What is the Primal Blueprint?

Overview of the primal blueprint

The Primal Blueprint is a Wall Street Journal and Amazon best-selling book written by our founder, Mark Sisson. The book became so successful—with over 500,000 copies sold—that it catapulted the ancestral health movement into the mainstream and spawned a nutrition and lifestyle program that has helped tens of thousands of people reach their health and fitness goals.

Mark brings a unique background to the health and wellness sphere. As an elite athlete, he finished in the top 5 at the National Marathon Championships, scoring himself a qualifying spot for the 1980 US Olympic Trials. And he didn’t stop there…he then became one of the world’s most renowned triathletes, competing in the Hawaiian Ironman and finishing in an impressive 4th place. Still, despite his world-class conditioning and exceptional fitness, Mark often found himself sick.

Once his competitive days were over, he searched for a way to keep his health in check and his body fat low without having to run hundreds of miles a week and strength train at the gym every day. He also cast about for a way to heal some of the chronic "itises" he had developed while overtraining (arthritis, tendinitis, gastritis, sinusitis, etc.). His 20-year quest taught him that what we eat is the key determinant to an energetic mind and lean, agile body…and that Primal eating accomplished all his health and fitness desires—quickly and easily.

The more he devoured the research and conducted personal nutrition experiments, the more he became convinced that our modern diet had strayed very significantly from that of our primal ancestors…and our health was faltering as a consequence. He learned that simply by ditching the sugars and carbohydrates found in processed foods, he could make a profound change in his health.

You see, the body only burns through the sugar and carbs it needs for its immediate energy requirements. The rest it dumps into fat storage! Stick with a diet high in sugar and carbs and you’re likely to gain at least a few new pounds every year. May not sound too bad in the short term, but a few pounds a year for 10–20 years can lead to excess weight gain of 20…30…40 or more pounds; not to mention a variety of chronic, and often life-threatening, health issues.

Mark didn’t have to eliminate the foods he enjoyed most…and neither do you! Beyond cutting out excessive carbs and grains, along with processed foods and hydrogenated oils, there really is no sacrifice or struggle involved. You can eat all the healthy fats, meats, fruits, vegetables and decadent treats like dark chocolate you want! That’s because these healthy foods are essentially made up of protein and fat—macronutrients that the human body has evolved to prefer. Grains like wheat and corn were only introduced in the last 10,000 years or so, and we just don’t take well to the processed sugars and carbohydrates they contain. After all, grains—and packaged processed foods—were never part of our primal ancestors’ diet.

So eating Primally became the first layer to the blueprint for building a healthy body. The more Mark studied our primal ancestors, the more he realized that lifestyle behaviors beyond diet also contributed to a healthy—and happy—life. The foods our primal ancestors ate, the amount of sun they got, and the sort of movement they engaged in to survive shaped their genome. While the world has changed in innumerable ways in the last 10,000 years (for better and worse), the human genome has changed very little and thus only thrives under similar conditions. Simply put, if you want a good future, you'd better listen to the past. And that’s where The Primal Blueprint comes in. We teach you not only how to eat in a way that will help your body and genes become efficient at fat burning and muscle building, but also how you can increase your longevity and wellness by reducing disease and illness.

Make a commitment to the Blueprint, and watch your body transform into the ideal composition it was meant to be. The Primal Blueprint is no fad weight loss program—it’s a set of lifestyle laws and habits that are the keys to health, wellness and longevity*. Check it out below!

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Who is grok?

Grok is our primal ancestor. And Grok is us…or who we aspire to be depending on where we are at on our Primal Blueprint journey. Grok is the ideal representation of a typical hunter-gatherer who thrived on evolutionary tried and true lifestyle behaviors. So, Grok ate fish from pristine waters, hunted wild game, munched on nuts and berries (probably with a little dirt mixed in), sprinted occasionally, moved frequently, and slept according to his circadian rhythm—all behaviors that, believe it or not, we have a difficult time implementing in our hectic modern lives. Grok is the pinnacle of physiological vigor: he’s ripped and agile, has no systemic inflammation waging war in his body, has excellent blood glucose levels, and sports a healthy cholesterol panel. Essentially, we can all be Groks or Grokettes. Follow the Primal Blueprint and get to know his habits well!


The 10 Laws

The 10 Laws of the Primal Blueprint aren’t a modern creation, but the laws that have governed human evolution for two million years. The following 10 Laws make up the activities and lifestyle behaviors of our primal ancestors—the very supportive habits that created healthy, happy, strong, lean and versatile primitive beings. Follow the 10 Laws and align with your genetic recipe for optimal health and wellness*. (For more in-depth explanation of how the 10 Laws shape health, check out the Primal Blueprint’s 8 Key Concepts. To help get you started on the 10 Laws, follow our Action Items.)

1. Eat lots of animals, insects and plants

Focus on quality sources of protein (all forms of meat, fowl, fish), lots of colorful vegetables, some select fruits (mostly berries) and healthy fats (nuts, avocados, coconuts, olive oil). Observe portion control (calorie distribution) week-to-week more than meal-to-meal. The majority of your calories should come from animal protein; however, the bulk of your plate should be made up of colorful fruits and veggies. Eliminate grains, sugars and trans and hydrogenated fats from your diet.

2. Move around a lot at a slow pace

Do some form of low-level aerobic activity two to five hours a week, be it walking, hiking, easy bike riding or swimming. Low-level activity is necessary (especially if you find yourself chained to a desk every day). Ideally, and when possible, find time to go barefoot or wear as little foot support as possible. The combined effect will be an increase in capillary perfusion and fat burning, and an overall integration of muscle strength and flexibility*.

3. Lift heavy things

Go to the gym and lift weights for 30-45 minutes, two to three times a week. Focus on movements that involve the entire body and in wider ranges of motion—not just on isolating body parts. Emulate the movements of our ancestors: jumping, squatting, lunging, pushing, pulling, twisting, etc. These actions will encourage your genes to increase muscle strength and power, improve bone density, enhance insulin sensitivity, stimulate growth hormone secretion and consume stored body fat*.

4. Run really fast every once in a while

Do some form of intense anaerobic sprint bursts once every 7 to 10 days. This could be as simple as six or eight (or more as long as the quality doesn’t diminish) short sprints up a hill, on the grass, at the beach… or repeated intense sessions on a bicycle (stationary, road or mountain bike). These short bursts also increase human growth hormone release (HGH is actually released in proportion to the intensity—not the duration—of the exercise).*

5. Get lots of sleep

Get plenty of quality sleep. Our lives are so hectic and full of things to do after the sun goes down that it’s often difficult to get enough sleep. Yet sleep is one of the most important factors in maintaining good health, vibrant energy and a strong immune system.

6. Play

Spend some time each week involved in active play. In addition to allowing you to apply your fitness to real-life situations, play helps dissipate some of the negative effects of the chronic stress hormones you’ve been accumulating through the week.

7. Get some sunlight every day

Contrary to the “common wisdom” dispensed by dermatologists (who suggest you shun the sun), the Primal Blueprint insists that you get some direct sunlight every day. Certainly not so much that you risk burning, but definitely enough to prompt your body to make the all-important vitamin D. A slight tan is a good indicator that you have maintained adequate vitamin D levels. Natural sunlight also has a powerful mood-elevating effect, which can enhance productivity at work and in interpersonal interactions.*

8. Avoid trauma

Eliminate self-destructive behaviors. These concepts are self-evident to most people (wear seat belts, don’t smoke or do drugs, don’t dive into shallow water), yet so many of us live our lives oblivious to impending danger. Develop a keen sense of awareness of your surroundings.

9. Avoid poisonous things

Avoid exposure to chemical toxins in your food (pesticides, herbicides, chemicals, etc.) and on your skin. But also try to avoid the hidden poisons in foods like sugars, grains, processed foods, trans and hydrogenated fats, and mercury in certain fish.

10. Use your mind

Exercise your brain daily as our ancestors did. Be inventive, creative and aware. If your work is not stimulating (or even if it is), find time to read, write, play an instrument and interact socially.

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The 8 Key Concepts

1. Yes, You Really Can Reprogram Your Genes

People typically think of genes as “a weird collection of DNA and chromosomes and other stuff that determines whether or not you’re going to get a certain type of cancer, how long you’ll live and if coronary bypass surgery is headed your way.” The popular notion is that genes are immutable, that they represent a sort of cosmic destiny for an individual. But, aside from some heritable traits like eye and hair color or the number of fingers on your hands and feet, genes are actually programmable. They “express” themselves in different ways according to information gathered from our environment, our food and our behaviors. They “turn on” or “turn off” in response to these environmental signals. So, even though you might have “the gene for type 2 diabetes”—which is really just a genetic proclivity towards the disease, not a sentence—providing the right environmental signals will prevent the gene from ever turning on*.

How you eat, exercise, sleep, interact with your social circles, manage (or fail to manage) stress and connect with nature (plus tons of other environmental signals) determines how your genes express themselves; how your genes express themselves, in turn, determines your level of health. Genetic predisposition is not your destiny. Repeat: genetic predisposition is NOT your destiny!

2. The Clues to Optimal Gene Expression Are Found in Evolution

While we can’t sit at a control panel and fiddle with our gene expression like mad scientists just yet, we can make some very good guesses based on a powerful heuristic: human evolution.

Two million years of selection pressure exerted upon the hominid line designed a healthy, successful, productive, vibrant organism. We didn’t just “happen,” after all. We look like we do and work like we do and have the genes that we do—that express themselves the way that they do—because of very powerful selection pressures. The habitats in which we lived, the foods we ate, the movements we had to perform in order to survive, the sunlight to which we were exposed, the stressors we faced—each of these environmental factors shaped our genetic code, and it is to these various environmental stimuli that our genetic expression responds most favorably. The clues to realizing our Primal Blueprint lie scattered throughout our evolutionary history.

Until that day when we can sit at a computer terminal and decide which genes we want to express, and how, the best we can probably do is to use human evolution as a base level tool for making lifestyle decisions. You’ll probably refine the details later, but evolution is a darn good place to start.

3. Your Body Prefers Burning Fat Over Carbohydrates

We’ve evolved to be fat burners (must be why we’re so adept at storing it on our bodies!). It’s easy to see why. Fat burns slow and evenly, providing all-day steady energy levels. Carbohydrates burn quickly; they’re gone in an instant, leaving you groggy and depleted unless you “carb up.” Furthermore, carbohydrates are an inherently unreliable and fleeting source of energy for the body, with most people only able to store about 400-500 grams of carbohydrates at any one time. Our storage capacity for fat, on the other hand, is virtually endless. Just 10 or 15 pounds of body fat, which is the bare minimum available on even the leanest individuals, can provide tens of thousands of calories. Luckily, reducing carbohydrates and increasing fat intake sends the epigenetic signals necessary to help us revert back to fat-burning, and it only takes a few weeks to get things moving in the right direction*.

Become fat adapted and enjoy boundless energy. Free yourself from the shackles of a carbohydrate-based metabolism/dependency.

4. 80 Percent of Your Body Composition Success Is Determined by How You Eat

Food is the single most important factor in body composition. You can exercise all you want, but as long as you’re eating garbage, and too much of it, you won’t get very far with your body composition goals.

Any real attempt to modify your body composition starts with addressing what you put in your mouth, with the emphasis on quality, not quantity. We aren't discounting the importance of quantity, mind you, but we do find that honing in on the quality of food is more crucial and effective. Case in point: 2000 calories of fast food will have a very different effect on your body composition, satiety and nutrient intake than 2000 calories of grass-fed meat, wild fish and produce grown in rich, fertile, nutrient-dense soil. The fast food won’t be as satiating, or as nutrient dense, as the real food, so you’ll likely be compelled to eat more of it. The fast food will primarily contain trans and polyunsaturated fats, sugary sauces, refined grains and inferior quality meat, all of which promote insulin resistance and the storage of body fat while inhibiting fat burning. Eating primal food, rich in animals, plants and healthy fat, on the other hand, will normalize insulin sensitivity, thereby allowing fat burning.*

In effect, quality determines quantity; you’ll eat less spontaneously when you eat healthy primal foods. Quality paired with proper quantity, in turn, determines your body composition.

Sleep matters, exercise helps, stress has an effect, but how you eat, what you eat and how much you eat, are the prime determinants of your body composition.

5. Grains Are Totally Unnecessary

Despite their exalted position in the conventional hierarchy of healthy foods, grains are completely and utterly unnecessary. And yes, that even goes for whole grains.

Let’s take a look at the “grainy” truth about grains. What unique nutrients do they provide? If you want fiber, eat vegetables. If you want antioxidants, eat colorful produce. If you want carbs, eat fruits and tubers. Humans got along fairly well without wide scale grain agriculture for many thousands of years, and there’s no real reason to buy in today, especially when you consider the antinutrients in grain, like gluten that impairs digestion, reduces mineral absorption and damages the intestinal lining.

What is it, then, that necessitates 10-12 servings of whole grains a day? It’s madness. As for all the supposed health benefits that the grain-obsessed like to say are supported by tons of studies, well…look a little deeper (like we did) and you’ll see this just isn’t the case. Those studies invariably compare whole grains to refined grains, and in those circumstances the whole grain will generally win out. I’d suspect that if you compared a whole grain-based diet to a grain-free Primal way of eating, you’d get very different results. Unfortunately, that study hasn’t been done.

Here’s the grainy truth in a nutshell: there’s nothing good in grains that you can’t get elsewhere, and plenty bad that you won’t find elsewhere. So, don’t eat ‘em!

6. Saturated Fat and Cholesterol Are Not Your Enemy

Another popular health canard is that saturated fat and cholesterol are horrible, evil dietary devils that seek only to clog our arteries, thicken our blood and pad our waistlines. That’s crazy, of course.

Fat, especially saturated fat, and dietary cholesterol are important building blocks for sex hormones like testosterone. Saturated fat helps us absorb nutrients from our food. Saturated fat is inherently the most stable fat, able to withstand heat and light stress without oxidizing; not to mention, it’s incredibly satiating.

Cholesterol plays a crucial role in the creation of vitamin D from sun exposure. And contrary to popular belief and the protestations of “experts,” neither saturated fat nor dietary cholesterol has been linked to an increased risk of cardiovascular disease. Sugar, refined PUFA oils, trans fats? Those are the real enemies. Oh, and consider this: every successful diet is actually a high-fat diet. When you lose weight, whether it’s through low-carb Primal or high-carb vegan, you are consuming ample amounts of highly saturated animal fat. This animal fat may be coming off your body, but it’s still saturated animal fat just the same.

A diet rich in animal fat and cholesterol is not just safe, it’s downright healthy.

7. Exercise Is Ineffective for Weight Management

Exercise is healthy. Exercise is necessary for lasting wellness. Exercise builds muscle and exerts beneficial effects on hormone expression and function. Exercise gets you strong, gets you fit and keeps you young. But exercise alone is highly ineffective for weight management.

For exercise to truly help manage your weight, it must be paired with a healthy eating plan, adequate sleep, effective stress management, ample sun exposure and healthy amounts of social contact with friends, family and loved ones*. Sure, some people take exercise to the extreme, training for hours and hours on end, all in the quest to burn a few hundred more calories to “make up for” those donuts at breakfast or to eradicate those love handles. And if you go long enough and hard enough, yeah, you’ll “burn calories.” But at what cost? Exercise is a stressor, after all.

Maintained at an extreme pace and frequency, exercise becomes a chronic stressor that does more harm than good. It makes you hungry. It increases systemic and local inflammation. It depresses your immune system. It fatigues you, leading to less activity throughout the day. You’ll eventually and inevitably burn out unless you eat a massive amount of calories to make up for all that you’ve lost, and, at that point, you’re back at square one.

You can’t out-exercise a bad diet and poor lifestyle.

8. Maximum Fitness Can Be Achieved in Minimal Time with High Intensity Workouts

Study after study shows that the key to optimal health, aging and fitness is muscle strength and mass. The more lean mass we have, the better we’re able to handle what life dishes out, whether it’s carrying groceries, playing with our kids, saving our own lives in a life-or-death situation or engaging in the time-tested essential activity known as love-making. Lucky for those of us who relish our free time, the most effective, most efficient ways to build and maintain lean mass are through intense strength and sprint training. Twice a week, spend 15-40 minutes lifting heavy things and using functional, full-body compound movements—squats, pullups, pushups, planks—and once every 7-10 days, spend 10-20 minutes doing 8-10 all-out sprints. If you don’t want to move heavy weights, you don’t have to; bodyweight exercises offer plenty of stimuli for most people. And if you’re not ready to run sprints on a track, plenty of lower impact alternatives exist, like cycling, swimming, rowing or even sprinting uphill.

Make your short, intense workouts shorter and more intense. Round them out with lots of slow moving—walks, hikes and the like—throughout your everyday life, and you’ll be incredibly fit and well-rounded, in a fraction of the time most people presume is required. Short. Speedy. Strong. This is Primal Blueprint Fitness.*

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The 5 Action Items

Action Item #1: Eliminate SAD (Standard American Diet) Foods

The Standard American Diet (SAD) touted by conventional wisdom is rife with foods that trigger a high insulin response and thwart health and weight goals. The first step is to identify SAD foods that compromise health and eliminate them from your home environment and shopping list. While some foods, such as junk food and fast food, are easy to identify and eliminate in the short term, others have been so firmly ingrained as food staples that it can take a sincere commitment to the Primal approach in order to reframe belief and eliminate or de-emphasize these foods.

Going Primal entails spring-cleaning the pantry and refrigerator of objectionable foods, such as grain staples (wheat/flour products, rice, corn, pasta and cereal grains), sweetened beverages of all kinds (even juices), baking ingredients high in gluten and maltodextrin, foods made with trans and partially hydrogenated fats, heavily processed meats, farmed fish, packaged snacks, frozen foods, low-fat dairy products and high-carbohydrate legumes.

Action Item #2: Shop, Cook and Dine Primally

Alternative grocers, farmers markets, co-ops, ethnic markets and Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) are stocked with the highest quality, most nutritious foods. When dining, steer clear of fast food, fried food, inexpensive diners and restaurants centered on grain-based offerings. When you must dine out at a less-than-ideal venue, be assertive with substitutions and special requests. After all, your food choices ultimately impact the energy you bring to your life and the emotional balance you experience each day.

Action Item #3: Make the Healthiest Choices Across the Spectrum

To “forage” in the traditional sense means to “search for and secure food.” These days foraging is all about discernment—moving away from instant availability and industrial processing, and moving towards quality and nutrient-dense foods. Eating Primally doesn’t have to break the bank; cut out the expensive designer coffees, energy bars and processed snacks, and eating Primally might even save you money.

Furthermore, transitioning into a fat-burning beast will likely reduce the amount of calories needed to sustain energy, which promotes enhanced cellular repair and longevity. When navigating the spectrum of food choices, honor the 80 percent rule; eat at the highest end of the spectrum whenever possible, but don’t stress or obsess about perfection. Locally grown vegetables and fruits are the most nutritious, while organic animal products have greater nutritional value and fewer objectionable agents than products from conventionally raised animals.

Action Item #4: Exercise Primally—Move, Lift and Sprint!

Conventional wisdom preaches that a regimented, physically exhaustive workout routine and devoted portion control—and perhaps lucky genes—are the keys to a lean, toned physique. The Primal Blueprint fitness mimics the physical activity of our ancestors with a combination of functional full-body strength training efforts (either with bodyweight exercises or gym equipment) and regular bouts of all-out sprint workouts.

An optimal primal exercise routine consists of 2 to 5 hours a week of moving frequently at a slow pace (through both general everyday efforts and structured workouts in your aerobic heart rate zone), two strength workouts lasting 30 minutes or less, and an all-out sprint once every 7 to 10 days.

Action Item #5: Slow Life Down

Going Primal involves reducing the complexity of your diet, exercise and lifestyle habits. It’s about finding the time and space to actually have fun and enjoy life. Sleep, sunlight, play and creative intellectual outlets, along with diet and exercise, helped perfect the DNA recipe for a healthy, vibrant human being. Our hunter-gatherer genes crave a reconnection to the natural environs from which we evolved.

We’ve created an artificial microcosm of glaring lights, computers, digital gadgets, text messages, emails, Tweets and Facebook updates that rule our days and over-stimulate our nights, overriding the powerful circadian rhythm that governs sleep, hunger, wakefulness and the hormones that support health and well-being. Most of us suffer from information overload, and our addiction to speed undermines personal relationships and individual fulfillment—not to mention physical health. It is imperative that we reconnect with our original bearings in nature and restore the social orientations that are so critical to our human identity and health.

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The 4 Essential Movements

1. Pushups

From a plank position (straight, rigid line from feet to head), hands flat on the ground and shoulder width apart, arms extended and fingers pointed forward, lower your body until your chest (or nose) touches the ground. Keep your core and glutes tight and your spine and neck neutral.

Simplified Progression (consecutive reps needed to progress)

1. Knee pushups (male, 50; female, 30) 2. Incline pushups (male, 50; female, 25)

Movement Mastery

male, 50 pushups; female, 20 pushups

2. Pullups

Keep your elbows tight, tuck your chin (try to make a double chin) and retract your shoulder blades (to protect your shoulders). Without flailing or using your lower body, lead with your chest and pull your body up using an overhand grip until your chin passes the bar. When lowering, never fully protract your shoulder blades. Don’t lead with your chin; keep it tucked throughout.

Simplified Progression

1. Chair-assisted pullups (male, 20; female, 15)

2. Chin-up (inverted grip) (male, 7; female, 4)

Movement Mastery

male, 12 pullups

female, 5 pullups

3. Squats

With feet at or around shoulder width (whatever’s most natural) and toes either forward or pointing slightly outward, lower by pushing your butt back and out until your thighs reach at least parallel. Keep the weight on the heels and a tight, neutral spine throughout the movement.

Simplified Progression

Assisted squat (using a pole or other support object while lowering into a squat) (male and female, 50)

Movement Mastery

male and female, 50 full squats

4. Planks

Your body is a plank, as the name suggests. You are a single cohesive unbroken body, a straight line from head to foot. Elbows/forearms and toes are your only points of contact with the ground.

Simplified Progression

1. Forearm/knee planks (male and female, two minutes)

2. Hand/feet planks (male and female, two minutes)

Movement Mastery

male and female, two minutes

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*Disclaimer: There is no guarantee of specific results and results can vary from person to person. However, we feel so strongly about our products that we offer a 30-day money back guarantee. Try our products today, and if you're not completely satisfied with the results, return your purchase for a full refund minus shipping and handling—no questions asked.