Wednesday, October 14, 2009

October Interview: Mark Sisson - Part I

Mark Sisson joins us today.  Mark is a recognized expert in the field of sports nutrition, fat loss, and a primal lifestyle.  You can read Mark's daily advice over at Mark's Daily Apple (MDA). 

Mark, tell us about your background in athletics?

My father’s past as a top track and field athlete was hugely formative for me, especially in my early years. I was always testing my athletic limits: climbing, running, leaping, and getting hurt in various interesting ways. I’d always been active as a kid growing up in New England, but I was too scrawny to play basketball or football, so I opted for cross-country running in school. I seemed to have a knack for it, eventually moving on to marathons – which I ran competitively for years, even making the Olympic trials one year. Injuries forced me to reconsider my plans. I figured maybe it was all the running, so I moved onto triathlons to “spread the damage around.” Maybe the running wouldn’t be so bad if I could swim and bike for most of the race, you know? I placed fourth in one of the first Hawaii Ironman competitions, but the health issues didn’t get much better. Around 1988, I officially retired from competition.

When did you start helping others with their health and fitness?

I’m an outspoken guy, so I was probably giving people an earful as soon as I could form words. As far as health and fitness advice in a semi-official context, though, I guess I really started immediately after my retirement. It wasn’t just my own health problems that forced me out; it was the fact that everyone around me – all my athletic peers racing at high levels – was suffering. I felt an obligation to the guys who had it even worse than I did. These were my friends, and they were getting shafted by Conventional Wisdom. Then I started thinking: if world class athletes are falling apart, what about the population at large? I didn’t want people making the same mistakes I had made.

Tell us about MDA (Mark’s Daily Apple)?

My initial attempt at educating the public came with a TV series I produced and aired on Travel Channel a few years ago called Responsible Health. It was a money pit, so I had to abandon it in favor of content that was far less expensive to produce and distribute. MDA represents my foray into the blogosphere. At first, I saw it as a springboard for the book. I could bounce ideas around in a public space and see what the reception was like. Eventually, though, it shaped the book, and it’s changed the way I see things. I suppose it was inevitable, really, because with a blog you’re not just talking to a wall. You’re talking to an engaged, informed, articulate, educated readership, and you’re constantly getting challenged. In the meantime, we’ve built up a pretty loyal readership, so I guess I just see MDA as proof that we’re getting through to people and changing lives for the better.

Why ‘The Primal Blueprint’?

I’ve always had passion for the past. As a kid, I was into dinosaurs, cavemen, evolution and all that stuff. My first company was called Primal Urge Press, so the Primal Blueprint was just a natural evolution of the concept and the branding. To me, Primal means unconscious and natural – a primal urge is something that takes hold of us without requiring conscious effort. Fittingly, it just makes the most sense – and takes the least effort – to eat, work out, sleep, and live like humans did for hundreds of thousands of years. It’s what we’re built for, and the latest scientific evidence seems to agree (even if they won’t come out and say it in so many words!).

Given that you were a world-class endurance athlete, do you consider distance running the best form of exercise?

I don’t, and I think my experience in that world is pretty telling. Endurance running, or “Chronic Cardio,” takes too long, leads to joint issues, drives people to consume too many grains and other carbs, and there isn’t much evolutionary precedent for it. Yes, we are designed to run, and hunter-gatherers would (and still do) occasionally run down game. However, they weren’t running twenty miles a day training for some competition. They were using primarily fats for fuel and relying on their “cross-training” lives to develop the fitness to be able to run like this occasionally. It makes far more sense for modern folks to mix it up: lift heavy things, go on hikes and walks, and sprint every once in awhile. Those mimic the movements that early man performed on a daily basis, and they result in better body composition (just compare modern sprinters to modern marathoners), more lean mass, and better hormonal responses (growth hormone, testosterone, etc). When I was competing, my training became tedious. A hundred running miles a week really starts to wear down on you. When I lift, sprint, or play Ultimate Frisbee nowadays, I enjoy every minute of it – and if I don’t, it’s over a whole lot sooner!

If you had to choose only 1 exercise, what would it be?

Beach sprints. They’re quick, easy, and incredibly effective. You can also substitute grass, hills, or the track if you aren’t beach-adjacent.

Weightlifting or body weight exercises?

I’ll occasionally hit the gym to make sure I’ve still got it, but I’m gravitating toward body weight exercises more and more these days. I feel good, great even, and I’ve witnessed too many old guys push themselves too hard in the weight room and get themselves injured. I can’t bounce back like I use to, and right now I’m all about staying healthy and uninjured, maintaining strength (rather than steadily increasing it), and enjoying life. Body weight exercises allow me to stay strong while avoiding injury. Of course, I’d recommend that the younger crowd hit the weights if they’re able.

Considering other health and fitness ‘gurus’; what is your one pet peeve?

My one pet peeve is the purely profit-driven model that most of these guys seem to push. You know what I mean – pay $20 for access to the “real” info while leaving a few tidbits on the free site. I pride myself on offering great information on MDA for free. Sure, I’m selling the book and I’ve got the Primal Nutrition line, but the average person can still wander onto the website, snoop around for a few days without paying a dime, and change their entire life for the better. Oh, and there’s also the fact that most “gurus” are just peddling dressed-up Conventional Wisdom – and a lot of them don’t even appear that fit.

Part II

Thanks Mark!  You insights are invaluable especially considering that you are a 'reformed' chronic cardio addict.  We look forward to hearing more from you on Friday.

Join us on Friday as Mark answers more questions including his take on supplements and his top food choices for effortless weight loss.  If you've not read Mark's book,do yourself a favor and get it: The Primal Blueprint.

Until next time...


  1. Awesome interview

    I'm glad to have another blog to read

  2. Strengthening the core muscles can help improve physical activities. Further, one will have a good blood circulation, endurance and good resistance.
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  3. Sterling, do you have an email address so that questions can be asked not related to the blog?