Dear Mark: Cold Weather Sprint Alternatives, Palm Olein, Podcast Questions, 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.

Loving your first few podcasts, Mark. Will you be answering listener questions in future podcasts? If so, how can I submit a question?


This one’s easy. Yes, I’ll definitely be answering your questions in future podcasts, and submitting them is easy. Anyone reading can click the button below, and record a question. Be sure to state your first name and tell us where you’re from. Also, please try to keep your questions brief and to the point. It will make sorting through all the submissions easier. Thanks for listening, and stay tuned to The Primal Blueprint Podcast for all (well, as many as I can manage!) your Primal questions answered.

Leave a voicemail

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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65 thoughts on “Dear Mark: Cold Weather Sprint Alternatives, Palm Olein, Podcast Questions, and Dark Circles”

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  1. A Schwinn Airdyne is on the top of my list of my at-home gym pieces of equipment. And in addition to swim sprints, I actually like running sprints in the pool! So much resistance.

    1. Yes, I’m a huge fan of the AirDyne. It’s very smooth and the resistance is infinitely variable — the faster you pedal the more resistance you get.

  2. Thanks for the eye info, Carrie. I had terrible bags under my eyes when I started Primal about 3 1/2 years ago. They have gradually gotten better. They are finally not too bad. Other parts of my body have progressed much faster.

    1. And, Mark, pool tabatas work great for me all year. At my athletic club, all of the aqua “aerobic” classes have moved in that direction.

  3. Mark/Everyone,

    Just thought I’d mention I think rowing machines are a great alternative for sprints as well (though that probably isn’t as common).

    1. I love rowing, but I have been told by a physical therapist to not overdo it. He started off in sports medicine and found a lot of back injuries from athletes overdoing it. Great alternative to throw into a rotation though!

  4. Great explaination for the dark circles Carrie! I started adding magnesium oil to coconut oil and using it as a moisturizer. My skin looks flawless for the first time ever! I’m now using so much that I’m thinking of investing in magnesium oil compaines. 🙂

    1. Does coconut oil on your face leave it feeling greasy? I’m just thinking about when it gets on my hands when cooking…trying to decide how that would feel on my face. Do you rinse? I’m intrigued…

      1. I use coconut oil on my face, it is not greasy and absorbs into the skin. But if you get too much just wipe it with a Kleenex, I turned my daughter onto this and she loves it so much that she stopped buying Este lauder.

      2. I use it on my face as well. I take my mascara off with it, use honey for “soap” in the shower and coconut oil on my face after. You get a feel of how much you need, if I get too much i just gets spread around the rest of my body. I don’t put make up on right away but it seems to work well for me.

      3. I also use coconut oil to clean my face at night. Great for removing eye make-up. It isn’t as greasy feeling as you might think!

      4. I make my own sugar scrub for use in the shower. It’s about the only good use I’ve found for sugar now! Essentially 1 part oil/honey to 2 parts raw organic sugar. For mine, I do a combination of raw honey, coconut oil and sweet almond oil for the honey/oil part and throw in some vitamin E as well. It’s a combined exfoliator/cleaner and moisturiser and works amazingly for me. It’s completely gotten rid of some scaly skin I’ve had on my elbows for years and pimples are a rare occurrence for me now. You end up feeling a little oily after rinsing off but that mostly disappears by the time you towel off and dress; no worse than some moisturisers at any rate, without all the added chemical crap.

  5. Upstair sprints is my standard weekly sprint routine in winter (or rainy days, I do not really want to break my leg on slippery surfaces). There are some advantages in living in a big building.
    Do them with V5F to involve the calves more.

  6. I’ve been doing Winter sprints on the frozen lake about a quarter mile from my house. Full snow-suit + boots + 3 feet of snow + windchill make the sprint workout intense!

  7. Dark circles are caused by your liver being stressed (it can also be the Kidneys). This may be through diet or your body is struggling to cope with processing toxins in your body.

    Water retention is a sign of a struggling liver hence the reason why you are drinking so much water.

    Dark circles are usually associated with Candida sufferers who’s bodies are trying to eliminate the toxic waste caused by Candida in the gut and are taking to many anti-fungals which is making the situation worse. If your diet is clean then you also might to look at Adrenal Fatigue as another cause where your body is under stress from too much exercise and stimulation and cannot process waste correctly meaning you are becoming toxic.

    1. Liver – yes. Drop your carbs lower and reefed if you feel shit. Take some beta alanine.

    2. Heavy metals are also toxic to the body & would put a stress on the liver, so it may be worth getting checked out for them.

  8. If Carrie (or is it Bonnie?) is doing everything right, diet- and sleep-wise then her dark under-eye circles are most likely genetic, as it’s in most people’s case.

    Iron deficiency could be another reason. Just because your intake of iron is adequate, it doesn’t mean its absorption is. Hbg/Hct and ferritin are worth checking. Women are more likely to be Fe deficient b/c of menses.

    Iron needs vitamin C for optimal absorption.

  9. I don’t know if I’d call Orangutans “some of the most gentle creatures on the planet”. Out and out rape plays a big part in their reproductive cycle, especially for younger males who haven’t developed the throat pouches.


    1. Thank you for this. As a biologist the common view that most of nature is just a big loving gentle rainbow unicorn paradise and we are the only bad guys somewhat annoys me. As in when people say that animals are never cruel or kill without necessity. I still think nature is amazing and most of it worthy of protection (mosquitos aren’t). One of my zoology professors kept hammering that in – nature is not nice.

      Dolphins are also known to rape females and kill the kids of other dolphins, possibly because the mothers become sexually receptive soon after losing a calf, and otherwise don’t for some years.

      They also sometimes kill porpoises, which are neither competitors nor prey. Dolphins can be pretty much some of the nicest and most evil animals at the same time – just like humans!

    2. “Out and out rape plays a big part in their reproductive cycle.” We have to be careful not to project human moral principals onto animals. Orangutans are no more committing rape than a lion dispatching a gazelle is committing murder. Neither case could be described as gentle of course, if that’s what you are getting at.

      1. Let’s not forget that oil palm plantations can have significant social impacts on local people too.

  10. It’s so cold here in MN that our active dog doesn’t want to spend more than a minute outside (and I’m not arguing with him). But…we’ve invented an indoor sprinting game that involves chasing each other through the house, up and down stairs and many laps through the rooms and halls. He loves it and I get to run barefoot in the winter!

    1. +1! We do this too – I also do a “monkey chase” with him (two hands and two feet on the ground) and try and go as fast as I can without going a$$ over tea kettle – I’m sure it’s really funny looking and I always end up laughing and my dog goes NUTS when I chase him – I bet he’s laughing at me too!! About 20minutes of this really wears me out – it’s definitely a full body workout. I highly recommend 🙂

      1. I used to do this with my cat. I should start doing it again, because it is a good workout, even though it looks silly.

      2. My wife hates it when the dogs and I go around the dining table! She gets all worried about the furniture. Then the cat joins in….

  11. “Modified Tabata protocol is a fun one”, Mark says in a snicker…
    Takes me about 5 minutes with hands on knees to get enough oxygen to stand up straight after this fun form of sprinting.

  12. How do I submit questions for these posts?

    Mostly curious to what you think about the “7minute workout” It seems comparable to your primal workout with a slight bit more cardio.

    I’ve placed this between rock climbing and when its warm sprints. And I’ve seen good results. Helps me feel like I’m not getting too top heavy as a result of climbing.

  13. I sprint outside in the winter with boots on up a very steep hill. The deep snow slows me down considerably but I still get a great workout. I would never sprint on flat ground in the winter due to the chance of slipping.

  14. no such thing as rape in their world. the strongest mail gets to reproduce his genes and that’s how it should be. they would have died out if it wasn’t ok. can apply human terms to animals.

  15. i do jump squats with a 10 kg dumbbell in each hand. 16×16 with 20 sec rest in between. once a week because I am finished for a week after such a session 🙂

  16. Too much water… 8 glasses a day.

    Actually, the researcher–can’t think of his name right now–to whom the 8 glasses of water per day was ascribed did an interview some years ago to clear up what he really said and what he meant. He said we should take in the equivalent of 8 glasses of water per day. That would include fruits and veggies–think of a nice juicy apple–as well as tea, coffee, milk, soup, etc. He never said that we should drink 8 glasses of water per day… on top of all the other sources of liquids we ingest.

  17. I second the bike option. I normally do a sprint session once a week, but it has been negative 20 and snowy here lately.

    In its place I do 20 second all out sprints on a 20 resistance on the upright bike, recover for a minute, then repeat.

  18. I have dark circles and I have had every blood test in the book. I definitely do not have adrenal fatigue, thyroid is under control and the rest of my skin is doing quite well (eczema clearing up or mostly cleared up, no acne at all, etc.) However my dad and my grandmother have dark circles just like I do. So do several family members on dad’s side. It’s genetic and I use concealer. Chasing all these other possibilities did absolutely nothing for me. THey are what they are, I have had them since childhood.

  19. Those cold weather tips are not just for the Northern Hemisphere tribe! It’s going to be 40’C (104’F) here today and those tips would work for me too. I’m not into sprinting in this weather. 😉

    1. I second what Matthew said about rowing machines! Great sprint workouts if you have a gym membership. If not, sprints on a bicycle trainer are useful too.

  20. I am looking for a decent used indoor cycle, but tried elliptical sprints just now. In the past, I would only do about 15-30 seconds, mimicking what I would do on land or when doing swim sprints in the pool with a similar, disappointing result; not even close to the workout on land or in the water. Today, I increased the duration to 60 seconds on, 60 seconds recovery for 8 rounds (with a 2 minute warm up and 3 minute cool down). Wow what a difference. I didn’t check my heart rate, but I tasted lactic acid and am a hot mess, so mission accomplished. I think a pike would be better for indoors, but until I find one, this will work well. I’m glad I didn’t toss the old elliptical!

  21. If you have sufficient snow, I recommend cross country (Nordic) ski or snowshoes for sprint work in the winter. -20C (-4F) here – just need to dress appropriately. The fresh air is awesome!

  22. Shoveling makes for a terrific sprint workout. 10-30 seconds of shoveling as fast as you can, followed by rest. The actual sprinting time varies with the length of your driveway.

    Plus it has the added benefit of clearing the snow faster!

  23. Hi all plus one on the jump rope! About the dark circles. I have them too. The truth is that the skin under the eye is very thin. The dark is actually muscle showing through. There really isn’t much To be done. I have seen cosmetic surgery to remove some of the muscle, but that was not what i wanted….. Make up is best. Just play at ulta until u find what u like.

  24. Dark circles under the eyes are often caused by low FERRITIN. You want to test your ferritin levels, not regular iron levels. My sister had this and feels so much better taking an iron supplement (like this one by NOW: Iron (from 90 mg of Iron Amino Acid Chelate) (Ferrochel Iron Bisglycinate)

    Good luck!

    1. Yes. And don’t go by the “normal” range – it is too low. Now more medical practitioners are advising at least 70 ng/mL and staying at that level for months or up to a year in order to see improvements (such as hair regrowth).

      1. I’d try it to reduce the dark circles, but I’m afraid of the hair growth under the eyes! 😉

  25. Thanks for talking about palm olein i was just thinking about it because I had eaten a lot of plantain chips baked in it recently. I have high LDL so I will cut those out immediately!

  26. Normally, I’m a gym or outdoor exerciser, but there are also a lot of great workouts that you can follow along with on YouTube. Whenever I don’t have my Tracy Anderson Mat Routine DVD, I just mosey on over to YouTube and find the content there. Easy peasey and polar vortex approved.

  27. When I stop taking vitamin C (as a supplement, not a topical), I end up with dark circles under my eyes.

  28. I have another take on the dark circles. Mine look suspiciously similar in texture (though not so severe) as the acanthosis nigricans on my inner thighs. I looked it up in Google and it’s possible to have acanthosis nigricans around your eyes. Interestingly, when I first went Primal, the dark circles and the acanthosis faded quite a bit then they stopped fading after some time. Still have some issues to solve though, so they might get better in the future (I hope).

  29. I was in Borneo to visit the Orangutans and on the way to the jungle we flew over endless plantations of palm trees. So I can attest that it is true and not a made up story.

  30. People who don’t have a weighted vest can give a normal back-pack filled with books or something like that a try to use for stair climbing.

    Also, I can never reach anything close to explosive sprinting speed on a treadmill for fear of flying off, but putting one on full incline and doing “hill runs” for a minute works great for a HIIT/conditioning session.

  31. Does XC Sking count as excessive cardio? I just picked this sport back up again after years of laying off of it. I am not up to race speed yet but I am rekindling an old love. It’s an incredible workout. And one many of us up here in the North Country enjoy for many of the winter months.

  32. Indoor sprints?

    Jumprope with high-knees
    Burpees with jump-up
    Kettle bell swings
    Hands-free Get-ups (Put your hands behind your neck, lay down on your back then get up – repeat quickly)
    Mountain climbers

    I also chase my dog around the house until I am breathless. Just be careful not to bump your head or toes on furniture. He’s small so he gets a great workout too.

    Have fun!
    : )

  33. As a sprint alternative I have done barbell complexes. My favorite is “The Bear”. Put a moderate weight barbell in front of you – maybe what you could overhead press for 10-12 reps. Then in a quick sequence you 1)clean the bar, 2) front squat, 3) overhead press, bring the bar down to a behind the back position, 4) back squat, 5) overhead press back to the clean position, and 6) lower the bar to the floor. Do this 5-6 times in a row, then repeat after recovery for several sets.

  34. +1 for leaky gut and allergies making dark circles. The allergies could also be to something TOTALLY strange, like certain types of MOLD, which lives in your house!

  35. I absolutely cannot wait for Carrie’s book!!! I was so glad for the information on the dark circles and all the wonderful suggestions in the comments about possible remedies. Thanks for this question and reply, Carrie!!

  36. I can agree wholeheartedly on the box jumps. For the crossfit open 13.2 I was on round 5 and had terrible form resulting in a complete tear of my achilles. A year later and it’s still weak. Suffice to say do not sacrifice form on box jumps.

    1. I agree. I went through something similar some time ago from a rough landing when my weight was unevenly distributed on the ground. I think it might have been made possible by an extended case of shin splints partially caused by box jumps. I did them as fast as possible and tried to keep good form but probably went overboard.

  37. I was born with dark bags/circles under my eyes. They still persist though are not usually drastic, though for now they look bad and are a bit puffy because someone decided to beat my face while I was lying down drunk. I don’t know exactly but I feel sort of safe to hazard a guess I had my eyes closed, or I was so exhausted and adding to that intoxicated that I had no fair chance at defense, even though once I got the guy back a bit the next day after he attacked me again but not as much as I would have preferred because there were two people there basically refereeing who told me to stop, and since I have some broken bones in my face – not threateningly severe but somewhat serious and overwhelmingly seemingly permanent, my mood is unalterably affected. I remain overall optimistic and am still basically carrying on my usual routine.

  38. I agree with allergies causing dark under eye circles. I had dark under eye circles since childhood, as do several other people in my family, but since removing dairy from my diet the circles have completely disappeared. It took a few months, but to this day if I have something with dairy I wake up with raccoon eyes that take two weeks to disappear.