Mark Sisson (@Mark_Sisson)is one of the earliest and foremost advocates of the paleo movement through his Primal approach and his website “Mark’s Daily Apple.” He is an avid experimenter and often uses himself to try out new ideas. He has always been interested in ketogenesis and so he recently did the work to make himself ketogenic. He also has recently written a new book called “The Keto Reset Diet,” that summarizes his extensive knowledge of the keto way of life.
- Learn more about ketones and how the brain and muscles learn to use them for fuel
- Hear how the vast majority of us, including most bodybuilders and other very fit people, still don’t train themselves to burn fat, relying instead on sugar and glycogen for fuel
- Understand that you need to do the work to develop the metabolic machinery to burn ketones. Everyone is capable of making them, but only a few have trained their bodies to use them.
In this episode, get insight into the advantages of burning fat and using ketones to fuel your brain and your muscles.
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Ketosis and working to be a fat-burner
Hey this is Mark Divine with the Unbeatable Mind podcast. Welcome back. Thanks so much for your time today. I super-appreciate it. Do not take it for granted. I know there’s so much vying for your attention that I really, really am humbled that you’re here to listen. And we… hopefully it’ll be well worth your time again.
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And today’s guest is Mark Sisson, and he’s going to be at the summit. I’m looking forward to seeing him there, and we’re going to have a great chat with him today.
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I’m stoked to have our guest today Mark Sisson. Now I’ve spoken to Mark a couple times in the past. He’s got a new book out called “The Keto Reset Diet.” So we’re going to talk all about ketosis, ketogenesis, what it means to be metabolically flexible. How does he during the day…? Intermittent fasting. All sorts of amazing things. Stuff that we’ve addressed here before. I’ve talked about, but honestly, I’m a caveman when it comes to caveman diets. I don’t know all the science behind it and I probably behind it. And I’m probably getting things wrong. And I’m super-stoked to get the facts from Mark.
And Mark is an individual who tests things out on himself. He’s very practical. He’s not a scientist per se. He knows a ton and he’s self-taught in this area. He’s been on the cutting edge of food… fueling, I should say, and Paleo diet for almost 35 years. he’s kind of the founder or… with Robb Wolf I would consider him to be the one of the top guys in terms of promoting paleo eating through his primal blueprint and his website “Mark’s Daily Apple.” so he really knows what he’s talking about.
And he’s an athlete, and just all around great guy. So super-stoked to have him on here, and normally I would just introduce him and we’d start talking, but guess what?
Yours truly started the podcast and forgot to hit the ‘record” button. So it’s going to pick up in the first minute of our conversation when I looked up and I was like, “Oh my God. I forgot to press the record button.”
There you go. Life of Mark divine. Anyways. Here you go. Let’s cut into my podcast with Mark Sisson, and you’re going to love it. Hooyah.
Mark Sisson: … early on adopted the high carbohydrate paradigm of building up glycogen stores and managing those glycogen stores through training, through racing and ultimately, through the consumption of high-carbohydrate drinks during the races.
Did that for a bunch of years. Became pretty fast. Pretty fit, ostensibly.
But was falling apart on the inside. I was overtraining. I was not recovering appropriately. I was inflamed from the diet that I had embraced as being what I thought was healthy.
And at the age of 28 just basically retired from competition at the highest level to seek true fitness and health in a way that I guess we’d call it a “hack” today. I hate that term, but you, finding the ways that were the most appropriate and involved the least struggle, suffer, sacrifice, discipline, calorie counting. Portion control. Any of that stuff.
It just… it didn’t seem right that somebody who wanted to do the right thing would have to jump through so many hoops to be fit.
so I’ve dedicated the last 35 years of my life to finding out ways that we can reinvent ourselves using the gene… the genetic potential, the genetic recipe that wants us to be lean and strong and fit. And expect certain inputs through diet, exercise, sleep, sun exposure, play. All sort of inputs that create epigenetic signals that turn genes on or off.
And so my mission has been to uncover these hidden genetic switches that we all have. And in so doing, offer people just lifestyle choices. There’s no right or wrong answer here, there’s just choices that I have determined for myself–and I know you have too. Would probably be appropriate in getting you to your stated goals. Perhaps quicker than some of the other choices that you’re making. And that’s really been the through-line here.
I mean my… the company tagline is “Live Awesome” and I want people to find that space in their life where they can extract the greatest amount of enjoyment and pleasure from every possible moment. And whether that means being mobile because you’ve done great things with your physical regimen. Or whether it means using your brain and being a high-performance individual when it comes to using your brain. Whether it means having a good attitude and a great mood. And not being depressed.
Whatever it means for you, that’s kind of where I try to figure out and uncover these behavioral, epigenetic factors that we can all embrace.
Mark: That’s awesome. So that all started out with running track in high school…
Mark Sisson: That started out from running home from school, cause I didn’t want to get the crap beat out of me by the bullies, truth be told.
Mark: And you were from in Maine, right? Which is not too far from where I grew up. Which is cold, cold, cold.
Mark Sisson: Where do you grow up?
Mark: Upstate New York. Like, north of Albany by several hours.
Mark Sisson: Sure. Sure. I actually went to school in the Berkshires
Mark: I’ve actually never been to Maine, but I understand it’s just a beautiful, beautiful state. But so is California…
Mark Sisson: Yeah, if you pick the right 2 weeks–it’s an amazing state. But…
Mark: (laughing) Exactly.
Mark Sisson: Otherwise the weather can be pretty daunting.
Mark: Yeah, I was going to say, once you come to California it’s hard to go back…
Mark Sisson: Exactly.
Mark: that was my problem. It’s hard to go back. I took my wife back to upstate New York right when we had met. When I was with SEAL team 3. Kinda thinking, “Hey, maybe we’ll come back here,” and I don’t know if this is a subconscious thing, but it was 21 below zero when I took her back there. We got on the plane on the way home, she goes, “don’t even think about asking me.” (laughing)
Mark Sisson: Yeah. Cross that off the list.
Training and Ketosis
Mark: Okay, so… Like you went and just… you almost gave us 35 year kind of span and I wanted to slow down and go back. Because so many people, right… still keto and paleo, even though you and I think it’s hit the kind of the forefront. I think still a ton of people think it’s really a fad or a fringe thing and they’re still stuck on… Especially triathletes and runners… they’re still stuck on carb-loading and that old way of eating. So let’s talk about what’s wrong with that.
Like, what’s wrong with the typical endurance athlete who’s literally killing himself with their food intake and their overtraining?
Mark Sisson: Yeah, well that’s the two things. They’re killing themselves with their overtraining. So they’re training wrong. And I wish I could go back and do that differently, because I trained in what we call the “no-man’s land.” the black hole of training. Where I kept my heart between 70 and 90% of its max. capacity for hours every day. For days every week. Because that was where we thought the… literally thought you had to train at a zone that was close to where you were going to race.
But what that did was just train you to hurt. And to be able to manage pain. And would kind of tear you down over time. Created a lot of stress hormones. Burned through a lot of sugar and never really fostered this amazing ability to burn fat and extract most of your energy from your stored body-fat. And so you became…
Mark: And also ruined your ability to recover quickly too…
Mark Sisson: Oh, yeah, yeah, yeah. So the inflammatory nature of the types of foods that I was eating. Grain products, lots of sugar. Lots of insulin producing type sugars. Cause I was taking in 600 to 1000 grams of carbs a day. Cause you know the thought is, you cannot run out of glycogen or you’ll bonk. And if you bonk, that’s bad for you. Start to tear down muscle tissue.
So the whole thing was based on managing glycogen and managing carbohydrate. Versus learning to be so good at burning fat that you didn’t need to tap into those glycogen stores so much.
So the new paradigm is kind of like, ‘Okay, how do we train the body to extract 80-85-90 percent of all caloric energy requirements from fat while we’re competing at a fairly high level. And thereby unburden ourselves of having to continuously consume carbohydrate that we hope is going to turn into glucose. Because for some erroneous reason, we assume that the muscles absolutely had to have glucose and the brain absolutely had to have glucose to run on.
So the new paradigm is become good at burning fat. Become so good at burning fat, you become what we call “fat-adapted.” And then become keto-adapted. And in the process of becoming good at burning fat, your body becomes good at making ketones. And ketones are like this amazing super-fuel. It’s like a super-power that we all have in our genetic recipe, but none of us–or very few of us–ever use in our lifetime. Because we slam so much carbohydrate down our gullet every couple of hours.
Well, if you train your body to become good at burning fat. If you train your body to build the metabolic machinery to burn fat more efficiently. If you train your body to do more work without expecting extra glucose, then the body adapts by making these ketones. This kind of fuel that the brain can then use.
Mark: is a ketone kind of like a self-produced fat? Or is it something completely different than a fat?
Mark Sisson: Well, it comes from… it’s a by-product of fat metabolism. So it is one of the parts when you break down a triglyceride molecule you spin off glycerol, which by the way the body can use to make glucose.
You spin off 3 fatty acids, which the body can burn, combust in the muscles. And that’s what gets burned in the mitochondria. That’s what we’re talking about when we’re good at burning fat. That’s what we’re burning.
And then one of the by-products of that is that the liver can take those… that same molecule and it can set aside some of it and basically turn it into an alternative to glucose. And ketones are an alternative to glucose. So the brain actually works better on ketones than it does on glucose.
Most people assume, ‘Oh well, the brain has to run on glucose. And the brain devours a lot of energy throughout the day, so I better not cut back on my carbs. Because I’ll have low blood sugar. Or low blood glucose. I’ll get woozy. I’ll be moody. I won’t have any energy. I’ll feel like taking a nap. I’ll want to eat a bagel at 2:30 in the afternoon to bring my blood sugar back off.”
All these things disappear when you become fat adapted and when you become good at making ketones and burning ketones in the brain.
Mark: How do we know that the brain works better with ketones versus glucose?
Mark Sisson: Lots of studies have been looking at this for a long time. Some of the studies go back decades because the first real exploration of these… of ketones therapeutically was for neurological issues. People who have…
Mark: I remember that from Dr… ohmigosh. He was at our retreat a couple years ago and you reference him in your book.
Mark Sisson: D’Agostino?
Mark: D’Agostino. Yes. He did a lot of research on that, right? In more of a therapeutic approach using ketosis.
Mark Sisson: yes. So it’s a very… it’s a known quality that the brain literally preferentially uses ketones when they’re available. And performs better.
The muscles actually work pretty well on ketones. Although what happens, once you’ve been in ketosis for a while. Once you become keto-adapted. Once you’ve spent six weeks with minimal carbohydrate intake and you’ve kind of trained your body to be good at this. The muscles become so good at burning fat, they don’t even need ketones. They just sort of spare the ketones for the brain. And you become this amazingly efficient closed system. Where you could literally–I’m not suggesting people do this–but you could literally go 4, 5, 6 days without eating. And because you have enough body fat stored on you. The body takes that fat, it makes glucose from some of the glycerol. It burns the fats in the muscle to get you through the day and even to get you through a workout without eating.
And then it makes ketones which `fuel the brain. It’s so efficient.
So we talk about… with the keto reset diet and with ketosis in general–we talk about the end goal is what we call “metabolic flexibility.” it’s the ability to burn fat when it’s present or when no glucose is present. It’s the ability to make ketones and burn ketones. It’s the ability to burn glucose to the extent that you don’t create the free radical damage or the reactive oxygen species that some people would typically produce. This inefficient burning of a fuel if you will.
And the sparing of protein. Because the body will burn protein if called upon. If there are no other energy substrates available. But if you become really good at this keto thing, you literally become a closed-loop that burns fat, that makes ketones. That makes a little bit of glucose and burns only what it needs. It doesn’t burn protein. It spares protein.
Paleo versus Keto
Mark: I see. So let me stop… if you’re a glucose burner… if you’re a sugar burner and you just stop eating. “Like, I’m going to go on a fast.” then does the body then burn protein? Is it looking for protein once it can’t find any glucose?
Mark Sisson: yeah, it does. So that gets you back to that old body-builder paradigm about, “Oh my God. I can’t go more than 3 hours without eating. Otherwise my blood sugar will be low and by body will seek to get amino acids from my muscles and convert them in the liver to glucose to feed my brain.”
Mark: is that what the term “catabolic” means? I’ve always wondered.
Mark: Yup. Yup. I mean that’s the picture of catabolism to a body builder is, “Oh my gosh. If I don’t carry my Tupperware around with me, and eat every couple of hours, I will waste away to nothing.”
Mark: The Crossfit world has got that mindset even with the Paleo diet. I think.
Mark Sisson: Exactly. Because the Paleo diet for them is more one of–which is fine–it’s more one of natural foods. But a lot of the times it quinoa and baked potatoes and starchy tubers. So they’re having 350 grams of carbs a day, but they’re what we would call “safe starches” or healthy carbs.
Mark: Right, right.
So you just pretty much answered one of the key questions I think our listeners probably have is what is the difference between Paleo diet and keto diet. And the Paleo diet is you’re still eating carbs, they’re just good carbs. (laughing)
Mark Sisson: Yeah. Right. Paleo is about cleaning up your act and eating real food. And eating… getting rid of sugar. Getting rid of refined grains. In many cases, getting rid of whole grains.
And in its place having meat, fish, fowl, eggs, nuts, seeds. Vegetable. A little bit of fruit. Some starchy tubers. But not eating the crap.
Mark: And this is infinitely better than the SAD–the Standard American Diet.
Mark Sisson: For sure. You’re 90% of the way there.
Mark: Paleo’s good. We’re not coming out and saying… we’re not like contradicting the Paleo world, and saying, “You know what? Now paleo’s out and keto’s in.”
What we’re saying is that we want to train our body to deal with ketosis because there’s some significant benefits, especially for athletes and warriors and pretty much for everybody. For healing and recovery, right?
Mark Sisson: There’s long lasting benefits. So what I’m suggesting is keto is like what we call next-level shit. Right? I was primal, which is basically a version of paleo for 15 years. And I was happy. I was, you know, I had muscle mass that I’d worked hard for but I was able to keep easily. Body fat’s low. Energy’s great. Sleep great. You know, everything was so good, somebody would look at me and go, “why would you want to mess with that?”
But as you said in the opening statement–I’m an experimenter. I’m looking for the next thing. If there’s more available in terms of how I could feel, in terms of mood elevation, in terms of productivity–I’m going to try it out. I’m going to do it.
So I’d been writing about keto for decades. I wrote about it in my first book, “the Primal Blueprint.” I spent days where I had 20 or 30 grams of carbs for a couple days at a time. And was keto. But never really spent a long time in ketosis. And I thought, “Well this is the experiment I’ll do this year. I’ll spend 2 months in ketosis and I’ll see if I notice any difference.”
And I did. I noticed more energy. I noticed that I was able to maintain–actually I was able to build a little bit of muscle mass. Which I found really a compelling argument.
Decrease in inflammation. I noticed I needed less sleep. And I’m a big sleep guy. And I thought, “Well, if I need a half hour or more less of sleep a night, that must be because the ketones are such a good fuel, the brain gets more work done in a shorter amount of time when it’s doing that repair and rewiring. When it’s doing all the neural stuff that it does at night.
So if you add up all these added benefits that I got from my own spending 2 months doing what I call a “reset.” Because I don’t intend to be living this way for the rest of my life. It’s just, you know, the way somebody might do a cleanse once a year. Or they might do a training program for a 10k. I’m suggesting, “Hey, if you do a reset once a year, and reset your metabolism so that you increase the amount of mitochondria–you increase the efficiency of the mitochondria. You up-regulate all these enzyme systems that are really good at burning fat. So that even when you go back to eating a little bit more carbs–which in my case… you know, there might be days when I have 120 grams of carbs. 130 grams of carbs. And by the way, Mark–that’s not a sacrifice for me. That’s me being I would suggest, indulgent. Because typically most days my carb intake is I’m going to say right around 90 to 100…
Mark: Let’s stop there. Cause I think… cause you address this in your book, and I’ve talked about with my tribe before. So this isn’t news to them. But generally I think people over-eat just way too much in our society. And I think the 3 square meals a day idea leads to overeating. The portion size is too much. The standard or common wisdom is that we need way more food than we actually need. So generally speaking I don’t eat that much, and so I probably have 150 to 200 grams of carbs maybe 2 to 3 times a week myself. Cause the rest of the time I just don’t need it. Not that hungry for it.
Mark Sisson: That’s one of the things that we find with this keto reset, is that… and again, let’s use this term again. Let’s bring it up again. Metabolic flexibility. And then let’s talk about metabolic efficiency. Being metabolically efficient means your body gets the most out of everything you eat, with the least amount of waste. Now unfortunately, most people in this country would think in terms of, “I wanna waste food. I wanna have a big engine that revs high that burns a lot of calories. Cause I wanna put us much food through my pie-hole as I possibly can and not gain weight.”
People think like gluttons. They think like, “Okay, what’s the most amount of this desert that I can have and not feel guilty? Or not gain weight? What’s the most amount of food I can have at a meal, and not gain weight?”
And we kinda think that way. And it’s bizarre because that tends to get us to overeat. To feel uncomfortable after we’ve eaten too much. But then to repeat it a meal later. And on and on.
Mark: That brings me back to where we started with mindset. It seems like a lot of people… it’s like money. People have a weird relationship with money, because of belief systems. People have a weird relationship with food because of belief systems that are kind of established in early childhood, right?
And so a lot of people eat food for pleasure as opposed for fueling. That’s why I call it fueling instead of eating. Because “eating” has a lot of different ways of… there’s a lot of different ways to eat. And if you have an association with pleasure–and you can enjoy it–but all your meals shouldn’t be for pleasure I don’t think. It should be fueling your body.
Mark Sisson: Well, so I’m going to stop you there, and say, every bite of food, I love. I eat for pleasure. But I know when to stop. You know, it’s like that rat in the cage who’s hitting the button to get cocaine every… the rat will keep hitting the button until he dies. Because the pleasure. So you have to Use your brain, use that front part–the neocortex– and go okay. Enough is enough. I’m no longer hungry for the next bite. I’m comfortable. I feel good. I know that if I want to eat, there’s food everywhere around me.”
I mean, look we’re kind of fighting our genetic pre-wiring here which suggest that for millions of years, food was scarce enough that we were kind of wired to overeat to be able to… and, by the way, efficiently and elegantly overeat and then store the extra calories as fat. That’s an amazingly cool part of being human.
The problem is we’re all too good at storing fat now, and we’re not very good at burning it off. so the other part of that equation, a million or 2 million… whatever… years ago, was in the absence of food–which was most of the time–how can the body thrive–not just survive–but thrive on the calories that were stored in the adipose tissue. And so we have all these amazing systems. Like I said, it’s like a closed loop. Like you could go 4 or 5 days, theoretically–not eat and maintain muscle mass and be probably more alert during the times when there’s a lot of food around.
And you’d be undergoing autophagy which is a process by which the cells do some house-cleaning. They literally start to clean up damaged proteins and damaged fats. They start to repair damaged DNA. And all of these signals happen in the absence of food, not in the presence of food. So it’s sort of interesting that a lot of the cool stuff that happens to us, happens during those long periods of time when we’re not eating.
So one of the things that I talk about in the book, and I do myself. And I would say not only most keto people, but most people who are really fully into paleo or primal, is a lot of us don’t eat breakfast. Wake up in the morning–have a cup of coffee, maybe. But wake up energetic because we’re so good at burning fat we don’t need to top off any sugar or any glucose. I might have my first meal at 1 o’clock in the afternoon. But between the time I wake up–6:30–and 1 o’clock in the afternoon, I’ll go to work. I’ll get a lot of work done. I’ll take a break. I’ll go do a workout–sometimes a hard workout. Come back from the workout, I still don’t eat. Go back to work and break at 1 o’clock and have my first meal of the day at 1o’clock.
And then have my last meal–my second and last meal–at 7 o’clock at night. So have what we call a compressed eating window. In that 6 hour period between 1 and 7 is the only time of day that I really eat my calories. The other 18 hours I’m letting my body repair itself. I’m letting my body access fat and ketones that are being made in the absence of a meal. And I’m literally envisioning this repair process going on. This muscle preserving–perhaps muscle building process going on. As a result of being keto. And by the way, none of this is available to you if you haven’t done the work. If you haven’t built the metabolic machinery.
If you’re still a sugar burner, then you’re really good at burning sugar. And that’s all your good at.
So a sugar burner’s good at burning sugar. Which creates a lot of free radical issues, free radical damage. We call them “reactive oxygen species.” a sugar burner is not good at burning fat. A sugar burner when they don’t eat–like if you are a sugar-burner, you wake up in the morning and you don’t eat breakfast and you decide, “I’m going to fast today.” You will make a ton of ketones. Cause your body knows how to do that. But cause you haven’t built the metabolic machinery to use the ketones, you will spill them out in your urine, in your breath–and people will notice it on your breath. I mean, ketone breath is pretty prevalent in people who are sugar-burners and then skip a couple of meals. You walk into any emergency room, where somebody has a flu and haven’t eaten for a couple of days. They’ll have ketone breath. Very knowledgeable, and their ketone strips. They’ll give them urine strips and they’ll be bright purple. or they’ll test their blood ketones and it’ll be 2 or 3 or 5 millimolar which is deeply in ketosis.
But that doesn’t mean that it’s good. That just means that they’re making a lot of ketones but they haven’t done the work. They haven’t built the metabolic machinery to be able to burn the ketones efficiently, and the brain hasn’t become used to using ketones. Doesn’t know what to do with the ketones. And is still kind of screaming out for glucose. Cause that’s all the brain has ever depended on.
Mark: Interesting. What you just described I’ve been calling intermittent fasting. And that’s generally the way that I evolved to eat. Once I started… one I learned about Bulletproof coffee, right? Once I started doing the MCT and the fat in my coffee every morning, I had no interest in that huge egg and bacon breakfast that I used to eat. And then I found myself really not being hungry until late in the morning–so 11, 12. So similar to you. I won’t eat anything from 7 PM until at least 11:30. And it’s often 12 or 1 like you. So that’s a big chunk of time. And it didn’t take me very long to feel pretty darn comfortable with that process to where it became a permanent state. Like literally 30 to 45 days I think.
Mark Sisson: Well that’s why yeah we talk about in the book “The Keto Reset Diet,” we talk about a 21 day process to stair-step you into becoming good at burning fat. To become fat adapted. And at the end of that period, if you’re comfortable and we actually have a mid-term exam in the book. And you have to pass that exam in order to earn the right to go full keto…
Mark: (laughing) is that like a blood test? Or how…?
Mark Sisson: it’s not. Here’s the thing, it’s not a blood test. It’s how you feel test. It’s, Can you wake up in the morning and not eat breakfast and be okay going to work? Can you wake up in the morning and go ’til noon without eating and not have it ruin your day?
Mark: What’s the best way to determine if you’re in ketogenesis or ketosis?
Mark Sisson: Well, now we talk about some clinically objective parameters. You can measure the amount of ketones in somebody’s blood.
Mark: But like you just said, that doesn’t mean you’re burning them…
Mark Sisson: it doesn’t mean you’re burning fat. So that’s why we have these ‘how do you feel” tests. Because if you wake up in the morning and you can go ’til noon without eating and be completely functional and not miss a beat–I guarantee you, you’re good at burning fat. You’ve passed the test.
If you can do a workout fasted and not feel ravenous right after the workout. And then, again, go back to work and not have your productivity suffer. Not have a headache. You are… that’s almost the definition of becoming good at burning fat.
So all of these… the goal is to burn fat and to become metabolically flexible. The goal isn’t to win the contest of how many ketones you can put out.
Mark: right, got it. Interesting. But when you do that intermittent fasting. That 18 hours. Are you having MCT/butter in your coffee in the morning at least? Or are you not touching anything?
Mark Sisson: No. I have a tiny bit of cream in the coffee because I just don’t like black coffee. But I don’t like drinking my calories. I like chewing my calories. And I would argue that when you have 200-250 calories worth of fat in the morning, you’re not really fasting. You’re just providing a substrate for your body to use, but the point of fasting is to use your own body fat. Not to just use some extraneous source of fat.
Mark: Well, I’ve been tricking myself, thinking I was intermittent, yeah…
Mark Sisson: So I think people are doing Bulletproof coffee in the first part of the day aren’t really intermittently fasting. They’re not eating carbs, and they’re teaching their body to make ketones from the MCT oil. And there’s a lot of good things that are happening. But like, if one of your missions is to lose weight, then that’s 300 calories that your body’s going to get from your cup of coffee that it’s not going to get off your ass.
So, you know, ultimately we’re trying to become good at burning our own stored body fat. And it’s like, that’s almost the definition of being a bipedal human who can exist out in the middle of nowhere.
And look, you talk about SEAL training. One of my dreams for long missions would be to have these guys be so fat adapted and keto adapted that their rations aren’t these MRE, K-rations kind of crap from the old days. They’re high-fat, MCT oil based rations that only top off the fuel, but otherwise the guys are so well trained they could go 4 or 5 days without eating. I’m not suggesting they do that. But if need be, they would be fully functional the same way a hunter/gatherer would have been on a long hunt for a beast a million years ago.
Mark: Yeah. By the way, have you met Connor Young over at Ample yet?
Mark Sisson: No.
Mark: Cause he’s created what I think is the new…
Mark Sisson: I know the drink. I know the product. I’m aware of it.
Mark: Yeah, well he’s coming out in December with the keto version of Ample. Which is basically high-quality powdered fat, protein and the keto will have very little if… I’m not sure what percentage carbs but obviously very low.
And it’s super-good. I have one of these a day and it’s got pre- and pro-biotics. All the micronutrients. It’s like, to me, it’s like an insurance plan that you’re going to get the micronutrients. For the warrior.
Mark Sisson: Yeah, it’s what Soylent wishes it was.
Mark: Exactly right. It’s what Soylent wishes it were.
But anyways, my point is, you hit it right on. Because I called it an MRE when I first saw it. And I said, “You gotta come up with a keto version of this, cause it’s what the troops need.”
And so I think he might have done it, but we’ll see. It’s pretty cool. But getting the mindset changed in the military… that’ll be a guerilla warfare thing, because it’ll basically be the guys using it because they need it. Not the bureaucrats buying it necessarily.
So let me clear up another misperception that I think I have is are we talking about being permanently ketogenic? Or part-time ketogenic? Or are we just saying, “Train your body to burn fat better.”
Mark Sisson: Yeah, so we’re talking about training your body to burn fat better. And a method of doing that is to stay keto for a period of time. And I’m suggesting…
Mark: There’s no such thing, then, as permanent ketogenesis?
Mark Sisson: Oh my God, there’s lots of people who are keto for 10 years, 15 years. There are whole sites… Luis Villasenor is a friend of mine who’s a keto bodybuilder. And has been for I think 15 years. He gets 20-30 grams of carbs a day. And all the bodybuilding community would go “Oh my goodness, you can’t maintain or build muscle on that.”
You should see how ripped this guy is…
Mark: is there any downside to that?
Mark Sisson: Not that we know of, not yet. I mean, he’ll tell you but right now there’s guys who’ve been doing it for 10 or 15 years who are so into it that they don’t want to not do it. And, now, on the other hand–I exist in what I call the “keto-zone.” so the keto-zone for me is I did the work, I spent a lot of time keto. Now I’m in this place where I’m plus or minus 50 grams either side of 100 on a daily basis. So some days I’m 50 grams, some days I’m 30 grams of carbs. Some days I’m 175 grams of carbs. But the point is because I did the work, I don’t know the difference. I don’t want to measure anything. It’s how do I feel. And if I feel good, if I feel great, I feel the same whether I’m 50 grams over or 50 grams under that average. Then who cares? Then who’s counting? Then what’s the… other than how you feel, what’s the metric that you want to live your life by?
Mark: Yeah, right. That gets me to… I wanted to ask you about this awesome quote you have in your book, and I forget who first said it, but you can remind us. “Keep everything in moderation, even the moderation.”
Mark Sisson: It was probably Ben Franklin. I mean, it goes back a bunch…
Mark: Was it Ben?
Mark Sisson: Yeah, but it’s like (laughing) who knows who the original author of that quote. It’s probably… you know who it is? It’s Mark Twain. But it was Mark Twain that we quoted in the book, but I think before that it was Ben Franklin.
Yeah, that was originally my 80-20 rule in the Primal Blueprint. Strive for perfection… strive for 100%, but if at the end of the day you come in at 80%, you’re on your way. Don’t strive for 80% and then find out that you’re at 50%. Right? And that’s a John Wooden quote. ‘Strive for perfection, but at the end of the day…’
Mark: (laughing) Be happy with your imperfection. Especially if you’re doing well at it, you know?
Mark Sisson: Yeah, exactly. Yeah.
Mark: If you flip it upside down, it’s 80% junk and 20% paleo or keto then don’t come crying to us.
Fads and Facts
Mark: You know, there’s a ton of fad keto diets out there. What are they missing? My sense is… cause this goes back to my… I don’t recommend people do diets just because they’re too rigid and then people go right back to the crap that they were eating. Is this the same thing with some of the keto diets out there? And how is your recommendation different than that?
Mark Sisson: Well, there are a lot of ways to do keto wrong. There’s a fair amount of ways to do keto right. I’ve just got one of them.
But one of the things that I have a real issue with… there’s a whole industry that’s cropping up using fake… exogenous ketones.
Mark: Yeah, I’ve had a few people approach me wanting me to promote exogenous ketones and I was wondering about those. Do they really do anything?
Mark Sisson: So I use them when I’m going to do, like, a heavy leg day. Or if I’m going to… I typically make a little concoction of collagen supplement and ketone supplement before I play ultimate Frisbee every Sunday.
And my point to doing that is I know that my muscles and my brain will use the ketones preferentially. And even though it won’t last the full 2 hours that I’m doing it, it’ll get me a nice jump start. And I notice a difference.
And then I use collagen because I’m a big fan of using collagen to repair tendons and ligaments even more so than muscle. Anybody over the age of 35 or 40 ought to be doing a collagen supplement even more intensely than they do a protein supplement. Because it’s really about repairing the connective tissue. That’s really what falls apart when you get injured, more so than the muscle.
But so I’ll do the collagen supplements. You know, sometimes I’ll do one if I’ve got a talk at 5 o’clock in the afternoon and I haven’t eaten that day, I’ll probably drink a ketone supplement before that. Just cause I know the brain operates really well on ketones.
Mark: so is there any risk of when you use exogenous ketones of kind of tricking or preventing your body from being able to produce its own ketones?
Mark Sisson: Yeah, well that’s the issue I have. Like I say, I would use them because I’ve done the work and I know I have the metabolic machinery to burn that stuff. but I haven’t done the work and then I take exogenous ketones and I sort of trick my body…I’m not tricking my body into anything. I’m just introducing ketones into the bloodstream. And so the body which is fairly intricate feedback loop in my mind would recognize an excess of ketones. And the body would go, “Well we don’t need to make any more ketones. Cause there’s already ketones. So I don’t need to break down fat to make ketones. I don’t need to even combust that much fat right now, because there’s so much ketones. Let’s burn the ketones off first.”
So I could make an argument that these exogenous ketones–for somebody who’s trying to lose weight, who’s going into… doing a keto diet to lose weight–it’s probably antithetical to your mission. If you really want to lose weight, you have to learn how to burn off your own stored body fat. And the only way you do that is by first creating a deficit in the amount of carbohydrate you take in, so your body’s forced to burn fat. And then by creating a caloric deficit so that your body burns your body fat and not the fat on the plate of food.
Mark: Got it. So caloric restriction and then intermittent fasting which is…
Mark Sisson: Yeah, so it’s basically carb restriction…
Mark: Carb restriction is what I meant. Carb restriction gets you to the point where your body starts to burn fat. And in the early stages of some of these keto programs, they would say, “Hey, fat is great. All bets are off. As long as you got the carbs, you can eat as much fat as you want.”
And so people are taking in 4000, 4500 calories a day worth of fat, and they’re loving life. Now they’re not losing weight. But they are teaching their bodies to burn fat. And they are teaching their bodies to combust fat. So there’s that.
So the good news is a lot of these people who have these initial forays into keto, they don’t lose weight, but they don’t gain weight. Because they’re not storing… there’s not enough insulin to create the storage capacity and increase of storage in the fat cells.
So the body find ways to burn it off, through uncoupling proteins and thermic effects that are not necessarily healthy, but they are ways the body has developed to get rid of excess energy.
Mark: Yeah. Is there an ideal percentage in your world of fat, protein and carbs? For a daily intake?
Mark Sisson: it’s interesting because I never like to look at it in terms of percentages. What I like to look at it in terms of is macros. So you start with protein, and you go, ‘Okay, what are my protein requirements?” If I’m a 108 pound woman who doesn’t train, then my daily protein requirements are probably, you know, 40 grams.
If I’m a 240 pound football player who wants to be keto and is spending a lot of time in the weight room, then maybe my daily intake is 150 grams. But it’s not much more than that. The body can’t use much more than that in the way of protein.
And particularly if you’re keto, then the body becomes so good at sparing protein, it doesn’t try to get rid of amino acids the way it would in a carbohydrate paradigm where you’d be literally taking in too many calories and then the body is scrambling to figure out how to dispose of the excess calories. How do I de-emanate the protein and get rid of them? Do I keep them in the amino acid pool or do I pee them out? Or do I put them in a… do I combust them in the cell? Do I send the amino acids to the liver to become glucose? What do I do with the excess sugar? Do I store it in the muscles cells? No, they’re full. Do I store it in the fat cells? Well, even the fat cells have become resistant now. What do I do?” it builds up in the…
So the body’s always like looking at all of the signals you’re giving it with the food, and trying to figure out what it needs to do with that stuff. If you go back and you simplify and you say, “Okay, what are my protein requirements?” Based on male-female, your age, your history, your goals, your size. You come to this range of protein intake. And like I say, it ranges from 40 grams a day to maybe a max. Of 150 for the most abusive, football playing, Crossfitting guy you could find.
Mark: (laughing) All right. Let me say… give the reader who’s not familiar with grams compared… like, if I was looking at a hamburger, how many grams of protein am I looking at? Or a chicken breast?
Mark Sisson: 25 or 30, maybe.
Mark: Okay. So 150 is a shit-ton of meat.
Mark Sisson: Yeah. It’s a shit-ton of meat. And, you know, you’d have to… you have to work at it. You’d probably have to be taking supplements as well. Like a protein supplement in addition to, you know, 4 eggs and a glass of milk for breakfast. 2 hamburgers for lunch. And a piece of fish or chicken for dinner. And you’d be at 150. So people who think they have to get to 200 or 250 are just… that’s just way, way overkill.
I mean, we say it’s about 0.7 grams per pound of lean body-mass.
You know, so if you took a 240 pound–I don’t know why I picked this guy out. But I’m picking on him all afternoon now. He’s 240 pounds and he’s a football player.
But and he’s probably got 200 pounds of lean mass. Well 200 times 0.7 is 140. So that’s his max. Protein requirements. He doesn’t need more than that.
Anyway, so you start with a protein and then you say, “Okay, well how much… how many carbs have I got to take in based on where I wanna be in terms of my keto lifestyle? If I want to be in ketosis, then for the most part it’s going to be 50 grams or less. You could be a top athlete and maybe get away with 70 grams or less on a daily basis. But let’s just use 50 as sort of the cut-off.
Well, here we’ve got… let’s just say we say 100 grams of protein to be conservative for most people. And 50 grams of carbs. That’s only 600 calories, Mark. So we make the difference up with fat.
Now a 100 grams of fat, which is a lot of fat–is 900 calories. We’re only at 1500 calories here. For the day.
The good news is because I’ve just basically described what you need to get by and thrive, you probably… literally, you probably don’t need more than say 2000 calories a day. Even for an active, big fellow like yourself.
Now you could get by with 2200, 2400… Whatever. But you could also do very nicely on a day of 1600, 1700, 1800 calories. I mean, I look at my day–I have a big salad for lunch. A big salad. It’s got a giant bowl of mixed vegetables and whatever. It might have 25 grams of meat or fish or chicken–that’ll be net grams of protein on it. And I douse it with some of my Primal Kitchen salad dressing, which is a healthy fat, avocado based dressing.
End of the day that might be 600 calories. I doubt it. Typically 450, but it might be 600. I might have a handful of macadamia nuts later on in the afternoon. Call it 150. Now I’m at 800 calories right there.
And then for dinner I’ll have a small piece of steak, some grilled vegetables and a glass of wine. I don’t think I get 2000 calories a day. And for the longest time, I thought… I do all of the Benedict-Harris calculations and how much… how old am I, and how tall am I, and what’s my basal metabolic rate, and what’s my work-activity? And how do I factor that in? And how much training am I doing? And I come up with these numbers like 2500, 2600. 3000 calories a day.
Bullshit. I get by on 30 or 40% fewer calories now than I ever did any time in my life. And I feel better. And here’s the most important part. I’m not hungry.
So if I’m hungry, I’ll eat, dammit. You know? If I’m hungry, I will eat. But one of the best things about being keto… being fat adapted is your hunger, your appetite, your cravings dissipate. And so hunger no longer dictates how your day goes. It’s amazingly empowering.
Mark: yeah, I agree with that. And I think that’s an amazing thing, cause you’re not… you don’t become obsessed with food. Or when your next meal is. You’re not feeling the insulin drop or that hormonal hunger. And you just feel like a real steady state. Calmly going through the day. And you’re not being driven emotionally by food swings or emotional swings based on food. Needs.
That is powerful. Very cool.
We only have a couple more minutes but you mentioned your daily ritual. I get that. So we got a good picture now about how you eat. Now I know training is also another big… we’ve talked about sleep. Sleeping is critical. Eating this way is critical. And then training. So what’s your 1 minute take on training to support a metabolic flexibility diet.
Mark Sisson: Well, I mean, I… first of all, I workout fasted every time. The only thing I should say… sometimes I don’t, but I’ll have a collagen supplement before the workout. But it’s a different kind of protein and I’m trying to repair tendons and ligaments so that’s my focus there.
The work that I do… I wrote a book… we might have talked about it on our last podcast–called “Primal Endurance.” Which is how to truly train for endurance efficiently. Become good at burning fat and not tear yourself apart. And we use the number 180 minus your age as an aerobic limit… an upper limit for training. So I’m 64. I’m supposed to train at 180 minus 64 is 116 beats a minute. I train around 120, 125 beats a minute. As a max. number for me.
And then I lift heavy twice a week. I might do 1 leg day once in a while. On and off. One week I’ll do a heavy leg day, the next week I’ll do a sprint day. Cause I always have to carve out time for my ultimate Frisbee game where I’m truly sprinting hard for a couple of hours. So a lot of the work I do in the gym is contemplated to allow me to do that without getting injured or beat up.
And I feel like, I don’t train that hard, and I feel very efficient. And low body fat and high strength. Strong immune system. And good sleep…
Mark: You’re not getting out on the road and pounding out any mileage on the pair of sneakers or a bike?
Mark Sisson: Oh my God. I was a career runner. I ran 100 miles a week for 7 years. And I haven’t run a mile in 15 years. Now I’ll run 6 miles in that Frisbee game. Sprinting and changing direction and jogging back and forth. But I haven’t put on a pair of shoes to go out and run a mile for fifteen years.
Mark: you know, it’s interesting. I know you were in Greece recently and I want to talk about the food there real quick. But I went over there to do this event where we rucked from Sparta to Thermopylae. We brought some vets with us, who were suffering from PTSD. It was an incredible event.
But in the middle of this thing… So we’re rucking 20 some odd miles a day. And rucking’s fine. With load you can walk. Once you get through the first couple days, and the reality sets in, you can ruck forever. Even though it’s uncomfortable. Specially my feet.
But in the middle we threw in a couple half-marathons, and that’s what worried me. I was like, “holy shit, I haven’t run…” Like you, I haven’t run much. And when I was in the teams, we ran all the time. Long distances, short distances, medium distances. And I’ve just done more of the Crossfit style 400 and 800 meter sprints the last 5 or 6 years. But I tell you what, once I got into the rhythm, it was a piece of cake. So the training works.
Mark Sisson: So you trained for life!
Mark: Yeah, you train for life.
Mark Sisson: you train for life. And then if somebody throws a 10k or a half-marathon your way, you can do it. You’re competent.
Mark: I agree with that.
Now I also thought a lot about the Mediterranean diet while I was over there. Cause Greece seemed like a paleo, almost keto diet. There was a ton of fat, maybe a little bit too heavy on the protein and I didn’t really like their meats. But those salads were just incredible, and the olive oil. And so what do you think about the Mediterranean diet and is that… Do you think those people are kind of naturally metabolically flexible just because of the diet?
Mark Sisson: I think so. Yeah, yeah.
First of all I do because of the quality of the food. Not just the choices of lots of tomatoes and olives in salad. And lettuce and things like that. And Feta cheese. And olive oil.
But it’s the quality of all those ingredients.
And then it’s the small portions if they do have, you know, pasta or bread. It’s great bread. It’s great pasta. And they `don’t eat a lot of it. They eat a little bit.
Mark: And they’re already walking everywhere.
Mark Sisson: Yeah. And there always walking.
Mark: That’s awesome.
Well I notice it’s 5. You’ve gotta get going. This has been extremely interesting. I know people are going to love it. People can learn more about you at Mark’s Daily Apple, right? Is that marksdailyapple.com?
And I’ll be down doing your summit December 1st. And very much looking forward to that. It’s coming right up, man. Yeah. And we’ll have fun. We’ll talk about all this stuff, and we’ll go into greater depth. Do a big Q & A there. It’ll be good. It’ll all be about performance.
Mark: Yeah, we’re looking forward to that. All right, Mark. Thanks so much for your time. Super-stoked to have you. Good luck with everything. Let us know how we can help, and we’ll see you in December.
Mark Sisson: Thanks, man. Take care.
Mark: take care now. Hooyah.