Mark Sisson: Burn More Fat and Become A Fat-Burning Beast [OPP 49]

By Alex Arrick

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Table of Contents:

Burn More Fat with Mark Sisson

Mark Sisson is a leader in the health and fitness community.

Mark is the bestselling author of The Primal Blueprint and one of the leading voices of the Evolutionary Health Movement - also referred to as the Primal and Paleo movements.

His blog, MarksDailyApple.com, has paved the way for Primal enthusiasts to challenge conventional wisdom’s diet and exercise principles and take personal responsibility for their health and well-being.

Mark’s efforts to promote primal living extend to a line of nutritional supplements, a book publishing company, a Primal Kitchen line with healthy mayonnaise, salad dressing, meal replacement and energy bar, and a burgeoning Primal Kitchen fast casual restaurant chain. (Use code: NATURALSTACKS to save 10% on all things Primal)

A former elite endurance athlete, with a 2:18 marathon and a 4th place Hawaii Ironman finish, Mark's new book Primal Endurance applies the primal eating and lifestyle principles to the challenge of endurance training—helping athletes overcome the common conditions of burnout and carbohydrate dependency.

All of which, we discuss in depth with Mark on this edition of the Optimal Performance Podcast.

What You'll Learn From Mark Sisson on this episode of the OPP:

  • Tweet: "Look around any ER - lifestyle choices trump genetics"
  • How to extract the maximum amount of fitness, health, and happiness from your life
  • Burn more fat: practical and effective tips and tricks
  • Reduce sugar, processed carbohydrates, and refined vegetable oils
  • When "experts" differ in their advice, how do you know who or what to listen to?
  • Problems that arise from too much sugar in our blood
  • Tweet: "People are attached to their way of eating more strongly than they're attached to their religion"
  • Find as many opportunities as possible to move - and call it play
  • Training and diet protocols to create more mitochondria
  • The magical heart rate number you need to know for fat-burning training AND the heart rate "black hole" you should avoid for optimal results
  • Tweet: "Training to develop the ability to sustain power over time will increase mitochondria"
  • How can I get the most amount of benefit for the least amount of effort
  • Mark's experiments with Ketone Salt products
  • Can fat-adapted athletes succeed in football as well as endurance sports?
  • Tweet: Want to lose fat, well, "how efficient is your body at burning fat?"
  • Society precepts and the psychology of eating as much as possible
  • The bodybuilding approach of 6 meals a day is built on being a sugar-burner and how it can pre-dispose you to Type II Diabetes
  • Tweet: "Cortisol literally MELTS muscle"
  • Why training inconsistently leads to better, faster, more sustainable progress
  • You don't "lose fitness" from 3-4 days away from your routine
  • "Mark's 'never-been-jet-lagged' travel hack"
  • Cyclic ketogenic diets in medicine and for use as a weight loss tool
  • How the gut biome converts fiber into short chain fatty acids, impacting the immune system and Mark's tips to optimize your gut health
  • What Mark wishes he knew at 25 
  • Where you can find more of Mark Sisson, Primal Kitchen and Mark's Daily Apple
  • Mark Sisson's Top 3 Tips to #LiveOPtimal 

Links & Resources

Mark's Website

Mark's Books: SAVE 10% on Mark's books (& Primal Mayo) with coupon code NATURALSTACKS

Primal Kitchen 

Axon Lab Mitochondrial Support: Mitogen

Natural Stacks Primal & Fitness Performance Boosters

Prebiotic+: Resistant starch complex supports optimal gut health and neurotransmitter production [1]

MagTech: Contains the only magnesium shown to cross the blood-brain barrier, boosting brain magnesium levels and increasing synapse density [2]

Vitamin D3: Crucial hormonal and health support for those of us who don't paddle board in Malibu, California several times a week like Mark Sisson [3]

Creatine: Get those extra reps and give your body the stimulus it needs for change [4]

Serotonin Brain Food: As much as 90% of this "feel good" neurotransmitter is made in the gut [5]

Mark Sisson Podcast Transcript

Ryan Munsey: All right, happy Thursday all you optimal performers. I'm your host, Ryan Munsey. Welcome to another episode of the Optimal Performance Podcast. Now, I hate to say that this week we have a special guest because I feel like that somehow implies that our other guests are inferior, which is not the case, but we are excited about our guest this week. He is a true leader in the evolutionary health movement, Mr. Mark Sisson. Mark, thank you so much for hanging out with us.

Mark Sisson: It is my pleasure Ryan. Good to see you man.

Ryan Munsey: Nice to see you again too. Mark, we've run into you a couple of times at conferences and we're really happy to be able to set this up. For you guys listening, Mark is the best-selling author of The Primal Blueprint. Like we said, he's a leading voice in the evolutionary health movement. His blog Mark's Daily Apple was one of the first health and fitness blogs online, has really paved the way for primal and paleo enthusiasts to challenge conventional wisdom through diet and exercise. We're going to really dive in.

Mark was recently on the Joe Rogan Podcast and that was an epic episode that it's made its way all through the podcast stratosphere. We really agree with you Mark on a lot of the things you say, and I think that's one thing I want to preface this episode with, is that we do agree with you, we like everything that you say. We want to just try to push you a little bit and go a little bit deeper on some of those things because-

Mark Sisson: I know, I heard a but. We really like you, but, so.

Ryan Munsey: No, it's not a but. It's just there are questions. We want to go to the next level with this. So I preface it with that because I want you to know like it's not a … We're not disputing it. We just want to know more and how do we implement this.

Before we really start drilling you with all these questions, everybody listening, make sure you guys go to naturalstacks.com. You'll be able to see the video version of this, as well as links and resources. I'm sure Mark's going to share a lot of stuff that you guys can go click on and track down further information if you want to learn more.

Also, a couple of cool things that Mark and the Primal family have set up for us. Anybody listening can use the code naturalstacks, all one word, to get 10% off of his books. You can also use it at Primal Kitchen is what I'm told. So if you love the paleo mayonnaise, save 10% there. Also, six lucky winners this week will get an autographed copy of Mark's book, three of each book. All you have to do is make a purchase at Natural Stacks this week. You're automatically entered. We will choose those winners at random and Mark and his team will mail you an autographed copy of his book. Mark, that's really cool. Thanks for hooking us up.

Mark Sisson: That's a deal.

Ryan Munsey: Also, if you guys have not done so yet, please go to iTunes, leave us a five star review, let us know how much you like the Optimal Performance Podcast and share the Optimal Performance Podcast with somebody that you know who can benefit from this stuff. Think about when you started on your health and fitness journey. There was some resource, there was some person that really helped you turn over some stones that led to increased health and wellness. So if this podcast does that for you, please share it with other people so that we can help reach more people.

I'm going to shut up. Mark, let's get the expert talking. Like I said, we really do agree with everything you're saying. Last week we actually had Dr. Russell Jaffe on the podcast or maybe it was two weeks ago, and he told us that he believes that our health is about 8% genetic and 92% epigenetic. You're a big believer in how our choices turn on or turn off our genes. Do you really think it's that high of a percentage?

Mark Sisson: That's high as I've heard and that's interesting, that's the 92 and 8, I mean I love that. But look, I like to hear other scientists putting those sorts of ideas into practical use. I've always said your body composition is 80% of how you eat and 20% the rest of it, and I do feel that probably 80 or 90% of people who are present at a emergency room or hospital with complications of whatever it is it's ailing them, have their lifestyle choices to blame for that and not having been doomed by some genetic disadvantage given to them by their parents. So yeah, I'm a huge fan of looking into epigenetics as the way to extract the most amount of enjoyment, pleasure, fitness, happiness, and health from one's life. So it really, it does come down to choices.

Ryan Munsey: We know especially from reading your blog, reading your books that for you a lot of those choices are going to be to become fat adapted, to go moderate protein diet, higher fat, lower to moderate carb. What other … Like let's say somebody was brand new to all of this before we go real deep on mitochondrial biogenesis. How would you get somebody started into this discussion for …

Mark Sisson: You know, I mean, I think the entry point to this for a lot of people is the recognition that look sugars can't be good for us. So if we all recognize we should cut down the amount of sugar we take in, if we all recognize that certain processed foods that contain omega-six laden processed oils are probably not good for us, so if we just get rid of sugars, processed carbohydrates, and industrial seed oils, we're 80%, we're going to be using a lot of percentages in this podcast, we're 80% of our way to eliminating some of the offending elements in our diet that are causing most of the problems. From there it's just making minor tweaks.

Ryan Munsey: I really like that because those are changes that people can implement. I mean, that's not very intrusive into your life.

Mark Sisson: You really don't have to have some allegiance to a way of eating to recognize that those sorts of things, removing those sorts of things from your diet would benefit you. That's really when you hear people arguing over, “Well, I'm a vegan and/or I'm a vegetarian or this scientist or these doctors who espouse a vegetarian diet are getting these great results. Mark, how do you account for that since you're talking about the same result I'm saying?” What I say is, “I account for it because every one of these diets is benefiting greatly from what they are not eating, not so much what they are eating.”

Ryan Munsey: We actually pulled some of our optimizers. We've got a private Facebook group and we asked them a question in there, told them that you're going to be on the show and asked them for questions. I was saving some of these for later to do a rapid-fire, but I think one of these is perfect to ask you now based on exactly what we're talking about. This is coming from a lady who says, “I listen to a lot of these health driven podcasts. Sometimes the advice does differ, but a lot of times it's along the same theme.” She feels like she's following all these different paths and it can become frustrating. So I guess would you say the answer it's as much what you're not doing?

Mark Sisson: Yeah. Well, first of all, just understand that really there's no answer. Again, we're talking about choices and we're talking about the notion that if you go back to why we do this, we want to be happy, we want to be healthy, we want to be disease-free, we want to be as productive as we possibly can, and in order to get to those sorts of choices, to be able to make the choices that allow us to get to those end goals, we sort of have to have a basic knowledge, we sort of have to have an understanding of how the body works so that we can make those kind of choices, or when we're listening to different experts in these fields we can understand what it is about what they're suggesting that makes the most amount of sense.

One example would be I'm pretty much an advocate of a low, lower carb eating style. Now, what does lower carb mean? Well, it means, certainly means lower than 500 to 600 grams a day that so many Americans take in right now right. But how low is too low? We're now at the margins, we're kind of tinkering in. For some people 50 grams a day might be an appropriate intake of carbohydrates. For others that might be way inappropriate and they might need 150 or slightly more. But as long as you understand some of the biochemistry, as long as you understand how the body works, as long as you understand concepts like we are born with this amazing fat-burning machinery that all we have to do is sort of give it the epigenetic signals to turn it on, then we become good at burning fat, we don't have to take in so much carbohydrate to live an awesome life.

And if you understand that an excess amount of glucose in the bloodstream is across-the-board understood to be counter, anti-ethical to health, too much sugar to the bloodstream leads to metabolic syndrome, type 2 diabetes, obesity, advanced glycation end-products and the aging process, reactive oxygen species. A lot of scientists understand and a lot of, even now a lot of lay people who have access to that sort of information understand, “Well, maybe if I can become better at burning fat and I don't take in so much carbohydrate and I reduce my glucose load over a lifetime, probably that's going to serve me better over the long term.”

But again, and I got to say, there's no right answer here. Like I'm not going to get into a philosophical argument about one's life choices. If you decide you want to eat pizza and drink Coke all day long, I'm not going to say, “You suck.” I'm just going to say, “If you tell me that you want to be healthy and fit and lean and perform better, probably that's not your best choice. But if that makes you happy …” By the way, just off tangent here, I heard Warren Buffett arguing the other day defending his is Coca-Cola Holdings by saying, “Drinking Coca-Cola gives me such pleasure and from what I've read the research indicates that if I switch to water and broccoli I wouldn't live any longer.” So I'm going to go, “Okay Warren, you made your choice.” I'm not going to say, “You're stupid,” or, “You're bad guy. You made your choice based on the evidence that you had at hand,” right?

Ryan Munsey: Right.

Mark Sisson: Anyway. Sorry Ryan, I'm waxing philosophical here, but this does get back to just personal choices. Your job I think and my job I know as bloggers, as podcasters is to give people enough information that when they make a choice, however they make that choice, they feel good about it, they don't feel guilty about having made it, and they know basically what's going to happen from having made that choice and they're fine with it and they move on to the next choice, right?

Ryan Munsey: Absolutely. I think whenever I get questions about, “Is this the right way? Is this the best way? What should we do,” I always start with the preface that it's goal dependent, and what are you trying to achieve by doing this, and if you can give you an example, like a bodybuilder has a different goal than Mark Sisson today, right? You're exercising, you're eating for a different reason than maybe a 19-year-old aspiring professional bodybuilder.

Mark Sisson: For sure.

Ryan Munsey: But if you can find out like you're saying, find out the … I don't to say the motivation, but what's driving the expert or the person giving this advice, why are they saying what they're saying, then you can align with or distinguish, determine whether or not what they're saying is in line with your goals, and if it is, then that's advice that will work for you or that maybe you should follow.

Mark Sisson: I think people are attached to their way of eating almost more strongly than they're attached to their religion. If you have an argument with someone about how they're eating and that's the wrong approach because you're never going to change them. But what I tell people, if you're following a way of eating, I think your belief systems as you're alluding to, your belief systems do have to align with the expert or the guru or whoever it is you want to be following. You want as many of those belief systems to align with their overall overarching philosophy as possible, so exactly right.

A lot of my people, my followers, my readers, they're not really into the bodybuilding model because I'm not either. I'm into sort of a general theme of I want to have, I want to look good naked for sure, I want to have muscle mass for sure, but I want to have some amount of endurance that allows me to enter a 10k and do very well based on minimal training. I want to have fun when I work out. I'm not into a … Like a lot of leaders, thought leaders would say, “If you don't go into the gym and give it everything every workout then you're selling yourself short.” I'm like, “No, I don't … That's not how I believe. I believe now that movement should be fun and we should find as many opportunities to move and call it play as opposed to drudgery, sacrifice, suffering, no pain no gain, it wasn't a real leg day unless you threw up, that sort of thing.” Again, you just pick your thought leader and kind of align your entire belief system in them.

Ryan Munsey: That's well said. I mean I think for me I'm going through that transition now of …  I've been in the bodybuilding world. I've been in that where exactly like you said it's not leg day if you didn't throw up. I would consider myself to be a recovering fitness addict. So to me the way I look at that is what you described and how I may have been for the last 10 years, was your workouts pretty much dictated your life, it was your life, you lived through that. And now the way that you are with fitness and what you're describing and where I'm going now and what we're talking about with Natural Stacks is that all your fitness pursuits, your health stuff should benefit you holistically, it should enhance your life, it shouldn't be, “Oh man, I'm trashed for the next three days because of my leg workout.”

Mark Sisson: Right, but again that's just a choice. When we think for ourselves it should be this or it shouldn't be that, it doesn't mean that that's the only way.

Ryan Munsey: Right, it's codependent, and the other way is not wrong. It's just not what we want.

Mark Sisson: Exactly, exactly.

Ryan Munsey: Let's talk a little bit about some of the things that you discussed with Joe Rogan on that epic podcast. You talked a lot about becoming fat adapted, and when we do that, when we eat a lower carbohydrate diet for a while and the longer we do it the more we can upregulate that mitochondrial biogenesis. I think that's one of the things that we're getting from a lot of our listeners, is questions on what are some other ways that we can really increase mitochondrial biogenesis. Is it just through diet or are there training, are there specific training protocols that we can implement to further enhance that?

Mark Sisson: Sure, I mean anytime you're wanting the body to make a shift, anytime you're wanting the body to take valuable resources and build something that it didn't otherwise need until you've created the need for it, you are searching for ways in which to upregulate gene system. If you're deciding to increase the amount of mitochondria, the reason you're doing that is because like you can burn glucose all the time and you could train your whole life and in the gym or even as an endurance athlete and become a great sugar burner, and as long as you have access to glucose when you're training or when you're racing, you'll probably do okay. Now we can argue what's going on inside your body and the amount of inflammation that that may be causing over and above another method, but that's a legitimate choice that I used when I was racing. I mean, there was no other technology available.

I was a great sugar burner. I trained my heart rate at a very high … I trained to hurt all the time. That's the plight of an endurance athlete, is how deeply are you willing to go to the well, how much are you willing to hurt over and above the other guys to get to the finish line first. But when you're trying to just … when you stand back and go, “Okay, I want to increase mitochondrial biogenesis,” how you do that is by creating the need for the body to want to burn more fat on a regular basis, to extract more of your energy requirements from fat and depend less on glucose or protein for that matter as a source of energy. So diet is the first line of defense. You have to get the diet right. That's critical. Again, 80% of this adaptation is going to happen from manipulating the diet.

But in terms of training, and we talked about this in the Primal Endurance book, if you … There's a point at which you want to become efficient. People say, “Well, look Mark, you're telling me now that to become more efficient at endurance training I have to train at a lower heart rate? I know to train and  I can run all day or ride all day or swim all day at a high heart rate. Why wouldn't I want to do that? Why wouldn't I want to maximize that end of my training and get better and better at that level?” Well, the answer is you may be able to rev your heart at a high rate for hours at a time, but you're not improving your efficiency of putting this fat through the system. In order to do that, but then you have to train at a rate at which you put the most amount of oxygen through your system, but you're not entering any sort of glycolytic lactate building sub threshold or threshold pace.

We know that number through empirical testing over the last 20 years to be 180 minus your age plus or minus a few beats. I'm 62, soon to be 63, so my aerobic, my maximum aerobic training heart rate is 118 beats a minute. Now in the old days I would have laughed at you because I could get on a VersaClimber right now and I can hold 176 beats a minute for 5 or 10 minutes, or I could hold 150 beats all day long. But when I'm doing that, I'm not improving my ability to burn fat, I'm not improving my efficiency. So if we go back and say, “Well, 118, for heart rate for me was 118 is the maximum heart rate at which I can put the most amount of oxygen through my body, but not be in a glycolytic or start to get into any sort of real glycogen utilization.” In other words, I'm burning 96-98% fat at that low heart rate.

Now some people will say, “Well, but Mark I could … Like, if I use that as my maximum heart rate, I'm not even jogging, I'm walking because I can get my heart rate up to 118.” Well, that just tells me you're not very efficient. If you can't do the work at that heart rate, you've got a lot of work to do in terms of efficiency. So if you stay at that heart rate, that 180 minus your age and you do most of your aerobic training at that rate or lower and don't venture into the higher end, over time the body says we're burning fat, we're great at burning fat, we're going to build more fat burning machinery, that is we're going to increase the amount of mitochondria because we're now becoming very good at burning fat. As we increase the mitochondria, the mitochondria have their own DNA and that mitochondrial DNA says not only are there more of us, but we're going to become more efficient putting fat through, and over time you increase the amount of mitochondria just by doing that sort of low-level aerobic training.

Now can you do that in the gym, can you do that by doing high-intensity stuff? Yes, you can. Also, at the other end of the spectrum, by doing very high-intensity short brief bursts of 100% max effort, 6 seconds, 8 seconds, 20 seconds, no more than 30 seconds with long rests in between, not just until you catch your breath but maybe two minutes, two and a half minutes, you send a different set of epigenetic signals to the muscles, and while you're doing that work you're burning almost 100% ATP, you're tapping into some of your glycogen storage to get through the workout, but the end result of the metabolites of that workout will also increase mitochondrial biogenesis.

So you got the really low end stuff that you can do, you got the really high end stuff you can do, you got stuff you can do, we talk about it in the book, maximum overload, if you can go in and there's some very specific weight training protocols that you can do that load your muscles deeper and deeper, load the fibers deeper and deeper and over time give you the ability to sustain power over time. That will increase mitochondrial biogenesis.

But ironically what we've learned is that there's a no-man's land. Say a heart rate of 100 … What? It's 75-90% of your max heart rate where people spend most of their time training where almost nothing happens in terms of upregulation of mitochondria because you're going too hard to be burning fat and to be having that whole fat requirement taking place, you're going so hard that you start to tap you're burning through glycogen every workout, every workout you become good at burning glucose and glycogen and then you go home and you replenish by carbo loading so you can do it again the next day. You're revving your heart rate at a high enough rate that you can't recover on a day-to-day basis and yet you're not going fast enough to get the high-end, the top-end changes.

We call this a black hole of training. And it's for so many endurance athletes not only spend a little bit of time, they spend most of their time. As a result over the years I've seen athletes in training 15, 20 years, they've been doing the same workouts for 15 or 20 years and they don't get any faster, and it's just mind-boggling. Now at some point after the age of 40 you're not going to get faster. But from the age of 20 to 35 or 40 if you're a endurance athlete, you better be getting faster every year from your training or your training is not working.

You meet somebody who ran their PR marathon when they were 25 and they're 32 now. 32 ought to be the peak age for … real the peak age for a marathoner, but Carlos Lopez in the ‘84 Olympics, I forget what year, he was 37 years old, won the gold medal and set the Olympic record for a marathon. There's a point at which you go, “All right, if my training isn't improving, either I'm doing something wrong or I'm literally beating my head against the wall because I'm tired all the time, I'm burned out all the time, I get injured a lot, I don't I don't feel 100%, I get sick more often than not,” you know what I mean?

Ryan Munsey: Yeah.

Mark Sisson: Hey, I'm sorry I'm running off at the mouth here Ryan.

Ryan Munsey: That's what you're here for.

Mark Sisson: Yeah, right. By the way this isn't a Heineken. This is a water, okay.

Ryan Munsey: I knew that. Hopefully our listeners knew that too but now it's clear. Talk a little bit more about the new book Primal Endurance in a little bit because I know you touched on one of the topics that I really want to dive into with that. But before we get off of mitochondria, I know you're also in the supplement business, you have been for years. From a supplement standpoint manipulating mitochondria, BioPQQ is a new or there have been developments in that area.

We're seeing mitochondrial enhancers. Dave Asprey Bulletproof has Unfair Advantage. Axon Labs is a company that Abelard Lindsay created CILTEP which is our flagship nootropic. He's also a product developer for Axon and Mitogen is a product that they have. Interesting Abelard now we're actually emailing yesterday talking about Mitogen and he was telling me some of the things that he's able to do with that as a pre-workout, and exactly what you were talking about with that threshold of 180 minus your age, that he's now able to go harder and do more work, yet stay under that and he can actually do it for like two hours he says and without Mitogen he's not able to do that 5, 10 minutes. I forget the exact number, but whatever it is there's a significant difference, right?

Mark Sisson: Yeah, yeah.

Ryan Munsey: I was actually telling him that for weight lifting and for any other thing that I'm doing now I take Mitogen as a pre-workout. I love it. On the weightlifting side I get a huge pump, which is insane, it's better than any bodybuilding pre-workout I've ever taken, but also the endurance thing too, I'm able to keep my heart rate lower and do more work under that threshold which is going to increase work capacity like you were kind of telling us earlier. What are your thoughts on supplementing and obviously that's got to be some kind of a kick to help jump-start your body to start producing?

Mark Sisson: Yeah, yeah. I mean, PQQ has been talked about for a long time. There are a lot of performance, legal performance enhancers that we've been looking at over the years,  some of them like creatine for instance. Creatine is phenomenal, it's fantastic as a short-term ergogenic aid. It just basically allows you to do whatever you could do, 10 reps of, now you can do 12 reps at that particular day. So you recycle the APB quickly, and to the extent that having done that extra work causes some amount of gene upregulation that you would not have otherwise been able to access because again the body doesn't want to make these changes unless it's really forced to do so. A lot of time you go to the gym, do the same workouts all the time, the body goes, “Hey, I know how to do this. I don't need to make any new machinery. I don't need to change anything. I can go.” And you think, Oh my god, I'm getting through that last … I'm going to failure. I'm getting to that last rep.” The body's going,  “Yeah.” The brain just says, “Nope, we're done. That's it.”

Some of these ergogenic aids allow you to get through a workout with more work having been accomplished. And it may be a short-term benefit that happens as a result of some of these sort of mitochondrial upregulators. They may not in fact work at the level of biochemistry by taking the supplement immediately and then having some upregulation of some genetic expression, but in fact may allow you to do more work which then causes the metabolites to upregulate [inaudible 00:28:43].

So however that happens as long as you're legal, as long as you're safe, as long as they've been shown to be effective, and as long as … Like I experiment with a lot of this stuff all the time. I am always interested in that particular area of how can I get the most amount of benefit with the least amount of struggle and sacrifice. That's really what we're after. And because I was the anti-doping commissioner for the sport of triathlon worldwide for 15 years, I spent a lot of time looking at ergogenic aid, at PDD, at what should be legal and what shouldn't be banned and so I'm always interested in some of these new configurations.

I am now experimenting with ketone salt pre-training. I went out the other day, played two hours of ultimate in the hot sun having fasted since the night before but only having consumed one of the new ketone salt products, and I had a great workout because I knew that I was accessing ketones that I was generating myself as well as the exogenous ketone.

All of these different new products, many of them are very exciting, and I think that for instance the next breakthrough in endurance performance at the level of marathon is going to happen from a combination of low-carb training, cyclic ketogenic training, a maximum overload work in the gym and the use of ketone salts, certain legal things like PQQ, the combination of all these things that come together and allow the athlete to tap into the fuel which is the real sort of limiting factor in a lot of endurance athletics, the ability to access fats at a high enough rate that when you're running 440 a mile you're still mostly burning fats and you spare glycogen in that event. Yeah, I mean, look, I've been in the supplement business for 35 years, have designed supplements for other companies, I'm always looking at stuff like that.

Ryan Munsey: One of my questions was going to be what are you experimenting with, what has you excited. You kind of took that one and ran with it without even me having to ask it. I guess what I want to know now is you talked about this being the future or possibly the future for endurance athletes. Is it limited to endurance sports or can we see this type of breakthrough in football?

Mark Sisson: So anything that works for, yeah, anything that works for endurance athletes it's going to work for what I call citizen athletes, age groupers who are doing races of any length just to have fun right down to people who are looking to lose weight because when I say that we are looking to be better at accessing certain fuel partitioning, it really does come down to how good are you at burning fat. Well, if you're a person who's overweight and trying to lose weight, how good you are at burning fat is like, ought to be your number one goal.

So if we take the technology that we develop at the highest level with the elites and their performance is now being shown to be … It's quantifiable for sure, who crossed the finish line first, who set the world record. We take that same technology and we apply it to people who are just wanting to become more … to become leaner, to become stronger, have more lean body mass, to be better at burning fat, to have more energy throughout the day, to not get sick as often. All the things that we I think we all share, these sort of common basic goals about how we want to live our lives, all that technology applies to everyone.

Ryan Munsey: I'm laughing because I don't know that I've ever heard someone say it exactly that way and it's just kind of funny. You said if someone wants to lose fat, how good are you at burning fat? I mean, I think that's simple and profound and the average person when you look at … when you pick up magazines on a newsstand, it's burn more calories and eat this and do this, and it never really addresses what you just said, is your metabolic machinery efficient at burning fat?

Mark Sisson: By the way, metabolic machinery being efficient is an interesting concept in and of itself because I think a lot of people say, “Well, wait a minute. I don't want to be efficient, I want to be wasting calories, don't I? I want to be … Don't I want to be able to eat as much as I can and not gain weight and don't I want to be …” So people will say, “Well, the reason I run is because I like to eat,” or ,“The reason I train so hard is I like to eat.” I'm like, “Well, I like to eat too and I try to, but I don't feel compelled to eat as much as I possibly can just because I can get away with it.”

Now we have to start looking at other factors in human psychology which is, okay, why do you think you need to eat so much? Can you get to the point where a meal is defined as whatever it takes to take the edge off hunger and satisfy me and is not defined by what's left on my plate or did I finish everything and earned dessert, or all these sort of societal precepts that we have going into it, but in fact is are we able to harness our appetite in such a way that our appetite works for us. If I wake up in the morning and I'm not hungry, I'm not going to eat. I've got all the energy I need to get to wherever I need to be.

One of the first things we learn in the Primal Blueprint is if you're not hungry, do not feel compelled to eat. When you are hungry, eat as much as it's going to require to take the edge off the hunger. Don't eat until you're full but eat until you basically have developed the skill where you go and after you've had 10 or 15 bites you sort of subconsciously ask yourself, “Am I really hungry for the next bite?” If the answer is yes, eat it, and if the answer is no, push the plate away and say, “You know what? I'm done for now. My body is so good at burning fat that if I have any sort of a episode throughout the day where I need more energy, my body is going to know that it can take fat off my ass, thighs, my hips, or my stomach, and not compel me to go to a bagel or compel me to go to some gel pack or something else for an exogenous quick-hit of high-octane rocket fuel.”

These are just life skills that we sort of teach where you become … Again, when you become a fat-burning beast, there's empowerment that you're always going to have enough energy to get you not just to the next meal but probably if you needed to through the next two or three days.

Because look, our genes evolved in this crucible of hard times and scarcity over millions of years where there weren't three square meals a day, there was one or two meals a day, there was some foraging when food was available, there was a little bit of overeating when an excess of food was available, but there were times when there was three, four, five days between real meals and we had to evolve this metabolic machinery to take our stored fuel fat out of storage and burn it and live, and not just live like, “Oh my god, when's the next meal,” but just go, “It's no big deal. I got to get some food.” But my life isn't like, “Oh, where's the next meal going to be and I don't think I can make it.” But in fact it was just a pattern of human behavior.

Ryan Munsey: I think that was one of the biggest things for me that I noticed. I've probably been eating the way that we talk about eating and the windows or the intermittent fasting, however you want to define it. It's probably been four or five years, but before that it was the six, seven, sometimes nine meals a day, the bodybuilding style that …

Mark Sisson: Bodybuilding stuff, that's where it always happens.

Ryan Munsey: Yeah, exactly, and it's like if you were eating every two or three hours, you'd get to that like 30 minutes before your next meal and then all the sudden you're worthless for the next 30 minutes until your body knows it needs that next in, and when it's almost time for that next meal it's almost like everything shuts down until you're … the next 20 or 30 minutes and then it's like, “Okay, it's time to eat and now I can go live again.” That's just, for me that was back to what we were saying earlier, it's not wrong, it's just that's not how I want to go through life.

Mark Sisson: Yeah, and again, we talk about the bodybuilding sort of mentality and paradigm which was always based on a sugar burner concept, that that was you didn't want to cannibalize all that precious muscle tissue that you'd spent time building in the gym. So  when you're not good at burning fat, when you do run out of glycogen, yes, the body will look to try and find more sugar wherever it can and the first place it goes to is the muscle tissue. The pattern that we would see and which caused all the upset among the whole bodybuilding community was when you run low on glycogen your adrenals start to kick in and then you create, you generate cortisol. The cortisol is an emergency hormone that is intended among other things to help the body find more sugar, and the cortisol basically for lack of a better word melts muscle tissue, it literally destroys muscle tissue because it wants to send a couple of amino acids to the liver to make more glucose, and that's just counterproductive if you're a endurance athlete.

Now if you're a good fat burner that doesn't happen. If you're good fat burner you spare that. None of that whole cycle happens because you don't run out of energy, you've got enough fat, you've got enough metabolic machinery to burn the fat, you've created this added benefit of being able to access ketones and to burn ketones, which are sort of an alternative to glucose. The brain loves burning ketones almost more than it likes burning than glucose. All of that whole paradigm and that whole mantra of, oh, never go two hours without eating something or you'll cannibalize muscle tissue was all founded on a sugar burning paradigm, not on a fat burning paradigm, right?

Ryan Munsey: Right. I mean, I've continued to lift. I think I'm in most ways stronger, can go longer and carry more muscle now than I did then, the exception being one short period of time where I ate eight enormous meals a day in an effort to just simply gain as much weight as I could.

Mark Sisson: I know. You were in a mass, in a gaining phase, in a mass phase and not in a cutting phase.

Ryan Munsey: Exactly, exactly.

Mark Sisson: Well that, and by the way that kind of stuff is rampant in the bodybuilding community and it's also pretty prevalent now in the Millennial group that's trying to put on muscle mass. But that puts enormous burden on the body. Now if you're young you can shake that off and it's not that big a deal, but we're finding now that six small meals a day sort of predisposes you to getting type 2 diabetes.

Ryan Munsey: Right, you're constantly having these waves of insulin and blood sugar swings, right?

Mark Sisson: Exactly, exactly.

Ryan Munsey: Six times a day you're secreting insulin to deal with this carbohydrate load.

Mark Sisson: Exactly.

Ryan Munsey: Mark, let's talk a little bit about Primal Endurance, the new book. I know you don't want to give away everything because we want people to go buy the book, but one of the things that you list as a bullet point, if it's not on the cover of the book, it's on the page that describes the book, but I think this was something that really jumped out to me because it's as I alluded to earlier it's where I am personally in my transition. I think you're on the other side of this transition. But you talk about training inconsistently. A lot of times when we talk about building habits and making changes, we want to be consistent. I think you're talking about somebody who's trying to break that pattern of being the type A, oh my god if I don't get my workout in I'm not going to do this or the world is going to fall apart. Tell us a little bit about that philosophy and how your approach is going to help people have more fun, be a little bit more spontaneous, and even get better results.

Mark Sisson: Right. Well, for the longest time the people assumed that in order to be better at endurance racing that you had to craft a training strategy that had you plodding the next six months. Here's what's going to happen every day for the next six months, Monday we're going to do this, Tuesday we're going to do this, and there wasn't a lot of assessment on a day-to-day basis of how you're feeling. What we try to teach in the Primal Endurance training strategy is this intuitive ability to give yourself some leeway, to make choices on the fly. You may say, “Well, tomorrow I'm planning on doing a hard day in the gym,” and you wake up tomorrow and you're just not feeling it, it's perfectly okay to say, “You know what? Today's not the day to go to the gym. I'll skip. I'll make today a rest day. I'll go to the gym tomorrow or I'll do something else.”

But the ability to intuitively assess your condition, to make these choices on the fly, to not be beholden to a training pattern or a training style because the body doesn't … You may outline a great training strategy that ingrains in you this ability to get up and do it no matter what and feel good about having done the workout, even if you didn't feel that great, but in fact, the body doesn't improve on a linear basis, it improves quite fractally, it improves sporadically. We sort of make a comment that the best way to get consistent good results is to be inconsistent with your training, but to understand why that is and to be able to adjust on the fly. That's the essence of that statement.

Ryan Munsey: That's more of a belief system or a mental mindset shift than anything, right?

Mark Sisson: Oh yeah. I mean, the number of people who go to CrossFit gyms and do these … they pray at the altar of the WOD and they are doing whatever the WOD is for the day and some days they feel good and some days they don't, but they're not adjusting their workout to themselves, they're sort of adapting to a daily routine and a plan of action that's put up on a whiteboard for them for that day.

I think you get in trouble doing that over time. I think you need to … everybody needs to adjust their training program to their own personal lifestyle, to your work schedule, to your family schedule, to your goals and how serious are you about improving, to the exposure you had last week to a serious cold and flu that was going around. If you dig deep and fight through that workout today that was on the plan but you didn't feel like it, maybe that's what put you over the edge and takes you out for three weeks with a cold and a cough.

We talk about periodization, about the fact that the body not only really can't improve linearly, it doesn't want to improve linearly, and so we ratchet up our fitness, we go a couple of weeks and then we ratchet up the fitness and then we back off for a couple of weeks, and we find ways to have more fun, and we find ways to kind of get ready to make the next major breakthrough.

But we do it in a way that's fractal and sporadic and inconsistent, but the underlying theme is that we're consistently getting better and better with those few workouts that we require because you don't get better from doing, from working out every single day. There's maybe one or two workouts you could do in a week possibly that would actually cause you, cause the body to want to get better. The rest of them are just kind of covering bases and marking time and they're not going to really improve your fitness. It's just one or two key workouts that'll improve your fitness over time. We just have to be ready and fit to do those workouts and healthy and fit and primed to do those workouts to get the benefits.

Ryan Munsey: The approach that you're referring to, this inconsistency is something that I have a couple of strength coach friends who call this autoregulation. That's always been the word that I use for it, to be able to take these real time measurements of, like you said, if there's increased stress, if you've been traveling, if I've been sitting in a plane for two days, I'm not going to go try to deadlift a new PR. My low back and my hamstrings are just not there to do that, and all I'm going to do is dig myself a hole that will take longer to recover from and set me back more than if I just said, “Okay, well today is not the day for a PR deadlift. Let me do some lighter work and come back, live to fight another day, and keep this thing moving forward as a whole.”

Mark Sisson: Yeah, I mean there's also, there are people who, and I used to know a lot of them, who if they were on a plane for two days, if they were traveling halfway around the world to get to a race, would just go crazy if they couldn't workout. You see people doing five mile runs around the airport from terminal to terminal waiting for the next plane. That's like, okay, that's somebody who's so paranoid about losing fitness, they can't go a day or two without training.

When I travel now, when I travel a fair amount, more than actually one would prefer, but I just, I don't workout. I might bang off three sets of 50 push-ups in my hotel room, and that might be the extent of my entire workout for three or four days, but I've gotten so comfortable with my level of fitness and my ability to re-access it because I reframe those days as recovery days. So if I'm on the road traveling, I say, “Oh great, I'm going to take a forced recovery day,” because if I didn't force myself to take this recovery day I might be thinking, “Oh, I better get to the gym and do another one.” So it's that ability to also to adapt to a real human 21st century work schedule and not go crazy because you guilt yourself for having missed two days in a row or three days in a row.

Ryan Munsey: Give us some of your other travel hacks. I know you do travel a lot. So what are some things you do when you're away from home aside, other than just resting, how do you stay …

Mark Sisson: Yeah, I mean, the main thing I do when I travel is a jet lag hack, which is the second I get on the plane I set my watch for the time where I'm going to be, where we're going to be arriving. Then I make certain that whatever, however amount of sleep I want to get on the plane or if I want to stay up on the plane, that when I get to where I'm going to be, when I get to the eventual destination, I'm on their schedule when we arrive. So if I get in at 5:00 at night, I'm fully ready to go to bed at 10:00 pm.

I do take melatonin. That's another supplement that I use religiously when I travel. I reset my internal clock with melatonin. I'll take six milligrams the first night, six the second night, and then three the third night, and then I'm pretty much adjusted. Because I think the thing that suffers most when we travel is sleep for a lot of people, so I just don't let that happen. I've never been at the effect of jet lag. People are like, pretty much they marvel at my ability to adjust immediately to the time zone.

Also, when I travel I don't … I make a joke that I can find something to eat at any restaurant in the world. If it's not grass-fed, if it's not lime cod, if it's not 100% organic, is that going to turn me off? No, I mean, you don't let the perfect be the enemy of the good. I can always find something to eat in any restaurant. So that's not … People say, “Well, I hate to travel because I can't … It's so impossible to eat on the road.” I don't think it's impossible to eat on the road. I think it's fine.

Ryan Munsey: Now, one question on that melatonin. Do you take that both directions, so like when you come home do you take it nights one, two, three again coming home?

Mark Sisson: Well, yeah, so because this is, it depends on where … If have I gone east to Europe or have I gone west to Asia, they're still … Coming home isn't really relevant because it does partly depend on the method of travel, but yeah, I absolutely take it both directions to reset, yeah. And if I'm going three hours, if I'm going to the East Coast from California, I don't even use melatonin. Three hours is not what I would call a significant time line. Like I said, I immediately set my watch.

I was in Montreal two weeks ago which is a three-hour time difference. By the time I get to Montreal my body already thought that it was … it had already absorbed the three hours. When 10:30 pm rolled around and my body should have said it's 7:30 at back in California, man I was ready for bed, I slept like a baby, got up early and had meetings all the next day. So yeah, east-west I still think it's important to be cognizant of what that potential jet lag could do to your body and then make certain it doesn't do that.

Ryan Munsey: I like that one. I haven't heard the set your watch as soon as you get on the plane one, so I like that. You mentioned being excited about the potential for breakthroughs with the ketosis and all these things that we talked about for endurance performance. What else is in our ancestral health movement that has you excited? What's on the horizon?

Mark Sisson: I think the use of cyclic ketogenic diets in medicine are very fascinating and encouraging and promising, and I think once again to extend that to the average citizenry trying to lose weight, so the use of that cyclic ketogenic diet as a weight-loss tool, not to live in ketosis but just to use a few days in a few days out as a strategy is a great way of being able to lose weight and reconfigure your energy requirements and your metabolic requirements. I think that's very exciting. I mean, I still think that the gut biome and the the idea that 90% of our immune system resides in the gut, that a lot of our energy conversion happens as a result of soluble fiber that is being converted into short-chain fatty acids by little beasts that live in the gut, the fact that 80-90% of the cells in our body are not us but are bacteria, that's a whole frontier that we just started exploring about two years ago but we've barely scratched the surface. I'm all over that. What else?

Ryan Munsey: What tips would you give somebody to optimize their gut biome?

Mark Sisson: A couple of things. The consumption of decent sources of fiber. People, sometimes it's sort of interesting. People say, “Well, Mark, when you're low carb, you're automatically low fiber.” I go, “Well no. I mean, I'm taking in a crap ton of vegetables every day and I still keep my total carb intake under 120 grams a day, but I'm eating a couple servings of broccoli or Brussels sprouts or salads, or whatever, I'm getting plenty of fiber from that, and that fiber is what's feeding those healthy bacteria in my gut.” So making sure that you do include vegetables, even if you're on a low-carb program you can eat far more vegetables than you think.

Number two, if you cut the sugars down. The sugars are what typically feed sort of the unhealthy bacteria more than they feed the healthy ones. So if you cut the sugars down, which again we said from the beginning of the show, is a great strategy for anyone to begin with.

I make and take an awesome probiotic, Primal Probiotics, a product that I've made because I've been a big fan of probiotics for 20 years. The probiotics that I take are extremely powerful. They are sort of soil based in nature. They're in a form that's in spore form as opposed to some live culture so they come alive in your gut. These are ones that you can't, aren't necessarily prevalent in great numbers in our gut biome, but they sort of signal the other bacteria to upregulate and downregulate, so a very, very cool product that I'm … elegant product as I'd like to say.

Ryan Munsey: Yeah, that's really an interesting. I don't think I've heard of one that way before.

Mark Sisson: Yeah, there's no product like it on the market, and I haven't made a big spam. This product, I designed it about two years ago and it's been out for about two years and it does very well, but I don't … So many things that I'm talking about in terms of my products, I haven't made the big splash about it yet, but yeah, it's called Primal Probiotics.

Ryan Munsey: Very cool.

Mark Sisson: I'll get you some Ryan.

Ryan Munsey: All right. I'd love to take it. I like the idea of probiotics, but my problem with taking them as a supplement is that most of the time like you mentioned if they're in the form of live cultures, if you get the ones that are affordable it's probably low quality and even the ones that are high quality you don't know about the transportation of them. So even if you go to the local health store and it's in a refrigerator, how long did it take to get from the manufacturer to there? Was it in a truck or trailer, baking in the sun?

Mark Sisson: Yeah, no, exactly, exactly. So many of these have to be refrigerated, and that was one of the benefits of these spore formers is that they don't have to be refrigerated so they stay stable on the shelf for two years and they are awakened by the ingestion and the acids of the stomach.

Ryan Munsey: I like it. I like it. My trick to get around that is I eat fermented vegetables every day.

Mark Sisson: And I'm a big fan of that, yeah, absolutely. I think I'm a huge fan of fermented vegetables. I love kombuchas. I love all of the cultured ways that we can get some of these healthy bacteria for sure. But I'm just not around those on a daily basis. One of the things that affects the health of the gut is stress. A lot of people are under a lot of stress, secreting a lot of cortisol, and that's got a sort of devastating impact on the health of the gut biome as well.

Ryan Munsey: There's actually, there's new research showing that most of our serotonin, I think as much as 90% of serotonin is actually produced in the gut, which is an interesting kind of double-edged sword. If you are stressed, then you're negatively impacting that, which that's a problem because serotonin is what helps us deal with stress.

Mark Sisson: Yeah. No, serotonin is the sort of feel-good neurotransmitter, so absolutely a good point that you make there about that, some large percent of serotonin being made, manufactured in the gut.

Ryan Munsey: Mark, we got a couple of quick questions for you. One, well, maybe not quick. It's a short question. You may have a long answer. If you could go back to being 25, what's the one thing you wish you knew then that you know today?

Mark Sisson: Everything's going to be okay, that no matter what impediments, no matter what hurdles I face, this too shall pass, it's going to be fine, everything's going to be good. Don't stress so much at 25 about what you want to be when you grow up. Don't get so caught up in those sorts of goals. Certainly have short-term goals but don't be … Because I sort of spent a lot of my early years thinking, I should be this, I should be that. I was a pre-med in college and I decided not to become a doctor because I was a good marathoner and I put off med school for three years to train for the Olympics, and by the time that process was over I decided not to go to med school and I kind of beat myself up for a while thinking, “Well, I should have been a doctor.” Now at the age of 62 I think that's the best decision I ever made. Anyway, again, like you predicted Ryan, long-winded answer to a short question.

Ryan Munsey: I don't think that was the answer that anybody was expecting though. That's a great answer. I love it. Thank you for sharing that.

Mark Sisson: Sure.

Ryan Munsey: Where can people find more of you?

Mark Sisson: Marcsdailyapple.com is the blog every day for 10 years going, in September it'll be 10 years.

Ryan Munsey: That's impressive.

Mark Sisson: Yeah, thanks. So marksdailyapple, primalblueprint.com is the e-com site where we sell our mayonnaise and our salad dressings that are now the new entree into the world of food, the healthiest sauces, dressings, and toppings you can possibly find. We also have a bar, the dark chocolate almond bar that's a great delivery system for collagen, has more collagen than a cup of bone broth.

Ryan Munsey: We tasted those bars at Expo West. They're awesome.

Mark Sisson: Yeah, thank.

Ryan Munsey: Hey, you've got a restaurant too, right? Or is this down the road?

Mark Sisson: We're in the process of creating a restaurant, Primal Kitchen restaurant. We've actually have a franchise company. We sold several franchises already, and then my children, my kids and I are getting ready to open one in the Los Angeles area, but we're still in the process. We're about a day away from signing a lease on a space and that kind of fell through, so we're getting ready to open one in Los Angeles very soon. The world will know when that's ready.

Ryan Munsey: That's really cool. I look forward to that.

Mark Sisson: Thank you.

Ryan Munsey: Mark, before we let you go, every guest that comes on the show has to answer this question. We want to know your top three tips to live optimal.

Mark Sisson: Top three tips to live optimal: Eat right. I mean that's a broad, that's definitely a broad one, but that's cutting the sugars and the oils and the refined grains. That's number one. Number two, find ways to move throughout the day as often as you can. I have a stand up desk. I'm moving around. I've been pacing my room ever since we lost our video because that's what I do when I'm on a phone call.

Ryan Munsey: That's what I do too.

Mark Sisson: And I don't wear a Fitbit, so I'm not counting my steps because I think that's …

Ryan Munsey: I remember you talking about that on the Joe Rogan Podcast. I laughed. That was funny.

Mark Sisson: So find ways to move. I was going to say sleep number three, but now I'm going to change that to just you talk about how do we live optimally, and I'm going to say find as many opportunities in every moment of every day to extract as much enjoyment, satisfaction, contentment, fulfillment, pleasure as you possibly can.

Ryan Munsey: That is sagely advice. For you guys listening, remember, every purchase, this is going to come out Thursday, from Thursday to Thursday every purchase this week at naturalstacks.com enters you to win a copy of Mark's book. I've been sitting on this, meant to hold it up a couple of times and forgot. This is Primal Blueprint. Primal Endurance is the new one. We'll have three copies of each of those autographed by Mark, get them sent to you guys. Like I said, every purchase is an entry.

Make sure you head to naturalstacks.com. You'll be able to see the video version of this, as well as links to Mark's websites, all the cool stuff that we talked about. And if you have not done so, please go to iTunes, leave us a five star review, let us know how much you like to show and share the Optimal Performance Podcast with anybody that you can think of who will benefit from what we have talked about here on this show.

Mark, sincerely thank you so much for hanging out with us today and thank you for providing all this valuable information on our show and through your site as you mentioned, 10 years every day.

Mark Sisson: Yeah, my pleasure Ryan. Thank you for having me.

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Resources
  1. H. A. Majid, P. W. Emery, K. Whelan. Faecal microbiota and short-chain fatty acids in patients receiving enteral nutrition with standard or fructo-oligosaccharides and fibre-enriched formulas. Journal Human Nutrition & Diet. 2011 June; 24(3): 260–268.
  2. Abumaria, N. Effects of elevation of brain magnesium on fear conditioning, fear extinction, and synaptic plasticity in the infralimbic prefrontal cortex and lateral amygdala. The Journal of Neuroscience. 2011 Oct 19;31(42):14871-81.
  3. Hollick, MF. Vitamin D: evolutionary, physiological and health perspectives. Curr Drug Targets. 2011 Jan;12(1):4-18.
  4. Volek, Jeff. Creatine Supplementation Enhances Muscular Performance During High-Intensity Resistance Exercise. Journal of the American Dietetic Association. Volume 97, Issue 7, July 1997, Pages 765–770
  5. Yano, Jessica M. et al. Indigenous Bacteria from the Gut Microbiota Regulate Host Serotonin Biosynthesis. Cell, Volume 161, Issue 2, 264 - 276

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