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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December 31 2012

Dear Mark: Superfoods, BCAAs and Fasted Training, Hot Sauce, and Three More Questions

By Mark Sisson
50 Comments

In today’s edition of Dear Mark, I cover six reader questions, starting with one on superfoods. Next is branched chain amino acid supplementation before a “fasted” workout, and whether taking them negates the benefits. Then I discuss whether hot sauce is healthy and Primal, assuming it’s otherwise free of sugary ingredients. Lactase supplementation for lactose-intolerants is next, followed by my advice for someone with a pretty bad leg injury who wants to stay fit while staying off their feet. And finally, I explore the myth of animal protein dissolving your skeletal system as you eat it.

Let’s get to it:

You and Dr. Terry Wahls are my two gurus. She does focus a little more on seaweed and algae than you do, but otherwise you seem in the same boat. I notice neither one of you focus on super foods. Mainly, camu camu, chorella, spirulina, goji berries, hempseeds, bee pollen… I would love to see you do an article on that and would also love the see the reader’s responses. Thanks Mark!

Krista

I’ve written about or mentioned most of those foods before. And they’re all fine or even beneficial to eat, but they aren’t magic. The goji berry won’t give you the power of flight, bee pollen won’t make you a genius, nor will hempseeds turn you into a master hackeysacker. They may be high in antioxidants, vitamin C, or omega-3s, or possess untold amounts of bioactive compounds, which are absolutely attractive and interesting attributes.

Focusing on “super foods” is a mistake. They’re expensive (since you’re paying for all the marketing), for one, and what about the rest of your diet? To focus on an overly expensive, obscure berry or algae may come at the expense of the rest of your diet. You know, those foods where you get the bulk of your calories, macronutrients, and micronutrients. I’m reminded of the famous saying, “Man cannot live on spirulina alone.” Eerily prescient, isn’t it?

By their very nature of being secretive, rare, and special, superfoods are unlikely to exclusively offer a secret nutritional compound that you need to be healthy. You just gotta look around at all the people who’ve ever lived to a ripe old vibrant age without mainlining camu camu extract and realize that these foods probably aren’t essential. There’s nothing wrong with them – and probably a fair bit of right – but if you run out of your hempseed bee pollen butter, you’re not going to suffer deficiencies or become malnourished as a result.

Oh, yeah – watch out for gurus! I’m honored and humbled, and you can certainly learn a lot from other people, and looking up to or respecting them is good, but don’t forget to evaluate everything you read and hear before accepting it. Your journey must be your own. Don’t force morning teaspoons of bee pollen if they give you the sniffles and make you gag.

Hi Mark,

Real quick: is it a good idea to take BCAA’s or not before a fasted workout?

Does it “break the fast” or lower positive effects of completely fasted workouts?

Thanks,

Zach

I’ve mentioned it before – fasting is not an on/off switch. You can have some coffee with a bit of cream and you won’t negate the fast. You can have a hard-boiled egg and few berries and still have a great workout. And yes, you can take branched chain amino acids (BCAAs) without ruining the fasted workout. You may not be technically “fasting,” because you’ve consumed calories, but the benefits will be virtually identical, and you were going to end it anyway after the workout with a post-workout meal. Besides, you already got plenty of benefits from the previous time you spent not eating.

The BCAAs aren’t necessary, of course. If you have them, though, you can take them without ruining your fasted training – and they might even help you preserve muscle. As Martin Berkhan explains, taking BCAAs in a fasted state pre-workout reduces the fasted training-induced breakdown of muscle protein while preserving the fasted training-induced anabolic boost. There’s also evidence that pre-workout protein (or BCAAs) can increase fat loss.

It depends on the workout, too. Folks seem to get more out of BCAAs before a fasted strength workout than a fasted sprint workout. I’m the same way. If it’s some quick sprint work or a nice long hike, I like it on an empty stomach. If I’m lifting something heavy or exerting myself for an extended period of time (like Ultimate Frisbee), I usually like a small bite or shake (usually a couple scoops of Primal Fuel) beforehand.

BCAAs will turn off the autophagy induced by fasting (but this is necessary for building muscle); just a few grams’ worth is sufficient. So don’t sip on BCAAs in the middle of the fast, but taking them right before you’re about to end it – with a big meal after your big workout – shouldn’t be an issue. They’re also good at preserving muscle during an extended fast (24 hour +).

I understand I should avoid regular ketchup, bbq sauce, anything that contains corn syrup. But can I have hot sauces and any other sauces that don’t have high fructose corn syrup in the ingredient list? I love hot sauce, especially Sriracha, Tapatio, Tabasco, hot salsa etc…

Sophie

If you enjoy and can tolerate the heat, enjoy your hot sauces. You might want to be wary of eating whole habeneros raw, but spicy food is perfectly Primal. There’s some evidence that capsaicin (the compound that gives peppers their heat) can increase intestinal permeability and generally cause gastrointestinal irritation. In sprinting (already an independent inducer of transient intestinal permeability – PDF), for example, capsaicin supplementation is contraindicated because of GI distress.

If you love hot sauce, it’s probably not negatively affecting your digestion (or else you wouldn’t love it), so I say have at it. If you find post-hot sauce bowel movements are starting to feel like spitting fire, that’s probably a sign that you should reduce your intake. Until then, I wouldn’t worry.

One small note: corn syrup is different from high-fructose corn syrup, with the former being a more benign sweetener composed mostly of glucose rather than fructose. Limit both, but don’t feel the need to run shrieking from the room when plain ol’ corn syrup comes sauntering in.

Can the negative and inflammatory effects most experience with milk be negated with a lactase supplement to process the lactose, or will this not work?

Kevin

That depends entirely on whether you’re sensitive to the lactose or to some other dairy constituent, like casein.

If it’s lactose, most accounts suggest that lactase supplements are effective in allowing lactose-intolerant individuals to process the lactose. Over the counter supplements like Lactaid work well, and if it’s a real serious problem you can probably get a prescription for a drug called Tilactase, which seems to perform even better in studies of lactose-intolerant individuals.

So, yeah – it won’t negate the bad effects in everyone, but it’s effective in lactose-intolerant people.

Dear Mark and Awesome Worker Bees,

I broke my leg pretty severely in October. I had a compound fracture in my fibula that dislodged my ankle, breaking it as well, tearing ligaments, popping tendond and all that other general nastiness.

I currently am playing host to a small minefield of pins and plates. My boyfriend says I’m bionic.

While I’m stubbornly on my way to recovery, my doctor has advised my that my regular path of primal living, especially the high impact playing I usually love to do, is out of the question for at least the next three months.

Obviously, I know I can’t do sprints on a broken leg. Can you give me a few tips to keep myself fit while remaining primal? I want to do this the smart way and I want to heal as best as I can, but I am nervous about gaining a lot of weight while I’m down.

Thanks!

Jennifer

First off, listen to your doctor and stick with the physical therapy, including doing what the therapist wants you to do. They’re generally well-versed in this sort of thing.

Think low impact, at least to start. Stationary cycling and swimming will be your friends, provided you get clearance.

Work on your upper body strength. Stuck on a solid dead hang? Take this as an opportunity to really nail your pullups or chinups. Pushups may be out of the question (unless you do them one footed), so try to do some dips. In a pinch, a walker makes a great dip station and can often be found at thrift shops for cheap.

Most of all, accept that you’re going to slightly regress in areas of fitness that involve and depend on the lower body. Just know that it’s not permanent and that you can actually improve in other areas (like the upper body).

This may be redundant advice, but since you generally want to tailor your carb intake to your activity level (which will be rather low), you’ll also want to stay on the low-carb side of things at least until you’re able to resume normal activity.

Recently diagnosed with osteoporosis in the spine and hips. I have been eating paleo for six months and have started following your weekly lifestyle plan. Do I need to add to this to help rebuild bones? I have already added dead lifting into the basic exercise moves. I have also seen so many varied reports on the effect of meat protein on the bones? What are your thoughts?

Anne

Quite simply, the claim that eating animal protein leads to osteoporosis is wrong. The idea springs from the fact that meat intake increases urinary calcium excretion, which makes it look like you’re dissolving your bones and peeing out the calcium. What’s really happening, however, is that meat protein intake increases calcium absorption from other foods, providing an “excess” of calcium that must be excreted through the urine. This is a normal reaction to a surplus of minerals. In fact, a diet high in animal protein increases calcium absorption and excretion without affecting the biomarkers that really tell us whether bone demineralization and osteoporosis are actually happening: those of bone resportion and formation.

A recent meta-analysis even concluded that “consuming protein (including that from meat) higher than current Recommended Dietary Allowance for protein is beneficial to calcium utilization and bone health, especially in the elderly.”

That’s it for today, folks. Hope you have a great new year and thanks for reading!

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50 thoughts on “Dear Mark: Superfoods, BCAAs and Fasted Training, Hot Sauce, and Three More Questions”

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  1. I agree that most ‘superfoods’ out there aren’t miracle workers. Most of them aren’t even as nutritious as a bowl of steamed kale or sauteed bok choy. However, I do truly believe that bone broth is miraculous. Since I’ve started regularly eating soups and stews made out of homemade bone broth, my joints feel better (probably partially due to the cutting out of sugar as well!), my skin, hair, and nails are freaking gorgeous, and I believe that the gelatin has done wonders in healing my gut. It’s certainly become a staple in my diet. Plus, now that it’s winter, nothing warms me up better than a hot bowl of (grass-fed) beef stew!

    1. I think it is easy to get lots of bone broth in the diet this time of year when soups and stews are very warming and comforting, but once summer hits I have a hard time choking the stuff down because the last thing I want in 100 degree heat is a big bowl of hot soup.

      1. Aspic used to be very popular for making chilled savory gelatin dishes. Perfect for summer and full of collagen. So just break out the old copper jello mold and make some meat jello!

      2. I’m trying to eat more gelatin as well, and in addition to making bone broths, I ordered some Great Lakes grass-fed gelatin to add to ground meats or drinks. In plain water it’s straight up nasty, but you can’t taste it at all if you add it to food! Just make sure you sprinkle it so it doesn’t clump (: Obviously bone broth is better, but I think some gelatin is still better than no gelatin!

        The aspic is also a good idea! Although in practice, I’m not sure the meat jello would go down very well…

        1. Meat jello is a traditional food in my culture and very tasty. Use, obviously, the gelatin-containing parts of the animal (say, pork feet, ears) and some meaty parts too (tongue, heart, other meat). Cover with water, add some salt, peppercorns, a bay leaf, one onion, one carrot. Boil until meat falls off the bone. Turn off the heat and add smashed garlic to your liking. Let sit for 15 minutes, then strain in bowls, and add the deboned meat and the carrot(s). Chill overnight. To release from bowl, dip the bowl in hot water for 10-20 seconds and invert on a plate. Serve cut in slices, with mustard or horseradish or other favourite sauce.

  2. I think if a person is eating plenty of protein when they arent fasting BCAAs are not needed. You will have plenty of amino acids in your body. Now if you plan on fasting after a workout BCAAs might be for you. Not to mention there have been a few studies done on the dangers of excess free-form amino acids floating in the bloodstream. But then again, taking excess supplements of any kind is pointless and possibly dangerous too.

  3. Several years ago, I used to take a shot of wheatgrass juice every morning. “They” told me it was a superfood- it was so good for me! Anyway, one morning, that wheat grass shot revolted, big time. I was shocked and appalled to be [projectile] vomiting up my sacred superfood. I can’t even look at the stuff now. Super!

  4. For Jennifer:

    I also suffered a bad fracture, a tib-fib fracture that was repaired with screws, fasteners and a bone graft. I made the mistake of trying to work out, even strength training the upper body, too soon, because I was so afraid of losing fitness. The swelling was terrible. I accepted I needed instead to rest for months due to the need to keep my ankle elevated above my heart for long periods. Even when I started formally working out almost a year later (CrossFit), I avoided impact work like box jumps and running for at least another year because I paid the price in pain and swelling in my ankle. Now, four years later, I can do it all. It may be the season of rest for you. Rest is good.

    1. Yeah, I pretty much have resorted to lifting while laying down. Dips with the walker, a genius idea (I may just keep it around after I’m healed), and I can do some crunches without annoying the leg too bad.

  5. From Bonnie Scotland
    To all Groks and Grokettes,

    A guid New Year to ane an’ a’
    An’ mony may ye see,
    An’ during a’ the years to come,
    O happy may ye be.

    1. Some hae meat and canna eat,
      And some would eat that want it;
      But we hae meat, and we can eat,
      And sae let the Lord be thankit.

      Robert Burns

  6. I always get a little annoyed when people fawn over super foods (in my household, chia seeds are the most recent discovery), while they ignore the true ‘superfoods’ like liver and bone broth. Guess liver isn’t as easy to market!

    I’m also glad for the mention of bone density. Ulcerative colitis left me with osteoporosis as well, and it’s good to know that eating a lot of protein is good for my bones! Happy New Years Eve everyone!!

  7. Yes! It has been my dream to be featured in one of MDA’s posts. My life is complete now hah.
    But thanks for answering, Mark!

  8. Homemade, naturally fermented hot sauce is fun and easy to make. All one needs are some hot chilies of ones liking, salt, and other flavoring ingredients. A simple one I make is as follows:

    In a blender combine 1 lb stemmed and seeded Anaheim peppers, 4 or 5 garlic cloves, 1/2 tsps onion powder, cumin, and oregano, and 1 tsp Kosher or pickling salt. Blend to preferred consistency.

    Let it sit in a cool dark place in open glass jars for a week but check on it daily. It’s ok to stir it around every day with a clean spoon to make sure no mold grows on top. When it’s fermented to desired potency seal and store. It will keep in the refrigerator almost indefinitely.

    Eat it on everything.

      1. Actually, this is kind of how vinegar is made and you will get the sour vinegar quality from lactobacillic fermentation.

      1. To make it more liquid ferment the peppers and garlic in a liquid brine and use some of the brine along with all the other ingredients when blending to the desired consistency.

        Otherwise it is more like sriracha than a liquid sauce.

  9. @ Jennifer: Water aerobics in water over your head, with a floatation belt (so you don’t have even the minimal impact on the pool bottom)assuming it’s ok with your doc and PT.

    @ Mark: Good to know that a little food doesn’t ruin a fast. I often have some cream in my coffee, two Brazil nuts and about five cashews when I get up. I’m pretty sure that my body doesn’t say “Oh, darn. Now we need to start all over.” Other than that, I generally fast until around 11 am. Just doing that has caused fat to pour off my body.

  10. I ate 3 habaneros (raw) in the middle of a 13-mile run once (long story). The spice wasn’t bad, but the intestinal upset was so awful. My husband had to wait for four hours while I passed out on someone’s lawn. For four hours.

    I’m totally going to do it again, but this time I’m taxing an antacid first. 😉

  11. Note on the osteoporosis here:
    Years ago I was diagonosed with osteopenia (precursor of osteoporosis). (Yes I know, I am a guy, not supposed to have this!).
    At that time I started with fosamax, stopped it when I read carefully the indications and took calcium every day as prescribed. After like one year the osteopenia improved (not disappeared). I stopped taking the calcium. Forward several years: I started taking magnesium. After one year of this the osteopenia practically dissapeared. I am now a big fan of magnesium: I vary the supplements between citrate, malate and oxide. Very happy camper. Long live the magnesium, caveman’s friend!

    1. Happy to read this about magnesium – I have osteopoenia and have been taking Ca supplements. I will start taking Mg too

      1. dont forget vitamin D! i take cal-mag with vit d, and in summer i walk and play in the sun!

  12. And another note on working out while “damaged”
    I have learned my lesson and this the lesson: REST THE BAD PART!!!
    When you have an injury use it to your advantage: in your case you can reach your goals for pullups like Mark says.
    I have a bad (really bad) elbow (long story, car accident related). There are many things I cannot do. That does not stop me from doing alternatives. When my elbow was flaring I became a master of kettlebell swings and snatches. I also improved A LOT in the farmer’s walks. End of my two cents 🙂

  13. Hi Jennifer, sorry to hear about your leg! I’ve been in a similar situation where I couldn’t do sprints. May I make a suggestion?

    Try a “super slow” workout to failure using pushups, pullups, etc. The super slow protocol activates cross bridges in the muscle tissue and elicits a similar hormonal response to sprinting!

    It works like a charm 🙂 Good luck with your recovery!

  14. I have to add a bit to Jennifer’s injury situation. Take a look at awesome dude Josh Sundquist. The guy only has ONE LEG (and it ain’t comin’ back!) and he got RIPPED to sub 5% body fat. After reading his story, I had to stop letting my mind use my injuries as a cop out for not living correctly. If Josh can do it, we all can! http://www.joshsundquist.com/

  15. To Jennifer: yoga may also be an option. I had a yoga teacher who suffered a broken leg and was back practicing and teaching within a week, despite being in a cast. She was not being irresponsible with her injury either, she just knew how to work around it. You might find a teacher who is experienced and able to help you work around your injury if you’re not familiar with yoga.

  16. /who are the “See readers” who are responding. I want to learn more about them. i get an image of Pirates in the Carribean secondary protagonists, or close enough as yo ucan stretch your imagination.
    Typos not fixefd==w

  17. For Jennifer

    Wild Grok nailed it – rest the bad part. I had foot surgery 1/08 that required cutting the bone and having a stabilizer in my foot. I broke my arm 2/09. I had the same foot surgery on the other foot 1/10. (3 months to heal for each.) Then had meniscus surgery on a knee 1/12. Maximum time-out from my kettlebells each time… 3 days. Rest the bad part, but use the rest of your body. It’s amazing what you can do laying down, seated on the floor or seated on a 5-gallon bucket. I think doing this improved my recovery from each. My doctors were amazed at my recovery. The “bad part” will heal and eventually catch up again.

  18. The answer on the hot sauce, as with everything else, is read the label. Tabasco red is ok, but green, strangely, is not, etc. as a sriracha fan, I can tell you the 2nd ingredient in its long list is sugar if I’m not mistaken…there’s a great recipe for a substitute on nomnompaleo.com

  19. For Jennifer. I had a cracked patella 3 years ago pre-primal. Like you, I was worried about maintaining some level of fitness. I hit the gym and focused on upper body movements, and a hand cycle machine. I was able to crank out intervals, and I believe, facilitate my recovery. Current job involves 4.5 to 6 hours brisk walking 5 days a week, and I experience no residual pain.

  20. In regards to the BCAA question – I personally take 5 grams of glutamine, 5 grams of creatine and a BCAA capsule and a cup of green tea before I work out in the morning. I used to workout in the afternoon but for the last 45 days I’ve been working out first thing in the morning on an empty stomach. The last two weeks I have added the protocol I just mentioned and the difference has been night and day for my low impact cardio and strength training. My pumps have been awesome and I’ve had a lot of energy throughout my workout. I should add that I do consume 5 grams of creatine, with 5 grams of glutamine, 2 BCAA caps and 1 1/2 scoops of whey protein isolate after my workout. When I get home I eat my typical primal style breakfast of 4 whole eggs, small salad and usually some canadian or regular bacon. I have a big ass cup of coffee and I start my day. Love it! The BCAAs are definitely not going to hurt training in a fasted state, if anything it will help increase the intensity of your workouts.

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  23. I like your note that taking BCAA’s will not ruin your fasted training. And Chris confirms that they increase his training intensity. However I was wondering whether you would recommend the regular BCAA ratio of 2:1:1 for Leucine, Isoleucine and Valine or the ratio 4:1:1 which it has been suggested is more effectve.

  24. I don’t know about this BCAA supplementation during fasted training. I think it’s leftover paranoia that you need to eat before a workout or you’re body is going to eat itself. The great thing about fasted training is the production GH and well when you take BCAA’s you raise your insulin; GH and insulin don’t jive so personally I don’t take them because it defeats the purpose of fasted training. I’ve taken it fasted before and I stopped and there is only one difference I’ve noticed: more muscle mass

  25. Nice post. I used to be checking continuously this blog and I’m inspired!
    Very helpful info specially the last phase 🙂 I handle such
    info a lot. I was seeking this particular information for a
    very lengthy time. Thank you and best of luck.

  26. please send info on IF and Dhea I llove this and cant learn enough. what it has done both for my wrkouts and ADD/ADHD are so great. can you still have carbs and sometimes sweats during food window? hope so God bless and HOOK EM HORNS dave from TX

  27. an issue with eating exclusively muscle meat, which is the predominant choice, is that the collagen held in the connective tissue and bones is not consumed. In the past, traditional diets would include all parts of the animal. Eating only muscle meat gives you an unbalanced intake of the required amino acids. This is one reason gelatin, or bone broth, is so exceptional. It provides the needed building blocks to help your body keep ahead of the natural bone loss. This article has incomplete info I feel, due to not including this information in the answer about bone loss. No, muscle meat is not bad, what is bad, is the exclusion of the rest of the parts! Nose to tail is best!

  28. I completely agree on the superfood section. It’s a fantastic idea to eat nutrient dense food. It’s a great idea to vary your diet but i the focus isn’t on whole food sources eaten consistently, you’re tricking yourself.

  29. Such an important question, with so many people, including myself, are really stuck on. Many people have offered opinions about this question, but they often conflict, and they are delivered with an air of certainty and I think one needs to have a degree of circumspection when answering this question. Perhaps we don’t know the best answer yet, but you’re well informed opinion would be much appreciated here.
    The question is significant for those of us who want to eat in the evening but workout, often weight training, in the morning. We want to have the glycogen in our muscles to power us through our workouts, and we want to eat as late as possible to maximise the benefits from intermittent fasting. However, we are worried about muscle catabolism.
    We have always been told that we must eat at the very most within 3 or 4 hours after workout. Many say that we should eat sooner than this, and that this food should include ample protein and carbohydrates, those very things that well and truly break your fast and put an end to autophagy. in this scenario it seems that we are forced to choose between the full benefits of fasting and weight training. What do we do???
    Because there are so many conflicting answers to this question, I have been trying to discover the best answer for myself, and I started with bringing my eating window as early as possible after the workout. The problem with this approach was threefold. Firstly, I had much less energy for training, because I hadn’t eaten for nearly 20 hours. Secondly, eating a large amount so early in the morning incapacitated me, made me lathargic and sleepy, robbing me of energy in what ought to be the most productive part of the day. Finally, it is most inconvenient not being able to eat in the evening, socially and physically, and means you have to go to bed on an empty stomach which is quite difficult.
    In the end, last night, I went out with family and it was difficult not being able even to have milk in my tea, and I was so emptying & weak at the end of the night that I felt I really needed to eat something to have energy for the gym tomorrow, so I gave in and I ate, and this made me feel like a failure, really terrible, because I had been doing so well.
    My next strategy will be to eat at night and train in the morning. I certainly had a lot more energy this morning to power me through my workout, but my day has been blighted by anxiety over not eating until late at night, and the dilemma as to whether to have some HMB and/or BCAAs hence break my fast oresents itself. I did say I did to do so, knowing it would put an end to any possibility of autophagy, in order to protect my muscles from catabolism. I would like to have the confidence that I could skip the BCAAs and HMB but I have never heard from a bodybuilder who hasn’t said that you need to eat after weight training, so I don’t have the confidence to give this a try. I’m losing fat like there’s no tomorrow, but I don’t want to be emaciated and therefore I don’t want to lose muscle; do you have any views on this problem?
    It may be that I go back to eating in the morning comma or maybe I will end up eating in the morning and in the evening, or maybe I will discover that is ok just to eat in the evening. It’s not easy experimenting on yourself with this kind of thing because you really pay for mistakes and until you know the answer, you can never be fully confident about what you’re doing so there’s anxiety and doubt. As such, any sane advice would be much appreciated right now. Thank you.