Friday, October 29, 2010

5 Minutes with Health and Fitness Expert Mark Sisson

By Paige Dunn

Cyclists are always on the lookout for ways to eat healthy and stay lean without compromising their performance. This week we sat down with health and fitness expert, Mark Sisson, who is known for his creative fitness and nutrition plans, which he terms “Primal”. Combining modern genetic science with the immutable principles of human evolution, Mark, a former elite marathoner/triathlete, and author of best-selling book, Primal Blueprint, advocates a revolutionary, easy-to-follow program based on ten Primal Blueprint laws that he says will change your life forever:

What is the primal blueprint diet and why should athletes/cyclists be primal?

The Primal Blueprint diet is one that seeks to promote optimal gene expression (and optimal performance) by turning on genes that build muscle, mobilize fatty acids, and improve aerobic capacity and power, while turning off genes that promote systemic inflammation, cannibalize muscle or suppress the immune system. Unfortunately, the traditional endurance athlete eating programs have focused on a predominance of carbohydrates, which tend to increase inflammation and fat storage as well as reinforce a sugar-burning model and dependence in muscle instead of a more efficient fat-burning strategy. When you reprogram you genes to preferentially build fat-burning enzyme systems, you can perform at a higher aerobic output without exhausting glycogen reserves. Much of this happens via signaling from the particular foods we eat.

What is the best way for cyclists to keep their weight down but still remain healthy and not starve themselves?

Limit carbohydrates to only those you need to replenish glycogen from workout to workout, or only those you require immediately as fuel in long hard workouts or races. Fats and protein should be the major factors in maintaining muscle mass, while burning off stored body fat and remaining healthy.

We hear a lot about eating “good” fats - why is this important, how much, and what kinds?

The main thing missing from many cyclists' diets are Omega 3 fats (found mostly in fish). These are the anti-inflammatory fats. But many cyclists are also deficient in certain saturated fats, because they have been told erroneously to avoid them outright (coconut, most grass fed meat, macadamia nuts) as well as the healthy monounsaturated fats (avocados, olive oil). The Primal Blueprint diet for athletes is often more than 50% fat by calories. We just avoid the man-made trans fats, and hydrogenated oils (safflower, canola, soybean oils, etc).

I’ve heard it is important for athletes to keep their insulin levels down. Is this true?

High insulin levels are a huge risk factor for many diseases of civilization (metabolic syndrome, type 2 diabetes, heart disease and cancer to name a few). Insulin isn't as big a problem with athletes as it is in the general population because most athletes are fairly insulin sensitive (meaning it takes less insulin to do its job) if they do any amount of interval training. We still recommend that athletes keep carbs as low as feasible to reduce the tendency of excess carbohydrates to be stored in fat cells once glycogen stores are full. Insulin is a primary driver of that storage, while simultaneously locking stored fat inside the cell. When you keep insulin low, that fat is allowed to exit the fat cell and be burned in muscle as fuel, especially at rest.

What is the #1 mistake cyclists make with regard to their nutrition?

Over-compensating carbohydrate intake on a daily basis.

To learn more about Mark Sisson and The Primal Blueprint, visit:

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