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

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!


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?



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…


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?


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.



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?


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!

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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