Dear Mark: Natural Energy Boosters, Designer Fruit, and How to Be Okay

For today’s edition of Dear Mark, I’m answering three of your question, dear readers. First, are there any caffeine-free ways to boost energy during a (really) long workday? Absolutely (but caffeine still might help). Second, what’s the deal with cotton candy grapes, a new designer fruit? Is it just junk food on the vine, or can designer fruits be a healthy part of a Primal eating plan? The last question comes from Shirley, a dedicated weight lifter and macronutrient-counter who’s tired of tracking and planning everything. She just wants to enjoy herself and be content with her body without all the calculation. How can she do it?

Let’s go:

Hello Mark,

I love your website and all of the great advice and ideas you have on here. I wanted to know what your thoughts are on natural energizers for working long days other than coffee. I am currently working two jobs so I usually work from 7:30am until 10pm about 4 days a week, so on those nights I usually only get about six hours of sleep. Is there anything that would be beneficial to help keep my energy levels up? Also would it be ill advised to workout while working that much?

Thank you,


7:30 to 10 is a tough gig, but you can do it.

Get out in the sunlight at every possible opportunity. Light entrains our circadian rhythm, which in part controls our sleepiness and energy levels. The most powerful form of light is the one coming from the sun, so get out into it.

Keep moving. Get up and take frequent walking breaks. There’s nothing so exhausting as sitting in the same place for hours at a time, slumped over, dissolving into the chair. Movement may expend more energy, but it also perpetuates itself.

Blue light. Get a blue-light emitting device and, well, look deeply into it. Some offices even switch their indoor lighting over to blue wavelengths in order to increase energy, alertness, and reduce sleepiness. As far as smartphone apps go, iOS has Blue Light Therapy and Android has Blue Sleep Therapy. Turn the brightness up.

Breathing. A buddy of mine showed me a nice breathing exercise to do when energy levels drop. Start with deep but soft and slow breaths (in through the nose, out through the nose). Start taking progressively more forceful breaths until you’re really inhaling with all you’ve got. Then, bring it back down to where you began. The whole process takes between a minute or two.

At some point, though, fourteen hour days are just tough for humans to deal with. You’re going to run into issues and you have to accept that special considerations are required. Coffee or some other source of caffeine might really help, as long as you can tolerate it and make sure to avoid it at night (it even goes well with blue light, so that you need less of each).

As for training, keep it short and sweet. Intensity over volume:

  • Do some low rep, high weight strength training. Keep it in the 5 reps and under range.
  • Do short sprints, not long ones. Find a short, steep hill and run up it a bunch of times. You don’t want to be sucking wind and hating your life. You want to feel it more in your muscles than your lungs.
  • Do short sled pushes or car pushes.
  • Try to install a pullup bar in your office and do a few reps every time you walk past. Collect reps (plus a few pushups and air squats) throughout the day.
  • Lots of walking whenever you can. It’s not “training” but movement.
  • Avoid “cardio” unless you find it relaxing.
  • Try to do as much training in the outdoors as possible to get the “feel good” benefits in addition to the physical response to the training.

Don’t do all those things every week. Don’t sacrifice sleep to train. Keep hard workouts (CrossFit WOD, long run, big weight session) to once a week at the most.

Make sure you get extra sleep on the nights that allow it. Sleep debt is real, but sleep surplus chips away at it.

Dear Mark,

I have recently come across cotton candy flavored grapes and love them! However I was wondering if they are truly safe to eat or if this is just another clever marketing scheme. What is your take on them? Love the site and all the sound nutritional advice.


Cotton candy grapes are an example of a designer fruit. Now, “designer” anything has a negative connotation in common parlance. Like those newfangled designer drugs pumped out of Chinese chemical manufacturing facilities who end up coursing through the veins of overdosing London club kids, or designer babies whose physical, mental, and psychological traits are pre-selected to be perfect by the eugenicist parents, or genetically modified foods designed to withstand herbicides. The idea of designing biological systems from the top down is scary to some people. And I’ll admit that the potential for bad decisions with huge consequences exists.

But this may surprise you: I love designer fruits.

See, most fruits are designed for durability and shelf-stability. Producers want their tomatoes to survive being shipped halfway across the world. They want apples to last five months in the storage refrigerator. They want people to enjoy the flavor, I suppose (although I’ve never met a store-bought tomato that had any flavor to enjoy), but it’s not at the forefront. They’re counting on the fact that people have forgotten what good produce really tastes like, if they’ve ever tasted it in their lives to begin with.

David Cain, horticulturalist and creator of the cotton candy grape created it to get back to how grapes used to taste. He wasn’t trying to create cloyingly sweet candy on a vine (the cotton candy grape is only slightly sweeter than the average table grape). He wasn’t inserting fish genes into a table grape. He created a hybrid of two grape strains that minimized the acidity, thus allowing the sweetness to linger on the tongue. Concord grapes, if you’ve ever tasted them, are incredibly sweet, complex and delicious. They’re also fragile, contain seeds, and their skins fall off to reveal the unsightly pulpy interior, so they’re mainly used for juices and jams. The cotton candy grape is a successful attempt to blend the Concord grape with the common table grape, improving upon both.

Other designer fruits include pluots (plum-apricots that are more plum than apricot) and apriums (apricot-plums that are more apricot than plum). When I hit the farmer’s market, I see far more pluots than plums or apricots. And you know what? Good. Pluots are far superior to either parent fruit.

If you’ve ever enjoyed a Meyer lemon, you’ve consumed an unholy abomination, a fusion of the common lemon and the mandarin orange. You monster.

Boysenberries are blackberries mixed with raspberries.

All those delicious apple varieties we enjoy are hybrids. Heck, pretty much every bit of produce we buy at the grocery store or farmer’s market results from selective breeding. That’s a good thing. When you combine a healthy fruit with another healthy fruit, the result is a healthy fruit.

Don’t fear the designer fruits. Eat them.

Hi Mark,

I love your site and have been following your Primal Blueprint plan for a week. I’ve dropped a couple of lbs of fat already.

I just turned 58 and have always been in excellent shape. 5’2 currently 106 lbs. However, I am beyond over counting macros and being obsessed with my meal planning. I have been obsessed with it for many years and I need help in breaking this cycle.

I want to enjoy being 58 and stop comparing myself to fitness models half my age.

I want to be able to eat the primal lifestyle and not calculate everything like I have been the last 10 years of my life.

I’ve already changed my workout routine, instead of 5 days a week of heavy lifting to 3 days a week of moderate workouts.

Do you have any articles or words of wisdom to help someone like me transition out of  the typical weight lifter mentality as the diet goes, with counting every morsel of food in MFP? I’m already sold on the Primal Blueprint diet…so no problem there. My body loves this way of eating. I was carb sensitive and it took this diet to show me that.

My goal is to stay in shape but not be so obsessed. I want to live the way you are living. Older in age, and still in beautiful shape.

I thought maybe I still need to do MFP until I get the hang of it. I appreciate all of your words of wisdom very much.

Thank you so much,


You’ve spent decades building a beautiful body. All those hours, days, weeks, months spent working with the iron, counting calories, tracking macros, putting together meals for the week ahead, avoiding junk food.

Now it’s time to enjoy what you’ve built in the gym. Go back thirty, forty years and think about what you loved to do as a kid. When you went out with your friends on a free summer day and you had until the street lights came on to get into trouble and go on adventures, where did you go? What did you do?

It’s time to figure out how you play. It’s time to explore the environment with your body. That’s what I finally discovered a decade or so ago. More and more I’m realizing that the Primal Blueprint is a toolkit for play and pleasure. It gives you the tools to be healthy and vibrant and virile enough to eat great food (and enjoy it), move your body through the environment (and enjoy it). Too many healthy eaters (even in this community) turn food into work. Every meal becomes a dissertation on micronutrients. Every bite is analyzed for trace mineral, protein, polyphenol content, and fatty acid composition. And the fun’s gone.

Likewise, too many serious students of physical culture forget that moving well and being strong isn’t just good for you or your physique; it makes life more fun.

And then, when you get out of your own way and start focusing on what really matters — the taste of the food, the joy of physical play and sport — the other stuff still happens. You’re still healthy, because healthy, nutrient-dense food tastes good. You’re still fit and strong (if not fitter and stronger) because joyful movement perpetuates itself. Heck, you’re healthier and fitter than you were before. And the fact that you’re playing and moving and performing well is proof that your eating and training strategy is working. You no longer need the scale, the calipers, or the nutritional logging to tell you you’re on track.

Does “MFP” refer to MyFitnessPal? Sure, you can use that, but do it a little differently. Instead of entering your food and activity in real time, write them down in a separate document. Then, at week’s end, enter it all into MFP. You’ll get the results after the fact and chances are you’ll discover that your intuitive sense of eating and exercise is sufficient to get you the nutrients you need. After a few rounds of this, you won’t need MFP at all.

Ultimately, I train so I can play. You’ve trained your entire life. It’s time to play.

That’s it for today, folks. Thanks for reading and be sure to help out down below with your own responses to the questions!

TAGS:  dear mark

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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