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!

TAGS:  dear mark

About the Author

Mark Sisson is the founder of Mark’s Daily Apple, godfather to the Primal food and lifestyle movement, and the New York Times bestselling author of The Keto Reset Diet. His latest book is Keto for Life, where he discusses how he combines the keto diet with a Primal lifestyle for optimal health and longevity. Mark is the author of numerous other books as well, including The Primal Blueprint, which was credited with turbocharging the growth of the primal/paleo movement back in 2009. After spending three decades researching and educating folks on why food is the key component to achieving and maintaining optimal wellness, Mark launched Primal Kitchen, a real-food company that creates Primal/paleo, keto, and Whole30-friendly kitchen staples.

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