My Vegan Breakfast

Ever since my high school days I’ve eaten a fairly substantial breakfast high in complex carbohydrates. This morning’s breakfast, following an eight-mile run, was fairly typical. It consisted of a large bowl of oatmeal topped with flaxseed meal, several servings of fruit, a slice of 100% whole grain toast with extra virgin olive oil and salt, and a glass of soymilk. I like to prepare the oatmeal in the microwave using old-fashioned rolled oats, plenty of water, and salt to taste. I also add a small amount of oat bran to give the oatmeal a creamier consistency. Using a coffee grinder, I make the flaxseed meal from whole flaxseeds, preparing enough to last me for a couple weeks, then storing it in the freezer.

My Vegan Breakfast

Nutritionally, the meal provides ample soluble and insoluble fiber, essential amino acids, healthy fats including omega-3 fatty acids, an array of vitamins, minerals, and phytochemicals, including calcium from the flaxseed meal and fortified soymilk. The meal is rich in potassium, which is a mineral many people don’t get enough of. If I had taken this photo two years ago, it would have included a glass of orange juice. Since then I’ve mostly moved away from juice, preferring to eat more whole fruits instead.

“The meal is rich in potassium, which is a mineral many people don’t get enough of.”

The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, an inherently conservative professional organization previously known as the American Dietetic Association, has stated in a position paper: “… appropriately planned vegetarian diets, including total vegetarian or vegan diets, are healthful, nutritionally adequate, and may provide health benefits in the prevention and treatment of certain diseases. Well-planned vegetarian diets are appropriate for individuals during all stages of the life cycle, including pregnancy, lactation, infancy, childhood, and adolescence, and for athletes.”

While I view veganism as a moral and political commitment necessary for living in accordance with the simple principle of not imposing unnecessary pain, suffering, and death on animals, I also appreciate the many health, athletic performance, and ecological benefits of eating a diet of fruits, vegetables, grains, legumes, nuts, seeds, and mushrooms.

“… I view veganism as a moral and political commitment necessary for living in accordance with the simple principle of not imposing unnecessary pain, suffering, and death on animals …”

A wealth of studies show lower rates of major diseases in vegans compared to subjects who eat animals. Cancers, strokes, heart disease, and inflammation have all been linked to diets high in meat and other animal products. I remain free of the frequent aches and pains, expanding waistlines, arthritis, rising blood pressure, and unhealthy cholesterol and triglyceride levels, so many people my age are dealing with.

Much of my sustained energy level and quick post-workout recovery times, I attribute to my diet. It’s rich in unprocessed starches and other digestible carbohydrates that are easily converted into the liver and muscle glycogen that helps fuel my running and other daily physical activities.

Lastly, animal agriculture is devastating to the environment. Bringing animal-based foods to market requires far more water, and results in far more greenhouse gas emissions and pollution of our waterways, compared to the production of equivalent quantities of plant-based foods.

 

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Pre-Industrial Civilization Squat

Also known as the hunter-gatherer squat, this properly performed deep squat position which offers numerous fitness and health benefits is a prerequisite to minimalist running. Chairs, along with our modern conception of “sitting,” were rare in early human cultures where bare feet or minimalist footwear predominated. People instead spent considerable time in balanced deep squat positions while eating, working, or conversing.

Pre-Industial Civilization Squat

Pre-Industial Civilization Squat

The pre-industrial civilization squat promotes mobility in the ankles, knees, hips, and lower back. It strengthens core and lower body muscles used in jumping, which is relevant because running is essentially a series of small jumps. The plantar (sole of foot) pressure distribution is similar to proper running form with the center of mass balanced over the balls of the feet. And unlike sitting, the squat is healthy for the back, decompressing and opening the lumbar spine.

To perform the squat, stand with your feet slightly wider than shoulder-width apart. Flare your feet out slightly. With a firm core, let your hips, knees, and ankles bend substantially as you lower yourself down. Maintain your feet flat on the floor. Most of your weight should be on the balls of your feet, but the heels should also be in contact with the floor. If you’re doing a static version of the squat, maintain this position for up to ten minutes (or even longer if you’re used to it). The dynamic version requires that you quickly rise back up to the start position and repeat, utilizing a light, bouncing motion. A weighted pole of at least 5 kg balanced horizontally across the collarbone with the arms stretched out forward, increases the effectiveness of the dynamic squat by forcing better form.

For many people, the pre-industrial civilization squat is initially difficult to achieve. Particularly for someone used to wearing high-heeled shoes, getting the heel down on the floor may not be possible due to tight calf muscles and shortening of the Achilles tendons. An assisted deep squat position, in which you hold on to a pole or other stationary object in front of you while gradually working into the position, may be helpful.

 

Updated Running Shoe Selection Recommendations From ACSM

characteristicsRecently the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) published a brochure containing its updated criteria for running shoe selection. This is noteworthy because ACSM is the world’s largest professional organization for sports medicine and exercise science, and the recommendations depart significantly from traditional advice to reflect new findings that advocates of minimalist running have been talking about for years. Specifically the brochure recommends running shoes with little heel-to-toe drop, no motion control or stability devices, minimal cushioning, a roomy toe box, and lightweight.

“Foot shape or arch height are not good indicators of what kind of running shoe to buy.”

— ACSM

General advice on exercise is also included. You may view and download the brochure as a PDF, here.

Consider Variety in Running Surfaces

100_1058Journalist and Born to Run author Christopher McDougall has said that barefoot runners care more about how smooth a running surface is than how hard it is. That’s because when skilled minimalist running technique is paired with the maximal sensory feedback provided by the unshod foot, a runner on a hard but smooth concrete sidewalk compensates through slightly greater knee flex to dissipates the landing shock effectively. And compared to a more rugged surface, the runner is less likely to encounter injury of the sudden traumatic kind that could result in bruises, lacerations, or even fractures. But could there be long-term benefits to running on irregular surfaces with adequate but not too much protection on the bottom of the foot?

“Any surface that’s completely even will lend itself to very stereotypical loading, and we know that repetitive stress injuries occur from doing things over and over again with unvarying motion.”

—  Daniel Lieberman

Repetitive stress injuries from running can occur when the body performs the same action with little or no variation, over an extended period of time. Given this, it may be advantageous to not always run on smooth, uniform surfaces. Running barefoot or in a thin-soled minimalist shoe or sandal over rough but tolerable ground forces the runner to continuously shift direction, adjust speed, and vary the way the feet land. This diversifies the stresses all the way up the legs, potentially reducing the chance for overuse injuries, strengthening the feet and ankles in a variety of positions, and challenging balance and coordination. Additionally, incorporating hills, trails, dirt farm paths, grassy surfaces, and lots of twists and turns into your running routes can reduce boredom and yield psychological benefits through focused attention or mindfulness.

Four Features of an Ideal Minimalist Running Shoe

A good minimalist running shoe seeks to offer the necessary level of protection while inhibiting as little as possible, the natural function of the foot. Two Rivers Treads minimalist running store owner, family physician, and Natural Running Center director Dr. Mark Cucuzzella describes, in this Running Times article, the four elements he looks for in a minimalist shoe: zero or near-zero drop, flexibility, a sufficiently roomy toe box, and less cushioning and thickness in the sole.

Four Features of an Ideal Minimalist Running Shoe

By Mark Cucuzzella

When I look at what I would consider an ideal shoe I base it on what’s ideal to complement natural foot function. The null hypothesis is that the foot is designed to work on its own without the need for modern bracing, cushioning and motion control technology. I may deviate slightly from this to compensate for a specific structure or strength issue. The goal is progressive rehabilitation toward the ideal: to get the walker or runner in the least amount of shoe that’s safe for them while they work on the functional corrections. This is my definition of minimalism.     Read More »

Christopher McDougall: ‘Every step I run, I’m focusing on form’

Christopher McDougall talks about running, four years after Born to Run.

Christopher McDougall: ‘Every step I run, I’m focusing on form’

Interviewed by Adharanand Finn of The Guardian.

Hi Chris. Hi. Good morning. Man, it’s too bad you couldn’t be over here this past weekend to join us for a really spectacular trail run with some Amish friends.

Sounds great. Do you run with the Amish a lot? Increasingly, yeah. There’s a group out here that has just started becoming really passionate about running. Passionate in a way I think most of us forget about. They’re not only running marathons, but they’re trying to improve their one mile time. I just saw these dudes recently, and this guy’s in his 30s, and he says, “Yeah, I just did a 4.50 mile.”

Do they wear old fashioned running kit? If they’re out in the world, they’ll wear shorts and T-shirt, but if they’re at home for local runs they’ll wear their long pants and long shirts.

And what about footwear? You know, pretty conventional, normal running shoes. It’s funny because the Amish tend to go barefoot all the time, so that whole question about running shoes is probably among the most intense conversations I’ve had with them about running. Read More »

A Popular Myth About Running Injuries

A Danish study using a very large group of novice runners shows no correlation between moderate levels of pronation and an increased risk of injury, and suggests that the common practice of choosing running shoes based on foot type, is flawed. 

A Popular Myth About Running Injuries

By Gretchen Reynolds

Almost everyone who runs (or has shopped for running shoes) has heard that how your foot pronates, or rolls inward, as you land affects your injury risk. Pronate too much or too little, conventional wisdom tells us, and you’ll wind up hurt. But a provocative new study shows that this deeply entrenched belief is probably wrong and that there is still a great deal we don’t understand about pronation and why the foot rolls as it does.    Read More »

Local Doctor Advocates Minimalist Running

Dr. Mark Cucuzzella opened his running store, Two Rivers Treads, back in 2010 as the wave of interest in minimalist running was building following the release of Born to Run a year earlier. The store embraces minimalism. All of the shoes it stocks are either minimalist or transitional, and there is a strong emphasis on teaching customers proper running form and transitioning.

Cucuzzella discusses the minimalist running movement and his experiences as a long-time runner that led him to change the way he ran. He also shares his opinion about a recent study comparing injury rates in runners wearing different kinds of running shoes.

He is the co-founder and co-director of the Natural Running Center, a comprehensive online resource for anyone interested in minimalist running. 

Local Doctor Advocates Minimalist Running

By Sean Manning and Rob Kreis

Two River Treads on West German Street, sells running shoes designed to offer the foot less support instead of more. The store, owned by Dr. Mark Cucuzzella, a professor at the West Virginia University School of Medicine, caters to runners embracing a practice called minimalist running.    Read More »

 

Running Shoes Have Large Carbon Footprint

Researches at Massachusetts Institute of Technology have found that the typical running shoe has a carbon footprint that is larger than what would be expected. Most of it arises from the manufacturing process, particularly the great many steps involved in assembling as many as 65 individual components. But what this brief online Runner’s World article didn’t explore is how minimalist running can produce a smaller carbon footprint.    

Runner’s who heel-strike frequently wear out their shoes after 500 miles since by then the impact absorbing midsole loses much of its resiliency even though the rest of the shoe may remain in good condition. Adopting a lighter, bent-knee midfoot landing can greatly extend the useful life of a pair of running shoes since the improved form uses the body’s own spring-like mechanics to manage impact forces. No matter how much carbon is released in the manufacturing process, shoes that are replaced half as often result in a reduction in both carbon emissions and the number of spent shoes going into landfills. If barefoot running is added to a runner’s program, the shoes will last even longer, chronologically.

I would welcome a study that examined the carbon footprints of conventional running shoes compared with minimalist shoes. Generally minimalist shoes appear to have fewer parts. For example each of my Xero Shoes sandals has only two parts—the rubber sole and the lace. (Well actually, three parts, since I have the older style kernmantle laces consisting of a woven outer sheath and a separate inner core). And I expect the sandals to last for at least 2000 miles.

Minimalist running has multiple advantages, and minimal impact on the environment is one of them.

Running Shoes Have Large Carbon Footprint

By Scott Douglas

Research out of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology is a reminder that running isn’t necessarily as ecofriendly a sport as we might think it is.

Published in the Journal of Cleaner Production, the research says that the typical pair of running shoes generates 30 pounds of carbon dioxide emissions, a carbon footprint equivalent to keeping a 100-watt lightbulb on for one week.    Read More »

How I Lace My Xero Shoes Sandals

When I purchased my Xero Shoes, the standard tying method didn’t work well for me. After some experimenting I came up with a simple tying pattern that featured two laces diverging from the hole between the first and second toes. This seems to hold the rubber sole closer to the bottom of my foot, and I find tying together two lace ends easier and more familiar than tying off a single lace.