“I was really interested in achieving good health along with performance, and I sacrificed my health in the name of performance. So I wondered if there was a way in which we could kind of have both—that I could be strong and lean and fit and happy and healthy and productive and shiny and sparkly and all the things that people want, without all of this pain and suffering and sacrifice.” — Mark Sisson
On this episode of Outliers, I’m talking with Mark Sisson (@Mark_Sisson) about his transition from a focus on pure performance to one on holistic health, and how he built a $200-million dollar disruptive health food brand that has captured the recent wave of paleo, primal, and ancestral health.
Mark Sisson’s early athletic career as elite distance runner qualified him for the 1980 U.S. Olympic Trials and earned him multiple awards, including a 4th place finish in the 1982 Ironman World Championship. After years of pushing his body to the limits for peak performance, Mark decided to focus instead on optimal health through a healthy diet and moderate exercise. He shares his learnings about ancestral health with over 3 million monthly readers on his blog, Mark’s Daily Apple, and he has authored 15 wellness books, including the New York Times Bestseller, The Keto Reset Diet, and the world famous Primal Blueprint. In 2015, Mark co-founded Primal Kitchen, a line of health-conscious food products that was acquired by Kraft-Heinz in 2018 for $200 million. Mark’s life mission is to change the lives of 100 million people, and through his books, products, and speaking engagements, he’s well on his way to doing so.
- 00:00:05 – Mark’s early athletic career as an elite runner and triathlete
- 00:04:28 – The turning point when Mark decided to focus on health instead of performance
- 00:08:38 – Sharing his knowledge with the world on his blog, Mark’s Daily Apple
- 00:10:00 – The difficulty of choosing a healthy diet, when humans, by default, want to choose what is easiest
- 00:14:31 – Teaching others the basics of health vs. just weight loss, and how calories-in/calories-out isn’t the answer
- 00:19:39 – The 3 types of food to avoid: sugar, industrial seed oils, and grains
- 00:26:35 – Creating healthier condiments and the beginning of Primal Kitchen
- 00:32:58 – Scaling a business from one product to 85
- 00:36:04 – Competition and how other companies began to copy Primal Kitchen’s work
- 00:39:59 – Acquisition of Primal Kitchen by Kraft Heinz
- 00:43:46 – Mark’s favorite Primal Kitchen products, including steak sauce and ketchup
- 00:46:52 – Mark’s definition of “primal” and a primal diet
- 00:51:18 – The argument for eating meat
- 00:58:30 – Rules of thumb for healthy living and Keto for Life
- 01:01:28 – Mark’s daily practice of intentionally choosing his life
- 01:02:25 – How Mark’s experience of Outward Bound as a child influenced the rest of his life
SCROLL BELOW FOR LINKS AND SHOW NOTES…
Links from the Episode
- Connect with Mark: Twitter | Instagram | YouTube | Mark’s Blog
- Mark Sisson | Wikipedia
- Mark Sisson, 57: It’s Never Too Late to Get Ripped | ESPN
- Getting Primal with Mark Sisson | L.A. Times
- Can you master your own epigenetics? | L.A. Times
- The Keto Reset Diet Named a New York Times Bestseller | Primal Kitchen
- The Story of Primal Kitchen
- Carey Smith of Big Ass Fans: Building a $500M Business | Outliers with Daniel Scrivner - Episode #8
- Aerobics by Kenneth Cooper
- Phillips Exeter Academy, where Mark went to school
- Cross country running
- U.S. Olympic Trials
- 23andMe | DNA Genetic testing and analysis
- Ironman competition
- Irritable Bowel Syndrome
- GERD (Gastroesophageal reflux disease)
- Runner’s World magazine
- Tim Ferriss and the minimum effective dose of exercise
- Chris Sparks: The Commonalities of Peak Performance | Outliers with Daniel Scrivner - Episode #1
- 15 books authored by Mark Sisson
- Intermittent fasting
- Thrive Market
- Whole Foods Market
- Morgan Buehler Zanotti
- Kraft Heinz
- Natural Products Expo East
- Paleo diet
- Primal Blueprint
- Primal Kitchen
- Sacred Cow: The Case for (Better) Meat by Diana Rodgers and Robb Wolf
- Regenerative agriculture
- Standup paddle boarding
- Ultimate Frisbee
- Keto for Life, Mark’s newest book
- Outward Bound
- Carnivore Diet: What the Research Says | Mark’s Daily Apple
- Is Avocado Oil Good for You? Benefits for Hair, Skin, Cooking, and More | Mark’s Daily Apple
- How to Deal with the Pressure of Never Having Enough Time (and Why It’s Total BS) | Mark’s Daily Apple
- What it Really Means When You’re Overwhelmed (and 4 Ways to Move Past It) | Mark’s Daily Apple
Mark Sisson’s Books
- Two Meals a Day (pre-order; available 3/9/21)
- Keto for Life: Reset Your Biological Clock in 21 Days and Optimize Your Diet for Longevity (2019)
- The Keto Reset Diet Cookbook: 150 Low-Carb, High-Fat Ketogenic Recipes to Boost Weight Loss: A Keto Diet Cookbook (2018)
- The Keto Reset Instant Pot Cookbook: Reboot Your Metabolism with Simple, Delicious Ketogenic Diet Recipes for Your Electric Pressure Cooker: A Keto Diet Cookbook (2018)
- The Keto Reset Diet: Reboot Your Metabolism in 21 Days and Burn Fat Forever (2017)
- The Primal Kitchen Cookbook: Eat Like Your Life Depends On It! (2017)
- The New Primal Blueprint : Reprogram Your Genes for Effortless Weight Loss, Vibrant Health and Boundless Energy: The Definitive Guide to Living an Awesome Modern Life! (2016)
- Primal Endurance: Escape chronic cardio and carbohydrate dependency and become a fat burning beast! (2016)
- The Primal Connection: Follow Your Genetic Blueprint to Health and Happiness (2013)
- Primal Blueprint Healthy Sauces, Dressings and Toppings (2012)
- The Primal Blueprint 21-Day Total Body Transformation : A step-by-step, gene reprogramming action plan (2011)
- Primal Blueprint Quick and Easy Meals: Delicious, Primal-approved meals you can make in under 30 minutes (2011)
- The Primal Blueprint Cookbook: Primal, Low Carb, Paleo, Grain-Free, Dairy-Free and Gluten-Free (2010)
Primal Kitchen Products Mentioned
- Mayo with Avocado Oil
- Organic Unsweetened Ketchup
- Steak Sauce
- Whole 30 Avocado Oil Dressing & Marinade (Ranch, Caesar, Green Goddess)
- Pasta Sauces
- Collagen Protein Bars
- BBQ Sauce
It’s never too late to change direction, whether in career, life focus, or diet. It’s important to be open-minded to new strategies and habits that could lead to a healthier life, a boost for business, or new life mission. When you realize that you’ve been headed in the wrong direction, it’s never too late to change course and head in a better direction.
- “I can prepare a steak in record time and have it taste fabulous and not have a lot of fuss and muss to clean up, so I don't mind cooking a steak myself and I do that quite often. Then I'll just have maybe a vegetable or a salad with it. So like I say, every bite of food I put in my mouth I want to taste great. I don't want to choke down something that's supposed to be good for me but doesn't taste great. So I just make sure that the two meals I eat every day are delicious.”
- “I think everybody needs 10 to 20 minutes of unprotected sun on as much of their body as they can get every day. That doesn't mean burn. It just means get sun and don't get you to a burn situation, but get actual sunlight without sunscreen, without a coverup on. Then if you're going to stay out in the sun, then cover up or put on sunscreen. But that's how we make vitamin D. Vitamin D is critical to our health. So vitamin D for sure.”
- “Sleep. Look, people don't get enough sleep. I make no apologies for the fact that I try to get nine hours of sleep a night. I typically wind up with eight and a half, but if I can get nine, I will. If I go ... 10:30 to 7:30, I will do that. Sleep is when the body restores and regenerates itself, and you shouldn't think in terms of, "Oh, I'm missing out on something. I'm missing out on this party," or, ‘I'm missing out on this TV show that I could stay up and watch for another two hours.’ But I'm a bigger fan of getting sleep.”
- “I have a stand-up desk, I have a squatting desk. I'm walking around all the time throughout the day. I'm not jogging, I'm not running, I'm not riding a bike. I do all those, but I'm typically just moving. Just the movement alone. Forget the calories. Just the movement alone, putting your body through different ranges and planes of motion will increase your mobility… Look, I try to have as much fun as I can with my activities, with my motion, with my movement. I encourage everyone to do that, to move around as much as you can and to make it as fun as you can, as often as you can.”
- “I have a practice that I do every day. I choose every day. I choose to keep doing what I'm doing every day. I get up. Basically the first couple of thoughts are, "I've had a good life. I've done a lot of cool stuff. I'm pretty comfortable. If I stopped right now, everything would be fine"—not to get morbid, but, "if I died today, I'd be happy with what I've done and what I've had. But I could go on, I can keep doing some new, cool stuff. So today I'm going to choose to keep going on." And I just allow myself the right to not do so, but it hasn't happened yet. So I just choose it into a new day.”
On Outliers, Daniel Scrivner explores the tactics, routines, and habits of world-class performers working at the edge—in business, investing, entertainment, and more. In each episode, he decodes what they've mastered and what they've learned along the way. Start learning from the world’s best today.
Daniel Scrivner (00:00:00):
Mark, I am so excited to chat with you today. Thank you so much for coming on Outliers.
Mark Sisson (00:00:04):
It's such a pleasure to be here. What my early recollection of athletics was ... I was pretty small. I was not really strong or big enough to play the traditional American sports, football, basketball, baseball, hockey was big in New England. And because I lived about a mile and a half from school, I found it convenient just to jog to and from school as a means of transportation. I didn't like taking the bus, I could actually beat the bus home if I jogged. So from literally sixth and seventh grade, I started running to and from school out of convenience. By the time I got to be a freshman in high school, I was pretty fit and I really was thinking in terms of what I could do in terms of a sport that I could participate in and make my name among all of the other athletes that were excelling at other sports at school.
Mark Sisson (00:00:58):
About the same time, I had read a number of books on health and fitness. I was kind of a geeky kid and was interested in health and fitness at an early age, and so I'd read Ken Cooper's book. In 1968, he wrote a book called Aerobics in which he really sort of launched the entire aerobics movement by making the statement that ... I think he recanted years later ... but the statement that literally the more aerobics stuff you undertook, the better it was for your heart and the longer you would live. So that kind of resonated with me, and I thought, "Well, I'm doing this running thing and I'm pretty good at it and I'm pretty fit at it and it must be good for me. It must be healthy because I'm reading the conventional wisdom of the day, which is suggesting as much."
Mark Sisson (00:01:39):
So I went out for the track team, and lo and behold, I started winning the mile and the two mile at track meets in these local main high school events. That gave me a fair level of confidence that I was onto something here, and I kept pursuing this running career through high school. I went to a prep school a few years later. I went to the Phillips Exeter Academy in New Hampshire, and then from there I went to college in western Massachusetts. So I was captain of the cross country team in high school and I was captain of the cross country and track team in college, and as I pursued my studies, which was based around premed with an emphasis on evolutionary biology, I continued to be intrigued by the concept of maximizing human performance.
Mark Sisson (00:02:23):
So I got out of college. I dedicated the next few years to training for the US Olympic Trials in the marathon. I read everything I could get my hands on regarding health and fitness, but mostly performance, what sort of foods could we eat to enhance performance, what kind of workouts could we do to improve performance, how could we run faster, how could we become stronger, what sort of supplements we could take that would legally improve this process. And so I started to collect this library of documentation on how to do it right, or at least what conventional wisdom thought at the time was the right way to do that.
Mark Sisson (00:02:57):
Within that three-year period of, say ... well, five-year period from 1975 to 1980, I finished fifth in the US National Championships in the marathon. I did qualify for the US Olympic Trials for the 1980 Olympic Trials race. I became quite an accomplished, if you will, endurance athlete, even though my genetics ... as I go back and look over them now with 23andMe ... my genetics would not have predicted that I would have been that sort of a national caliber runner.
Mark Sisson (00:03:28):
I got injured as a runner and that was the first real glitch in my road to health. Injured so much that I really couldn't continue to run at 100-plus miles a week at the elite level, so I just kind of pivoted over to triathlon. This was the early days of triathlon. Within a year and a half, I'd finish fourth at Iron Man in Hawaii. But by then, I was already getting a little bit disillusioned with what I thought was this pursuit of health, but in fact was an ill-fated attempt at improving performance at the expense of health. I was getting more and more injured, and then I was starting to now realize that I have these other maladies that were ... whether or not they were indicative of injuries, they were certainly indicative of inflammation. I had arthritis in my feet. I had tendonitis in my hips. I had severe irritable bowel syndrome from the age of 14 right up through the age of 47. I had GERD, gastroesophageal reflux disease. I would get sick a lot. I'd get colds and flu a lot throughout the year.
Mark Sisson (00:04:28):
I realized that there was something really wrong with this picture. Even though I was on the cover of Runner's World magazine three times as the epitome of fit, healthy lifestyle, I was literally dying on the inside. So I had to quit competing. I just couldn't compete at a high level anymore, and I was over it. I was kind of, "Let's see what the next phase of my life is going to be." But I did want to continue this pursuit of excellence and this pursuit of health. I mean, I kind of lost my way. I'd forgotten that I was really interested in achieving good health along with performance, and I'd sacrificed my health in the name of performance. So I wondered if there was a way in which we could kind of have both, that I could be strong and lean and fit and happy and healthy and productive and shiny and sparkly and all the things that people want without all of this pain and suffering and sacrifice, of which there is a lot in distance running. It's really about managing discomfort day in and day out. There's not a lot of fun in training for endurance competitions.
Mark Sisson (00:05:28):
So I set about to really understand how the body works, called upon my background in premed and evolutionary biology. And about that time, there was this emerging science of genetics that was kind of taking the forefront, and it was starting to be clear that everything that happened in the human body happened at the level of gene expression, that everything you did, every food you ate, every type of exercise you chose to do, the amount of stress you undertook, the amount of sleep you got, the amount of sun exposure you got, the amount of play you engaged in had some effect on how the genes turn on or off and create proteins that respond to the stimulus that you're creating with your behaviors and your habits. That really fascinated me, and so in combination with the evolutionary background, I started to look at ways in which, well, maybe we're not meant to be running 100 miles a week to achieve good health. Maybe we're meant to find, as Tim Ferriss would say, the minimum effective dose of exercise.
Mark Sisson (00:06:33):
By way of example, I look back on hunter gatherer history, and those people in the name of survival were exceptionally fit and exceptionally healthy and chose not to do a lot of exercise that they didn't have to do to survive. And yet because they did short bouts of exercise and they were always constantly moving around a little bit, they kept their range of motion throughout their years. They were generally very healthy. They had generally low body fat. The occurrence of obesity and type 2 diabetes and even cancer and heart disease were virtually nonexistent in some of these communities. There must be a link there.
Mark Sisson (00:07:11):
So I started to put together this list of what I would called hidden genetic switches that we all have, and it became my obsession to identify these hidden genetic switches and then to advise through education, advise people on how to access the benefits, like how to turn on the genes that build muscle and how to turn off those genes that want to store more fat, how to turn on the genes that burn fat or build an immune system or build stronger bones, how to turn off those genes that want to tear bone tissue down and decrease bone density. It's a really interesting level of consciousness that, until probably 10 or 15 years ago, all but a handful of people in the world knew nothing about.
Mark Sisson (00:07:57):
So I wanted to make this information available to as many people as possible. Not that I had the right way or the only way. I had a way that was based in science. If you understood how this way operates and how the body is basically the result of millions of years of evolution, DNA is basically what it is today forged from the crucible of 100 million years of mammalian evolution and the last two and a half million years of human evolution, and how if we are able to identify some of these behaviors and some of these things that we do, we can optimize health. With that in mind, I started a blog in 2006 called Mark's Daily Apple, and I used that blog to espouse these beliefs and to start to put into writing some of these findings that I had come up with. I don't do original research. I just comb the literature for examples of research that sort of prove this point.
Mark Sisson (00:08:53):
And so Mark's Daily Apple was my major magnum opus, if you will, starting in 2006. In telling this story, I've skipped 30 years of other businesses and trial and error and making money and losing money, but this is really where the current story begins, around 2006. I think I'll stop there and let you ask whatever you need to ask.
Daniel Scrivner (00:09:15):
No, that was fascinating and I have so many questions that I could ask. But I'm curious ... and we'll get into this a lot more, but obviously, I think anyone listening to you talking about finding this thing that it seems like we had forgotten and moved away from, but that when you really explain it, I mean, I feel like it's hard for someone to listen to that and feel like it doesn't sound accurate and doesn't make sense. So I'm curious. A lot of what you espouse has to do with ancestral wisdom and just understanding that things have gotten very different over the last 100 years, but if we were to go back in time, we should maybe imitate or try to emulate earlier periods of human life. Why do you think that we've gotten so far away from that, and now simply saying some of those things is so jarring and people disagree with it so much?
Mark Sisson (00:10:00):
It's a good point. It's a good question. I think humans and most animals in general don't want to work hard. They want to do as little as possible to survive, and if possible, thrive. That's just the nature of the living organism, is to conserve energy. Look, the nature of a living organism is, at its essence, to live long enough to procreate and pass the genetic material along to the next generation and then your work is done.
Mark Sisson (00:10:29):
So with that in mind, I think nature set up most organisms in a way that wants them to try and conserve energy. In the terms of humans, our brains are the complex organ that has become our primary tool. Our brain has created a lifestyle in which it's easy to not do anything. Food is everywhere. We don't have to hunt or gather food anymore. It's virtually everywhere we look. Obviously, third world countries notwithstanding. But in developed nations, food is not an issue. It's around every corner and most of it is not good food. Most of it is food that has been packaged and processed to appeal to those basic primal instincts of crunchy, salty, fatty, sweet, which were few and far between 10,000 years ago or even 200 years ago, and especially a million years ago. But right now, crunchy, salty, fatty, sweet is ... that's the driver of that little appetite center in the brain for a lot of people.
Mark Sisson (00:11:30):
So between appetite, cravings, hunger, access to food, and then the unwillingness to undertake some form of exercise because it's associated with discipline and misery and struggle and suffer and it's put us in this position where 40% of us are obese and two thirds of us, at least in this country, are at least overweight. Tens of millions of undiagnosed cases of type 2 diabetes, all sorts of inflammation, heart disease, cancer, and these are all an artifact of our perfect human bodies and our perfect genes responding to the inputs that we've chosen to give them. And when I say chosen, we've done so unknowingly. Most of us have chosen to eat a certain way or to move a certain way or to live a certain way, not so much out of willingness to flout nature, but just because it seems easy and we didn't know any better.
Mark Sisson (00:12:30):
I think most people would love to do the right thing if they knew what the right thing is. And this has been the history of weight loss, for instance, over the last 30 or 40 years. Many people thought that eating fat made you fat. Many people thought the way to lose weight was to exercise more. Maybe people have thought that eating fat and cholesterol gives you heart disease and cancer. Many people have thought that the only way to lose weight is to cut calories way, way, way back and it doesn't matter what you eat. And many people thought that this was just a simple math equation of calories in, calories out.
Mark Sisson (00:13:03):
None of that is true. The human body is a complex system and if you understand how it works, there are ways to ... I hate the word "hack," but I'm going to use it. There are ways to hack this that will get you to your goal of more energy, better sleep, better sex, better production, ideal body composition, without any of the struggle and suffer and pain and sacrifice, without any of the portion control and calorie counting that you might have thought was required to get there. Again, that's been what I see as my job, is to educate the world how to access these untapped hidden genetic switches that we all have and achieve optimal health if we want to. And I'm not saying everyone should or needs to, but if you want to, I have some good information for you.
Daniel Scrivner (00:13:55):
I want to dive into one thing that you said there, which is you gave this whole list of examples of things where people just totally miss the picture, and it all those, it seems like the commonality is people don't take into account that there's a lot of different inputs, and they're trying to come up with the simplest explanation for something, or the simplest way to improve something where it's just like, "Don't eat fat if you don't want to be fat." Maybe if you were to try to reset people's expectations or give a quick summary of why that's wrong and the better way to think about it, do you have a sense for how you would describe that or lay that out?
Mark Sisson (00:14:31):
I have a sense, and here's what it looks like. I can tell you everything you need to do to get really, really healthy on two sheets of paper. However, I've written 15 books and done hundreds of lectures and have done podcasts. Because this is such a suspension of disbelief for so many people that it takes me walking you back to the beginning to understand why this is and how this is. Again, I could give you the information about how to do this very simple by bullet point, but you might say, "Well, my doctor would not agree with that. My doctor would not say that eating ... My doctor would say, for instance, there's nothing such as a healthy fat. All fats are bad and you want to cut back all fats." Or, "My doctor would say ... He just said I have to eat less and exercise more."
Mark Sisson (00:15:21):
And so for me to ... I would start by saying the calories in, calories out theory ... which sometimes people would cite the laws of thermodynamics. But the reality is, it's really about calories burned versus calories stored. We store calories based on a number of different inputs, some of which have to do with how much insulin we produce, and insulin is produced in an environment that is typically high in carbohydrate, and carbohydrate includes sugars and all forms of carbohydrate. You got grains, processed grains, sugars, and sweetened beverages and desserts, pies, cakes, candies, cookies, breads, pasta, cereal, even potatoes, starchy tubers. When you look at the standard American diet, most people consume 300 to 600 grams of carbs a day, which wreaks havoc on their insulin production, which in turn causes them to tend to store every excess calorie, not just calories from carbs, but every excess calories as fat.
Mark Sisson (00:16:31):
In the irony of ironies, that same amount of insulin production locks the fat into the fat cells so it cannot be taken out and burned by the muscles even if necessary. To understand this complexity of the human body and how insulin is, at its base level ... I mean, there are a lot of different hormones at work here, but insulin is sort of the driving force. If you can control insulin and if you can keep your insulin levels low, you can access your stored body fat all the time and you don't have to eat nearly as many calories to have the energy and to have the body composition that you want. It's a process. You have to train the body to do it. Look, we're born with a factory setting that allows us to easily store fat, but also to easily burn off fat in periods of ... well, historically in periods of famine. But even now, if we simply choose to skip a meal, we have all these systems that the body can tap into and start accessing energy from stored body fat if we've trained the body to do that.
Mark Sisson (00:17:36):
But if we've never trained the body to do that, if we override this factory setting that we all have at birth and start getting into this carbohydrate dependency from an early age, then we really never train those systems that are great at burning fat, and in fact are more efficient when fat is being burned. And in the process of being efficient ... I call the term "metabolic flexibility." So we're trying to access what we call "metabolic flexibility." With that, we find we don't need to eat as much to keep our energy levels up. We don't need to eat as much to keep our muscles strong and healthy and even growing. And this is probably the most important part. We don't get hungry that often, so our hunger, appetite, and cravings dissipate.
Mark Sisson (00:18:20):
One of the things that happens when you achieve metabolic flexibility is you start to realize, "Wow, three meals a day plus snacks is way too much food. That's just way too much food. Now that I'm so good at accessing my own stored body fat and now that I realize that so much of what I was doing was just feeding this beast that kept trying to restore my blood sugar, my blood glucose ..." Once you get past that and develop metabolic flexibility, you realize, "Wow, I only need two meals a day, and even those two meals don't even need to be huge." And the beauty of it, again, is that I don't get hungry. I mean, I get a little bit hungry, but I don't get hangry, I don't get ravenous, I don't get lightheaded or starry eyed because my blood sugar's low. No, you've trained your body to access stored body fat and to produce and utilize this fourth fuel, this magic fourth fuel that we all have, which is called ketones.
Daniel Scrivner (00:19:12):
I want to dive into a bunch of what I've noted down as building blocks, things like metabolic flexibility you just touched on. But just really quickly, can we talk a little bit about things that go into moving someone to metabolic flexibility? I'm guessing part of that, which you alluded to, is intermittent fasting, part of it is changing your diets, moving away from carbs and starches. But can you talk about the handful of things that really help someone to move towards?
Mark Sisson (00:19:40):
There are three basic types of food that we tell people you just need to avoid for a couple of weeks if you're going to reset your setting here and try to develop metabolic flexibility. The first is you have to recognize that so much of your current diet contains a lot of sugar. And sugar isn't just that white stuff in the bowl on your table. It's glucose, fructose, galactose. It's every form of carbohydrate that converts to glucose once it hits your gut to the extent that you could eat a bowl of rice and your body wouldn't know the difference between the glucose that are produced there and a bowl of Skittles. So rice produces a lot of glucose, sugar.
Mark Sisson (00:20:23):
So cutting back on sugars of all kinds ... the obvious ones, the sweetened beverages, the teas, the Cokes, the sodas, the pies, the cakes, the candies, desserts. I mean, all the stuff that we know we probably shouldn't be eating certainly on a daily basis, but maybe once in a while. So you cut back on the sugars. The next thing you cut back on is what we call the industrial seed oils. In the last three or four years, a lot of research ... my own included ... has sort of indicated that these industrial seed oils might even be a worse offender, more insidious, than sugar. This would be corn oil, canola oil, soybean oil. These are the oils that are derived from seeds. Corn is a grass seed and soy is a seed. So these are industrially-processed oils that are high in Omega-6 fats and they're also just ... They're sort of a franken-oil that the body just doesn't know what to do with, so a lot of times the body incorporates it into the cell membrane and it becomes a dysfunctional fat that's part of what the cell thought it was using a legitimate building block, and now it isn't.
Mark Sisson (00:21:31):
So we see a lot of people who have had a lot of industrial seed oils ... Ironically, the cardiology world has referred to them as "vegetable oils," and for a number of years, they were touted as being heart healthy and healthier than animal fats, saturated fats, and so on. The reality is they're not. They're horrible, and they're ubiquitous. They're everywhere. So anyone who goes down the center aisles of a store and starts to look at what's in some of these packaged goods will see, again, any mixture of corn oil, safflower, sunflower, soybean, canola. And so just stay away from those. Those are the unhealthy fats we're going to talk about.
Mark Sisson (00:22:15):
Now, there are healthy fats, and they're as different from the unhealthy fats as day and night. I mean, we have things like avocado oil. Avocados, butter, lard, ghee, tallow, extra virgin olive oil, coconut oil, these are all what we would call very healthy fats, partly because they contain a high level of monounsaturated fats, which now the cardiac industry would say are heart healthy. They would admit that they're heart healthy. So yeah, there are some fats that you can consume, and I recommend consuming them in decent quantities. They're not the kind of fats that I would even in most cases suggest people think about avoiding. I just say go for it. But whenever you see something that has that and none of the other stuff, include that.
Mark Sisson (00:23:00):
So far we've listed the sugars and the carbohydrates, the starchy carbohydrates, the sort of processed stuff, the industrial seed oils. Then the third group I'm going to say, for a lot of people, grains. Grains are very problematic, especially if you're trying to reset your metabolism. So clearly, the biggest offender is wheat. I had my greatest health benefits finally arrive and accrue when I got rid of wheat entirely. Again, as I say, it wasn't until I was 47. It was 20 years ago that I finally figured this out. Up to then, I sort of defended my right to eat grains because I'd been a runner and the whole time that I was running, I was fueling myself with breads and pastas and cereals and whatever manner of carb I could get my hands on, including beer.
Mark Sisson (00:23:50):
It was all considered in those days ... Carbo loading was a big thing building if you were training like I was, 100 miles a week plus, you were doing it every day. So every day at the end of a 15-mile run or a 20-mile run, in preparation for going out and doing it again the next day, you sort of had to figure out a way to refill the glycogen stores. And glycogen is the body's way of storing glucose. And the way to do that was to carbo load. So for the longest time, I was a big eater of grains and that was ultimately what was causing my IBS, I'd find out later. So getting rid of grains for me was getting rid of corn, wheat, rye, some of the other offending grains. To this day, I'm not a big fan of some of the pseudo grains like quinoa and things like that. It's just beige glop that you need a lot of sauce to make it even halfway palatable.
Mark Sisson (00:24:45):
So, I don't want to keep beating this too much, but sugars, industrial seed oils, and then getting rid of grains. If you can get rid of those three things, you'll come down to a list of beef, pork, lamb, turkey, chicken, fish. It's a lot great sources of protein. Vegetables. Any amount of vegetables you want to eat. My favorites would be broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cauliflower, I like spinach, I like a big salad every day. So there's a number of vegetables that people can access. Some fruit. Not a lot of fruit, because fruit is a form of sugar as well. And the occasional starchy tuber, some potato or sweet potato or rutabaga or turnip or something like that, what they would call fall root vegetables. That's kind of the list, and some people are going to listen to this and go, "Oh my God, that's not a big list. What about all the other stuff that I could eat?"
Mark Sisson (00:25:39):
Well, there are currently about 1500 cookbooks that deal with preparing paleo or primal or keto meals. Virtually every meal that anyone ever eats on keto or paleo or primal would have been considered a decadent meal because of its high fat content and because of its amazing taste. So the point is, what makes these foods that I've just described ... Once you've gotten ride of pies, cakes, candies, cookies, breads, pastas, cereal, and sweetened beverages, what makes the remaining food not just sustainable but great tasting and palatable are the methods of preparation. The herbs, the spices, the healthy fats, the ways you cook them, the sauces, the dressings, the toppings that you put on them. That became later on in my life a major focus of my life, was discovering ways in which we could make otherwise healthy foods taste even better and become more appealing.
Daniel Scrivner (00:26:33):
Yeah, and that ultimately became known as Primal Kitchen, correct?
Mark Sisson (00:26:36):
That's correct. So I had come to this list and I'd been writing about food now for eight years, from 2006 to 2014. I'd been writing about food, I'd been writing about the benefits of changing your diet, I'd been writing about all of the nasty things that we find unwillingly and unwittingly in the foods that we've been consuming with the assumption that they're good for us but clearly are not. So I've been sort of banishing foods from people's diets for a long time, and I realized, "Geez, I ..." Every Saturday, we would do a recipe and sometimes we'd do a recipe on how to make a mayonnaise or how to make a ketchup that didn't have high fructose corn syrup, or how to make a salad dressing that wasn't going to be loaded with soybean oil or canola oil as its base. And you certainly couldn't find these things in the store. Everything on the store shelves that I would look at was disappointing. Everything, I'd pick the label up and I'd be like, "Oh my God, I can't even," as the kids say.
Mark Sisson (00:27:31):
That's when I realized somebody needs to make the kinds of products that people like myself really wished exist but don't. I mean, I really wanted there to be some line of product that I could purchase, ready made, take it off the shelf, bring it home, shake it up, and pour it on my salad without having to get out the blender and clean the blender with the oils and stuff that I put in it. No one had done that, so in 2015, we launched Primal Kitchen mayonnaise, which happened to be our first condiment. A great tasting mayonnaise that's based on avocado oil. We only use avocado oil as the main ingredient, and eggs from cage free hens, organic vinegar from non-GMO beets. I mean, the whole thing. You go down the list and it checks off all the boxes. And it was a huge hit. Even though it was more expensive, it was a huge hit with so many people who responded by saying, "Oh my God, Mark, thank you so much. I've been waiting for this my whole life. I'm sick and tired of trying to make my own mayonnaise and having it fail every second time, and then when it does work, keeping it in the refrigerator for three days and feeling like I might be poisoning my family."
Mark Sisson (00:28:36):
So the concept resonated early on, and we followed the mayonnaise with a couple of salad dressings, with some ketchup and some mustard, with some pasta sauces. We now have 85 products in the line, so it's really ... We decided that we wanted to go into every aisle of the supermarket and identify what it is that people would really like to be eating if they're health conscious but are afraid to currently consume because of the nasty ingredients that are on the label.
Daniel Scrivner (00:29:04):
I want to go back just a little bit earlier in that story because, I mean, obviously, you had been blogging and writing about this and sharing this news for a while. Clearly, you knew it was starting to take off and people were excited about it and interested in it. But given that no products like this existed in the store, I'm guessing it was still a big bet at the time and you probably saw a lot of pushback or got a lot of pushback about what you were doing and what you were building. What was it like in the lead up to launching that first product, and how difficult was it to get that into stores and have that first success.
Mark Sisson (00:29:37):
It was interesting times because when finally developed a mayonnaise that we could make to scale ... it was not just in my kitchen, but in a industrial setting, we could make a large vat of it ... we realized that it was going to have to be priced at $9.95 for a 12-ounce jar. You could go to Costco and spend $8.95 for a 60-ounce jar of one of the competitive ones that's made with the cheap oils. So it was a big risk, and I went to my manufacturer and I said, "What's the smallest batch we could do as a first run? Because I don't want to have this sitting on my shelf for a year." It had a one-year shelf life, but I didn't want to overproduce. And he said, "Well, the smallest batch we can do is 12,000 jars." I rolled my eyes like, "Oh my goodness, 12,000 jars." But we sold out in 10 days.
Mark Sisson (00:30:25):
We sold out in 10 days for a number of reasons. The primary reason is that by the time I had launched this product in 2015, I had spent almost 10 years building a brand. So I had a following of millions of people who understood the nature of food and understood how difficult it was to make healthy food and how much of what was happening in the supermarkets and even in the health food stores was not fulfilling the promise of a better way of doing things. So when I launched it, we had a number of different channels. I had a warehouse where I was doing supplement fulfillment, so it was easy enough for us to wrap in bubble wrap three jars of mayonnaise and ship them off to people across the country.
Mark Sisson (00:31:12):
At the same time, I'd aligned myself with a brand new company that I also invested in called Thrive Market. Thrive Market was launching their platform and wanted a unique product that no one else online carried as their marquee product. So we worked together in that regard and they took thousands of jars and used that to their advantage and to our advantage. And then, because of my ... I guess my notoriety in the paleo world, and particularly in the Crossfit world at the time, one of the buyers for Whole Foods Market in the Rocky Mountain region with 33 stores basically said, "Look, Mark. Normally it takes a year to get in a Whole Foods. You have to go through a review process. You have to wait and see. You have to wait until somebody else gets kicked out before you come in. It's a very lengthy process, but I like what you're doing. We'll take whatever you make in our 33 stores."
Mark Sisson (00:32:08):
So we had an immediate retail presence, I have to say, based on the credibility that I built for myself through educating millions of people over the years. Then one of those people ... actually, two of those people, because there were two of them at this one Whole Foods region. Two of those people happened to be adherents of my way of thinking and they were all in when it came to providing their customers this new idea in food enhancement.
Daniel Scrivner (00:32:39):
And once you had that initial success, did things just start to click into place and it was very easy to add items? Because you talked about ... I know the business ended up being supplements, a bunch of condiments. You talked about 85 products total. Can you talk a little bit about that journey from the first product to building that out at a little bit higher scale?
Mark Sisson (00:32:58):
By the end of the year, we had launched a second flavor of mayonnaise. We'd launched, kind of coincidentally, two collagen snack bars ... because we'd been working on those for two years and we just sort of branded them with the same brand ... and two salad dressings. So here we are, a brand new company, and we're already in three aisles of the store, which was, again, totally contrary to every piece of advice we got from anybody who'd been in the business. "Stick with what you know best. Don't start going into other aisles yet." I guess it was my ignorance and hubris that just said, "I'm going to do it differently. I'm just going to try and do it differently."
Mark Sisson (00:33:36):
I had my co-founder at the time, Morgan Buehler, who is now the president of the company now that Kraft owns it. She was instrumental and she agreed 100%, like, "Let's just do this. Let's just roll these things out. We're on to something here. The more products that we can identify that are ripe for disruption, we should be the first in line to do those and we shouldn't have to wait until we've filled out all of the dressings to start going into pasta sauces." So quite early on, we got into barbecue sauces, had pasta sauces. Again, we went to protein bars in addition to collagen bars. So by the end of ... Year one, we thought we would do $300,000, but we did a million seven. Year two, we're like, "Oh wow, that was such a big, great year. What do you think we can do year two? Should we ask the gods for $6 million? Is that possible? Who knows, maybe even eight?" Well, by June, we'd done $6 million that year.
Mark Sisson (00:34:36):
So it really did take off, and then we started getting into some of the more conventional channels. Very early on, we were the number one condiment in the natural channel with the mayonnaise. We had the top selling dressings by dollar volume, and we had six of the top eight best selling dressings in all of the Whole Foods. By then, we'd gotten into all the Whole Foods in the country. And early on, some of the conventional groceries like Publix said, "We like what you're doing. We think we'd like to take a shot," and so we got into Publix early on. Then our experience there ... With food, once you get into one or two large operations, now their competitors don't want to be caught short not having you on the shelves, and so it really opened up doors for us very quickly.
Mark Sisson (00:35:28):
I'd like to say it was easy. It wasn't easy. It was really hard and we had a great team of salespeople who were really grinding it out. But we established a pretty strong foothold as early as possible.
Daniel Scrivner (00:35:41):
I'm curious. With that sort of traction, clearly, when you talk about those numbers predicting $300,000, selling 1.7, then doing six by the following June, those are staggering numbers. I would guess at some point that competition or other players started to notice what was going on. Did you see people suddenly start to pivot and move to try to copy or emulate what you were doing?
Mark Sisson (00:36:04):
Oh, absolutely. It's really frustrating on the one hand. On the other hand, I always have to go back and look at my original goal, which was to affect the lives of 10 million people by having them learn how their bodies work and to be able to take control of their health through their behavior. That 10 million became 100 million a few years ago. I added a zero to it around 2013 or something like that. So when I say I would like to affect the lives of 100 million people, at some point, I'm leveraging even my competitors. If my competitors are selling great product or even good product or better product, better-for-you product, and it's affecting people's lives positively ... they say, "A rising tide lifts all boats" ... then how can I complain about that?
Mark Sisson (00:36:49):
But it was annoying at first because people were trying to copy our mayonnaise recipe and our jar and our color and our lid. A lot of companies kind of emulated our labeling, which I think to this day, one of the things I'm most proud of is our labeling. It's really attractive. It's consistent across every line of product that we have. I'm very proud of that. I get a little annoyed when people try to copy us in any way, shape, or form in that regard. So yeah, there were a lot of competitors.
Daniel Scrivner (00:37:19):
And did you see people that were, I don't know, trying to portray that they were selling a similar product, but then you'd go and look at the ingredients and see that they were actually using all the bad oils? Were people trying to, I guess, sell something that looked similar but was in fact the same thing?
Mark Sisson (00:37:34):
I think most of the people that copied us copied us because they saw we were onto something and they weren't about to do a less impressive version of what we were doing. They were trying really hard to do what we were doing, just with a different branding. The condiment space, for example, has a number of players that are sort of in between. I would say that at the low end, you've got really kind of crappy oils and the kind of product that people who don't have a lot of disposable income are drawn to because it's such a great value for the money and the taste. Again, the crunchy, salty, fatty, sweet. The taste is awesome. At our end of the spectrum, we always wanted to be demonstrably the best. So whenever you pick up a ketchup or a mayonnaise and you look at all of the different boxes ... Does it have any offensive ingredients? Well, ours doesn't have any. Does it have functional ingredients? Yes. Is it organic? Yes. Is it unsweetened? Yes. And most importantly, does it taste great? Because it has to taste great.
Mark Sisson (00:38:33):
So getting all of those boxes checked off is a very difficult challenge, especially for companies that have been making low end products for a long time, so a lot of them don't even try to compete. But those who try to compete as new entries ... Sometimes they try to play in the middle. They try to be almost as good, but demonstrably better than the bad stuff, but almost [inaudible 00:38:57]. They make compromises, and so they can compete with us on price, for example. But we kind of know the buyer now of our product, and it's a very discerning buyer. So if there's any ingredient in there that's going to cause an eyebrow to raise ... soybean oil or corn oil or some artificial ingredient or some form of sugar that gets a fancy name so you don't really know that it's sugar unless you know the name ... A lot of our consumers know this now and they will just not pick up the competitor's product and stick with ours.
Daniel Scrivner (00:39:29):
To fast forward a little bit ... We've talked about the beginning and maybe a little bit of the middle of the story of Primal Kitchen. But one thing that I learned doing research for this interview and the show is that it was actually sold to Heinz in 2018, and I think now they've finally taken that over. Talk a little bit about, I guess, that decision, how that process went. Because I imagine that was both really rewarding, really exciting to finally get that recognition and have a major player and potentially also a way to take that mission and do it at a higher level.
Mark Sisson (00:39:58):
All of that, yeah. The goal had always been, once I started Primal Kitchen, for it to be the preeminent provider of sauces, dressings, and toppings in the world. As with most companies, you start out and it's great. You throw an apron on, you go in the kitchen, you have some fun and you're making stuff up, R&D, then you see if you can scale it, then you throw on another apron and set up a table outside of a health foods store and you give away free samples. It's all great and it's all fun and games. Then you have to figure out, "Well, how are we going to make our payroll? How are we going to get through next year?" And so you have to start thinking in terms of long, strategic moves.
Mark Sisson (00:40:35):
With my company, I quickly became one of the biggest buyers of avocado oil in the world, and avocado oil is a precious commodity and it takes a long time to get it. Sometimes, the season isn't as robust as it might be, and so we had to start investing in avocado oil a year in advance, and that was a cash demand that we never really planned on, but certainly materialized very quickly. So you get to a point where ... Most businesses can get to $10 million in sales pretty easily with their mom and pop founders and whatever. Then maybe to get to $50 million in sales, you got to shift everything around and you got to kind of go back and reconfigure your executive sales team and what you're doing and rethink your margins. And then to get from 50 to 100, once again.
Mark Sisson (00:41:22):
So there's a point at which I just didn't have the energy ... or at that point, the expertise ... to scale this to where I'd want it to get to where we're a billion in sales. My goal while I'm still involved with the company is for us to see a billion in sales at Primal Kitchen because it is recognized across the board as the best, the preeminent company making sauces, dressings, toppings ... food enhancers, if you will ... in the world. And I started to recognize that as we were closing in on, say, $50 million in sales annually, and I thought ... Not that I'd fire anybody, but, "I can't keep hiring new industry executives to ramp up for the next level of expansion," which also involves warehouses and SAP and all sorts of processing software and things that are massive investments and take a lot of resources and a lot of time that, to be quite honest, don't interest me that much.
Mark Sisson (00:42:21):
So I said, "Well, let's find a company that will love and cherish us and allow us to keep doing what we're doing, but will have resources, will open doors" ... so financial resources as well as advisory resources ... and that was Kraft Heinz. It's almost two years now and it's been an amazing alliance. They have been spectacular. People were afraid. "Oh my God, when they buy you, they're gong to change all the ingredients and they're going to ruin your brand." And I'm like, "Nothing could be further from the truth." The first thing they did was they said, "Hey Mark, we love what you're doing. We want to learn from you. We want to keep your team. We want you to keep doing what you're doing because we know you're doing it the right way, and so we're not going to touch you at all. We're just going to let you flourish and keep growing." And it's been phenomenal.
Mark Sisson (00:43:06):
So it's far exceeded any expectation I had. I'm still the face of the brand. It's still my baby. I don't own it, but it's still my baby, and I'm intimately involved in R&D and a lot of the sales meetings and processes going on like that. So it's been a very gratifying experience.
Daniel Scrivner (00:43:26):
Just one more question, and then I want to transition and talk about ... kind of balance across a bunch of what you cover in your blog, Mark's Daily Apple. But one thing I'm curious if you can answer is, either products from Primal Kitchen that you love, and if you can share anything that you're working on or thinking about that people can look forward to.
Mark Sisson (00:43:46):
I eat a lot of meat. I'm a carnivore in a big way, but I like steak sauce and some of the steak sauces that were available maybe had too much sugar, some had gluten in them. So we wanted to come up with a steak sauce that emulated ... I won't name names, but it's the number one sought after steak sauce in the country. We came up with something that is ... It's just so perfectly spot on and checks off all the boxes about the ingredients. So I'm very happy and proud of that.
Mark Sisson (00:44:14):
Perhaps I'm most proud of ketchup. We were already two and a half years into this mission and we sort of avoided ketchup thinking somebody was already maybe working on something or doing something that was going to be what we felt ketchup should be. There were a couple of players in the national channel that were organic and unsweetened, but honestly, tasted horrible. Then there were a couple that tasted great and were organic but had a lot of sugar in them. But nobody can check off all three boxes, and so we really made a concerted effort to solve that problem. We did so partly because Whole Foods had come to us and said, "You're doing so well with all these other condiments. Why don't we have a ketchup?"
Mark Sisson (00:44:55):
So they really placed a massive order for ketchup that prompted us to solve that equation, and we did. We launched it in middle of 2018, toward the end of 2018, and at the Natural Products East Food Show out of, I don't know, 8,000 exhibitors and a quarter million different products being exhibited, we won the consumer choice award in that show. That was the consumers saying, "Wow, somebody finally did it. They made a great tasting, organic, unsweetened ketchup that I'm going to feel really good about giving to my kids and about letting my kids not just douse on everything, but helping introduce new foods to my kids using this ketchup." So that's one that I'm very proud of.
Mark Sisson (00:45:45):
And now we have a line of frozen meals. We have steak fajita that I'm really digging, and because I'm a big fan of Thai food, we have a Thai chicken meal, a curry chicken meal. It's tough to name my favorite because there are so many that are my favorites. In the beginning, like the first two years, everything we did was to satisfy my path. So it was like, "This is what I want because it doesn't exist." By two years in, we started analyzing the data and going, "All right, what is it that other people want besides you, Mark?"
Daniel Scrivner (00:46:19):
What is it that the world wants, that the Whole Foods buyers wants?
Mark Sisson (00:46:23):
Daniel Scrivner (00:46:23):
I want to now transition a little bit and basically start to explore all the branches of the way that you think about health and fitness and nutrition and exercise and sunlight and all of that. But where I wanted to start is just maybe having you give a little bit of background on the word "primal," because I know that that's kind of building off of paleo. I know that some of it is also a little bit of ancestral wisdom. Can you talk about what primal is and how that's different than maybe paleo or ancestral?
Mark Sisson (00:46:52):
Well, I've used the term "primal" for 30-plus years. 40 years, actually, since probably 1980. I was a personal trainer back when it was ... I was one of the few in Los Angeles. You just were basically a personal trainer for the stars. My company was called Primal Fitness. Then I published a book in the mid-80s under the name of Primal Urge Press. Then when I was coming up with a name for my supplement company, which was 1995 that I started this, I wanted something, again, that evoked this primal urge, primal scream, primalness first and importance, and that became Primal Nutrition, which was the name of my supplement company. So by the time The Primal Blueprint, the book, came around and my seminal work in organizing the 10 primal blueprint laws, I wanted a brand that meshed with paleo, that took advantage of the interest in paleo. But I felt paleo was just a little too ... It sounded a little too Fred Flintstoney for me and a little too kind of, I don't know, possible that it was going to go out of style or out of fashion.
Mark Sisson (00:48:11):
So primal once again reared its beautiful head and said ... And then the blueprint part came in because I was really looking at the human genome in general, and how we're all basically so much the same. We build protein the same way, we build muscle the same way, we burn fat the same way, our immune systems work the same way. It's just the degree to which these things operate that differs among individuals. But the basic premise, the blueprint, is pretty much the same, and the rest is kind of up to you. And the notion of a blueprint took on a meaning of ... The Primal Blueprint was the basic structural thing, and if you want to make a few enhancements and change the color of the tile over here and change the lighting in that part of your body ... to use a construction analogy ... that it was fine. You could just stick to the main template, but you could adjust and adapt according to your own experiment of one. The N equals one became a big part of it.
Mark Sisson (00:49:07):
So you have a template overriding this where I'll tell people, "Get rid of grains, get rid of legumes to start with, get rid of sugars." But then after you've cleaned your act up, after you've achieved some measure of metabolic flexibility, after you've trended or arrived at your ideal body composition, you could play around with it now. You might want to add back a couple of grains if they are that important to your palate and would enhance your life that much. Or if you want to drink wine once in a while, there's certain types of wines that you could have. Or if you want to add back in some chocolate, even though it's probably contraindicated for some people.
Mark Sisson (00:49:42):
So the template became The Primal Blueprint. So that was the books and everything I did, all of the seminars I did from 2006 until 2014. Then when I started the idea of the food company, like, "What am I going to call it? Paleo Kitchen?" It was Primal Kitchen, clearly and obviously. So I've really stuck to the term "primal" for the last 40 years because I like the term, and as I say, it has so many different levels of significance. Yes, it's ancestral, but it's also primary in nature. It's the essence of anything that you're ... It's the baseline of what you're starting from. It's the pureness of what it is, and that's why I've always loved the term "primal."
Daniel Scrivner (00:50:30):
I want to go from there and, I guess, jump into and explore a little bit of, I guess, just the idea of being a carnivore. I know a big part of the diet, a big part of what you advocate is eating meat, which has gotten controversial on both sides. Now we have people that have a carnivore-only diet, which can certainly help people, I know, that have autoimmune issues or ... My brother actually tried it and had a lot of success with it for a while. There's people on that side of the fence. There's also continues to be a surge of people that want to try to go plant only or plant with a little bit of fish. So I'm curious just to, I don't know, try to ... if you could help flesh out some of your thinking and your research ...
Mark Sisson (00:51:07):
Daniel Scrivner (00:51:07):
... around why it's so important to have a carnivore diet, and maybe what you would say to people that think that meat is negative or destructive or counter to being healthy.
Mark Sisson (00:51:18):
Now we get into the same sort of discussion you might have in arguing whose religion is better. So when you start talking with people about the way they ... I'm never going to convince a vegan to eat meat, and I never want to. That's a choice that people make and I'm fine with that. What I do know is that humans have always eaten meat. It's one of the things that defines our direction in evolution and was largely responsible for this brain that we have that has become our main survival tool. So yeah, we don't have claws, we don't have razor sharp teeth, but we have a brain that allows us to make tools to hunt animals and to carve up the carcass. We're able to build fire to prepare the food, and this has been going on for ... the fire part's been going on for anywhere from 400 and 700,000 years.
Mark Sisson (00:52:04):
So we grew up eating meat, all of us, and we evolved eating meat. If it wasn't large beasts like mastodons or aurochs, which would be the older equivalent of a cow, it was lizards and snails and birds' eggs and it was clams and mussels by the sea and it was eels. There was always some form of animal flesh that was sustaining us and contributing to the building of a better brain through a combination of quality protein, through DHA and EPA, which were essential fatty acids ... EPA, which you can only find in fish, otherwise the body has to convert plant food into these essential fatty acids.
Mark Sisson (00:52:49):
So we're no different. I mean, we still have the genetic composition of our hunter/gatherer ancestors. I won't say I'm a carnivore. I eat meat, and I pretty much eat meat every day, sometimes twice a day. I eat plants, too. I had a big thing of steamed broccoli with garlic last night and a glass of wine, a big steak, and I was the happiest camper you could imagine. I don't just eat meat. There are people who just eat meat, and like you said, if your brother tried it and he has had great success. It's a pretty impressive experiment to do that for 30 days or 60 days or as some people have done, years, and find out that all of their blood work improves. It does get better. All of their inflammation goes away. Their gut issues go away.
Mark Sisson (00:53:28):
People think, "Well, you have to have plant food in order to feed the gut bacteria and to push all of the stuff through your gut so you have robust fecal matter." I'm like, "No, you don't." It's just, for lack of a better term, a poop or a turd is just basically dead bacteria from your gut, your gut just expelling it. You don't need to push it through with a broom, is the visual that some people get. So this notion that we have to have lots of fiber for healthy intestines is just wrong. In fact, some people are ill served by upping their fiber intake, if they do have digestive problems.
Mark Sisson (00:54:04):
So if somebody's interested in trying an all-meat diet, it's very safe. It's extremely safe and nothing bad's going to happen, and maybe something good will happen. And if it doesn't, if you don't get the results that you're thinking, bam. I mean, it's pretty easy. But you're not going to throw your cholesterol out of whack and have a heart attack or any of these things that people are starting to cite as issues. If you do have heart problems, share your decision with a medical person. But all of the indications currently are that meat is not just okay to eat, it's good for you. It's beneficial. It's the best quality form of protein there is.
Mark Sisson (00:54:43):
And now, as the discussion starts to center on climate change and manmade global warming, yada, yada, yada ... which I'm not a big fan of, but ... and they talk about how beef is raised in this country. Look, I agree that concentrated animal feed lot operations are horrible. They're bad for the environment, they're bad for the cows, they don't produce the best meat. But if you can get a hold of grass-fed beef ... These are cows and beefs that have been fed the diet that they evolved to consume and that they evolved to thrive on just by grazing on grass all the time. If you can find a cut of beef like that, that might be one of the healthiest things you could eat.
Mark Sisson (00:55:26):
And now, there's a movie out called Sacred Cow, which looks at possibly raising beef this way and growing gras ... they call it regenerative agriculture ... using otherwise unused grasslands ... of which there are hundreds of millions of acres across the US ... to graze beef on grass and let them reclaim the land by pooping on the ground and then driving it back into the ground and fertilizing the soil and improving the quality of the soil. It may be that that's the way we feed the world, literally with having people eat more beef and lamb and pork and chicken, whatever. So it's a very heavy topic of discussion, and not one that you'd want to have at an all-vegan dinner.
Daniel Scrivner (00:56:15):
Yeah, it's polarizing for sure, but I knew you would have some good takes on it. Do you have any rule of thumbs that you follow then ... Obviously, you enjoy steak. Do you have any rules of thumb that you follow in terms of how often to eat what? Or is it just really kind of listening to your body, listening to what you crave, or ...
Mark Sisson (00:56:30):
Yeah, it's listening to what I crave and it's listening to what is going to make my face happy at that time. So I won't have steak three nights in a row, even though I like steak, because I'm like, "Okay, I got to have something different tonight. Maybe I'll have some salmon tonight, or maybe I'll have some shrimp." I do get a sense of what I'm hungry for. I have the luxury of living in an area where there's some great restaurants that are within walking distance, so I can get virtually any kind of food I want at any time and I can have them prepare it the way I want them to prepare it because I know the chefs. So that's one of the luxuries of being retired and having sold my company.
Mark Sisson (00:57:08):
Then having said that, I do access ... I get steaks delivered every month from ButcherBox and I'm a mean steak cooker. I can prepare a steak in record time and have it taste fabulous and not have a lot of fuss and muss to clean up, so I don't mind cooking a steak myself and I do that quite often. Then I'll just have maybe a vegetable or a salad with it. So like I say, every bite of food I put in my mouth I want to taste great. I don't want to choke down something that's supposed to be good for me but doesn't taste great. So I just make sure that the two meals I eat every day are delicious.
Daniel Scrivner (00:57:45):
I'm looking at my list of questions here and there's so much that, obviously, I feel like I could ask you questions for another hour or two, but I'm going to try to distill it down a little bit. I had a whole bunch of questions or just jumping off points around things like your thoughts on sunlight, your thoughts on natural movement and doing a little bit of light movement earlier in the day, your thoughts about mobility and pliability or sleep and vitamin D. There's a whole bunch of topics there, but maybe just to use that as a jumping off point. If someone listening loves your ideas about how we should be changing how we think about fitness, how we should change how we think about what we eat, do you have other tips or rules of thumb? Or can you even share maybe what you do in a day just to make sure?
Mark Sisson (00:58:31):
Let's talk about the list that you just gave. First of all, sunlight. Absolutely essential, and it's criminal that most dermatologists would say, "Stay out of the sun." I think everybody needs 10 to 20 minutes of unprotected sun on as much of their body as they can get every day. That doesn't mean burn. It just means get sun and don't get you to a burn situation, but get actual sunlight without sunscreen, without a coverup on. Then if you're going to stay out in the sun, then cover up or put on sunscreen. But that's how we make vitamin D. Vitamin D is critical to our health. So vitamin D for sure.
Mark Sisson (00:59:01):
Sleep. Look, people don't get enough sleep. I make no apologies for the fact that I try to get nine hours of sleep a night. I typically wind up with eight and a half, but if I can get nine, I will. If I go ... 10:30 to 7:30, I will do that. Sleep is when the body restores and regenerates itself, and you shouldn't think in terms of, "Oh, I'm missing out on something. I'm missing out on this party," or, "I'm missing out on this TV show that I could stay up and watch for another two hours." But I'm a bigger fan of getting sleep.
Mark Sisson (00:59:33):
Moving around a lot. I have a stand-up desk, I have squatting desk. I'm walking around all the time throughout the day. I'm not jogging, I'm not running, I'm not riding a bike. I do all those, but I'm typically just moving. Just the movement alone. Forget the calories. Just the movement alone, putting your body through different ranges and planes of motion will increase your mobility. Twice a week, I go to the gym. I did today and I do about 45 minutes of heavy lifting. For me, it's all upper body, because one day every 10 days I could do nothing but legs in the gym. Then I just have fun. I ride a fat bike up and down the beach for pleasure. It's great. It's a great workout. I do stand-up paddling. In front of my house, I have a great ocean that when the weather's good, I can just go out. I have a regular standing game of Ultimate Frisbee. I love playing Ultimate. It's sprinting like crazy for two hours with changing direction and trying to catch a Frisbee in the air and trying to intercept it when it's thrown to somebody else.
Mark Sisson (01:00:30):
Look, I try to have as much fun as I can with my activities, with my motion, with my movement. I encourage everyone to do that, to move around as much as you can and to make it as fun as you can, as often as you can.
Daniel Scrivner (01:00:43):
That's all great advice. I want to just move and ask a couple of closing questions. One is, you have ... I don't even know the number. I guess, maybe can you give people a sense for how many books you've published at this point?
Mark Sisson (01:00:54):
I've written about 15. I publish other authors, too, so I've published another 30 books by other authors. But I've written 15 myself.
Daniel Scrivner (01:01:02):
And some of those are cookbooks. I mean, some of them are kind of more philosophical books like The Primal Blueprint. Your latest book, I believe, is Keto for Life. If someone listening really wants to jump in, is there one book you recommend that they start with?
Mark Sisson (01:01:15):
Primal Blueprint. That'll give you the science, the background, the frame of reference so that every other book you read of mine after that, you'll go, "Oh, yeah, yeah, yeah. I get that. I can do that." So The Primal Blueprint is my magnum opus.
Daniel Scrivner (01:01:28):
One thing we ask every guest ... and you just went through a bunch of them. But is there one thing that you try to do every single day ... it could be a practice, could be a routine, could be a tool that you use ... that you rely on and that you feel like helps you show up as your best self each day?
Mark Sisson (01:01:44):
I have a practice that I do every day. I choose. Every day, I choose to keep doing what I'm doing. Every day, I get up and basically, the first couple of thoughts are, "I've had a good life. I've done a lot of cool stuff. I'm pretty comfortable. If I stopped right now, everything would be fine." Not to get maudlin, but, "If I die today, I'd be happy with what I've done and what I've had. But I could go on. I could keep doing some new cool stuff. So today, I'm going to choose to keep going on." And I just allow myself the right to not do so, but it hasn't happened yet. I'm just choosing into a new day.
Daniel Scrivner (01:02:20):
Yeah, it would be concerning, the day you decide not to continue. And then one other question we ask every guest is for a person or experience that you're eternally grateful for, that had a huge impact in your life, somebody that showed up. If you could share that story with us.
Mark Sisson (01:02:35):
Well, an experience. I did Outward Bound when I was 17 and that transformed my life. Are you familiar with Outward Bound?
Daniel Scrivner (01:02:41):
I know the name. I don't know them with much familiarity.
Mark Sisson (01:02:44):
It was known in the day as a survival camp. It was a 28-day survival course, and it changed my life. I went from the small, scrawny runner, wimpy kid, nerd, to a confident, strong, athletic guy at the end of that who emerged as a leader, who came out with a renewed sense of what I would be able to accomplish if I put myself to it. That's how I became captain of the cross country team, the track team, and so on. So Outward Bound was a massively life changing experience, and I would encourage anyone who has teenage kids to look into doing that.
Mark Sisson (01:03:20):
Then I'd say my dad, who was just a renaissance man. He played piano. He was a painter. He made a living doing it. He made jewelry. When the paintings weren't selling, he just had to have something that he could sell. He was a hustler in terms of if it wasn't the season, he worked in a shipyard just doing odds and ends. I mean, he was a true renaissance man. He could do a lot of cool stuff. I really got endowed with a sense of what's possible from him.
Daniel Scrivner (01:03:48):
And that clearly shows up. I mean, you have a very clear sense of where you want to head in life and a very clear sense of the impact you want to make, and I imagine some of that likely came from your dad. So for anyone listening that wants to follow you, where can they find you online? Where can they learn more about you?
Mark Sisson (01:04:03):
Well, marksdailyapple.com is my blog, and that's the best place to start. Primalkitchen.com, or you just Google Primal Kitchen and you'll come up with all of our wonderful products, either on our own site or on Amazon or at a store near you. And then Keto for Life is my latest book, Keto for Life. And then, again, if you want to start with the beginning, it's The Primal Blueprint. That's pretty much it.
Daniel Scrivner (01:04:28):
Well, thank you so much. We covered a ton of stuff today. I would highly encourage anyone listening to go to Mark's Daily Apple and follow Mark on Twitter because he's just constantly covering and bringing up really interesting ideas. Thank you so much for your time, Mark. Thanks for being on Outliers.
Mark Sisson (01:04:42):
Thanks for having me.
On Outliers, Daniel Scrivner explores the tactics, routines, and habits of world-class performers working at the edge — in business, investing, science, and so much more. In each episode, he decodes what they've mastered and what they've learned along the way. Start learning from the world’s best today. Listen to past episodes for free, be the first to hear about new episodes, and subscribe to Outliers on your favorite podcast platform.
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