Primal Living: An Author's Case for Optimum Health

Mark Sisson wants to help athletes improve health, reduce excess body fat, and go faster by training smarter. His new book, The Primal Blueprint: 21-Day Total Body Transformation, can help.

Sisson has a long history in the sport: a former 2:18 marathoner, he placed fourth in the 1982 Hawaii Ironman World Championships. He was the Executive Director of USA Triathlon back in the early 1990's, founder of the ITU Anti-Doping Committee, and coach/advisor to many elite athletes, including the original Pioneer triathlon team, former Coke Grand Prix champion Brad Kearns (who works with Mark today), Olympic gold medalist Simon Whitfield and Ultraman world champion Jonas Colting.

Of particular interest to triathletes is Sisson's scientifically-supported contention that optimum health and athletic performance occurs when we "reprogram our genes" to use stored body fat as a preferred energy source. Consequently, Sisson recommends rejecting the complex carbohydrate-based diet that causes us to be "sugar burners", promotes inflammation and compromised immune function, and hampers efforts to reduce excess body fat—even when you exercise frequently. 

A nutrition and health expert, today Sisson presides over the burgeoning Primal lifestyle movement. His Primal Blueprint hardcover book (rose to #2 on amazon.com's best-sellers list in March of 2010) promotes the benefits of eating and living like our hunter-gatherer ancestors.

Sisson explains, "Triathletes will spend thousands of dollars to shave a few pounds off their racing bike, but seem to have difficulty losing that last 5, 10, or 20 pounds of excess body fat. When you eat a high-carbohydrate, whole grain-based diet, and train chronically at medium-to-difficult exercise intensities, you are going to store excess body fat (unless you have great genes) and quite possibly destroy your health." Sisson's landmark article, A Case Against Cardio, details these concepts further.

Briefly, the recommendations of Sisson's "Primal" approach are to:

  • Eat the foods that have nourished human evolution for 2 million years and promote optimal gene expression: meat, fish, fowl, eggs, vegetables, fruits, nuts and seeds.
  • Eliminate Standard American Diet (SAD) staples such as sugars, grains, legumes, chemically-altered fats, and heavily-processed modern foods that are foreign to our genetic makeup and lead to excess fat storage and elevated disease risk.
  • Slow down the pace of endurance workouts to allow your aerobic system and fat metabolism to develop without the excessive stress of chronic medium-to-difficult cardiovascular workouts.
  • Include brief, high-intensity strength and sprint workouts in your schedule to develop broad athletic competency and avoid the risk of injury and burnout caused by Sisson's so-called "chronic cardio".

Sisson's credibility is enhanced by the fact that he has "been there, done that" during his years as an elite marathoner and Ironman triathlete. He points to the alarming frequency of heart problems among elite triathletes as evidence that chronic endurance exercise elevates disease risk factors. While the principles of backing off carbs, eating more fat, and slowing down workout pace might conflict with the conventional triathlon training methods, Swedish ultradistance star Jonas Colting has reported excellent results implementing the Primal principles into his training.

Jonas explained, "I believe that these methods are the answer to having a 15+ year pro triathlon career with hardly any injuries or illness, and continued improvement and enjoyment (at age 37). This is the message I talk, lecture, and write about in Sweden."

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