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Primal Endurance: How To Escape Chronic Cardio & Carbohydrate Dependency & Become A Fat Burning Beast.

Click here for the full written transcript of this podcast episode.

Mark Sisson is my guest on today's podcast. Mark is the de-facto leader of the primal and paleo lifestyle movement, and unlike the many instant and self-anointed experts who have descended upon the endurance scene in recent years, Mark boasts a rich history in endurance sports.

He's run a 2:18 marathon, has a 4th place Hawaii Ironman finish to his credit, has spearheaded triathlon’s global anti-doping program for the International Triathlon Union, and has coached and advised leading professional athletes, including Olympic triathlon gold and silver medalist Simon Whitfield and Tour de France cyclist Dave Zabriskie.

Mark just put the finishing touches on a new book called “Primal Endurance” – a book that shakes up the status quo and challenges the overly stressful, ineffective conventional approach to endurance training. While marathons and triathlons are wildly popular and bring much gratification and camaraderie to the participants, the majority of athletes are too slow, continually tired, and carry too much body fat respective to the time they devote to training. The prevailing “chronic cardio” approach promotes carbohydrate dependency, overly stressful lifestyle patterns, and ultimately burnout.

To overcome this conundrum, Primal Endurance applies an all-encompassing approach to endurance training that includes primal-aligned eating to escape carbohydrate dependency and enhance fat metabolism, building an aerobic base with comfortably paced workouts, strategically introducing high intensity strength and sprint workouts, emphasizing rest, recovery, and an annual periodization, and finally cultivating an intuitive approach to training instead of the usual robotic approach of fixed weekly workout schedules.

I delve into these concepts in today's podcast with Mark. During our discussion, you'll discover:

-What Mark's “perfect day” looks like…

-Mark's history as a pro triathlete…

-Why endurance athletes can actually get fat from training…

-Why it can be a myth that you have exercise for long periods of time at that intensity to get very good endurance results…

-How to do something called “maximum sustained power training”…

-Why a ketogenic endurance athlete can recover faster from stressful training…

-Why Mark doesn't use heart rate variability (HRV) measurements…

-And much more…

Resources for this episode:

Primal Mayonnaise

Focal Upright desk

Mark's recent podcast with Joe Rogan

DNAFit genetic testing

-Book: Primal Endurance: Escape chronic cardio and carbohydrate dependency and become a fat burning beast!

Do you have questions, comments or feedback for me or Mark about today's episode? Leave your thoughts below and be sure to check out Mark's new book…

PrimalEndurance_FrontCover


Also published on Medium.

71 thoughts on “Primal Endurance: How To Escape Chronic Cardio & Carbohydrate Dependency & Become A Fat Burning Beast.

  1. Does anyone have it written out for the cardio workout?

    I listened to the audiobook but there is no appendix???

    I want to do the cardio training but I can find it written out it was 20 minutes max and short bursts of all out max effort…

    Please help!!

  2. Okay, I’m obviously way off the back here on commenting for this podcast but I just listened to it. Good stuff. In a roundabout way I got to you and all the work you’ve been doing, Ben, because of a podcast I heard with Mark and Dave Asprey. During that podcast Mark mentioned his PVC issue. I have the same issue and have still be trying to train and eventually race (i’m mostly Cyclocross), though I’m trying to convert to be a fat burner. Anyway, during this podcast Mark mentioned the calcium channel blockers and I would love more information. Mark, what type of blocker are you taking? Side effects? I’ve never taken a prescription pill before and don’t really want to start now but it sounds like you’ve had positive results. Are there natural supplement options?

  3. Ben, you ask the best questions. I’m binge-listening to your podcasts. I listened to this one twice to get it all. Just ordered the book too.
    BTW, waterproof notebooks: Rite-in-the-Rain.
    Thanks for all your hard work.

  4. Hey Mark,

    In less then 1 month I went from 5 miles an hour to 6 miles an hour at the recommended heart rate zone with energy to spare. I’ve incorporated a few crossfit workouts in during the week and converted my desk into a stand up work station. The fat is starting to burn off. Primal Endurance is the TRUTH!!!

  5. Hello Mark & Ben,

    as someone just starting out on the two months of aerobic/MAF training method, how many and how long should l make each session last each week? I am 42 on a ketogenic diet and have arthritis that l take a Humira injection for once ever two weeks. I also take Axiron each day. I set my heart rate limit at 133.

    Thanks,

    Gregor Brown

  6. Great podcast Ben and Mark!

    I am planning on completing my first Spartan Trifecta this year culminating in the Beast at Killington in Vermont. Over the past few months I have started eating a Paleo diet and more recently been taking a high fat, low carb approach to Paleo. I have recently finished reading Ben’s book “The Low Carb Athelete” and have been applying the eating plan he outlines in there to my diet. After listening to this podcast and hearing about Mark’s book I recently purchased that book also and have read the first few chapters. Great insight so far, but I have a question about the aerobic base building period outlined in the book. What exactly qualifies as an aerobic workout? Is it just running, swimming, biking, hiking, etc? As someone prepping to run multiple Spartan races this year (and other OCR events as well) making sure I have the necessary strength to complete the obstacles is important. I am afraid that if I take 8-12 weeks to build an aerobic base without doing anything but running, swimming, biking, etc that I will loose the strength I have built up. Are the aerobic workouts you would recommend for people completing in OCR events?

    1. Pretty much any easy, aerobic workout that involves chronic repetitive motion, or even something like yoga, would classify as aerobic. For OCR events, the best aerobic activity is simply easy morning runs, and also, for a little bit of obstacle flexibility, yoga.

      1. Thanks Ben! I guess I just imagine doing Yoga and running for 12 weeks 5-6 times a week seems boring. I am just looking for some variety I guess. Could I do speed/hill intervals as long as my heart rate stays in the right range? Would you suggest looking into biking and swimming as well? Do you have other suggestions for other activities? I was thinking of maybe the stair climber? Also how long should my aerobic workouts be?

  7. I have read the book but still have questions on MSP workouts. The book made it seem like a me you do multiple mini sets. Ex( 5 reps-5 reps-3 reps-2-1 , take a break and repeat, but after listening and reading the comments it seems like it is one big set until you can no longer do 1 rep and with good form then you are done. Any insight is appreciated.

  8. Hey Ben,

    Love the podcasts…quick question about the DNAFit testing…I’m a university student-athlete, always been keen on taking great care of my body through fitness and nutrition to maximize my performance. Also enjoy toying with various supplements, training/nutrition protocols etc. in ways I think may maximize my mental and physical performance. However as you know this can be very tedious and expensive and often difficult to perfect. And so I’m interested in the DNAFit but I was hoping you could give me a couple more details on what it provides you with (since the fee is quite steep for a student such as myself) as far as training and nutrition guidance goes. Thanks for your help.

  9. THE best interview!

    just one question.. when you talk endurance you talk over 20 miles or so i presume. but.. if i want to train for a 10k, i do my long slow (180-age bpm), my sprints, my strength. all fine.

    on race day, when i need to go all out around my lactate threshold what will it happen? am i going to burst?

    1. ok, i m not able to get the concept. in layman terms: if i always train a slow pace, and the only time that i feel my lungs burning is , for short time , when i sprint, how can i become used to sustain my lungs burning sensation for 40 minutes? years ago for me were the tempo runs doing that or long intervals, but i understand that is the so called “cardio” , which is not so good. i am a little baffled, but i will try for sure

      1. if you are engaged in some type of athletic event for which your lungs really, truly are burning for 40 minutes, then my recommendation for you is to indeed incorporate at least one session a week that has a longer 8 to 10 minute intervals at that intensity, separated by 2 to 5 minute recovery periods after each interval.

        1. thanks. the old lactate threshold intervals, but shorter and no long tempo runs. on the other side, i think that for enduring the type of vents you do, one must be talented to start, with a perfect biomechanics. lot of time to spare too.

        2. ok. i am reading the book and i start to get in person what is all about. MAF! what humbling it is!! running at that ridiculous pace, means i have been in the black hole all my life. very interesting too and fascinating. it is actually more difficult to go so slow and disciplined than running fast

  10. Hi Ben and Mark!

    Another excellent podcast to spark insterest, thought and further adaptation. I ordered Mark’s book today and am excited to get started reading it. I’ve been wondering about targeted heart rates recently as I’ve begun dabbling in HIIT training and paying more attention to targeting certain heart rates (in an effort to improve speed and power as endurance is already a strength of mine.) I’m very interested to try this this lower intensity work now as well. I’m wondering how much one should take into account their resting heart rate and maximum actual heart rate? For example, in my case, my RHR is 44-48 bpm consistently every morning; and no matter how hard I try and push (including in running, races, tabata training, cycling, swimming) I have never seen my heart rate above 160 bpm, and rarely over 150 bpm. Therefore, if I take 180 minus 35 (my age) I get 145- which seems awfully close to my max heart rate to be NOT training in the “black hole” or even anaerobically. So, help….? Is this right? Do I really want to be training at such a high heart rate to improve my aerobic fitness and endurance? Or is there another formula I should work with?

    Thanks so much!

    Tanya

  11. hey guys! i got the book and have read most of it.. also read beyond training…neat to see where they overlap and diverge a bit! my question is about strength training. i am a female competitive mountain biker and this winter have done more msp style power lifts than ever. i love what it has done for me in strength, energy, and just moving my body. as a female in the type of sport i do i feel like lifting is something i need in my life at least once a week no matter what time of year but didnt see any real specifics in the book about when to lift. also looking for some guidance about ketosis/carb intake as a female in a sport like mine which is shorter in endurance, filled with short hard efforts and requires technical skill and balance. thanks guys! peace!

  12. Ben you said you wish somebody made something for you to write stuff down on the pool deck. You can go to a dive shop and buy a slate and pencil which is what we use to help communicate under water or you can buy a book called a “write in the rain” book that is coated and use a pencil or a special pen that company makes. The book is water proof. We used the books in the military.

  13. Mark/Ben – I’m a huge fan of you both & I’m hopeful you can clarify a point that still remains after digesting all of your works/blogs/podcasts on endurance training. If even high intensity exercise over 2 minutes is >90% aerobic (or whatever the exact numbers are) and if I’m exercising in a fasted state (~10-12 hours since dinner) and if I adhere to a low-moderate carb diet (with those carbs coming mostly after 2pm; ~1 hour post-WO I have my first meal, which is LCHF), then why do I need to adhere to a MAF zone to become fat adapted?

    With only ~7 hrs/wk to train (I’m a USAF pilot, PhD student, and father of 3), it seems like I need to do more steady tempo efforts and HIIT sessions to get an efficient training effect (while the rest of time living a generally active ‘ancestral’/’primal’ life).

    If it matters for your answer, I’ve done sprints to 70.3s since 1997 but I’ve only been eating this way since the summer. THANKS!

  14. Ben,

    Great podcast! I just had one question, I heard Mark Sisson’s similar talk on Joe Rogan and he mentioned fasting after endurance workouts. I was just curious if you had any thought regarding the traditional 30 min window to replenish protein post workout. I know he is more concerned about glycogen stores but he didn’t really mention protein.

    Thanks!

  15. What effect would Essential Amino Acids have on a fasted workout? Would they blunt some of the effects Mark talks about? Do essentials effect insulin levels?

    Great podcast!!

  16. The Primal Endurance book supports the MAF method of training. Do you agree with the MAF method of building an aerobic base? I am trying the MAF approach to running. I am at the stage where I am running so slow that it is difficult to maintain good run technique and run so slow. I also do not like doing all of my training at such a low level. Do you agree with doing 100% of training sessions at MAF when needing to build an aerobic base? How long should it take to see improvements in general? Thank you.

  17. Do you recommend that females also not eat anything before or after workouts? I am trying to become more of a fat burner. However, I have heard fasted workouts may negatively affect females.

    1. Jenny, it depends on a number of factors: your health, your racing status (elite or age-group?), your age, your weight, etc etc. In any event, I would only do a fasted workout if I were absolutely fat-adapted and comfortable with it. At no time would i ever struggle or suffer through a workout because I was attempting to do something my body wasn’t prepared to do. So, if you are fat-adapted (best way to start to get a feel for it is skip breakfast and see how long you go into the day feeling just fine without hitting the gym) start with an easy workout or two and see how you feel. If you need to eat, do so. If you can get away with not, try that.

  18. Hi Ben,

    With lower HR( mine 115HR) to start with, how will it take before you get your pace back up. Mine is 2-3 minutes slower at 115 HR to start with. I know your

    thanks,

    1. Ken, it takes some time, yes, but each time you train at that lowered HR, you are becoming more efficient. Many elites find that when they start this process, they can only go 8 min miles at, say 150 HR (180-30 yrs old). That 150 is the rate at which we know they are putting a ton of oxygen through and burning mostly fat (their actual max HR might be 200). Over time, they get more and more efficient, to where they might be running 5:30 per mile at that 150 HR and STILL be getting most of their fuel from fat. Now when they race another elite, they can race comfortably at a very high speed and kick it up a notch, deriving a larger percentage of fuel from fat and sparing glycogen over what the competition might have to do to keep up.

      So give it a month. The real confirmation is when you start to see that your times come down over the same course at the same aerobic HR (115 in your case). Hope that helps.

  19. Wouldn’t the cortisol presence after the AM fasted workout blunt a lot of the testosterone and HGH surge Mark mentions? That’s the other reason i thought it smart to introduce some insulin into the system in order to counter the catabolism taking place.

    Great Pod as usual!

    1. Greg, the cortisol response is minimal (if at all) in a fat-adapted endurance athlete. The reason sugar-burners have that rise in cortisol after fasting or during a hard event is because the brain sees low glucose in the bloodstream (from the muscles having burned at a high rate) and panics, causing the adrenals to secrete cortisol to make new glucose (from your very own precious muscle tissue!). Once the body builds the machinery to burn more fat effectively to fuel the activity (sparing glycogen even more) and the brain learns to run more efficiently on ketones, there is no need to catabolize muscle to make more glucose. End result: no blunting of the GH and testosterone production.

  20. Love the “maximal sustained power training” protocol. I started squatting again after a decade or so of “active recovery.”

    After 2 months of squatting 2-3 weekly, it seems like I hit a plateau and have no interest in going any heavier… this will be great to mix into my training!

    Would you recommend 1x weekly? Or do I have to buy the book to figure that out?

    Thanks for all of the great info, I am using all of it to keep on chugging through my 40s and hopefully beyond!

    1. Meghan, good question. The idea is to improve power and your ability to sustain it. If you get to the point where you are doing, say, 2 x 80%MAX every ten seconds as long as you can and you find you can do more than 10 minutes of that, then it’s clearly time to increase the weight. Over time, your absolute power increases, as well as your ability to sustain it. Of course, there are several different protocols we can employ to mix things up, but get to the same result.

      1. Cool. Great.

        Did it today for the first time. Ouch. 9 minutes squatting at 205lb. Training for triathlon/ marathon this years

        Going to grab the book for kindle.

        Great info!! Really grateful

  21. Great podcast! Thank you for getting Mark on the show. Over the last 9 months I’ve dramatically cut my carb intake while increasing quantity of healthy fats and have found that I can now train fasted for for a period of time that previously required regular fueling (energy gels and the like), and recovery is better. I’m skiing the Birkebeiner (54K skate ski) in two weeks and I’m expecting it’ll take me at least 4 hours to complete. In years past I’d fuel every thirty minutes with energy gels, bananas, Oreos, or whatever they were handing out. How should I plan on fueling now that my body is more fat adapated? Thank you for all you do!

    1. Ben, great article! Follow up question…considering the race will take 4-5 hours and whatever fuel source will be carried on my person, I’m limited to my 32oz wide mouthed hydration belt, do I go the Ucan/MCT/etc route and mixed it strong, and only drink say 8 oz an hour, grabbing extra water as needed at fuel stations, or am I better off going the edible route? …and how much water do you need for long distance winter endurance events? Thank you! (Btw, just started to listen to Sisson’s new book – thx for recommendation!)

  22. For the Maximum strength you both discuss…

    What is the “time” limit…. so do you start with 3 every minute then 2 then 1… or 3 every 30 seconds etc?

    Because technically if there is no time limit you could hang in the gym all day doing sets….

  23. I get fat-burning and low-carb intake for endurance and I’m sold on that now.

    But what about more glycolytic activities? Crossfit, MMA, middle-distance, all that kind of medium-duration/high-intensity stuff? Can such an athlete become truly fat-adapted?

  24. Note to Mark – There is some information you are missing with regard to your a-fib. The reason you need a calcium channel blocker is that you are Magnesium Deficient. That is also the reason that stress, alcohol and caffeine so readily affect you. Get off that channel blocker and get on a magnesium repletion diet and supplement regimen. There is plenty of information and science behind this – just not from conventional cardiologists. Look into it. You’ve been a true help to me and I hope this helps you – All the best to you.

  25. Ben, Thanks for this podcast!

    How do Mark’s principles in his new book compare with those outlined in Beyond Training? Specifically on the fitness value of longer aerobic sessions vs HIIT? Does his definition of chronic cardio (sessions a bit too long, a bit too hard and a bit too often) include Z3 workouts?

    Thans!

    1. Jack…you should read his book! But no, he does not include an emphasis on Z3 workouts and, like my book, acknowledges that if you're doing aerobic only, longer sessions are indeed necessary.

      1. I am reading and enjoying it. Incorporated the strength protocol into the Beyond Training plan the past couple of weeks. Nice change up.

  26. Hi Ben,

    I love the show! It is my favorite podcast because of the nuanced perspective that you provide coupled with the diverse panel of guests who take part in the podcast. Keep up the excellent work. However, i am unable to listen to this podcast. I just thought that I would let you know.

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