The Art of Manliness Podcast #3: Primal Living with Mark Sisson

by Brett on October 5, 2009 · 24 comments

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Welcome back to another edition of the Art of Manliness podcast. In this week’s episode we sit down and talk to Mark Sisson of Mark’s Daily Apple. Mark has recently published a book entitled The Primal Blueprint. In his book and on his blog, Mark argues that the conventional wisdom about health and fitness is wrong. Instead of eating low fat diets and spending hours on the treadmill, we should take a cue from our prehistoric ancestors by eating fatty meats and taking long walks. In this podcast, we discuss Mark’s argument that living like a caveman is the pathway to a fit and happy life.

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{ 20 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Shane October 5, 2009 at 9:47 pm

Great interview with Mark. Big fan of Mark and his website so it was great to hear him on another of my favourite websites AoM! I follow a very strict Paleo diet and use CrossFit as my exercise program and can’t recommend them enough, they’re fantastic. I’d also highly recommend everyone to give the Paleo/Primal style diet a go for two or three weeks and see the difference in your energy levels (and waistline!!).

2 Justin October 5, 2009 at 11:39 pm

He makes quite a number of assumptions about the mood and mental health of ancestral man…

3 Rh October 6, 2009 at 8:03 am

Look around the world. The healthiest, long-living people basically eat a base food of starch (rice, potatoes, corn), add some veggies and maybe beans, some leafy greens, and not much else. The island population in which one third live to be 90, living on potatoes, veggies, beans and mint tea. The Central American long distance runners who live primarily on corn. The group that lives on sweet potatoes and leaves. The long-living natives that Dr. McDougal dealt with that would be 70 and go to the Philipines to get a 20-something wife, fully intending to raise children. And so on and so forth, all around the world.

it’s easy to speculate and make a litany of assumptions about what we should or should not eat based on historical guesses about our past diet. Shoot, i can guess that we were the prey, not the predators, and should be eating grass! Why not, it’s the same basis, a bunch of guess-work.

But I think it’s wiser to use what demonstratibly works around the world – a base of complex carbs, veggies, a little meat or fish as a treat maybe every so often. That’s what has worked for thousands of years, until processed flour and sugar and huge amounts of meat and fat became the norm and not the exception to our diets.

4 Rh October 6, 2009 at 8:05 am

Demonstratably … yep, I should be more careful when I type!

5 Jason October 6, 2009 at 10:05 am

I have a problem with this. Like Rh said, guessing as to what we should eat based on our past is simply speculation. Speculation should lead to research then recommendations. A flaw in his logic is that since we evolved to eat a certain way, we should continue eating that way now, but the fact is we live a long longer than our ancestors. The ‘old’ diet served to keep our ancestors alive long enough so they could reproduce, we want a diet that will keep us healthy and living until we reach 80 or beyond. I doubt they are exactly the same.

6 Dave October 6, 2009 at 11:38 am

You do know that the average life expectancy of prehistoric men was around 25 years!?
And that despite these “awful” “junk” foods that we are eating, we are living longer, healthier lives than any generation in history.

http://www.gapminder.org/ is great site for some perspective on this.

7 Nik October 6, 2009 at 2:37 pm

It’s definitely interesting, but as people have mentioned above, it’s based more on speculation than on actual science. I believe that current aerobic practice is counter-productive and that people are better off with short bouts of resistance training and long periods of low-level physical activity. I also am willing to believe that a diet of largely meat, protein and vegetables is probably pretty healthy. Where I begin to doubt is the argument that we should be eating fat instead of carbohydrates or that carbohydrates should be less than 25-30% of our intake.

I would love to see a clinical study of this, but in the meantime, it is simply poor science to say, “This is how prehistoric people ate, therefore this is how we should eat.” Civilization is founded on grain agriculture because it is the most sustainable, controllable source of energy for a large population. We could not come even close to sustaining today’s population on diets that largely consist of meat. Furthermore, it is silly to assume people have not evolved in the last 10,000 years with the introduction of grain. In that time people have also adapted to digest cow’s milk (lactose tolerance vs. intolerance), so how can one say as a blanket statement that we have not evolved across *500 generations* to cope well with carbohydrates? People are omnivores, made to adapt to whatever food sources their large brains can find. That’s our evolutionary niche. Also, eating corn-fed meat is just as bad as eating corn, especially the “fatty cuts” he talks about.

Anyway, I would like to see actual scientific discourse on this subject because it is currently just an exchange of fanatics and pseudo-science. Yes, it sounds great and logical on the surface, but that does not mean it is science.

8 Jason October 6, 2009 at 7:45 pm

I’m so glad that many of the commenters are skeptical of this guy’s claims. One of the things I hate about blogs is that some unqualified person will make a claim that sounds good, but has to proof to back it up, and then everyone will jump on the bandwagon and say how great an idea it is. There are so many answers in the world which should not be left to opinion because they are facts that science can ascertain. Even the question on how to live can and should be guided by science, in particular the new field of positive psychology. We should let go of our old beliefs and encourage science to undertake quantifiable studies to show how we can increase our well-being.

9 Evan October 6, 2009 at 7:46 pm

Regardless of the value of the Mark’s diet advice, his exercise advice has a lot of merit. Many studies have shown that maximal effort, super high intensity, short duration workouts really do boots HGH and testosterone levels. While they are not fun to do, you get left with a sensation of Manliness after you’re done, rather than just fatigue.

10 Edward October 6, 2009 at 8:23 pm

Many of you have made a very egregious mistake-you assume that since you haven’t read any scientific studies that prove Me. Sisson’s claims, than the science doesn’t exist. Ignorance doesn’t prove absence I’m afraid. Read the book Sisson recommends-”Good Calories, Bad Calories” by Gary Taubes in which the author cites hundreds of studies to back up the paleo lifestyle and then come back and comment when you’re actually informed on the subject.

11 Carson Wright October 6, 2009 at 8:23 pm

To Rh:

The people you describe as eating complex carbs all their life, then living to be healthy, strong and robust at age 70 are, as you admit, part of island populations. Key word there, island. Their ancestors probably didn’t have too many woolly mammoths to hunt for food; so their bodies probably adapted to whatever lean foods were available to them in that island ecosystem.

People whose ancestors inhabited large continents 10-20,000 years ago, (i.e. most of us) probably lived and ate the way Mark describes in the podcast. They hunted and ate large game; as well as foraging for whatever nuts, berries, and vegetables they could find.

12 Tom Harbold October 6, 2009 at 8:49 pm

I love it when two of my interests come together! Unfortunately I haven’t been able to watch the podcast; my laptop’s speakers aren’t working, and watching video with no sound is just plain irritating. But I’ve been on Mark Sisson’s Primal Blueprint since July, which is longer than I’ve known of the existence of The Art of Manliness, and I have a couple of thoughts on the subject:

First, please read Sisson’s book, or at least spend a decent amount of time poking around his website, before dismissing his ideas as guesswork, speculation, or pseudo-science. A podcast interview doesn’t give much time or scope for citing sources. The Primal Blueprint is actually quite well researched and documented, both anthropologically and nutritionally.

The idea that average life expectancy 10,000 years ago was 25 (it was 45 until well after the First World War) doesn’t mean that everyone kicked the bucket at that age. Average life expectancy factors in infant mortality (throughout most of human history, if you survived infancy and childhood, you had a good shot at a long life… IF you survived them), death from accidents (remember, they certainly didn’t have modern trauma centers!), death from predation, etc. What people did NOT die from is the range of degenerative “diseases of civilization” like heart disease, cancer, diabetes, etc.

For more information on what healthy people in traditional cultures around the world actually ate, in the historical period but before the advent of the modern, “Western” diet, I strongly recommend checking out the Weston A. Price Foundation (http://www.westonaprice.org). The section on traditional diets (http://www.westonaprice.org/traditional_diets/index.html) might be a good place to start.

Finally, I would consider myself a Primal Blueprint “success story.” I’ve been on the PB (which is a lifestyle, not just a diet) since July, after my doctor told me to find a high-protein, low-carb/low-sugar diet to lose weight, and in that time have dropped from a high of 256 lbs to my current 239 lbs. I would like to drop another 39, but that’s significant progress.

Most significantly, I’ve lost 5 pounds more than I did in a comparable period in cardiac rehab, eating a supposedly “heart-healthy” (low-fat, but relatively high carb) diet and doing much more intensive cardio workouts than I am currently. I also have much more balanced energy levels. Sisson’s right: “chronic cardio” (intensive cardio exercise) increases appetite, so (unless you have iron willpower) you end up eating more, and carbs pack on the stored fat. At least if you have my metabolism!

So I would say, explore the Primal Blueprint in much more depth than just a brief podcast before you decide to discount it. I’m living proof that it can work to reduce weight and level off the peak-and-valley energy patterns of a high carb diet.

13 Nik October 6, 2009 at 9:09 pm

I certainly intend to read both Mark’s book and Good Calories, Bad Calories because I find the ideas highly intriguing (seductive, I suppose). My main problem with the science is that the underlying principle of this diet is that people have not adapted/evolved in the last 10,000 years and are still carrying around our “primal genes”. I have seen no evolutionary science to back this up, and in criticism of the paleo diet, I have seen indications that there is every reason to believe that was enough time for people to adapt to a higher carbohydrate diet. As far as nutritional studies go, that would certainly be interesting and would help prove Mark’s results, but it would still do nothing to prove the seductive and scientifically dubious evolutionary justification.

As far as this goes: “The idea that average life expectancy 10,000 years ago was 25 (it was 45 until well after the First World War) doesn’t mean that everyone kicked the bucket at that age. Average life expectancy factors in infant mortality (throughout most of human history, if you survived infancy and childhood, you had a good shot at a long life… IF you survived them), death from accidents (remember, they certainly didn’t have modern trauma centers!), death from predation, etc. What people did NOT die from is the range of degenerative “diseases of civilization” like heart disease, cancer, diabetes, etc.” Mark said the same thing, but this is a total crock. You cannot say that these life expectancies factor in all of these things unless the methodology for deriving the individual expectancy explicitly says it factors in those things. For example, the child mortality rate may or may not be included in such calculations because there may be no good fossil evidence of the child mortality rate. Sure, those numbers probably average all those things, but there is no reason to assume they do. Modern statistics are completely different because they are based on record-keeping rather than archeology.

14 Mark October 7, 2009 at 2:33 am

The reason prehistoric men lived very brief lives is because life was brutal.
If you look at primitive society’s around the world, most of them are in a constant state of warfare.
The Andamanese Islanders; the only isolated non-contacted primitive society in the world(as far as we know) are only so because whenever ships float to close to the islands, they are confronted with a barrage of arrows, and chased by savage men in canoes.
There is a multitude of evidence from explorers, missionaries etc. that contacted many of these tribal peoples from around the world in there natural states, and looking at the evidence it seems these people would have been always at war with rival tribes.
Not to mention fatalities from hunting, high infant mortality rates and the very real risk of starvation if your resources dried up and you see just how hard life was back then.
Certainly there is nothing romantic about such an existence.
My advice is try it for yourself, see what diet works for you and makes you feel good, and eat natural food like our ancestor’s did, not like the horrible crap you can get today.
Exercise is key also, our bodies are clearly designed for exercise, and with all the amazing feats it has performed recorded down history to the present day, it seems vigorous exercise won’t do you no harm either.

15 AugustusTheRed October 8, 2009 at 9:29 am

good podcast Brett. I enjoyed hearing Mark’s perspective, and what he describes definitely has a strong correlation with my own experience. When I’m not watching it, I tend to lapse into heavy carbs – I feel sluggish physically and mentally, I gain weight, flatulence increases. If I keep my carbs low, my weight drops, I have more energy, I feel more mentally acute, and my wife no longer needs the gas mask. I suppose I still have some reservations about the long term affects of a non-low-fat diet, and I probably use these reservations as an excuse to myself when I lapse from a diet that I know in the short term enhances my wellbeing. Listening to Mark has re-motivated me to give it a solid 6 months. Starting right now.

16 Michael Garcia October 25, 2009 at 9:33 pm

Marks diet advice is certainly better than the majority of the crap out there today and mirrors that of the Paleolithic diet which advocates eating that which our caveman ancestors ate: Nuts, Seeds, Greens, lean meats, little starch and no sugar or processed foods.

Furthermore the low fat diet is bad idea is spot on. Fat is crucial for humans and we would die without it. It is also the primary ingredient of sex hormones like testosterone. However marc isn’t specific enough about which kinds of fats we should be eating and this is likely because of the short duration of the podcast and is probably spelled out in his book.

The fats we eat should be UNsaturated fats both monounsaturated and polyunsaturated. Saturated fats in our diet should come from animal products not processed foods we eat. The problem comes because the food industry hydrogenates and partially hydrogenates fats in order to make them less perishable (hydrogenating makes a fat more saturated and more solid in consistency). The problem arises when we consume excess amounts of saturated fat due to intake of both animal products and processed foods.

Unsaturated fats can be found in Olive oil, nuts, seeds and avocadoes to name a few sources. Most saturated fats come from animal protein sources and processed foods.

His approach to fitness does contain some bearing of truth that low intensity exercise burns fat more effectively than the other the other forms he describes. However he is close minded in his approach towards fitness.

Essentially there are two types of exercise: Aerobic and Anaerobic. This boils down to in the presence of oxygen and not in the presence of oxygen respectively. This refers more to the biological processes the muscles and mitochondria in the cells undergo, it does not mean that for the latter option you work out in space or do not breathe.
Aerobically: means in the presence of Oxygen. This form of exercise is effective in burning excess body fat for energy and occurs when prolonged activity at low intensity is sustained. Activities like extended periods of walking, biking etc. qualify.

The body prefers to use fat as a source of energy as it is a much more efficient energy storage medium than carbohydrates. The limiting factor is the body’s ability to get the fat from the adipose tissue to the muscles requiring energy. If the intensity of exercise exceeds a certain point the muscles cannot acquire fat rapidly enough and switch to carbohydrates.

Anaerobically: means not in the presence of oxygen. This form of exercise occurs at high intensities and while it does not burn fat directly, but the hormonal effect it has on the body is profound. If the intensity of the exercise is high enough the body responds by releasing Human Growth Hormone (HGH). HGH does a number of jobs but most importantly here: it repairs damage done to muscle tissue during intense exercise, this task requires a lot of energy and that energy comes from stored fat. Not only does HGH utilize stored fat for the repair process but also aids in the formation of lean muscle.

Ever wondered why World-class sprinters and swimmers are heavily muscled and very lean? Because they exercise primarily if not exclusively in an anaerobic state.

That being said true anaerobic exercise occurs when activity is in excess of 90% of max heart rate. So there exists a grey area where exercise being done is too intense to be aerobic but not intense enough to be anaerobic (prolonged periods of anaerobic activity are physically impossible: for example you can’t sprint for an hour, at most one can sprint for a minute before slowing down) such as marathons and activities described by marc.

17 Michael Garcia October 25, 2009 at 9:40 pm

In addition we have to remember that this is a podcast and just a small glimpse into Mark’s dietary and fitness ideals. Mark’s book likely goes into detail about these things and also likely cites sources for these claims.Calling his comments assumptions based on a small 30 minute glimpse is disrespectful and unfounded unless one has read his book and can determine such.

18 Marky November 3, 2009 at 8:11 pm

I’m convinced the people who knock this type of diet have never tried anything different to what the mainstream prescribes

I have a tailor made diet where i eat anything that doesnt upset my stomach and doesnt give me any problems going to the toilet i.e. meat, fish as my main serves, with potatoes, eggs, berries, vegetables especially greens and carrots, almonds, honey as my supplements

i cannot tolerate dairy products, grains, fruit, curry based foods, rice, pasta and sugars

This seems to be a typical diet for a person from southern europe, however what type of diet suits you depends on where your roots are from, however i noticed that cultures that typically have a high carbohydrates diet are generally shorter and have bad eyesight

Ir takes a bit of time fine tuning your diet, and you need to give yourself at least a year for trial and error

19 Marky November 3, 2009 at 8:27 pm

not to mention on my diet i fall asleep as soon as my head hits the pillow, lost my body fat without losing muscle and only need to execerise 3 times a well intensely for 20 minutes each time

every aspect of my health has improved! the conclusion i came to was that processed foods are evil!!

It does hurt the naysayers here to at least give it a try

20 Marky November 3, 2009 at 8:29 pm

correction

It doesn’t hurt the naysayers here to at least give it a try

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