints (or even shorter distances). Take plenty of rest in between – swimming is a different beast entirely, a kind of perfect fusion of cardiovascular and strength. At least for the first few sessions, you’ll get a pump all over your body and be fairly sore the next day or two.
  • Go find a reasonably tall building at least three stories high and go run the stairs. Carry a kettlebell or wear a weighted vest when you run for added intensity. For some reason, I find that weighted stair sprints work better and feel safer than trying to add weight to flat or hill sprints.
  • If you’ve got a kettlebell or dumbbell handy, swings and snatches are a good option. Not quite the same as a max effort sprint because there’s so much “downtime” between reps, but it’s certainly going to improve your conditioning. Do max swings or max snatches for ten minutes, maybe. Or a modified tabata protocol. 15 seconds on, 10 seconds off for 8-10 cycles is a fun one.
  • Grab a speedrope and start jumproping as fast you can. Check out this routine on Rosstraining, pretty much the premier source for jumprope conditioning information, for a basic example of what to do.
  • Classic bodyweight circuits done at high speed with good form are great conditioning (and recent evidence shows that they might be 50% more metabolically demanding than previously thought!). Do ten sets of 5 pullups, 10 pushups, and 15 squats with 20 seconds of rest in between each set. That’ll wear you out. Again, not the same as a sprint but close enough to make it worthwhile.
  • I was recently introduced to resistance band jumps, and they are “fun.” Attach a resistance band to the ground somehow, or to something very close to ground level. Hold the band in the Zercher or curl position and jump. Do sets of 20 jumps. I got to about quarter squat depth, maybe a bit lower, so I wasn’t quite doing full squat jumps.

Hope you find something that works!

Just as a note to people who brave the freezing weather to run sprints outside: warm up properly! I’ll discuss this further in a future post, but running sprints in cold weather without adequately warming up your legs can cause pulled muscles, torn tendons, and all sorts of unpleasantness.

Is Palm Olein a good fat? The name Olein makes me worry.


It’s generally pretty solid (not literally; it’s actually liquid at room temperature), being the more monounsaturated fraction of fractionated palm oil. It’s mostly palmitic (saturated, the same found in your body fat) and oleic (monounsaturated, the same found in olive oil) acid, with about 12% linoleic (PUFA) acid. Let’s see what happens when people eat it:

There is a potential downside to palm olein consumption: the impact palm oil production has on orangutan habitats on the Indonesian islands of Sumatra and Borneo. Basically, natural forests – which the apes have lived in for millennia – are clearcut to make way for oil palms. Although there’s talk of it all being a big conspiracy on the part of seed oil producers, I’m not sure. Orangutans are some of the gentlest, smartest, most fascinating creatures on this planet, and I have reservations about destroying the habitat of a great primate with intelligence similar to a toddler’s. Luckily, African palm oil production does not impact orangutans (or any other great apes), since they don’t live there. It’s also smaller scale with less infringement on existing ecosystems. That doesn’t really solve the palm olein question, since most mass market palm oil comes from Indonesian plantations, while African palm oil produces most of the unrefined, red palm oil that has the most nutritional benefits.

Short answer: if orangutan habitats are a concern for you, palm olein is likely off limits. If you’re only concerned with nutrient quality, palm olein looks to be a fine fat – certainly better than seed oils (most of which are also pretty bad for the environment).

Oh, I almost forgot because this is pretty tangential and I suspect you’re not a baby yourself. Infant formulas using palm olein as the fat source have shown to have negative effects on nutrient absorption. In study after study, infants fed using palm olein have trouble absorbing fat and calcium and end up with lower bone mineral density.

Let’s go to Carrie for the last one…

I have been paleo for 3+ years, typically the better part of a 95/5 rule, and live the lifestyle as well. I get about 7-9 hours of sleep daily, close to 1 gal water, yoga, CrossFit, organic foods, vitamins/minerals, the works. However, I consistently have very dark circles under my eyes. To the point where people (even my fiance!) have asked if I got hit in the eyes. I don’t wear a ton of makeup but usually go for “bare minerals”.

Any suggestions?


Great question! There are several different potential causes. I’ll go through the most likely ones and you can see if anything looks familiar.

Allergies: Known as allergic shiners, dark circles can sometimes be caused by allergies, either environmental (pollen and stuff) or food. A constantly congested nose increases pressure on the blood vessels under the eye and may create a dark circle.

Leaky gut: This goes hand in hand with allergies. Oftentimes you don’t have an out and out food allergy but because your gut is permeable and allowing food proteins entrance into your body your immune system responds as if you were allergic. Exercise can increase leaky gut, too. Normally this is a normal part of training, but it can get out of hand if you’re exercising too much and recovering inadequately. Which takes me to the next one…

Inadequate recovery: CrossFit and yoga require plenty of recovery. CrossFit alone is very demanding. To recover, you need lots of sleep and food. You’re getting “7-9 hours,” but seven hours might not be enough, especially since your name is Bonnie and we women generally need more sleep than men. Sleep inadequacy hits us way harder than the average man, causing more physical and mental disturbances. We also need more sleep to recover from our training, hence “beauty sleep.” Aim for nine hours. If you can’t manage that much sleep, consider dropping a day of CrossFit, or at least replacing it with some walking. Strict paleo also leads to greater satiety on fewer calories, which is good if you’re trying to lose weight but can become problematic when recovering from intense exercise like CrossFit. Support your body with the calories it needs. Ease up a bit and have a few extra helpings of sweet potatoes, maybe some rice, and an extra pat of butter or dollop of coconut oil after your workouts.

Too much water: A gallon of water sounds like way too much to me. As you may know, Mark has always been skeptical of the “eight glasses a day” advice, and you’re getting twice that! I don’t know that hyperhydration would directly cause dark circles under the eyes, but it could impair your recovery and in a roundabout manner worsen the circles. Just drink when thirsty. Your pee should have some color to it – not too dark, not too light.

Thin skin around the eyes: Eye skin is already thin by nature, but certain nutritional deficiencies can manifest as even thinner skin which allow dark circles greater visibility.

  • Vitamin C – is involved intimately in collagen formation, and one 2009 study found that topical vitamin C solutions applied to the eyelid increased dermal thickness. Make sure you’re also getting vitamin C through your diet. Broccoli and berries are good sources.
  • Gelatin – Make and eat bone broth or gelatinous cuts of meat like shanks, oxtail, and skin. If that’s not in the cards (it should be, though), powdered gelatin will do, too. Collagen is made of gelatin. I personally love having a cup of broth every other day or so.
  • Vitamin A – Also involved in collagen formation. Eat plenty of colorful veggies and egg yolks and try to get a serving of beef liver at least once a week. Topical vitamin A creams might help strengthen the skin, too.

If nothing from this list is helping, it might be worth it to get some lab tests from your doctor and check kidney, liver, and thyroid function. Maybe a blood count, too.

Good luck with it!

That’s it for today folks. Keep sending in your questions, and let everyone know what you think in the comment board. Grok on!

About the Author

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.

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