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Book Review: The Primal Blueprint

primal blueprint

If you’ve been paying attention to any diet news recently, you have probably heard stuff about the Paleo diet and gluten-free diets and all sorts of diets that fly in the face of the standard endurance athlete’s diet.

Some of the advice is great, but like much of the nutrition information you find online, a lot is garbage. One book I thought stood out from the rest is The Primal Blueprint by Mark Sisson of the Mark’s Daily Apple blog.

Mark used to be a serious marathoner and triathlete and probably had a diet and lifestyle similar to yours. Today he has a “Primal” lifestyle, where he lives, eats, and exercises much, much differently! We’re talking a serious cut in cardio exercise and a diet rich in red meat and saturated fat, with almost no carbs.

If Mark didn’t have such a prevalent background in endurance sports, I wouldn’t take him seriously. I would have skipped over his book completely. But coupled with my past experiences with the endurance sports lifestyle, Mark’s insights really hit home with me, so I decided to read the book.

All you really have to do is read the introduction and you’ll agree with where Mark is coming from. I’m willing to bet that his experience as an endurance athlete is not far from yours. You know, tons of exercise, getting burnt out from overtraining, destroying your immune system and getting sick five times per year, etc.

After that, Mark gets into a “Conventional Wisdom vs The Primal Blueprint” discussion. It’s a comparison between what everyone does (even though is rarely works) and what he thinks should be done. It’s funny because they are the exact opposite!

That leads into the 10 Primal Laws. This is the basis of the book. These are ten general rules to live by, and although they are for everyone, a lot of the logic can be applied to your bike racing and nutrition. Not to mention your lifestyle outside of your training plan.

I was sold on the book at this point, as my diet and training have become more “Primal” over the last couple years without even knowing it, and my results have been undoubtedly different (in a good way.) I’m still an endurance athlete, but the way I do things has changed.

Anyway, back to the content of the book. You absolutely have to read the “Grok vs Korg” section, which is a humorous comparison between the way humans lived thousands of years ago compared to today. Unfortunately, all the statistics about long workdays, lack of sleep, lots of sitting in cars and at desks, and eating tons of processed junk foods are true!

That finishes up the first section of the book which is still mostly an introduction to the whole idea of The Primal Blueprint. Next, you get into real meat of the book.

This starts with a lot of information on your macronutrients – protein, fat, and carbs. This is great advice that’s easy to understand. It shows you why most carbs are generally bad and protein and fat are generally good. It’s a much better explanation than I’ve read anywhere else, and yes, it’s well cited!

Just to be clear, this book is NOT the Atkins diet or some other stupid “extremely low calorie, no carb” diet. And while the whole “Primal” idea may sound gimmicky, the book isn’t. It’s actually a lot of science that makes sense. Rather than saying typical ideas and science you may have heard is wrong, it’s more like putting an asterisk at the end of the statement.

You actually get the “why” behind the arguments and even more importantly, how every part of your diet works together. If you don’t know this, attempting a low-carb diet probably won’t help you.

Next, there is a chapter devoted to each of the ten Primal laws, where it goes into detail on each one.

Laws 1-3 are about eating healthy and avoiding poisonous things (mostly processed food.) This continues on with good diet advice similar to what was in the first part of the book. There’s not much to say other than it’s good advice that you need to read.

Laws 4-6 are the exercise laws. In general, it’s good information, and I’m pretty sure most normal people would be much better off if they followed this advice.

However, from an endurance athlete’s perspective, I’m not so sure I agree. For example, Mark says if you get “Primal fitness” from a weekly exercise routine of 2-5 hours walking, a couple strength training workouts, plus one 10-minute sprinting session, you’ll be able to complete a half-marathon or triathlon with very little additional training.

I think that is overstating things a bit. A half-marathon is no joke. Sure, technically you could walk a half-marathon and “complete” it, but I don’t consider that an accomplishment. However, I don’t think Mark is writing for professional athletes, so no need to nitpick each detail here.

Then you get into Heart Rate (HR) zones, just like you’d find in most any endurance sports training plan. You know, do most of your rides at an endurance pace (60-70% Max HR,) rather than spending lots of time at 80% MHR, where it’s hard but not hard enough to be really beneficial. For intensity, you sprint, which would be a max effort.

I think most endurance athletes have that down, assuming they have read something like Joe Friel’s The Cyclist’s Training Bible.

Moving on, I find it odd that in the “chronic cardio” section, Mark says people are doing their frequent 30-60 minute cardio sessions at like 90% MHR. Rarely do I ever spend an entire 30 minutes straight at 90% of my MHR. 20 minutes, maybe, but that’s still an infrequent training session or race.

I can’t imagine someone of average fitness being able to exercise at that rate for any substantial amount of time!

Anyway, this section says to me, “keep doing what you’re doing” when it relates to exercise. That’s not what I expected to read, but I guess that’s a good thing!

Lastly, Mark gives some advice on proper form for running and cycling (page 190.) But unless you’re new to this stuff and buying your cycling and running gear at Walmart, you should already know this.

Finally you finish the exercise section and get to the lifestyle advice. You have your basics like getting plenty of sleep, but it goes into great detail on how sleep works and how important it is to wake up naturally. You may already know this, but it’s good to read if you don’t.

I’ve followed the recommended sleep schedule, waking up without an alarm, at least 80% of the time since I can remember. Middle school maybe? It’s quite possible to do.

I have also been following the “Play” and “Get Adequate Sunlight” laws for as long as I can remember, and I must say, it works.

Finally, The Primal Blueprint laws include avoiding stupid mistakes and using your brain. I really need to work on this! I am always making stupid mistakes and getting hurt, typically when doing something mundane. Apparently I’m alert and can keep myself out of trouble during treacherous moments or sports, but walking around the house, I’m in trouble!

Well, that finishes up the Primal rules. Now on to some other topics to round out the book…

This is a big one – the Primal Approach to Weight Loss, which covers how to lose 1-2lb body fat per week.

This is just some more details on using the Primal lifestyle for fat loss. It’s also the section where Mark admits it’s not all “effortless” like it says on the title.

A very brief section on intermittent fasting is included, although it doesn’t go very deep in the “why” it works department. I find IF very interesting and thought if he would recommend it in the book, he’d provide more details. Oh well, there is plenty of info out there if you look it up. [I will be trying this out to see how it works! Stay tuned for my Primal fat loss results.]

Finally, the conclusion. To finish up, Mark talks about how the typical lifestyle today sucks compared to Grok and how to change it, with some specific steps for taking action.

Then the rest of the book is appendices. My favorite is a three-day journal in the life of Mark Sisson, which includes diet and exercise and a general timeline.

Lastly, the “Primal Approved” and “Primal Avoid” pages which are great. It’s like a quick reference of what you can and can’t eat, drink, etc. along with what workouts are good and bad.

Usually I don’t learn a whole lot of practical information from a regular hardcover book like this, but I learned a lot and was left with a feeling of satisfaction after reading it! So it was both fun to read and useful!

My final verdict is…

Primal Blueprint is worth the read, even if you don’t believe any of the “Grok lifestyle” or “Paleo” or “live like a caveman” kind of stuff you hear.

The athletic stuff isn’t very useful because if you already have a well-designed plan that follows basic training principles, you’re right on track.

But I think the Primal lifestyle is great. And Primal eating, in addition to the basics of Precision Nutrition, makes for a solid nutrition and wellness plan. I would buy this book just to read the sections about nutrition!

Official website: www.PrimalBlueprint.com

Buy online: www.Amazon.com*

*The book is $26.99 at the official site, but more like $14.92 at Amazon.com.

Product Review Details
Company: Mark Sisson
Product: The Primal Blueprint
Reviewed by: Coach Levi
My Rating: 3.0 out of 5
Date last updated: 2010-11-17
Obtained Product: Purchased at retailer.
CoachLevi.com Advertiser: No.

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4 Comments
  1. How does he reconcile the idea that carbs are bad with scientific evidence of fueling for endurance athletes?

  2. @Justin

    It’s not really a “carbs are bad” book and he doesn’t say endurance athletes shouldn’t eat carbs.

    But the book isn’t for endurance athletes, so it doesn’t get into that specifically. I mean, his recommended steady aerobic exercise is 2-5 hours per week. You don’t need much fuel for that!

    For more info:
    http://www.marksdailyapple.com/primal-athlete-compromises/

  3. If you get some free time download the primal fitness ebook (a sticky at the top of the forum page called “today’s posts”). I have used a lot of the principles in the ebook while training athletes for triathlon up to Ironman distance with nutrition modification for long training days. So far, I have seen a lot of success in my athletes. Fat % is dropping and they are getting into “sexy phase” a lot faster.

  4. I can’t stand people that are hell-bent on messing with essential parts of their diets. I don’t see what is so hard to understand- If you want to lose weight, then excercise and eat right. Eating carbs is one of the most important components of your diet if you are excercising. While an effort should be made to avoid processed, starchy carbs and eat whole grains, the idea that carbs are bad for you (unfortunately accepted by many people now)is just ridiculous. Thinking that you can trick or fool nature is plain stupidity and laziness.

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coach levi
Hi, I'm Coach Levi. I'm a USA Cycling Certified Level 3 Coach as well as Level 1 Certified with Precision Nutrition. Want to feel better, ride faster, and look great? Let's work together!

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