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Mark Sisson of Primal Kitchen: Ancestral Health and Building a $200M Brand

Daniel ScrivnerLast Updated: November 4, 2020

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“I was really interested in achieving good health along with performance, and I sacrificed my health in the name of performance. So I wondered if there was a way in which we could kind of have both — that I could be strong and lean and fit and happy and healthy and productive and shiny and sparkly and all the things that people want, without all of this pain and suffering and sacrifice.” — Mark Sisson

On this episode of Outliers, I’m talking with Mark Sisson (@Mark_Sisson) about his transition from a focus on pure performance to one on holistic health, and how he built a $200-million dollar disruptive health food brand that has captured the recent wave of paleo, primal, and ancestral health.

Mark Sisson’s early athletic career as elite distance runner qualified him for the 1980 U.S. Olympic Trials and earned him multiple awards, including a 4th place finish in the 1982 Ironman World Championship. After years of pushing his body to the limits for peak performance, Mark decided to focus instead on optimal health through a healthy diet and moderate exercise. He shares his learnings about ancestral health with over 3 million monthly readers on his blog, Mark’s Daily Apple, and he has authored 15 wellness books, including the New York Times Bestseller, The Keto Reset Diet, and the world famous Primal Blueprint. In 2015, Mark co-founded Primal Kitchen, a line of health-conscious food products that was acquired by Kraft-Heinz in 2018 for $200 million. Mark’s life mission is to change the lives of 100 million people, and through his books, products, and speaking engagements, he’s well on his way to doing so.

Topics discussed:

  • 00:00:05 – Mark’s early athletic career as an elite runner and triathlete
  • 00:04:28 – The turning point when Mark decided to focus on health instead of performance
  • 00:08:38 – Sharing his knowledge with the world on his blog, Mark’s Daily Apple
  • 00:10:00 – The difficulty of choosing a healthy diet, when humans, by default, want to choose what is easiest
  • 00:14:31 – Teaching others the basics of health vs. just weight loss, and how calories-in/calories-out isn’t the answer
  • 00:19:39 – The 3 types of food to avoid: sugar, industrial seed oils, and grains
  • 00:26:35 – Creating healthier condiments and the beginning of Primal Kitchen
  • 00:32:58 – Scaling a business from one product to 85
  • 00:36:04 – Competition and how other companies began to copy Primal Kitchen’s work
  • 00:39:59 – Acquisition of Primal Kitchen by Kraft Heinz
  • 00:43:46 – Mark’s favorite Primal Kitchen products, including steak sauce and ketchup
  • 00:46:52 – Mark’s definition of “primal” and a primal diet
  • 00:51:18 – The argument for eating meat
  • 00:58:30 – Rules of thumb for healthy living and Keto for Life
  • 01:01:28 – Mark’s daily practice of intentionally choosing his life
  • 01:02:25 – How Mark’s experience of Outward Bound as a child influenced the rest of his life

For more, explore the full transcript of this episode. Transcripts for all episodes can be found here.

Links from the Episode

Mark Sisson’s Books

Primal Kitchen Products Mentioned

Key Insight 

It’s never too late to change direction, whether in career, life focus, or diet. It’s important to be open-minded to new strategies and habits that could lead to a healthier life, a boost for business, or new life mission. When you realize that you’ve been headed in the wrong direction, it’s never too late to change course and head in a better direction.

Actionable Ideas

  • “I can prepare a steak in record time and have it taste fabulous and not have a lot of fuss and muss to clean up, so I don’t mind cooking a steak myself and I do that quite often. Then I’ll just have maybe a vegetable or a salad with it. So like I say, every bite of food I put in my mouth I want to taste great. I don’t want to choke down something that’s supposed to be good for me but doesn’t taste great. So I just make sure that the two meals I eat every day are delicious.”
  • “I think everybody needs 10 to 20 minutes of unprotected sun on as much of their body as they can get every day.That doesn’t mean burn. It just means get sun and don’t get you to a burn situation, but get actual sunlight without sunscreen, without a coverup on. Then if you’re going to stay out in the sun, then cover up or put on sunscreen. But that’s how we make vitamin D. Vitamin D is critical to our health. So vitamin D for sure.”
  • “Sleep. Look, people don’t get enough sleep. I make no apologies for the fact that I try to get nine hours of sleep a night. I typically wind up with eight and a half, but if I can get nine, I will. If I go … 10:30 to 7:30, I will do that. Sleep is when the body restores and regenerates itself, and you shouldn’t think in terms of, “Oh, I’m missing out on something. I’m missing out on this party,” or, ‘I’m missing out on this TV show that I could stay up and watch for another two hours.’ But I’m a bigger fan of getting sleep.”
  • “I have a stand-up desk, I have a squatting desk. I’m walking around all the time throughout the day. I’m not jogging, I’m not running, I’m not riding a bike. I do all those, but I’m typically just moving. Just the movement alone. Forget the calories. Just the movement alone, putting your body through different ranges and planes of motion will increase your mobility… Look, I try to have as much fun as I can with my activities, with my motion, with my movement. I encourage everyone to do that, to move around as much as you can and to make it as fun as you can, as often as you can.”
  • “I have a practice that I do every day. I choose every day. I choose to keep doing what I’m doing every day. I get up. Basically the first couple of thoughts are, “I’ve had a good life. I’ve done a lot of cool stuff. I’m pretty comfortable. If I stopped right now, everything would be fine”—not to get morbid, but, “if I died today, I’d be happy with what I’ve done and what I’ve had. But I could go on, I can keep doing some new, cool stuff. So today I’m going to choose to keep going on.” And I just allow myself the right to not do so, but it hasn’t happened yet. So I just choose it into a new day.”
"I was really interested in achieving good health along with performance, and I scarified my health in the name of performance. So I wondered if there was a way in which we could kind of have both." — Mark Sisson

On Outliers, Daniel Scrivner explores the tactics, routines, and habits of world-class performers working at the edge—in business, investing, entertainment, and more. In each episode, he decodes what they’ve mastered and what they’ve learned along the way. Start learning from the world’s best today. 

Explore all episodes of Outliers, be the first to hear about new episodes, and subscribe on your favorite podcast platform.

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