You Asked; Mark Sisson Answers

MarkBackYardThat gentleman to the left? 55 years old. Somewhere along the line, I recall someone saying that we Primals ought not listen to anyone not willing to stand in front of you and take their shirt off. So, there you have it.

My path to an eventual Primal life way in terms of diet and exercise (and a couple of other categories, when I think about it) began in May of ’07. I had a little bit right. I reasoned that in order to recompose my fat body, I needed to build some muscle. What I got right is that I knew to shun the cardio equipment and go for the weights. I also — somehow — made it brief and intense, kinda by accident. I was familiar with “low carb” a-la Atkins and I knew it worked. I watched carbs a bit, but it was totally dis-integrated in terms of Paleo, EvFit, or the Mark Sisson Primal Blueprint.

Since I was already a blogger, I wrote about it. It was one of my first one or two posts that a commenter said that some of what I was saying was reminiscent of Arthur De Vany. And what was eventually to become a complete life revolution began. Of course, it took no time at all before I was introduced to Mark Sisson’s great blog, Mark’s Daily Apple. To this day, Mark and Art are the go-to guys. They are always at the top of my reading list. There are many others doing great work out there, but these are among the pioneers, no doubt about it.

There’s nothing like being the first, and Mark is right up there. As a blogger myself, with well over 2,000 posts going back to 2003, I am continuously gobsmacked at the quality work Mark puts out: daily. I guess he locked that in when he put “Daily” in the name of his blog. For the newcomers, Mark was generous enough to publish a guest post on his blog from me. But now, let’s get right to it; with advanced thanks to Mark.


Keith Norris asks:

I’m curious as to what your take is on Quinoa. Being a gluten-free seed, (and from a leafy green plant)I wonder if it is indeed free of the immune system irritants that plague the grass grains. I’ve been looking for a bean substitute for my Tex-Mex chili — could these be the ticket?

I tend to consider quinoa a “lesser evil.” It has decent levels of vitamins, amino acids, and protein, and it’s gluten-free, but it’s still rather carb-intensive, with a glycemic index of 53. Quinoa also contains a certain protein that’s been known to cause digestive issues in some. While I don’t eat the stuff myself, if you can without ill effects – more power to you. Coincidentally, we’ve got a killer chili recipe over at MDA, if you’re interested in a competent bean-less option (although I know how people can get about chili recipes, so don’t take that as a challenge!).

We also wrote a short post on quinoa some months back.

Bill asks:

What are your thoughts on a all meat diet? Some say thats the way we should eat; are there any benifit’s to that?

Looking back at our ancestral forefathers, some subsisted on mostly meat diets. The inland Inuit (without access to the coast or very agreeable conditions for vegetation) ate mostly caribou, plains natives in North America lived off of mostly bison, and the traditional diet of the Masai is blood, milk and meat. Make no mistake, though – these guys weren’t just eating reindeer steaks and bison kebabs. They ate the entire animal – organs, bones, meat, skin and fat. Using the entire animal gave them access to all the micronutrients, vitamins, and minerals they needed to survive and thrive.

Nowadays, it’s tough to replicate that. You could hunt game. You could probably find a butcher that was willing to hand over the entire animal for a rough approximation of a diet reminiscent of our ancestors, but remember: those animals of yesteryear were wholly natural, organic beasts eating nothing but natural foods (you could even say they followed their own Primal Blueprint), not the grain-fed, bloated, over-stressed meatbags that most people eat today. If you’re set on an all-meat diet, definitely make sure you’re eating EVERYTHING, and only buy organic, grass-fed and finished meat. I can’t endorse it, though. Eating plenty of vegetables, fruits, and nuts (alongside a generous serving of meat, of course) is an easy, healthy, affordable way to get the nutrients and vitamins we need.

I touched on this here.

Richard Nikoley asks:

While there are a lot of success stories here on this blog, and on yours and others, Mark, there are also the comments (and I’m sure the emails to bloggers personally) from those who have seen some success and then stalled in their progress.

So, Mark, over the months and years, have you come to recognize any common themes, and do you have a short list of things “the stalled” ought to look at or do in order to get back on track?

First off, it’s absolutely essential that the Primal Blueprint (or any similar model) be approached as a lifestyle, rather than a diet. “Diet” connotes transience and short-term results; while living in accordance with evolutionary biology certainly has benefits obvious in the short-term (weight loss, lean mass gain, energy), you need to maintain to make them permanent. I’d even argue that any “diet” could be beneficial, even those you or I might not necessarily agree with, just as long as they’re respectfully approached as a viable lifestyle choice rather than a temporary fix.

Second, support helps. Whether we get our support from our friends and family, or from online communities of likeminded individuals all working towards the same goal (like on Free the Animal or MDA), humans are social beings that can sometimes falter. Having peers to look toward for tips or recipes or workout ideas really helps.

If the weight has simply stopped coming off, the easiest thing is to cut the carbs. No matter how clean they may be, limiting carb intake is the absolute key to losing body fat. So instead of an apple a day, make it every other day. And don’t skimp on the fat. Sometimes those old societal phobias creep in and whisper quiet recriminations – “Oh, are you really cooking with lard?” Ignore them. Fat keeps us full and less likely to venture into “just this once” carb territory.

Mark asks:

I’m wondering about the apparent difference in opinion (I think) between Mark and Art DeVany: be sure to eat within the first hour after a hard workout (Mark), or definitely wait until at least an hour has passed (Art)?

I’m definitely of the opinion that a healthy dose of protein within the post-workout hour is good: our bodies are primed for protein synthesis, we’re usually hungry following a good lift, and the prospect of a piece of meat is good impetus to finish hard and strong. That said, I also recognize the value of occasionally fasting after a workout. You see, intense resistance training induces a rise in HGH, as does fasting. The result is a confluence of HGH-raising stimuli that packs even more of a punch. Most workouts still end with a protein-rich snack, but occasionally fasting after a particularly intense session has its benefits too.

As for Intermittent Fasting in general, I try to randomize it as much as possible. Maybe I’ll skip two meals early in the week, then go an entire 24 hours toward the end. Trying to mimic the circumstantial fasts of our ancestors with artificial randomization can be tricky, but it’s the best we’ve got.

  • Is Intermittent Fasting Healthy?
  • The Hype Over Human Growth Hormone
  • Post Workout Fasting

Keith Norris asks:

Dr. Scott Connelly (of MetRx fame) is a big proponent of whey protein and raw dairy in general. This seems to be his “gold standard” vis-a-vis protein bio-availability. I would think that the lactose/insulin issue, not to mention the body’s immune/inflammatory reaction to dairy, would render whey/dairy protein substandard. Thoughts?

As a protein powder, I like whey enough to use it in my meal replacement. It’s not intended to form the foundation of a person’s daily nutrition, but it gets you a nice dose of healthy, available protein in a pinch.

Grok Didn’t Take Supplements So Why Should I?

Robert Chon asks:

I’d be interested to know Mark and Richard’s take on the newest wave of miracle supplements.

I’m speaking of course of those which generally perform the function known as “colon cleansing.”

The purveyors make many claims, mostly regarding the removal of toxins from the body and of course, substantial weight-loss claims.

I’m inherently skeptical of quick fixes – especially when specifically marketed as such. It makes me think of some conman hightailing it out of Dodge, suitcase of money in hand. A few of these guys are suggesting that many of us have a ten-foot-long layer of plaque in our colon that’s been there for years! It’s all BS. I say if you’re eating clean, whole foods as ordained by evolutionary biology, you won’t need to cleanse yourself of toxins. These supplements – I’m just guessing here, as I’m not sure which you’re referring to – may help you lose weight in the short term, but I’d imagine it would be via a combination of starvation and frequent trips to the bathroom. Many of these are just high-fiber preparations that might even be dangerous. Why not just stick to eating good fats and proteins and cutting carbs?

Next are three questions around the same issue. First, Meese asks:

I’ve been puzzling over Lyle McDonald’s posts on leptin and had the following 2 questions:

1) On a primal/paleo/evfit type of lifestyle in which one consumes relatively constrained amounts of carbohydrates, could falling or low leptin still become a problem as both carbohydrate metabolism and fat storage would tend to decrease, possibly prompting hormonal responses to guard against starvation? For instance, I notice when I am fasting, I am not particularly hungry or weak (insulin levels good!), but I am extremely and uncomfortably cold.

2) McDonald seems to recommend brief(ish) carb-heavy “refeeds” to bring leptin levels back to baseline after dieting. As fat and protein don’t seem to have appreciable effects on leptin, and fat and sugar stores tend to decrease on a primal lifestyle, how can a recovering dieter/non-bodybuilder raise leptin levels? Assuming one already gets adequate sleep, is there a better way than controlled carb binges?

Then… Madmax:

I’d like to know how Mark approaches Intermittent Fasting; ie how often he does it and for how long.

I too second Meese’s questions regarding Lyle McDonald’s “carb re-feeding” idea. McDonald is an interesting case. He’s heavy into the science aspect but he does not recommend a paleo/primal lifestyle. In fact, I get the impression that he thinks its “faddish” and unscientific. Lyle is also no fan of Gary Taubes. I would usually dismiss someone like him but for those that know Lyle, they know that he knows his science. This makes ignoring him out of hand difficult.

And… Richard:

At the risk of just re-hashing Meese and Madmax, here goes: can there be potential value in intermittent/random higher carb days? Nothing ridiculous, but I’m thinking something like ratcheting from, say 100g or less per day, to the occasional 200-300g per day. Aside from the leptin issue noted by Meese above (which I did not know about), I’m wondering whether this could simply be a valuable form of variation/randomizing that “confuses” the body in a productive way.

Lyle (whom I greatly respect) seems to attribute a whole lot more to leptin than I do. I’d say insulin is the more significant driver (by a factor of 10, even). While leptin has it’s function, it, as Lyle says, has a lot to do with regulating appetite – it’s an “anti-starvation” hormone. But if you’re doing a true Primal eating program, appetite doesn’t really ever become an issue.

As you lose body fat, leptin may decrease. If hunger pangs set in, eat a bit more. Once you’re down to 10% body fat (for a guy) or 15% (for a gal) and you feel the need for more carbs in your life, have at it! Just make them healthy sources. At that level, maintaining your body composition shouldn’t be an issue, and eating all the protein and fat you want with 100-150g/day of carbs from veggies and fruits shouldn’t change it.

And finally, if leptin is mostly an “anti-starvation” hormone and you don’t feel like you’re starving, where’s the problem? If you do feel like you’re starving yourself, try to up the fat and protein first, then bump up the carbs to 100-150g/day. Still feeling it? Go for a “refeed” day or two. Even then, get your carbs from healthy sources (think yams, roots, vegetables, fruits) and try not to exceed 300 grams a day.

Chris asks:

1. Mark, how does someone with very fair skin, who easily burns, handle sun exposure? Maybe 15-20 minutes exposure before you break out the Chernobyl strength suncreen?

2. What would you suggest for those of us Primals who go on a cruise?
Go for the fruity drinks with all that sugar, or stick to the beer or

(1) 15-20 minutes of good sun exposure a day is a perfect amount (in fact, for the ultra-fair skinned – think Nordic maidens – 3-15 minutes is plenty). You don’t want to burn, but you do need to give your skin enough time to absorb the good stuff. Fifteen minutes seems to be an optimum level to shoot for. Then just find shade, cover up with clothing or apply a good sunblock.

(2) I’d say go for the wine. Although you probably aren’t thinking about nutrients and healthy stuff on a cruise, red wine is loaded with antioxidants and has actually been deemed healthy by CW (I know, I know, not exactly a sterling endorsement, but still…). You can read more about wine here. Of course, I’m a sucker for a good pale ale, and I always stress the importance of actually enjoying life, so do what you want… it’s a vacation!

Richard Nikoley asks:

Have you looked into vitamin K2, specifically, and MK-4 subform, i.e. the one made by animals from K1, not the MK-7 from bacterial fermentation)? Chris Masterjohn has quite a piece on it.

I made brief mention of it way back when MDA was still in its infancy, but that article is pretty compelling – as are your past posts on the subject. I think I’ll have to take a deeper look and maybe do a post on it for MDA. I don’t currently take any supplements for it, but I’d assume we get plenty of it through leafy greens on a Primal diet. Do note that all forms of K are considered off limits for people who take blood thinners (K1 is a clotting factor). I’d be interested to hear your thoughts.

[Editors note: Thanks again to Mark Sisson for his generosity in answering all your questions.]

Since Covid killed my Cabo San Lucas vacation-rental business in 2021, this is my day job. I can't do it without you. Memberships are $10 monthly, $20 quarterly, or $65 annually. Two premium coffees per month. Every membership helps finance this work I do, and if you like what I do, please chip in. No grandiose pitches.


  1. lynn on February 11, 2009 at 10:25

    Mark you might enjoy reading this to find out what the Inuits REALLY ate. The did not always eat the entire animal and this is clearly documented in Not By Bread Alone.

  2. Mark Sisson on February 11, 2009 at 12:31

    Nonegiven, I neglected to say that K2 can be obtained from meat, liver, eggs, cheese, etc. Between that and the conversion in the intestines of K1 to K2 (when gut bacteria are healthy) I believe I am covered. Having said that, if you are not on blood thinners, it would not hurt to take supplemental K2

  3. Mark Sisson on February 11, 2009 at 12:43

    Lynn, haven't read that yet, but much research suggests Inuit eat/ate lots of blubber, liver, brains, stomach contents, etc along with the meat. Not suggesting they ALWAYS ate the entire animal, but they certainly partook of a larger proportion than we would in a typical Western diet.

  4. Richard Nikoley on February 11, 2009 at 12:59

    I would also add that we're looking for OPTIMAL nutrition, such as:

    (reminding me I still have to get to part 4)

    Anyway, there are infinite combinations of Real Food that just knocks it out of the park in terms of nutrition, as eating Real Food in place of grains, sugars, and processed derivatives gives one literally HUNDREDS of percent more nutrition in the same calories.

    I view the Inuit as an amazing example of how a population can be very health in the most inhospitable place on Earth. Truly amazing. However, I think that:

    1) Eating the WHOLE animal is going to be more optimal in terms of nutritional content than just the lean meat and fat.

    2) I'm sure they'd have been very happy to have some vegetables, fruits, and nuts in their diet if they could have. And, I think that would have been even BETTER nutrition.

    That said, I don't personally eat a huge lot of veggies or fruits. And, the vast majority of what I do eat is as part of a meat/fat dish, like stews, curries, chili, sauces, broths.

  5. nonegiven on February 11, 2009 at 09:57

    I though K1 from vegetable sources was poorly converted to K2 by humans.

  6. Sam on February 11, 2009 at 12:32

    Yes (although I'm not lynn…). The book was republished under a different title.

  7. Chris - Zen to Fitness on February 11, 2009 at 23:13

    Have been looking forward to this and for good reason! packed with great info from Mark and some very good questions which delved into a load of stuff I have been interested in! Thanks to Mark and Richard for sorting this out. Although I would have liked to see Mark's view on D3 supplementation for those of us who don't have access to the sun year round….

  8. Richard Nikoley on February 11, 2009 at 10:45

    Is that the correct link, Lynn? The book that comes up is entitled "The Fat of the Land."

  9. Marc Feel Good Eating on February 12, 2009 at 04:42

    Thank you Mark Sisson !!!

    I'm a big fan of Mark's supplement (MDC). It's in my humble opinion, some, if not the best available.

    Thanks again Richard for getting our questions answered.


  10. Michael on February 12, 2009 at 19:22

    The Inuit didn't eat the whole animal except in times of famine. Stefansson was pretty clear about this, BUT, nor did they eat only muscle meat and fat. From the body cavity they ate only the heart and the kidneys (given to the children) and gave the rest to the dogs, but they ate the entire head, partook of seal oil, certain veggies in season and yes, they drank alcohol, what Stefansson called "raw spirits."

    The other point is you can get optimal nutrition from a meat only diet by eating pemmican, which is dried beef and tallow at about a 50 to 50 ratio. You can not only survive but thrive and Stefansson documents this as well, even though by our conventional understanding of nutrients it would appear some things are missing.

    Experience trumps theory however, every time.

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