Dear Mark: More of Your 21-Day Challenge Questions Answered

QuestionsToday, I’m doing another batch of 21-Day Challenge questions pulled from the ones you asked me two weeks ago. I managed to make it onto the third page of comments. I’d hoped to get through all of them, but with over 200 questions asked, the task proved insurmountable! Since they were by and large really great questions that deserve serious answers, though, I expect I’ll be drawing on them for future editions of Dear Mark. Stay tuned for that in the future.

This week, we’ve got questions about weight machine training, indoor sprinting, eating for drinking “more than moderately,” feeding kids, going Primal with a failing kidney, exercising kids, balancing sleep and exercise, going Primal as a vegetarian, and much more.

Let’s go:

How would you recommend I approach gaining strength while also losing weight? I have been following the autoimmune version of the paleo diet for about a year and 3-4 months now and balancing weight loss with eating for strength performance has been a bit of a puzzle for me.

Gaining strength (and muscle) while losing weight? That’s kind of the holy grail of dieting, and it’s going to be hard to gain one type of mass (muscle) and lose another (fat). Maintaining strength while losing weight is certainly possible.

Focus on losing body fat and retaining lean mass. This is certainly doable and, I’d argue, probable when eating Primally.

Keep protein intake up and keep strength training. The combination of increased protein and a steady stimulus to your muscles tells your body to maintain strength and stop muscle loss, even as weight (fat) is lost.

After a particularly grueling training session, it’s also worthwhile to eat a dense source of Primal carbohydrate — some sweet potatoes (or regular potatoes), a bowl of fruit salad, a big banana — to keep your muscles stocked with glycogen. They’ll be primed to accept it without any untoward effects on your metabolism.

I could use a recommendation for a brand of slackline — you’ve inspired me to pick it up as a new way to play and also work on balance.

I really like Gibbon slacklines. The Gibbon Classic is a great, versatile beginner line that you can have fun with for years.

If you’ve got kids who want to join in but are a little leery or hesitant, the Gibbon Funline is easier for beginners.

Overall, I’d go with the Classic. But definitely check out what else Gibbon has to offer. Something else may strike a chord with you, and it’s hard to go wrong with the brand.

Are weight machines (chest press, leg curls, parallel bars, etc.) of any value to us as exercises? I am referring to specifically after a sports injury, to ease oneself back into heavy lifting.

Second, how do you feel about stationary bikes? As it is winter here, with plenty of snow, getting out to ride my mountain bike isn’t going to be an option for many weeks.

Yes, weight machines have their place. Early stage rehab is probably an ideal time to use a machine because they’re so stable and the injured person can focus entirely on getting the prime movers strong again without worrying about the stabilizers.

Stationary bikes are excellent and my favorite thing to do on one is sprint. Pretty much anyone can go all out on a stationary bike without worrying about injuring themselves. They’re also good for “mindless” movement, like pedaling while reading a book or watching a movie or something.

Obviously, no alcohol would be ideal, but in a less than ideal world, would you change your diet in any way on a day where you know you will be drinking moderately to more than moderately in the evening?

“More than moderately.” Heh, I like that.

I would eat some dark chocolate or coconut, as the saturated fats they contain have been shown to improve the liver’s resistance to alcohol.

I would avoid vegetable oils full of PUFAs, which make the liver more susceptible to alcohol damage (the “saturated fats are good for ethanol-exposed liver” studies use stuff like highly polyunsaturated corn oils as the control diet, and they fare very poorly).

I’d eat several large servings of colorful vegetables, fruits, and berries, which provide lots of minerals and phytonutrients that help us eliminate and resist toxic alcohol metabolites. Herbs, too; those are all good for liver resistance.

So, I guess I’d just go even more Primal than usual.

I am taking a probiotic that I noticed contains a small amount of stabilized rice bran. It is a high-quality supplement and it seems to be working for me at this point but was wondering if I should look for something else after I’m finished with it?

No, don’t worry about it, especially if it’s working for you. Probiotics are such an important tool in shaping our health that minor ingredients included in the formula aren’t worth fretting over. Plus, there’s even evidence that probiotics combined with stabilized rice bran have synergistic effects on each other and generate novel metabolites with beneficial bioactivity (maybe that’s why it’s working so well for you).

Any thoughts on how to overcome the no caffeine headache other than dealing with it for a few days and hoping it stops?

In the past, I’ve had success with going for a really tough workout. Something like a sprint session or a heavy lifting session. Your head will pound even harder during the workout, but afterwards, it disappears and stays disappeared. Just grit your teeth and get it over with.

We just got a puppy. Any particularly healthy Primal foods you can recommend for them that might not be on my radar? Would bones from a conventional butcher (they may or may not be grass fed, they do source locally) that are likely not from grass fed cattle be a net positive or negative?

Your local bones should be fine, but do make sure you keep an eye on your pup as he or she gnaws. Expect lots of licking and scraping and some really messy paws.

Grab some marrow bones, vertically sliced to expose the marrow if possible. Beef knuckles are great, too. Full of collagen. It’s my experience that puppies exposed to bones early on develop better “mouth habits” and improved dental dexterity. They’re less likely to break a tooth trying to chomp a thick cow femur in half if they’ve grown up with them from the start.

That outweighs any less-than-ideal fatty acid profiles in the bones (which, if they’re sourced locally, probably got more grass than most CAFO-fed cows).

Be sure to check out the Primal Eating Plan for Dogs post I did years back for more ideas.

I recently became a Father, and with all the not-sleep I’ve been getting, it’s hard to wake up early or stay up later to work out. Should I even worry about it and just try to be active when I can? Does the extra hour of sleep I get a net positive over waking up to get a lift in?

Go for the extra hour of sleep. I always choose sleep. That extra hour of sleep might be enough to counter increased activity in the genes responsible for inflammation, diabetes, and even cancer. Plus:

Sleep is required for good judgment and quick thinking. You need to be on your toes. Since mom is probably breastfeeding and recovering, it’s up to you to handle everything else.

Sleep is required for memory consolidation, and since you’re experiencing some pretty incredible life events for the first and only time, you want to remember as much as possible (yes, even the horrible parts, if only to revisit when considering additional children).

Be active when you can. Carry, lift, toss (within reason), swing your kid. Take the kid on walks. Get outside during the day, weather allowing. Do twenty pushups and twenty air squats every time you change a diaper. Little things like that really do help. Couple that with an extra hour of sleep and I suspect you’ll be better off — and far happier and more able to appreciate this special time.

And yeah, steal a real workout when you can. If you can get one a week on top of the other movement, you’ll be in good shape.

Congratulations, by the way!

How can I keep up my interval sprinting in the winter?

Do Tabata burpees. 20 seconds of burpees, 10 seconds rest, repeat 7 more times.

Get hold of a stationary bike, or perhaps a Schwinn Airdyne, and do sprints on it.

Get a jump rope. Use it. Try a minute on, a minute off, for 12 minutes.

Get a kettlebell and do high-rep swings, snatches, or cleans. These aren’t exactly sprints, but the effect on fat loss is roughly similar.

Do barbell complexes. These are supersets of different barbell exercises performed without putting the barbell down. A potential complex could be 5 reps of front squats, 5 reps overhead press, 5 reps Romanian deadlift, 5 reps bent over row, using a light to moderate weight. Do all 20 reps without dropping the bar. Rest for a minute or two and do it three or four more times.

Doing well on the challenge, but woke up with a stiff neck today and pretty much all movement is uncomfortable. What do you do when injuries interrupt the exercise?

Try any other movements that don’t hurt. Air squats? Lunges? If it doesn’t hurt or feel “weird,” it’s most likely safe to do.

Can you walk? Go for long walks.

Otherwise, just take it easy. Necks aren’t to be trifled with.

Any primal tips for lowering blood glucose that go beyond the standard primal diet and exercise?

There are a few other things you can try.

Sleep: Adequate sleep improves, or rather maintains, glucose control. Aim for 7 to 8 hours a night, and titrate up or down depending on how that amount makes you feel.

Cinnamon: Cinnamon can lower blood glucose.

Turmeric: The brilliantly orange spice can also help with glucose control. Try it in tea or with pork.

Resistant starch: Eating resistant starch-containing foods (like potato starch, green bananas, or cold potatoes) can improve your insulin sensitivity and normalize blood sugar levels.

When taking on a lifestyle change like going primal what’s the best way to get support from family and friends who may think you’re crazy?

“I’m trying something new to make a positive change in my health. It’ll be a few weeks, and I might do a few things that look funny to you, but please bear with me, support me, and hold your tongue. Oh, and I’ll cook dinner a few nights a week as long as you agree to eat with me.”

And then at the end, when you’ve made a big change, whether it’s in your demeanor or your body fat level, your results will speak loudly and convincingly in your favor. The delicious Primal food you make won’t hurt, either.

So, can one take vitamin D supplements to “Complete” this item? The wording implies that just getting outside for 15 minutes is sufficient, but this only applies when the sunshine is sufficient and people aren’t bundled up with no skin showing!

That’s a great question. Yes, if you’re not getting unfiltered sunlight carrying adequate UVB radiation, you’ll need to take some vitamin D. Many people don’t make any vitamin D with the sunlight available during winter.

But getting outside in the sunlight — even if it’s low UV and even if it’s freezing outside — is still important for general circadian health. The light remains bright enough to act as a daytime signal to your biological clock. Your eyeballs can still enjoy and benefit from sun exposure, even if your skin cannot.

How do you recommended easing children into eating more of a Primal diet when custody is split 50/50 and the co-parent is not on board?

Feeding them Primally when they’re with you part of the time is way better than nothing. Plus, kids are very resilient. They can bounce back from poorer food choices, especially if they’re eating well the rest of the time.

If they start evincing obvious improvements in mood, behavior, performance, and energy — all common occurrences — your co-parent may be swayed and agree to give it a shot on their end, too.

I can’t see why they’d object. It’s pretty hard to argue with feeding kids more fresh fruit and vegetables, unprocessed meat (unless you’re dealing with a vegan or vegetarian co-parent), and healthy fats.

I also want to sprint more for power and speed development. So what other methods of building Primal endurance are good?

Well, a few questions back I gave some options for people looking to sprint indoors during winter. Things like jump rope, burpees, barbell complexes, high rep kettlebell swings, and stationary bike sprints. Those can all be modified to improve general conditioning, and exercises like burpees and jump rope are in fact classic conditioning moves. Then you’ve got other options like sledgehammer swingsbattle ropes, and sled pushes (or car pushing).

Long, uphill hikes (often with heavy packs) are excellent for conditioning, too.

400 or 800 m repeats on the track, with around 2 minutes of active rest (jogging or walking) in between. Alternate between 400/800 each training session. Do these once a week and work your way to the point where you’re doing 12 repeats each workout.

Slow, longish runs at easy aerobic pace. Stay under the aerobic threshold, so you’re (mostly) burning fat.

I eat mostly paleo, but I have a weakness for ice cream and baked goods. What do you suggest for someone like me? Are strict challenges the way to go, or should I conquer my sweet tooth one day at a time?

By reframing the dalliance as an 80/20 excursion rather than a moral failure, you can move along from it without a second thought. If you feel like a terrible person for eating a scoop of salted caramel ice cream, you’re liable to fall into a junk food-laden guilt spiral.

You’re going to slip up and eat the ice cream anyway. What’s the point of beating yourself up over it? Turn it into a positive. Make it a pressure release that enables better adherence in the long run. And hey, it may even be good for you.

Some people just don’t do well with strict diets. You’re probably one of them.

My wife has kidney failure what should i look out for when we are doing the 21day challenge.

That’s serious, and she needs to get the diet cleared with her doctor before anything. Off the top of my head, she’ll probably need to reduce protein. As safe as protein is for a healthy kidney, kidney failure severely hampers protein metabolism.

But Primal can still be in the cards. Ask her doctor about a low-protein, low-carb, high-fat ketogenic diet, and mention this study in diabetic mice where ketogenic diets actually reversed kidney failure.

Everything else I talked about in the Challenge — sleep, exercise, sun, play, etc — should be totally safe.

I am not trying to drink every day or night I just want to know if there are certain “grades” each type of alcohol receives in case it is a special occasion and the need to order a drink arises.

Check out this article from a few years back that answers your question: Choose Your Booze: A Guide to Healthy Drinking.

My question is, is there an ideal time of the day to work out for someone trying to best regulate blood sugar an insulin?

One hard and fast rule is to work out before the meals containing the most carbs. Exercise sensitizes your muscles to insulin so that you require less to clear glucose from the blood. Another benefit is that the glucose you do clear from the blood is more likely to end up as glycogen in your muscles.

Another strategy is to add “exercise snacks” throughout the day. Rather than one big workout once a day, you pepper your day with small bouts of exercise, particularly before meals; this reduces the blood glucose response. A set of pushups here, a short sprint up the stairs there, a ten minute walk every other hour. General movement is good, but some of these exercise snacks should be higher intensity, too.

I’ve been wondering about resistance bands. Do they count as lifting heavy things?

You know what? Yeah, I think they count and in some cases compare favorably with free weights. A study in adults with musculoskeletal pain found that resistance band lunges produced increased activity in the glutes, hamstrings, and lumbar muscles compared to lunges with dumbbells.

Especially in older adults, the evidence shows that resistance bands can be quite effective. One study found that resistance band training increased muscle size and strength. Another found that resistance band training increased lower body strength in older African American women by 20%. And in postmenopausal women, both low intensity and higher intensity resistance band training increase strength, lean muscle mass, and muscle size.

Even top athletes can benefit from resistance bands. Pro rugby players saw increased strength and speed gains when incorporating resistance band training into their bench press routines.

Resistance bands also afford the ability to work the core in interesting ways. Since it’s always “pulling” in one direction, you have to use your “core” to resist or directly push against that pull.

Apologies if this question has already been asked, but does anyone have any great ideas for “play” for a city-dweller? As a person who was never very athletic, I don’t have a list of physical activities I find fun.

Great question. Play is the category people have the hardest time with. First, coming up with a good idea or activity can be tough, especially if you haven’t played in decades. Then, once you’ve found one, you have to overcome that little voice inside saying “Adults don’t play! They’re all gonna laugh at you!”

If formal sports don’t appeal, how about less mainstream options? I’ll just throw a few out there:

  • Frisbee golf
  • Speed golf
  • Dodgeball
  • Tag
  • Capture the flag
  • Ultimate frisbee
  • Kickball

Also, play doesn’t have to be physical. You can do board game nights, LARP, play poker with friends, maintain a weeks-long game of Risk (just be sure to respect the Ukraine), play charades, or play video games (to name just a few options). What’s important is that you have fun and ideally engage in friendly competition.

Probably old tales, but I’ve heard so many times that if kids pick up heavy things (i.e. exercise with weights) bad things happen to them that I just don’t know if this is CW or if there is something to it. Would bodyweight exercises be too much? I try to play with him a lot, but this is a source of preocupation for me.

Totally safe. Your son is highly equipped to manipulate his own body weight. If all he does are pushups and planks, I’d be concerned about overuse injuries, but as long as he’s playing in addition to emulating your exercises, he’s fine.

You should throw in some horizontal bar work. Let him hang, swing, develop his grip, and even get a head start on pullups.

And even weight lifting is probably pretty safe for kids.

Is raw, unfiltered, unpasteurized honey allowed or encouraged in the primal way of life? There seems to be quite a bit of controversy within the paleo/primal community on this matter.

Read my perspective on honey. It’s way better than refined sugar, that’s for sure.

I am just starting on the challenge for the first time and am wondering if Coleman Natural Bacon is ok to eat. We buy it at Costco a lot. It says no hormones, nitrates, nitrites, etc. However, one of the ingredients is brown sugar. However, the nutrition facts says “Sugars:0? So what’s up there?

Food manufacturers can round down to 0 if the amount per serving is 0.4 grams or less. If it were trans-fats, I’d worry about a 0 because the stuff is pure poison and 0.4 grams of industrial trans-fat adds up quickly. But 0.4 grams of brown sugar is inconsequential, so I wouldn’t worry. Your bacon is fine!

How would you suggest blending vegetarianism and Primal living? How can I get enough protein and healthy fats without eating a dozen eggs a day or a pound of (expensive!) nuts?

Oh, that’s completely doable.

Protein? Between eggs, dairy (Greek yogurt, regular yogurt, kefir, cheese), whey protein, and the odd handful of nuts, you’ll get plenty of protein. Can you include seafood like shellfish (no nervous system) or fish since you’re already taking fish oil?

Fat? If you’re willing to use butter, whole fat dairy, olive oil, coconut oil, eggs, and the (again) odd handful of nuts, I’d say you’re covered in the fat department.

That’s it for this week, everyone. Thanks for reading and good luck as you continue the Challenge!

TAGS:  dear mark, pets

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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