Podcast #018 – Interviewing Mark Sisson Podcast #018 – Interviewing Mark Sisson

Play Practical Personal Development Podcast #18

Mark Sisson is the guy that puts the facts behind lifestyle, exercise, and nutrition claims. His current mission is to create the happiest, healthiest, leanest, most fit, and productive life that he can while he’s here on earth.

In the good ol’ days Mark Sisson was a professional triathlete, endurance runner and finished in the top five of the US National Marathon Championships — ultimately qualifying him for the Olympics. Following conventional wisdom, and exercising more than most human beings on this planet, Mark found himself to be unhealthy and overworked.

This unexpected state of health beckoned Mark to ask the question of ‘what do we do in the name of fitness?’ He spent the rest of his life, up until now, doing research on diet, fitness, nutrition, and all the erroneous assumptions that have been surrounding these topics over the last several decades.

Mark looks at our lives in the 21st century from an evolutionary perspective. Particularly, how our genes expect us to act and behave in a particular way, in order for us to be healthy. Unfortunately, we mismanage our genes, and Mark’s life for the past 20 years has been centered on figuring out which genes we want to turn on/off to manifest good health, lean fit bodies, happiness, productivity, and all of the things that make us human.

The Reluctant Crusader Against Conventional Wisdom

Mark Sisson takes it upon himself to dispel many of the myths that we believe about science by investigating them back to the original source. Let’s take a look at just five of the many myths that he’s undertaken during his career.

1. Myth: “Your diet ought to be comprised of a largely carbohydrate based intake” The food pyramid has at it’s base 6-11 servings of grains on a daily basis, which is something that humans never adapted to, and possibly the worst advice that the government could give us. Grains may be largely responsible for the obesity, diabetes, heart disease, and arthritis that we experience as a population.

2. Myth: “Saturated fat is bad for you” Saturated fat is a critical component of human cell membranes, and is what our bodies choose to store added fuel as. There’s nothing inherently wrong with saturated fat, but combined with the high carbohydrate intake that increases insulin level and wreaks havoc on other systems within the body, saturated fat can become a bad thing.

3. Myth: “Cholesterol is bad for you” Cholesterol is one of the most important molecules in the body.

4. Myth: “Avoid the sun. UVA and UVB rays are causing cancer” Mark contends that staying out of the sun causes more cancer than it prevents. Human bodies need vitamin D, which is manufactured when the sun hits the body and converts cholesterol into vitamin D. Vitamin D is incorporated into the immune system in ways that prevents us from getting cancer.

5. Myth: “Drink 8 glasses of water a day” There’s no rational reason to drink 8 glasses of water per day, because we get most of the water we need from the food we eat.

Mark Sisson: #Primal vs #Vegan

The human body is a very adaptable mechanism. For instance, some people have survived on seaweed and shoe leather  during the great potato famine. However, surviving is not necessarily thriving, and Mark contends that there has never been a society in history that has survived on a meatless diet.

Speaking extremes — if you happen to be an adult that has already gone through the development stages, and go from a fried food and grain diet to a fresh fruits and vegetables based diet, you’ll obviously see improvements and feel better for some time.

The base of the Primal Blueprint foods pyramid has fruits and vegetables as the base of the diet. Cutting out the meats, fish, poultry, and other proteins may have it’s consequences, but it doesn’t mean that as a Vegan or Raw Foodist or Vegetarian you won’t thrive and survive. It’s just not optimal if you are looking to maximize your health, strength, lean body mass and all the things required to create the ideal body.

Mark Sisson goes on to share his thoughts on a book that I have enjoyed for a few years called The China Study. He contends that the book was written with a bias that does not reflect the actual research. Perhaps if Dr. Campbell, author of The China Study, wrote a book based on the actual research, he might not have come up with the same conclusions.

In recent longevity studies, it has been shown that individuals who consume the least amount of calories tend to be the ones that live the longest. The results in The China Study could thus be a function of calorie restriction. Mark Sisson contends that Dr. Campbell never looks at populations that are strictly vegetarians, just ones that consume less meat, less fish, and thus less calories.

In The Primal Blueprint, Mark Sisson points out that humans evolved to do a lot of low level activity, and the populations of China that have been studied in a lot of studies are rural populations where people do a lot of physical labor. They’re working their days doing low level activities in the fields, which Mark contends is the perfect type of exercise.

The Research Methods of Mark Sisson

Mark Sisson is not a doctor, yet he’s consistently producing high quality scientific articles that he’s researched from various sources. Mark feels that not being a physician allows him to have more of an open mind and this is because he was not exposed to the methodologies taught in medical school.

Mark uses to do most of his scientific research (I also like to use You can easily lose yourself for hours by following links to more articles cited by the ones you were searching for, and the ones reviewing the ones you searched as well.

It’s important to realize that not everything written on the internet is a factual scientific study. For this reason, it’s important to learn how to differentiate between what’s science, and what’s an opinion column. I take for granted that I’ve seen hundreds of scientific papers throughout college and my masters program (I used 150 citations for my masters paper alone). You want to learn what is what, so you can take your research to the next level and not be misled.

Mark contends that for every article you find to prove one viewpoint, there is another one out there with facts proving the exact opposite. He uses the example of fish being good for you because they contain beneficial omega fatty acids, yet often times contain an unhealthy level of mercury from pollution. It’s also important to realize that studies cost money, scientists need to be paid, and it’s not uncommon for the people that pay to have a study made to get the results that they were looking for.

The Day to Day of Mark Sisson

Now here’s a man that doesn’t put his shoes on one at a time like the rest of us. Mark Sisson is usually up at 6:30 AM, has his cup of coffee with heavy whipping cream and the occasional bit of sugar. He then does some crossword puzzles while reading the paper, catching up on twitter, or ingesting some sports news. Mark then moves on to do some interviews, blog posts, and e-mails.

On workout days he’ll either head over to the gym, or goes to the beach to catch some waves. Mark values play very much, and works out so that he can play. The gym workouts are short, sweet, and pretty intense: pushups, pullups, dips, squats, lunges, and dead-lifts. The goal is to be able to play different sports, snowboard in Aspen 6 days in a row, have fun paddling for 3 hours straight, and play Ultimate Frisbee with his 15 year old son. Mark just wants to be able to play, and at 56 he’d like to do so uninjured.

He then comes home to do some work and have his ‘Big-Ass Salad‘. He’ll work the rest of the afternoon, and stop to have his favorite snack – a handful of Macadamia nuts. The end of the day might include a workout, if he hasn’t had one already. Mark no longer obsesses about missed workouts, since he realizes that 80% of his body composition is based on the foods that he eats and 20% based on how he trains. Then there’s the evening, which is filled with either family time, getting some writing in, or catching up on a movie (yes, he’s human too!)

The Mentors and Books That Shaped Mark Sisson

  • The Blind Watchmaker by Richard Dawkins is a book that cemented how important it is that we understand how evolution has brought us to where we are today.
  • Good Calories, Bad Calories by Gary Taubes. A tough read if you’re not a scientist that offers a lot of explanation about how the scientific community has been manipulated and subject to politics, funding, and special interest groups.
  • The Biology of Belief by Bruce Lipton. A book about how to reprogram our genes based on the thoughts we think.
  • Why Zebras Don’t Get Ulcers by Robert Sapolsky. A book on how the stress response that is so vital to the survival of every animal has become perverted in the human organism because of our ability to worry.

One More Tip for Success

The first tip for success is when you take on any program — diet, exercise — regimen, it’s important that you own it and understand that no matter who you are, no matter where you come from, no matter what sort of background you have or what sort of future you predict for yourself your health is probably your number one job. If you’re not healthy and don’t have the ability to go through life and enjoy every moment, it really sours the whole life experience.

I really do want people to own that notion that your job as a human being, first and foremost, is to stay healthy. That’s what your genes want you to do, and when you do that then everything else you do increases by orders of magnitude. The enjoyment of life, the ability to experience movement and be able to travel and to have access to memories and to be able to support your loved ones and to be able to love. All of these things emanate from the first core job one, which is to stay healthy. It’s critical to embarking on any new program.
~Mark Sisson~

More Mark Sisson

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Posted by in Featured, Podcasts | August 3, 2009 | Digg | | Stumble | Print | 4 comments

  • Jonathan Lockwood

    Enjoyed the podcast and summary; I’ve subscribed to his blog too.

  • Alex Shalman

    Jonathan, subscribing to Mark’s blog isn’t for tourists. You must at least be open to giving it a try to see how you feel 🙂

    Glad you enjoyed the Podcast and summary.

  • Pingback: Updates In The Personal Development Blogosphere 8-9-09()

  • Mark Sisson

    Dude, You have my name.