Mark Sisson, nutritional guru and Paleo trailblazer, is our Man of the Month for November. Learn about how he popularized this way of eating and exercising.
As the Paleo health movement, or more descriptively the Paleo/primal/evolutionary health movement, proliferates and becomes more popular every day, it seems fitting that we dedicate an installment of our Mindful Man series to a man who has been a mouthpiece (maybe the mouthpiece) for the movement.
Mark Sisson, although not considered a founder of the Paleo movement, has been instrumental in making people aware of its concepts and bringing it into the mainstream. He has encouraged millions to alter their lifestyles for the better; and through his research, writing and his passion for helping others, he has made optimal fitness and nutrition accessible to a broad spectrum of American people.
The Paleo Movement
In the spirit of accessibility and widespread communication it seems prudent to briefly explain the Paleo movement before getting into Mark Sisson and his place in it.
Paleolithic or Paleo nutrition is based on the idea that our hunter-gatherer ancestors, those who lived prior to the advent of agriculture, survived on a diet that was naturally available to them and therefore aptly designed for their health and development. The theory is that people today can benefit from mimicking that ancestral diet, even using the modern foods available to them.
Basically, we are genetically adapted to a diet that is high in protein (from fresh meats and nuts), fiber and unsaturated fats, low in processed carbohydrates (grains), gluten and sodium, and balanced with enough fruits and vegetables to provide proper vitamin, mineral and antioxidant intake. The effects of such a diet, as proven in human trials and success stories, include healthy weight loss and reduced risk of chronic disease.
Several scholarly papers were published on the subject throughout the late 80’s and 90’s, but Dr. Loren Cordain published the seminal book on Paleo nutrition in 2002. He is, for all intents and purposes, considered the founder of the movement, but Mark Sisson was personally experimenting with the diet and experiencing the results along the same timeline.
The Paleo Guru
Before taking his place as a primal guru, Mark Sisson was a professional athlete. He had intended on going to medical school after earning his degree in biology from Williams College, but his success in track and field motivated him to follow his dream of having a professional running career.
Sisson achieved success at the highest level of endurance sport. He finished in the top five in the 1980 U.S. National Marathon Championships, earned a qualifying spot for the 1980 U.S. Olympic trials and finished in the top tier of Ironman races later in his career.
The downside of all of his hard work and determination was that years of excessive workouts and traditional dietary practices left him with a multitude of physical injuries and chronic ailments. He suffered from osteoarthritis, tendonitis, irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) and frequent upper respiratory infections.
Sisson stepped away from running and began to do research in nutrition and dietary supplementation with the intent of repairing his body and boosting his immune system. After shifting to a primal diet and backing off from the unreasonable amount of exercise he had been accustomed to, he experienced incredible results. His IBS and respiratory infections ceased, and his arthritis and tendonitis were reduced due to the natural anti-inflammatories of the Paleo diet.
Sisson was actually able to return to competition, participating in several triathlons before retiring in 1988 to focus on his research and his goal of helping other people avoid the pitfalls that he had encountered. He set out to make people mindful of their health and wellness. He wanted to present others with the best ways to eat, exercise, fight age and prevent disease.
The lifestyle that Mark Sisson adopted as a result of his research and experiences includes not only primal eating, but also taking supplements he has developed to aid in optimal genetic expression and exercising in a way that promotes maximum results in minimum amounts of time. In additon, he champions the philosophy that exercise should be motivated by enjoyment and does not need to be about pain and suffering. He encourages frequent, low-intensity movement combined with periodic, but short, high-intensity workouts.
Sisson’s personal workout regimen includes walking his dog, practicing his moves on a slack line, stand-up paddle boarding and going on long leisurely hikes to cover his daily movement. He complements these activities with two intense strength training sessions a week, which include free weights, machines and body weight workouts (pushups, planks, etc.) but are only a half hour long. Finally, he does do an intense sprint session every week, but he usually covers that in an enjoyable way by competing in an Ultimate Frisbee game each Sunday.
Mark has published several books and served as editor for Optimum Health national newsletter, but he really started reaching people when he began blogging in 2006. Mark’s Daily Apple was designed with the mission of helping ten million people, a goal that he admits sounded lofty at the time but might actually need to be adjusted as he and his team approach that number. He is proud to have fostered a community of real people who want to share good information and encourage each other to take control of their health.
The daily content, viewer posts and success stories on Mark’s Daily Apple motivated Sisson to write The Primal Blueprint, which became a number one best-selling health book on Amazon.com. He describes the book as an outline, rather than a set of dos and don’ts, that is intended to make people aware of how their decisions affect their long-term health. He believes that this knowledge empowers people to take responsibility for their own well-being. He is also a bit less strict than many of his colleagues, encouraging people to have a glass of red-wine or a bit of chocolate from time to time and making his lifestyle more appealing to many people.
Now in his sixties, Mark Sisson continues to spread awareness about health and wellness, challenge people to critically rethink their lifestyles and enjoy the physical fitness and aptitude of people who are half his age.