Marks Daily Apple
Serving up health and fitness insights (daily, of course) with a side of irreverence.
22 Jul

Dear Mark: Barefoot Criticism and Salmon Roe

BarefootingToday’s edition of Dear Mark is just a two-parter. We’ve got a question about the recent flurry of anti-barefoot/minimalist footwear criticism. In my opinion, it’s pretty weak criticism, and I’ll explain why I don’t think you need to ditch your Vibrams for some orthotics just yet. After that, I answer a question from an extremely lucky woman who’s just come into possession of an entire gallon-sized bag of fresh Alaskan salmon roe. She doesn’t know what to do with them. I wish I had her problems. Don’t you?

Anyway, let’s get right to it:

Hey Mark:

I haven’t seen a post on barefooting on your blog in a while. I ran across this article a couple of weeks ago and wondering if you were going to comment:

Is Barefoot-Style Running Best? New Studies Cast Doubt

Thanks for all of the amazing content!



If someone only reads the NY Times piece, they’re left with the distinct impression that barefoot running (or barefoot-style running) is pointless. But when you look at the actual study referenced in the article, you see that they kind of misinterpreted (or misrepresented) its findings.

Contrary to the article’s assertion that “heel striking was the more economical running form, by a significant margin,” the reality is that “no differences in Vo2 or %CHO were detected between groups when running with their habitual footstrike pattern.” In other words, rear foot strikers and forefoot strikers were equally economical with their running when allowed to run with their normal pattern. However, when rear foot runners were asked to try forefoot striking, their running economy suffered. Forefoot strikers asked to try heelstriking, on the other hand, did not lose running economy. This is easily explained by the fact that most people nowadays – even the forefoot strikers buying out the latest Fivefingers – grew up running heel-first while wearing big clunky shoes. So, in a way, heel striking “feels right.” Forefoot strikers can usually “switch back” to heel striking without their efficiency suffering because they grew up running that way, and this study is evidence of that. Lifelong heel strikers switching to forefoot striking are faced with something they’ve likely never done since they were barefooted children playing tag or Red Rover or Steal the Bacon. It’s completely new to them. Most heel strikers I see trying to run barefoot or with a forefoot landing for the first time end up bouncing on their toes like boxers. Rather than gliding smoothly forward with minimal head bob, as seen in experienced forefoot strikers, newbies often bounce up and down. This wastes a ton of forward momentum and energy and severely hampers running efficiency.

We should also note that they used “running flats” for the study. Unless otherwise specified, “running flats” still have a heel drop. Even minimalist shoes, like the New Balance Minimus, still retain a couple millimeters of difference between the heel height and the sole height. If the running flats used in this study had a sizable heel drop, that’s going to make forefoot striking rather awkward, because you have to avoid that heel as you land. These weren’t minimalist shoes, let alone bare feet.

They mention a couple other studies in the article, too. First, they discuss one in which ten weeks of running in minimalist shoes failed to increase arch height. I’m entirely unsurprised. Ten weeks is a blink of an eye. It’s simply not enough time to undo decades of shoe-wearing. Arches don’t collapse in a matter of weeks, after all.

Another study consisted of researchers asking a bunch of runners about their experiences with minimalist footwear. A third of the 566 polled runners had tried minimalist footwear. 32% of that third reported injuries they attributed to running in said footwear. “Many” had switched back to their normal shoes. Again, entirely unsurprising. Forget barefoot running. You have to ease your way into simply walking barefoot, if you’ve spent most of your life in heeled shoes.

Then there were other minimalist running studies that found “no significant benefits” (which probably means there were some insignificant ones) to running economy. Okay.

Is “running economy” really what people who run barefoot or in minimalist shoes are going for? No; it rarely figures into most people’s motivations. Instead, minimalist runners do it for:

The increased sensory feedback from the foot-ground contact without a big slab of rubber getting in the way. This improves the runner’s proprioceptive awareness and allows quicker, unconscious reactions to changes in terrain.

The “lightness” of running without foot coffins. It’s hard to quantify, but there’s something about running in minimalist shoes, or none at all, that makes you glide across the landscape and kiss the ground as you do it.

The overall experience of feeling the actual world beneath your feet. There’s a great Ram Dass quote that goes something like “If you wear leather on your feet, the whole world is made of leather.”

Most of all, the reduction in “standard” running injuries. When I ask most people why they switched to barefoot running, it’s to avoid the chronic pain they’d come to expect as just part of the hobby. When I ask them whether it seems to have helped, they almost invariably say “yes.” From my experience, it only makes things worse when they pick things up right where they left off without bothering to condition their bodies or get accustomed to the new way of running. The scientific literature mostly bears this out:

Knee pain: Most recently, barefoot running reduces patellofemoral (knee) joint stress. Another study also found that forefoot landings result in less impact to the knee, but greater loading on the Achilles tendon; luckily, the Achilles tendon is basically made to absorb stress, while the knee arguably has a lower capacity for loading. Yet another study came to the same conclusion.

Chronic exertional compartment syndrome (CECS): CECS is an exercise-induced nerve condition that causes swelling and pain to the affected muscle. In one study, runners with CECS in the legs were able to increase their running speed and running distance while decreasing their pain levels by switching to a forefoot landing. Another study in CECS patients had similar results.

It all comes down to time. Human bodies are incredibly malleable and adaptive. You put us in an uncomfortable, unnatural position, and we’ll adapt to it. We may not flourish, but we’ll certainly survive. Bad, overly cushioned shoes are a perfect example of that. We adapt to wearing those shoes. To go from that back to barefoot/minimalist running takes time, even though it’s arguably the most natural way to do it. For many of us, shoes have become “natural.” This can be overcome, but it takes time, attention to proper form (or expert instruction) and an honest self-assessment of one’s abilities.

Hi Mark!

I love your blog! You are my most reputable resource I go to when I have a nutrition question.

Anyway, I live in Anchorage, AK. My boyfriend is HUGE into hunting and fishing. He has been his whole entire life. Well, he just got back into town from dipnetting at Kasiloff and brought home 20+ Red Salmon. We were fileting, gutting, washing, and vacuum sealing the salmon. He asked me if I wanted the fish eggs. I said HELL YEAH! I don’t know what I am going to do with them but I will figure it out.

So….My question is ….

If you had a gallon-size Ziploc baggy of Salmon Roe, what you would you do with them? How would you prepare them?

I am super excited to try them.

Thank you for your time.

Ashley from Alaska

Although by the time this answer reaches you, the roe will likely have spoiled or been eaten, I’ll give you a few thoughts.

In my opinion, the very best way to store salmon roe is to salt or soy-sauce cure them first. It’s not too hard to prepare, either. Here’s a basic salt-cure:

  • Fill a large bowl with warm (around 100 ºF) water and a generous amount of salt. You’re basically creating a brine.
  • Place the roe in the water and let it sit there for half an hour.
  • After half an hour, rinse the roe in warm water and carefully remove the skeins (the sacs holding the eggs together).
  • Once all the skeins have been removed, including the bits, place the eggs back in the brine for a few minutes.
  • Strain out the brine. Shake the colander to get the eggs as dry as possible, then place into sterilized canning jars. The roe will be good for a couple weeks in the fridge and longer in the freezer.

Here’s a basic soy-sauce cure:

  • Run the roe under warm water, about as hot as you can handle, to help you remove the skeins. Do this over a colander to prevent any lost roe.
  • Once all the skein has been removed, place the rinsed and cleaned roe into a glass container.
  • Add soy sauce and any other seasonings (sake and mirin are popular) and stir until all eggs are evenly coated. Cover the container and place in the fridge.

Enjoy for the next few days. Freeze what you don’t eat. A vacuum sealer will get you the most air-tight seal, but you’ll want to pre-freeze the roe to keep them from being crushed. If you don’t have a sealer, you can just stick them in a good ziplock bag and suck the air out with your mouth, then put that ziplock into another ziplock freezer bag (suck the air out of that one, too).

As for what to do with your cured roe, you can spoon them into your mouth direct and savor the *pop* of the eggs as they burst in your mouth, coating your tongue in phospholipid-enriched brininess. You can add a few spoonfuls to a plate of scrambled eggs (eggs on eggs) or an omelete. You can mash it up with lemon juice, pepper, olive oil, and diced shallots for a lovely vegetable dip. I bet you could even make mayo with them, allowing the roe to stand in for some of the egg yolk (you’d probably have to play around with the ratios, and the texture might not fully replicate regular mayo, but whatever you ended up with would be worth eating) and salt.

You can also treat the whole roe sac as an ingredient. Maybe beat an egg, dip the sac in the beat up egg, dust the sac with coconut flour, salt, and herbs, and pan fry the sac in your choice of healthy fat. Good luck!

That’s it for this week, folks. Thanks for reading!

You want comments? We got comments:

Imagine you’re George Clooney. Take a moment to admire your grooming and wit. Okay, now imagine someone walks up to you and asks, “What’s your name?” You say, “I’m George Clooney.” Or maybe you say, “I’m the Clooninator!” You don’t say “I’m George of George Clooney Sells Movies Blog” and you certainly don’t say, “I’m Clooney Weight Loss Plan”. So while spam is technically meat, it ain’t anywhere near Primal. Please nickname yourself something your friends would call you.

  1. My late husband always called me “Nature Girl” (and he didn’t mean it as a compliment! {wink}) because I’m always barefoot at home and I wear Birkies when I go out. (I compromised, and when we went out *together* for lunch or dinner, I’d wear high heels.)(Well, high-ER heels, like 1-1/2″ or 2″ heels…) Since his death two years ago, it’s been barefoot and Birkies all the way.

    Y’all write about minimalist shoes/sandals and Vibrams and all — do Birkies count? They’re not minimal sole, but they seem pretty natural-shaped. I like them esp. cause I can slip out of them in an instant — no shoes for a second longer than needed!

    (I actually used to work for a … large Pac NW airplane mfg … as an editor, and I wore my Birkies with stockings, silk blouses, and Pendleton-wool skirts — so, *actual* business attire except for my feet… But then, I always WAS perceived as a bit (or more) weird!)

    Elenor wrote on July 23rd, 2013
  2. I referee soccer. Wearing typical shoes I experienced hobbling shin sprints for about the first third of the season, and by the end of the season my achilles was in such pain I was afraid to do more than walk. Then I read about Vibrams and got a pair. No more shin splints and no more achilles problem but also, no more pulled hamstring, no more sore quads, no more low back pain, and no more exhaustion after games. Not to mention all the kids (I mostly do high school games) love them and ask about them. Doing what I can to prevent foot injuries for the teens of Houston.

    Joshua wrote on July 23rd, 2013
  3. Unfortunately, Mark left out the very last line in the study.

    “The results suggest that the FF(forefoot) pattern is not more economical than the RF(rearfoot) pattern.”

    So if the authors are stating it’s not more economical…why would Mark say the New York Times got it wrong?

    ConfirmationBias wrote on July 23rd, 2013
    • Um…the entire second paragraph discussed why the conclusion, while technically correct (both forms, when done by runners using their natural gait, were equal; and forefoot runners switching to heel-strike saw no difference in running economy), isn’t why people switch to begin with. The idea of running economy is essentially asking the wrong question.

      Shauna wrote on July 29th, 2013
  4. I wear five-toers as much as possible. But I do sprinting twice a week in running shoes with an orthotic because of a neuroma from damned shoes. But I think if one has good feet minimalist foot gear is great. That said I often see a young man locally running barefoot on cement side walks. He is heel hitting. That would be like ancient man running on ledge all the time. I think running on earth, toe or heel striking, is okay. But pounding your heels on cement for many hours a week I think is a forumla for misery. And I know… I just know… that if I said to him “you are ruining your feet running barefoot on cement” he will tell me barefoot running is good for the feet et cetera…

    Deane wrote on July 23rd, 2013
  5. Ahhhh, roe. As a kid, I grew up eating Perch Roe which may dad would catch while drift-net fishing on the Chesapeake Bay. My mom would simply lightly pan fry the sets of roe and we would enjoy as a main dinner course. Delicious! But, my mom would eventually stop cooking it because it had such a bad rap as being off the charts with cholesterol with the general public. Now, my sister gets it and cooks it for me.

    Kevin wrote on July 23rd, 2013
  6. Feh! The barefoot/minimalist controversy is a non-issue to me.

    This I know: when walking/jogging in minimalist shoes, I can go five miles without any discomfort. In modern running shoes I can barely last a mile before my knees and right hip start complaining. When I run in my minimalist shoes, I have no discomfort but in modern heel-striking shoes I hurt. Even when I weighed 290 pounds, I could slowly jog two miles but with modern shoes I couldn’t even make it a half of a mile. (I’m currently at 240 pounds, jogging five miles three or four times per week.)

    I didn’t read the study cited in this article but the studies I have read seem to forego mentioning the physics of running with a forefoot strike vs a heel strike. When running with a forefoot-strike, barefooted or in very flexible minimalist shoes, the entire leg from the foot through the large leg muscles act as shock absorbers. The muscles, tendons, and arches in the foot absorb shock, the Achilles tendon and lower leg muscles absorb shock, and the slightly flexed knee and upper leg muscles absorb shock resulting in very little shock reaching the spine and ultimately the base of the skull. Landing properly results in a smooth, discomfort-free run. On the other hand, heel-striking basically sends the shock of landing right up the skeleton into the base of the skull. The heel, ankle, knee, and hip take a real pounding, even in today’s marshmallow-soled shoes. Shoe manufacturers have spent millions of dollars coming up with ways to alleviate the shock of heel-striking to no avail. Every year sees new gimmicks to soften the heel-strike landing and keeping the foot “aligned” and “help” the arch. (Ask any structural engineer and he’ll tell you the easiest way to destroy the efficiency of an arch is to support it from underneath.)

    Humans ran around, as it were, barefooted or in sandals during our time on earth and heel-striking was not an option while running. (If you don’t believe me, try barefooted heel-striking while running, it hurts.) Today’s running shoes, with the arch supports and fluffy soles have been around only since the mid-1970s. Some people, after spending a lifetime in constricting shoes, will prefer modern running shoes but I am convinced that, unless one’s feet are completely destroyed by modern shoes, one can, with patience, transition to the safer and less damaging barefoot/minimalist style of running.

    Phocion Timon wrote on July 23rd, 2013
  7. MDA quotes Ram Dass?! Two amazing worlds collide!

    Chelsea wrote on July 23rd, 2013
  8. Thank you everyone for the help, especialy Ashley. I will be returning to a slow transition after my achilles heals. One thing I wanted to say, in response to your chronic cardio comment. I am following Mark’s plan with 3-5 hours of moderate exercise, which in my anal mind turns out to 30-45 minutes, 6 days a week to get 4 hours. I sprint 1/week and do 2-15 minute grok-style workouts.

    Laura wrote on July 23rd, 2013
  9. I’m another one from Alaska who has been looking for ways to enjoy salmon roe since learning of its high vitamin content, and to get my husband to unknowingly enjoy it as well. *cackle cackle*
    I like it cured, as in Marks salted recipe, and then put on top of a cracker or bagel spread with cream cheese (if you’re into that kinda thing). I also blend them into a liquid and mix that into things (as to disguise them) so that my husband eats them too! Salmon quiche is a good one for this as it hides the fishy taste they have. I haven’t tried it, but smoked salmon dip would probably be another good one. Traditionally the Native Alaskans dry them so they are available to eat year round, which is especially good in the dead of winter when there is little sun, as they are high in vitamin D. I tried drying some in my oven last year (I don’t have a dehydrator) and it stunk up the whole house, but was well worth it. The dried ones have added a nice flavour to my fish soups, and I imagine fresh or salted would work well to. They make a nice crunchy topping on salads as well (think bacon bits, but with a fishy flavour), and could be used in all kinds of recipes where a little texture is welcomed. Just remember, as with all dried foods they are WAY more potent than the fresh version, so sprinkle lightly. I learned this one the hard way :)
    I’ve been wanting to try them smoked as I’ve heard they are yummy that way as well, but I’m pregnant and didn’t have the energy to do any of my own smoking this year.
    This is my third year harvesting the roe and I decided to individually freeze each fresh skein for easy preparation. (It is no fun IMO to de-membrane more than a couple of skeins at once, talk about time consuming!) They freeze well, and this way I’ll be able to save them for when the days are short and we’re low on vitamin D, and for when baby arrives and begins eating soft foods.
    I am always amazed when down at the river how many people leave the salmon roe for the seagulls to eat, not knowing how healthy and delicious that it can be…then again, that used to be me!

    Casey wrote on July 23rd, 2013
  10. Friends, what a timely post. I have just successfully returned to running after what feels like a million years of IT band problems and started in shoes with the intention of abandoning them for some alternative. So this helps me a lot. I also read Chi Running which additionally helps. (I also have the delightful “curly toe” and one toe digs into the other so the shoes with toes could really help).

    I have been boxing, lifting and doing other exercises barefoot and I cannot tell you how much better I am and how much easier it is for me, mostly because I can use my toes. My feet are like horns from wearing shoes w/out socks and going barefoot.

    I still work in 3″ heels and have a fortune in clothes that go with them but something there has got to give. Awesome timing because I’m on vacation this week and shoeless (or flip flopped) and I DON’T WANT TO GO BACK!

    Juli wrote on July 24th, 2013
    • Why do you still feel the need to wear high heels after listing the problems you’ve had? That definitely needs to give. I’m sorry that women have been out in this place where they feel they have to wear heels. I see so many that can’t even walk right in them. They end up looking worse wearing the heels then without. I see it as just another patriarchal aspect of this society. Women were heavily influenced to wear high heels based on what men wanted them to do. It’s pretty effed up if you ask me.

      That said, I can’t deny that a woman wearing high heels can look very sexy. But, I would not want or need my significant other to wear high heels often. When the time is right, for the right occasion, sure, only of they want to though.

      Morgan wrote on July 24th, 2013
  11. I agree, the barefoot/minimalist is a non-controversy for me. When I wore ridiculously expensive cushioned running shoes I had horrible blisters, hip and lower back pain and shin-splints chronically. Read Born to Run 4 yrs ago, bought VFFs and nearly tore my Achilles from going out and running 5 miles the first time. Finally took my shoes off to transition at the rate my body allowed me to, and haven’t looked back -not to mention $$ saved. I’m actually offended by how much money the minimal shoes are going for. I do wear cheap water shoes or flats if the terrain is too rough or unknown, otherwise, I like skin on surface and it’s been about a year since I last ran with anything on my feet. The soles of my feet are tough like paws, but surprisingly smooth.

    Still a typical runner though, and when I recently ramped up my mileage too much, experienced pissed off calves and ATs all over again. (Rocktape and a baseball are my go-to’s to work trigger-points and to speed recovery.)
    My doc says whether shod or bare, over-training injuries will happen.

    renosole wrote on July 24th, 2013
  12. Hi Mark!

    I have a quick question. I love my minimalist, barefoot running shoes, a little too much! The first couple of weeks I had them I did mostly walking and slow, short runs. However, after that, I decided I felt too much like a little kid to limit my distance.. Big bad idea! My forefoot has been in pain for almost 7 weeks now. I cannot run in the barefoot shoes until the metatarsal pain relieves. I talked with a podiatrist and she had said – do not run in those shoes again (while also telling me I most likely had a stress fracture)
    Basically.. I told her once my foot healed, I would probably continue running.. But. I wanted to know what you thought. How should I go about this, next time.

    Thank you for all your fun articles, tips and guides!

    Piper Dobner wrote on July 25th, 2013
    • Go slower. You got injured because you were impatient. If you started Olympic lifting and felt that the bar was too easy, would you immediately put the 45lb plates on? No. You’d add 5 or 10lb and see what’s it’s like, and *gradually* go up. Doing otherwise is a recipe for disaster (and serious injury).

      The same goes for running. If you’re used to thick shoes, you’re used to slamming your foot down with little to no consequence. Take the pillow away and suddenly you can’t slam your foot down like you did. Likewise, with the shift to forefoot strike comes the use of different muscles. You have to train those muscles the same way you train any other that has atrophied – slowly.

      Yeah, you may feel like a little kid, but how would you feel if you had to struggle to walk to your kitchen? Take that slice of humble pie and don’t get impatient next time. Work up slowly, just like you probably have done with your running training in general (you couldn’t do a half marathon overnight, remember – you may have even started off by struggling through the C25k program).

      Also, go everywhere in your minimalist shoes, or barefoot completely (you know, all the “move frequently at a slow pace” stuff). The more you do it, the more you’ll be used to it, and the easier you’ll be able to transition into running.

      Shauna wrote on July 29th, 2013
  13. Thanks for the tidbit on compartment syndrome (CECS). I spent 6 years in the Army, 4 of which I suffered from CECS. It took over a year to diagnose and would generally kick in around one mile (give or take). I was told by the Army docs that they could just exempt me from running (i.e. the biggest part of Army physical fitness, yep just stop exercising was their plan) or they would do nothing – no advice, no help, and “no, we won’t subject you to surgery, it’ll scar your legs and you’re only 23”. I chose to keep running, through the pain, when there might’ve been another way to ease the CECS… simply by forefoot striking. I’ve kept running but shorter distances or sprint work. Thank you again, this may have just enabled me to go the distance (at the expense of chronic cardio)!

    Rachel wrote on July 29th, 2013
  14. Hi Mark,
    I am 18 years old and wore fibreglass orthotics in stability running shoes for 3 years while doing long-distance running and other sports. I no longer use orthotics, but my chronic achilles tendinopathy is linked to my poor flexibility and ankle ROM. According to a leading sports podiatrist, this lack of ROM is irreparable so I will “always have to wear heel inserts in my shoes”.
    Do you think, for people like myself, eventually adapting to bearfoot/minimalist foowear is possible? I would love to one day reach that point, but understand a very gradual progression is required. During this slow progression, can one still perform HIIT such as sprint 8s in running shoes, and thereafter walk around mostly barefoot?
    Are there any strengthening exercises you would recommend to accelerate this process?

    Thanks heaps Mark,

    Jonny S wrote on September 13th, 2013

Leave a Reply

If you'd like to add an avatar to all of your comments click here!

© 2016 Mark's Daily Apple

Subscribe to the Newsletter and Get a Free Copy
of Mark Sisson's Fitness eBook and more!