Mark Sisson is not only a leading voice on how to eat healthy foods and maintain peak athletic performance, but he is the embodiment of what better living is really all about.
At age 63, Mark is able to balance family, business (the ever-growing Primal Kitchen empire), pleasure, and an active lifestyle better than anyone we’ve ever met. And he doesn’t run just any business, he manages an entire multimedia and retail operation that includes books, blogs, restaurants, online stores, publishing, and coaching. What’s more, he does all that and still has time to play ultimate Frisbee each week, spend time with his family, and workout or paddleboard when the calling comes.
Mark is a truly incredible person, and we were lucky to catch up with him and to ask him about how he evolved from a champion runner to the face of a massive life-changing organization.
ButcherBox: Mark, great to catch up. Can you talk about the progression of your running career to being an advocate for eating healthy foods to improve performance?
Mark Sisson: In my early running career, I ran track at Williams College and later went on to finish 5th in the USA Marathon Championship. I qualified for the 1980 US Olympic Marathon Trials but had to miss that “career goal” race due to issues with overtraining and a highly inflammatory diet. I was disheartened, to say the least. I was competing at the highest caliber class, but issues like arthritis, IBS, tendonitis (the list goes on) were inhibiting my competitive career.
After losing both health and vitality through the training regimen and the highly inflammatory diet, I vowed that I would find a way to be as fit, strong, and healthy as possible, with the least amount of pain, suffering, and sacrifice required.
After extensive research and years of experimenting, I regained my health and enjoyment of life by simply changing how I ate. That was a huge epiphany: Food was 80% of the solution to ALL my health issues.
BB: What led you to write The Primal Blueprint?
MS: I was so blown away by the dramatic shifts in my own health that came from simply rethinking my food choices, that I started to wonder how many tens or hundreds of millions of others might be suffering the same fate.
I started blogging in 2006 at Mark’s Daily Apple about my life’s transformation with this incredible new way of eating and living. Since then, millions of people have followed the advice in my blog and seen remarkable transformations themselves. The response led me to take the lessons I had learned and shared on my blog and organize them in a comprehensive book, The Primal Blueprint. Later, I went on to put those same (and new) findings into the book Primal Endurance, which details the changes I made to my training and fitness regimen.
BB: What has been most surprising, looking back, about the reactions to your books and blog posts?
MS: Beyond the millions of readers, tens of thousands of testimonials, thousands of before and after pics, I guess I am most surprised (pleasantly) by the number of health professionals who have reached out and told me that they have completely changed the way they treat patients.
I would also add that the immediate traction our Primal Kitchen® products received right out of the blocks was a testament to the demand for clean foods that I and a number of other bloggers have espoused for over a decade now.
BB: What is your take on grass-fed meats?
MS: Not only am I in favor of consuming grass-fed meats, I firmly believe farming grass-fed animals represent one of the only ways to effectively reclaim barren and/or desert-ified land and generate enough new topsoil to be able to grow healthy vegetables. It’s critical to our ability to feed more people. (Vegetarians, too!)
BB: What were some of the realizations that made you feel that way about grass-fed?
MS: The fatty acid profile is superior in grass-fed meats. Also, grass-fed animals are generally living in better conditions, consuming the foods for which they are evolutionarily suited; as such, they are generally free from antibiotics and added hormones. The #1 realization came while eating one of the best grass-fed steaks I ever had in one of my ButcherBox deliveries!
BB: What have you noticed about eating grass-fed meat versus grain-fed?
MS: Probably the weird fact that I feel more satisfied with less meat eating grass-fed versus grain-fed. I like that since I have a tendency to overdo a nice big steak.
BB: What do you value most when making decisions about the foods you eat?
MS: First and foremost, it has to taste great. I don’t put anything in my mouth that doesn’t taste fabulous—no matter how “healthy” you tell me it is. Having said that, the ingredients must all be nutritious and “clean.” No bad oils, nasty artificial flavors, sweeteners, refined carbs, etc.
BB: When did you discover the idea of a paleo or (neo-paleo) diet?
MS: As a young kid, I actually remember gravitating towards a few food options, like soup made from full chicken (or bone broth as we know it today) and, without knowing it then, other foods that were nourishing what my body craved.
But, my primal instincts really began to ignite in high school and as a pre-med student at Williams College when I could read and learn as much as I could about anatomy, biology, anthropology, food systems, and so on. I was fascinated by evolution and decided early in my career to use evolution as the lens through which I would evaluate most of my diet and lifestyle choices.
BB: What is it like to run a business built around books and a blog focused on healthy eating and athletic performance?
MS: It’s a dream come true, actually, to have a business based entirely on my passions for eating healthful and great-tasting food, having fun staying fit, and educating people on how to regain excellent health.
BB: How do you separate yourself from the noise in the healthy food and diet industry?
MS: That’s difficult at times. There are so many companies that are trying to enter the “better for you” space in food. But we keep upping the ante with each of our endeavors. Our Primal Kitchen Restaurants are designed to offer clean eating fast-casual breakfast,
There are so many companies that are trying to enter the “better for you” space in food. But we keep upping the ante with each of our endeavors. Our Primal Kitchen Restaurants are designed to offer clean eating fast-casual breakfast, lunch, and dinner. There, our emphasis is on tasty “curated” signature dishes — versus the proliferation of “protein bowl with side” concepts. The idea was to have a place anyone and everyone of any eating style could go to and get a great-tasting meal based on clean, lean proteins, healthy fats, and low or no sugars.
Our Primal Kitchen food company is centered around making healthy sauces, dressings, and snacks. We recognized that once you get rid of grains, sugars, and industrial seed oils, you are left with a relatively small list of clean food ingredients available on a regular basis — such as meat, fish, fowl, eggs nuts, seeds, veggies, and fruit.
What makes the difference, and what keeps eating healthy exciting, is what you put on the food—the herbs, spices, sauces, dressings, etc. The response to these products has been overwhelmingly positive and made us one of the fastest-growing food companies in the US last year.
BB: Wow. Some really amazing insight Mark. Thank you for the time to talk! Make sure you check out Mark’s books, blog, and the Primal Kitchen restaurants and store. If you want to read more about Mark, check out Outside Magazine’s great profile of him last year.