Exchange with Mark Sisson: Maintaining a Primal Life in College

This week, we talked to Mark Sisson, author of Mark is an extremely well known Primal enthusiast. He has authored The Primal Blueprint, [more recently] The Primal Blueprint 21-Day Total Body Transformationas well as other successful books on nutrition, health and fitness, and has appeared on several news broadcasts.

In this interview, we asked him the following questions on the topic of staying Primal in the college setting:

[CC] What is the first thing you would tell a college student who just discovered Paleo/Primal and is thinking about taking “the plunge?”

[MS] Don’t stress about getting everything perfect. Eat better, exercise regularly, focus on getting enough sleep, maybe study outside in the sun when you can—but don’t think you need to squeeze a chest freezer into your dorm, or stress out over sitting down for eight hours a day during lecture, or whether the fish in the cafeteria is wild caught. Just get the basics down.

[CCSome colleges and universities have a reputation for serving french fries and nachos three times a day, everyday. How can a college kid working off of limited dining selections manage to put together a Primal meal?

[MSJunk food will be available, but so will fresh whole foods. Hit the salad bar; bring your own olive oil if they don’t offer any good dressings. Eat fresh fruit, eggs, bacon, and sausage at breakfast; if all they have is heat lamp scrambled eggs, ask the cook for a fresh omelete or a couple eggs over easy. If it’s burger night, ditch the bun and double up on the meat. Make a mental checklist of the non-primal stuff as you survey the days offerings, and eat everything else.

[CC] Snacking is a big part of college.  What should students be snacking on in order to keep those positive brain-waves flowing?

[MSMacadamia nuts are my favorite, but jerky or a great aged cheese works too.  Someething with fat and/or protein. Also, you don’t really need to snack. I find I do some of my best work on an empty stomach.

[CCMany of our readers have asked us to explain why we have adopted a lifestyle that has not been supported by long term clinical trials or studies. What is your response to those who say that there is simply not enough long-term scientific evidence to stand by a Primal lifestyle? 

[MSAs humans, we’ve been eating meat, vegetables, fruit, roots, nuts, seeds, and tubers for tens of thousands of years. It’s not an extreme position, and I’d say the burden of proof rests on those who say we shouldn’t be eating those things. Besides, there are no long term randomized control studies on any diet, not just the Primal way of eating, because it’s too expensive and difficult to conduct.

[CC] Students days are incredibly full.  How do you recommend college kids stay in shape with their hectic and busy lives?

[MSMake your workouts shorter and more intense. Avoid the cardio machines and head to the weight room for full body compound movements. Keep the intensity up and reduce the volume. Walk as much as possible—to class, to the library, to parties, to bars. Overall, make your workouts count, so you don’t have to spend so much time doing them.

[CC] College students are generally on a limited budget as well. How do you recommend staying primal on a college-level budget?

[MSDon’t stress out over grass-fed and organic; they are superior choices, yeah, but they aren’t necessary for success.

[CCThere’s a lot of alcohol on college campuses these days; what do you recommend to kids thinking about drinking while also trying to stay lean, healthy and Primal/Paleo? Drink a little bit? Not at all?

[MSDevelop an appreciation for wine. Not only is it one of the “healthier” choices you can make, it’s also going to serve you well in life if you know your way around the wine list. Other decent options are tequila with lime and soda (Robb Wolf’s famous NorCal margarita) and any high quality spirit like scotch. Opt for quality over quantity.

But yeah, you’re gonna want to avoid the binge drinking. You should both enjoy and remember your college years. Don’t let it affect your life in a negative way; blackouts, missed exams/classes, an inability to wake up, constant hangovers are all signs you’re overdoing it.

[CC] How do you see students getting their lives on a healthy track during college? 

[MSGoing Primal, at least partially, is a good start. College is a crazy time. You’re stressed out of your mind at points, but you’re also happier and more enthused about life than you’ve ever been. You’re making friends, probably lifelong ones. You’re chronically short on time. Your sleep schedule is out of whack. You’re on your own for the first time. Your beliefs are being shaped, established, and then shaped all over again. It’s kind of a trial run for real life, and if you can maintain fantastic health for the duration of the tumult and the confusion, you’ll know you can thrive later on, too.

[CC] Most Paleo/Primal blogs, websites, and books are generally geared toward an older audience.  How can we help promote the Primal lifestyle in the college community?

[MSStart a club or meetup group. Look for people wearing Vibrams. Chat up the people doing squats and dead-lifts in the weight room. Connect with people in your classes, on your floor, on the campus. Make it an in-person, tangible thing.

Thanks Mark!


Mark Sisson is the author of The Primal Blueprint, blogger at, and overall awesome dude.

Questions for Mark? Questions for us? Want a Caveman College t-shirt? Leave a comment below!

About The Author


As a recent recent high school graduate, I've seen a lot of kids struggling with health and fitness over my years in school. I went Primal when my physical trainer helped me really focus on my physical well-being in training for my baseball career. I credit a large percentage of my health and well being on and off the baseball field to my Primal lifestyle. An idea came to the my mind to create a website where kids going into college could find great information on health and nutrition as well as functional fitness. I am extremely excited to be able to write about health in the college world, as a lot of times kids forget how to eat healthy when they go off to the college world. While we saw this as an opportunity to reach out to the college world, we also wanted this site to be a resource for people of all ages struggling with their health as a place for them to go and find great resources and information. Feel free to email me or Max at with any questions you may have. Email Josh at

22 Responses

  1. Sam
    Sam July 19, 2012 at 2:34 pm | | Reply

    I want a T-shirt

  2. ori
    ori July 19, 2012 at 3:58 pm | | Reply

    i would like a tshirt too please. and nice blog.

  3. Alex
    Alex July 19, 2012 at 9:49 pm | | Reply

    hey mark!!!!!!

  4. Kathryn Dawes
    Kathryn Dawes July 21, 2012 at 7:14 am | | Reply

    Hi Josh,
    I have recently started eating primal/paleo and absolutely love it! Started reading Mark’s blog about six months ago but have found it really hard going Primal in college. The idea of starting a Primal group is a good one, it’s certainly easier when you can enjoy it with friends. Would love to grab one of your Caveman College t-shirts to help spread the word!

  5. Christoph
    Christoph July 22, 2012 at 3:34 pm | | Reply

    Nice Interview! Startet living primally the first time about 5 months ago, but gave it up due to college stress. Hope I can keep it up this time!
    Greets from Germany!

  6. Joshua
    Joshua July 22, 2012 at 6:33 pm | | Reply

    Awesome blog guys and this is a great interview! I find that I have already followed most if not all of the suggestions posed by Mark (fasting in college is much easier than at home! I attend University at Buffalo by the way. I would add though that drinking copious amounts of tea and yerba mate and herbal drinks (sans sugar) as well as water is imperative for the college going primal/paleo kid this being especially true during long study sessions at the library!

  7. Blair
    Blair July 22, 2012 at 6:48 pm | | Reply

    Better start making some t-shirts there Joshy:)!!

  8. Ashleigh Townsend
    Ashleigh Townsend July 22, 2012 at 7:04 pm | | Reply

    Great interview guys with the great Mark Sisson. Enjoying reading the blog, plenty of fantastic posts and doing a good thing getting the college crowd to follow the best way to live your life. Paleo is the only way to go. Keep up the good work.


  9. Joshua Norris
    Joshua Norris July 22, 2012 at 7:23 pm | | Reply

    I would love a free t-shirt, just found your website from marksdailyapple, so glad to finally find a college-geared primal site!

  10. PaleoPete
    PaleoPete July 22, 2012 at 7:31 pm | | Reply

    Hey you All!
    I’m defintely not at college being 60, British and living in the heart of our lovely countryside! Great site and spot-on interview with Mark. We found him just three months ago and thought up to that point we were eating healthily but now know otherwise and our lives are transformed. I wish we’d known this stuff in our college days [no internet though!! Can you believe that!].

    You all enjoy college life and Go Primal following Marks suggestions to cope with not having much money – you really will enhance your lives and enjoy optimum health for many years more than I will. I do however intend to l’ve until I’m well over 100.

    Grok On Caveman College you are doing good work for your fellow students!

    All the best from PaleoPete and his PrimalWife in KIngsclere Hampshire England..

  11. Weekend Link Love July 22, 2012 at 10:47 pm |
  12. Andrew
    Andrew July 23, 2012 at 2:39 am | | Reply

    Hi everyone,

    First of all let me say that eating Primal in college is definitely doable, the hardest part being peer pressure; which isn’t really a problem for me anyway… Usually a meal plan at college will grant you access to at least one Primal place to eat. I spent my first two years of college eating like everyone else, and I worked out often and I never really had any weight fluctuations. I thought I was fit going to the gym pretty regularly. My weight was 165 pounds for the past 3 years, and recently I peaked at 170 pounds, even though I thought I was eating “healthy” and going to the gym.

    Only within the past month have I discovered the Paleo diet and eating Primal. I was taking summer courses at the time and I was able to EASILY eat healthy every single day.

    On my college campus there is an all you can eat type place that has many options including a really nice salad bar. Once I discovered Primal eating I changed from getting plate after plate of chicken nuggets or burgers among other things; to eating a salad everyday.

    The salad bar is pretty big and there are so many good options including hard boiled eggs, tuna, chicken breasts, baby spinach, etc. etc. In addition to the salad bar there was usually some sort of protein that wasn’t fried in the “home style cooking” line, so I would often get a piece of grilled chicken, meatloaf, or something else worthwhile. Fruit is also readily available, so i’d always reach for a piece of fresh fruit or else the fruit mix in the salad bar. They also offer fruit-water everyday, with different fruits submerged in them; usually oranges, lemons, limes, or some berries. So i’d opt for two glasses, both enhanced with a different fruit.

    I was able to eat like this for lunch and dinner if I had too, and it worked out really well for me. I’ve been following the Primal lifestyle for a month and my weight has fell off, 170lbs –> 155lbs. Results!

    I’m also looking forward to starting some sort of following at college this upcoming semester. I have a few ideas; writing in the school newspaper, posting information about Primal throughout campus, or even joining/creating some sort of club. I know so many college students, including myself at one point, who really have NO clue what is good to eat. Why would anyone choose fruit or eat vegetables when burgers, fries, pizzas, nachos, etc. etc. are readily available and culturally acceptable? Freshman 15 anyone??

    Good mention on the alcohol as well, I like the suggestions. What has been working for me has been drinking MGD 64.

  13. Alessa
    Alessa July 23, 2012 at 3:04 am | | Reply

    Hi, I would love a t-shirt! As a student working on a degree in nutrition and becoming a RD, I’d love to promote truly healthy eating among the other students in my program.

  14. Adam
    Adam July 23, 2012 at 4:32 am | | Reply

    Hey, I will also need one of those t-shirts (though I could pay if I had to 🙂
    Anyways, I definitely struggled to make some of those pro-paleo changes. My timing was atrocious, however, as I started trying it very close to final exams and the chronic cortisol stagnated my efforts before they’d even begun (the sleep deprivation thing didn’t really help). Snacking is also something I’ve been a bit lackluster about, because I can’t just buy the jerky at a local convenience store and the only nuts I like are almonds (preferably coated with dark chocolate. Don’t judge me!). I should probably look into ordering copious amounts of primal jerky, and if they’re worth the effort/money I can make that a college staple-snack.

    1. Josh Singer
      Josh Singer July 23, 2012 at 9:22 pm | | Reply


      PrimalPacs are the best beef jerky i’ve ever had and I order about 20 3oz packages at a time. Well worth the investment if you can scrape together some extra cash to splurge

  15. Thais
    Thais July 23, 2012 at 1:35 pm | | Reply

    Thank you for this interview! I want a shirt, too 😀

  16. Elizabeth
    Elizabeth July 25, 2012 at 7:13 pm | | Reply

    Ive been eating Primally for almost a year now, following Mark’s advice. I’m just about to enter college so finding this site was great. I’d love a t-shirt to wear along with my Grok one 🙂

  17. Chris
    Chris August 28, 2012 at 8:03 am | | Reply

    This should do great things for your blog! Haha!!

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