BODYBUILDING SUCCESS STORY!!

Once again, I’m returning to my blog with the hope of posting a regular communication: a one-way dialogue with you about events, questions, testimonials and news of the day. Blogging takes discipline and regimentation, and while I’ve got plenty of both, these personal characteristics have most recently been put to use building my new female-centric performance nutrition brand, Vynna, LLC, a subsidiary of Vitargo Global Sciences, LLC.

But I have still been consulting with a few clients. This success story is so cool, especially in this day of notorious low carbohydrate dieting, that as I sit on a long coast to coast flight, I am motivated to start blogging again, and share the success story of my client, Blaine.

This story and photos are shared with Blaine’s permission.

Blaine is a personal trainer in British Columbia. He contacted me with the following story:

February 20, 2014

  1. What is the primary issue/question that you'd like to address in this consult?

How to retain maximum lean tissue while reducing body fat to 9% (or lower). I currently weigh 165 pounds and am training 6 days a week (since Oct. 14th). I competed last April in 2 shows and although I was very happy with my lean look, I competed at 145 pounds. When I looked at photos post-contest, I felt I had lost a lot of muscle mass. My former nutrition plan maxed out at 2600 calories, 39% carbs, 48% protein, 13% fats – this is so different from your plan (3900 calories, 54%/20%/26% macros respectively). All my fats in my previous nutrition plan came from the food itself – I was not including any essential fats (oils, nuts/seeds, etc).

After analyzing Blaine’s diet, he was actually consuming a little over 1900 calories, with 212 g carbohydrate, 189 grams protein and 35 grams fat.

I EAT MORE THAN THAT!

We definitely needed to increase all parts of Blaine’s diet to get him building muscle, and then as contest started to close, burn off fat. You must fuel your training to train hard enough to raise the intensity into the maximal zone. This challenges the lean tissue, encourages tissue recovery, repair and growth, and increases calorie burning during the 24-36 hours POST-EXERCISE. That’s where the sculpt happens!

The first bump was to 2670 calories (264 g carbohydrate, 165 g protein, 106 g fat) with a goal of rising to 3300 calories, and maybe more. Calorie increases came from adding 70 grams of VitargoS2 before training, and 70 grams of VitargoS2 plus 25 grams of whey protein after exercise. (Now we can depend on the best post exercise recovery combo: Vitargo POST)

After adding all those calories, and all those carbs, here are Blaine’s measurements just before contest, in his own words:

June 11

Final body fat check prior to my June 14th show; here are the results:

1. Body Fat:    9.4%

> down 0.4% since my last check (May 29th).

> all 7 test sites down.

2. Body Weight:    150 pounds

> this was my originally planned floor weight - I do not want to go lower than this.  

> I have been at this weight for 3 consecutive days.

3. General:

> workouts this week have been full body, working at about 75% max effort.

> will train up to and including tomorrow.

Overall, I continue to feel excellent.  No signs of lethargy or weakness.  I've been working hard on the 8 mandatory poses and find that I am able to flex and hold tight legs when necessary - always a difficult area to focus on, especially when being asked to perform front double biceps or front lat spread. 

Relative to last year's shows, my BF is lower now by 0.3% and my weight is 2 pounds heavier.  After Saturday's show, I plan on strictly adhering to my nutritiion plan because of the show I have on June 21st in Winnipeg…

June 15: First Results

Pretty great day yesterday. I won BOTH the Grandmasters and Lightweight categories!!!

I felt fantastic and am on top of the world!!!  Wonderful Fathers Day weekend.

Achieving first place in two categories could not have been done without your help, the advice you gave, your patience and guidance after the many emails I would inundate you with and, of course, your "Power Eating" plan. You have been an amazing mentor Susan and have been very much a part of these two victories as well as the knowledge I have gained in working with my clients.

I have my next competition next weekend in Winnipeg. I cannot wait for it!!!

June 17

Had my last body fat check today in prep for the INBF show this Saturday; here are the results:

1. Body Fat:    9.1%

> down 0.3% since my last check (June 11th).

> all 7 test sites down, the largest of which is the front thigh.

2. Body Weight:    151 pounds

> up 1 pound since last check!!!

3. General:

Not much to report here; workouts have been 75% max & full body.  Will only train 3 times this week (Mon/Tues/Wed); drive to Winnipeg Thursday morning.  Friday consists of polygraph test (for drug use), spray tan and athlete meeting.  Prejudging is Saturday @ 10 am, finals at 5 pm.

Last year I had two shows back-to-back weekends and what was odd is that for the second show, my weight had DROPPED to 145 pounds.  Therefore, relative to last year, I will be 6 pounds heavier for my second show & 0.6% lower body fat!!!

I feel fantastic, hungry (in a competitive sense) and VERY excited to compete again.  The INBF is the world's largest natural bodybuilding organization and I feel good going into it because of the success I had in our SABBA show…

Blaine’s results at the INBF show were equally as impressive:

First place Masters (40+) and 2nd place Lightweight (165 lb max). 

And now for the visual proof: BEFORE AND AFTER PHOTOS!

These are completely untouched.

BEFORE…

Blaine Before photo-16 copy 3

photo-16 copy 2

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

AFTER…

84C_094384C_094584C_0947


Foods to Fight Bloat

Fitness, Physique and Bikini Contest time is fast approaching. For my youth athletes, so are spring dances and proms. My clients want to know how to build their best bodies, stay healthy, and still prevent the bloat that can come from a plant-based diet. I am so excited to be publishing my FOURTH EDITION of POWER EATINGâ (In press August 2013, Human Kinetics), where I list the foods and botanicals that I use with my elite clients to naturally balance their fluids and prevent bloat. I am giving you a sneak peak from Chapter 9: Botanicals for Performance.

Foods and botanicals that prevent bloat and balance fluid in your body are those high in electrolytes. This list is compiled from decades of working with clients to find the safest, drug-free methods for getting lean and ripped, and showing off your six-pack.*

Fruits and Vegetables

Asparagus

Celery

Cranberry juice

Cucumber

Dandelion

Eggplant

Fennel

Herbs and Teas

Alfalfa tea

Black tea

Cardamom

Chamomile tea

Coriander

Dandelion or green tea

Parsley

*From: Kleiner SM, Greenwood-Robinson M. Power Eating. Fourth Edition. Human Kinetics, In Press (August 2013)

 

Stay healthy and strong,

Dr. Susan M. Kleiner

 

 


Sports Nutrition Vs. The Diet World

I am asked so many times by athletes and very active people about which one of the latest diet books is right for them. While the concepts in some of these books might be just fine, they typically are not based on the physiological needs of an active person, and even less so, a very active person.

An active client of mine just asked me about an anti-inflammatory diet that has become very popular locally here in the Puget Sound region. It has some good principles based on including whole foods rich in antioxidants and limiting processed foods. For the average person, it has a profound impact: they feel better and they lose weight. But for someone who is very active, its not enough. Your goal is performance enhancement, not slowing inflammatory disease and losing weight.

Popular diet books have nothing to do with enhancing performance and building your body up. In fact they usually tear your body down. When there finally is a book based on helping you feel better, it becomes wildly popular, but it still isn't for you.

Stick to the experts in sports nutrition. Books published by Human Kinetics are authored by academic and professional experts from exercise physiology, coaching and training, to sports nutrition and sports psychology. They are written in an easy to read and understand fashion but rely on science and years of practical experience.

Professional organizations like The International Society of Sports Nutrition and Sports and Cardiovascular Nutritionists can help you find experts for advice in your area of the country.

As an athlete you must fuel your body and mind to achieve performance.

Stay healthy and strong!

Dr. Susan M. Kleiner


Sugar and Your Skin

I love when people tell me I have great skin and I look younger than my years.  While I certainly have my parents to thank for my genes, I will screw my genetic gifts up in a heartbeat if I eat a diet that promotes inflammation, both inside and out.

When you are very physically active you know that inflammation will slow your training. Soreness after exercise is actually a sign that your muscles are strengthening. But if inflammation moves forward unchecked recovery is stymied and training effects may regress.

Acne and skin blemishes are most often a result of inflammation. If you are a young athlete prone to skin issues from hormone changes affecting your skin then you are particularly susceptible to the impact of diet.  What you eat not only can help your body recover from exercise, but it can also help care for your skin.

Sometimes it's not what you eat, but what you don't eat that may have the most powerful  effect.  Bacteria love sugar. You know this because your dentist tells you that when you eat sugar it feeds the bacteria in your mouth to promote cavities and gum disease. The same is true in your intestines. A diet high in sugars can result in bacterial overgrowth and inflammation in your gut. As your body responds to the inflammation the chemistry of your body changes, and this can lead to changes on your skin. Also, high levels of circulating blood sugar reach the bacteria that naturally live in the pores of your skin, over feeding them and leading to more inflammation on your skin.

You need carbs to fuel your exercise but you don't need sugar. Plant foods like vegetables, fruits, legumes, starchy vegetables and whole grains give you the natural carbs that are also rich in antioxidants and anti-inflammatory compounds that support your training and heal your skin.

Beverages that depend on loads of sugar are wicked for your health, inside and out. Inflammation will slow your training and boost your blemishes. Energy drinks, sodas, sugar-sweetened teas and even large servings of juice drinks are very high in sugar.

Water is always an excellent choice. If you are looking for a flavored beverage or functional drink, choose from the list below for very low or no sugar added options.

SOLIXIR   Solixir Restore: Chicago-based Solixir is an all natural, functional drink brand that created Restore. Solixir’s Restore is aimed to help restore the body’s immune system. Restore's effective amounts of all natural ingredients  without added sugars not only revive, but work to restore your immune system, making it preventative as well. These botanicals include Ginger Root, European Elderflower and European Elderberry.

REV3  Rev3 Energy is an advanced formula of antioxidants, important nutrients, and natural caffeine derived from a blend of teas —all packed into a lightly sweet, tasty beverage. Rev3 Energy comes in two unique formulas with two delivery systems: Rev3 Energy and Rev3 Energy Surge Pack.

FRS LOW CAL HEALTHY DEFENSE   FRS Zingy citrus and tangy pomegranate create this mouth watering and thirst quenching Low Cal Citrus Pomegranate Healthy Energy drink that’s packed with essential vitamins and powerful antioxidants.

VITARGO  Vitargo S2, is an evidence-based, patented, engineered starch, a sugar-free carbohydrate for fueling (before and during) and recovery (after) for any intense training or competition.


Female Athletes: Finding your weight in the world.

As an active woman with very active daughters and female clients, I have always been keenly aware of the nutritional tug of war between supporting peak physical performance and our desire to achieve the physique promoted by society and the media. Unless you surround yourself exclusively with images of other very physically active people, a girl with powerful thighs feels great about her strength but less enthusiastic about her physical shape. As a sports nutritionist I coach women and girls to love their high performance bodies in all their shapes and sizes. Even so, we can keep bodies lean without compromising performance by adhering to the food paradigm of the sports world, and leaving the diet world behind.

My Power Eating® paradigm is based on building your body up for peak mental and physical performance, to support your mood and mental energy, and just keep you feeling energized all day long. It prepares your body to train hard and recover quickly so you can get on with your day and then train hard again tomorrow. In young athletes this is especially important because you are still growing. Without an anabolic, tissue building nutritional strategy, you will never optimize your body or your training, and you will most likely burn out somewhere along your journey.

The Power Eating® Paradigm:

Eat more

Gain energy

Train harder

Build muscle

Burn fat.

In that order...and then you're done! Once you've built the muscle that drives fat burning and intense exercise, you just need to keep doing what you're doing and your body will reshape itself and perform at it's best. Your muscles are beautiful and your body is built for optimal performance in your sport. That gets you to goal!

As an athlete you cannot listen to the advise and fads that come out of the diet world. The diet world is all about tearing your body down. They say to eat less to lose weight. But you lose too much muscle, and then your energy drops and your metabolism slows down. You can't train as hard or as long, and your performance withers. And if after all that weight loss you begin to eat more, you gain fat, not strength, speed and energy. Youth athletes risk illness, injury, over-training, and possibly inhibiting growth. Once you step on this downward spiral it is very hard to get off. It can even end your career.

So whether you do field sports, play tennis, run cross country, row, swim, dive, do gymnastics, play soccer, softball or any other sport, focus on how to feed your body to build it up. No fasting, skimping on meals, or cutting out food groups to try and lose weight and tear your body down. You are an athlete! Your goal is to achieve peak performance.

Weight loss is not a goal. Weight loss is an outcome of following the Power Eating® Paradigm and training your body. If you need to lose weight, you will. It is the natural and successful path to finding your weight in the world.

Stay health and strong!

Dr. Susan M. Kleiner


Foundational Supplements and Youth Sports

One of the most confounding areas for most parents is whether or not to give supplements to their youth athletes. Right behind that question is which product should you choose. I want to begin the discussion with what I call "foundational supplements", or vitamin, mineral and antioxidant supplementation.

There is more than enough evidence today to support offering a daily multivitamin-mineral-antioxidant supplement to children and adolescents. Diets may be marginal to low in a number of these essential nutrients. Add in very active days with limited time for meals and snacks, minimal time for rest and recovery, and high demands both mentally and physically, and nutritional supplementation becomes essential.

Once you've decided to use a supplement, how do you choose which brand is best? Until fairly recently many people, even health professionals, felt that most products were fairly similar in contents. But that concept is quickly falling to the wayside, even when it comes to simple products containing only one ingredient.

This past week a study was published by Kaiser Permanente in the Journal of the American Medical Association:Internal Medicine investigating the contents of vitamin D supplements. Researchers performed an independent analysis of several over-the-counter vitamin D supplements, and the results were stunning: the contents of the vitamin varied from as little as 9 percent of what was stated on the label to as much as 146 percent of the amount of vitamin D listed on the bottle. 55 different products manufactured by 12 companies were tested. Differences were found not only from one product to another, but even between pills in the same bottle.

So if you can't trust that you are getting what you pay for when it comes to a simple single nutrient supplement, how can you depend on brands for more complex products? Look for products with third-party laboratory certification. This means that the manufacturer has hired an independent lab to test the contents of their supplement and confirm that what is stated on the label is actually in the product. But there's more:

IS THE SUPPLEMENT SAFE TO TAKE?

You want to know that your product is pure, free of contamination, along with containing the most potent forms of the nutrients. You should get exactly what is stated on the label, and there shouldn't be anything in the product that is not listed on the label. In addition to standard USP certification, in the sports world we like to see certification from NSF for Sport, Banned Substances Control Group (BSCG), or Informed Choice.

DOES THE SUPPLEMENT GET ABSORBED?

Supplements can pass through the digestive tract partially or completely unabsorbed. Make sure that the supplement meets USP standards for potency, uniformity, disintegration and dissolution so that you are getting all that you expect from your supplement.

IS THE FORMULATION SCIENCE-BASED AND THE COMPANY CREDIBLE?

Expect to see studies proving the quality and research of the product. Look for studies that are done by a credible and independent third party source, or in collaboration with a third party source. Studies should be published in peer-reviewed journals. The company should manufacture the products themselves, rather than outsourcing the production. They should voluntarily meet the highest manufacturing standards known as the "Pharmaceutical Good Manufacturing Practices (Pharma GMP).

EDUCATION FOR YOU

I have created 2 brochures to help you design a healthy, anti-inflammatory diet and give you guidance when choosing a supplement. One is focused on exercise performance and recovery, and the other on nutrition and dental health.

Click here to view a mock up of the dental brochure.

Click here to view a mock up of the performance enhancement and recovery brochure.

To order the brochures:

Click here to order the dental brochure.

Click here to order the performance enhancement and recovery brochure.

Stay health and strong!

Dr. Susan M. Kleiner


Leading off with Youth Athletes

So it's been a year and a half since my last blog post. A lot of life can happen in that amount of time, and it did. I'm starting fresh, with a topic that has clearly become important to lots of you.

First, thank you to all my readers and followers who kept reminding me that I wasn't blogging. Secondly, the most highly requested topic is nutrition for youth athletes, their teams and their families. So that's where we are going to start.

Parents are very concerned about feeding their young athletes to fuel their performance in the classroom and on the field. The children are first and foremost students. But they have big demands on them, especially once they reach high school, to be high achievers. They are up early, go to school, go right to sports practice, arrive home late, and still have all their homework to complete. In my house my daughters still had to practice their instruments and usually some other responsibility to another extracurricular activity. Somewhere stuck in the late evening is dinner and a shower, and usually late to bed. Weekends are filled with games or meets, practices, rehearsals, more homework, and maybe a little free time.

So how do you feed a young growing athlete living this very active life? It takes planning, and an understanding that sometimes practical means a little compromise. And that when we are fueling athletic performance, the goal is to build bodies up with the right foods at the right times.

Your athlete has to buy into this. As a parent you can only be a guide, but especially by the teenage years you cannot control everything your child eats. Your job is to make healthy choices available for them, and limit unhealthy choices in your home. That's where you do have control, and hopefully where they actually do most of their eating. When they are outside the home you can provide snacks for them to pack. But if they won't eat them, that's their choice. All you can do is guide. Educate them with good resources to learn about nutrition and athletic performance, let them talk to the coach, and then they will choose to do what they will.

The easiest place to start is how to eat around exercise. Before, during and after exercise is all considered part of "recovery nutrition". The goal of recovery nutrition is to fuel, repair, recover and grow. What you eat before training will impact not only your immediate training, but how well you recover so that you can train hard again the next day. This is even more critical during two-a-day practice seasons. What you consume during exercise will impact your immediate performance. And what you have before and after exercise will determine what you get out of your training, that is, whether you get bigger, faster, stronger, and how well you train day in and day out. In other words, it can maximize the time that you spend training.

While whole foods are very important throughout the rest of the day, around exercise you should limit fiber intake because it will slow down digestion. The goal, of course, if for your stomach to empty as quickly as possible so you can train comfortably, and get the nutrients to your muscle cells where they work for you.

Here are some practical suggestions for youth athletes about 30-90 minutes before training or a game. Your goal is to combine 200-300 calories worth of protein plus carbohydrate with little fat or fiber (that slows digestion down). Of course, don't forget fluids! Nothing will stop you in your tracks faster than dehydration.

Pre-exercise/Pre-game Snack:

Yogurt+Fruit+Honey (or pre-sweetened yogurt)
Cereal+Fruit +Milk
Turkey Sandwich
Crackers/pretzels + Apple + Low fat mozzarella cheese
PB&J + milk
USANA Nutrimeal (Meal replacement that is a great snack - 4-5 scoops)
USANA Protein-energy bar

During an athletic event that is 1 hour or less, water is usually best. No extra carbohydrates or electrolytes are necessary. But if the athlete drinks more when the beverage is flavored, then use a good sports drink. Very intense exercise, and/or exercise in the heat, even if only an hour, may benefit from a sports drink.
During half time the goal is still mostly hydration, but a little refueling is also important. Athletes must determine how much is enough, and how much is too much to eat at half time. The first time they eat too much they'll know it in the second half, and probably won't do that again. Remember: keep it light.

During Half-time:

Fluids
Bananas (cut in half for younger kids so they can peel and eat more quickly)
Orange slices/Peeled Cuties, Clementines or Satsumas
Grapes
Small slices or chunks of melon

After training the goal is to refuel, repair, recover and grow. Because appetite is often diminished, liquids are taken more easily than solids. These are two very good options.

Post exercise & recovery

BEFORE YOU DO ANYTHING ELSE, DRINK YOUR RECOVERY SHAKE!!
No shake?
Drink organic chocolate milk.
Then shower and eat a meal.

I'll keep on this topic for a while. There's so much to talk about!

Keep going healthy and strong!
Dr. Susan Kleiner


A cool new website

I've asked Ken Weary, founder of fitnosh.com, to write about his new website. I have been working (and snacking) with Ken to make sure that all the products on the site are nutritionally sound and represented honestly.

Here's the story in his words...

Introducing FitNosh, a new website (www.fitnosh.com) focused on selling healthy snacks.  Our founding principles are that all of our snacks must:

  • Taste good. They must be more than palatable.  We won't sell anything we would not or do not eat.  We even use our kids as guinea pigs (we feel this is not child labor because we are feeding them).
  • Be nutritionally vetted. It can be difficult to cut through the marketing hype of food packaging so in order to meet this self imposed requirement we worked with Dr. Susan Kleiner.  She reviewed each product to ensure we did not get taken in by trumped up health claims.  As she told us “the snacks on FitNosh represent healthy alternatives to many of the pre-packaged snacks we commonly see”.
  • Be individual servings to promote portion control.  We do not want to sell large bags of chips containing 4 servings…we all know how that story ends.  Overeating detracts from the health benefits we’re seeking to spread on our site.  Only a few snacks on FitNosh contain 2 servings per package and they are all marked and labeled when they do.  Additionally we have over 30 snacks that contain 100 calories or less.

The name of the business speaks to its inspiration.  My wife and I are both fitness orientated and often in need of grabbing a quick bite to eat as we wrestle with the balance of work and play (as well as raising two young kids).  Fit (short for fitness) + Nosh (meaning food) = FitNosh.

All of the snacks on the site are categorized by snack type (Chips, Bars, Fruit, Gels, etc.) as well as by nutrition type (protein, fiber, sodium, etc.), dietary (Nut-Free, Soy-Free, Gluten-Free, etc.) and specialty (organic, vegan, kosher, etc.).  If healthy eating appeals to you please check us out at:

www.fitnosh.com or on Facebook at www.facebook.com/fitnosh

Ken Weary


The Good Mood Diet Goes To College

When I first published The Good Mood Diet, I had a great time traveling around the country speaking to all kinds of audiences on my book tour. One of my favorite stops were college campuses. Now I frequently receive questions about how to apply the principles from the book while eating in college and university cafeterias. Here are a few tips.

1. Eat from the "Feel Great Foods" list.

The concept of "feeding your brain" really resonates with students. And since you are students, you are probably great with lists. Start with the "Feel Great Foods" list. One group of girls on a campus copied the list out of the book, enlarged it, and put it up on the wall in their cafeteria. It not only reminded the students about foods that make them feel good, but it ultimately influenced the daily menus served in the cafeteria.

2. Eat breakfast!

I know it's early, but get up and eat breakfast. It's usually the best, most edible meal at a cafeteria, and makes a huge difference in how you feel and perform for the rest of the day. Research is clear on many counts: people who eat breakfast control their body weight better; people who eat breakfast think more clearly and perform mental tasks at higher levels; and people who eat breakfast lead healthier lives, compared to those who skip breakfast.

3. Eat regularly, about every 3 hours.

You will probably have to have some snacks in your room to do this, but it will help you feel energized and focused, and help to limit random snacking of foods that don't help you feel great. Foods to have on hand, and to throw in a backpack or book bag include:

yogurt, mozzarella cheese sticks and other small wrapped hard cheese, hard boiled eggs, turkey jerky, fresh and dried fruit, nuts, small packs of vegetables, whole grain crackers.

4. Always combine proteins, carbohydrates and feel great fats every time you eat, except around exercise.

The 3 macronutrients work in concert with each other to fuel your brain and your body, and support mental and physical health and performance. Fats slow digestion, so avoid them immediately around exercise.

5. If you're feeling out of control with your diet, keep a food journal.

You really just need to create some new habits, and the best way to turn old habits into new ones is to write down what you are doing. It's just like any kind of learning: do it, say it, write it down.  You are creating new pathways in your brain, and eliminating the old ones. The more repetitions that you have of the new habits, the more defined the brain pathways become. It takes time, and it takes effort, but it works. Just like college.

6. Get some real exercise.

College is stressful and sedentary, a negative combination. Exercise helps us not only relieve stress, but changes the biochemistry in the brain to enhance our ability to cope with stress. Taking the time to exercise will increase your work efficiency, helping you to work smarter, not harder. Walking around campus is great daily activity, but it doesn't get your heart pumping, your blood flowing, and your muscles contracting the way that concerted exercise does. Find an activity that you like, and do it. It will make you feel noticeably better.

7. Request a feel great foods care package.

I have a daughter in college right now, and I know that it's hard to take control of your food. It's especially tricky when you live in the dorm. Instead of sending cookies and candy in care packages, I send her dried fruit and nuts. I even send my homemade salad dressing.  She supplements with some veggies and cheese in a small fridge. That way when she's studying late into the night she has feel great foods to eat, rather than the ubiquitous fried snack foods that make her feel sluggish and sleepy.

You don't have to make all these changes at once. Choose one or two that seem doable, and try them for a week. Once you get those down, add another, and then another. You'll be feeling great in no time!

Yours in a good mood,

Dr. Susan Kleiner


Barefoot running…to wear shoes or not?

Here is a guest post from my friend and colleague, Jill Bruyere, running coach extraordinaire! You can read more about Jill below.

Enjoy...

Barefoot running has become a popular topic among runners in the last two years.  No doubt the attention of barefoot running has been inspired by the popularity of the book Born to Run by Christopher McDougal.  For decades, there has been a grass-roots movement for extremely minimalist, i.e., barefoot, running. But only in the past few years have companies begun to get in on the act, too. They now offer stripped-down models that do not have the padding and structural elements that characterize conventional running shoes.

The question is does barefoot running really offer an advantage over shoes?  Bare footers will argue that modern running shoes promote a heel-first stride that makes a runner more vulnerable to injuries.  Other research suggests that heavily cushioned shoes actually prevent your foot from sensing the ground and can make you stomp down harder than if you didn’t have all that padding.

So, why would you encourage your clients to run barefoot?  The biggest reason why barefoot running has become popular is because it claims to reduce running injuries and improve foot biomechanics.  What’s the evidence behind this notion? And should a person try it? There isn’t strong evidence that barefoot running is any better or worse than running with more structured shoes, in part because there aren’t enough regular barefoot runners with whom to compare users of running shoes. But there’s a lack of a solid evidence base for running footwear in general.

However, many who have switched over to barefoot running claim it has reduced or negated their running injuries.

Lets back up and talk about why running injuries happen in the first place.  It has a lot to do with how the foot strikes the pavement when running. An ideal foot strike is one where the mid foot strikes the ground first and then slowly rolls onto the heel. However, most runners strike heel first and that puts a ton of added pressure and impact on the legs which can lead to a host of running injuries.  But, until more research is available, it's hard to say if shoes are helpful or harmful. But here are the pros and cons that are often discussed when it comes to barefoot running.

Potential Benefits of Barefoot Running

Barefoot running helps to correct the foot strike on the ground forcing the runner to hit the pavement, mid foot first. This helps develop a more natural gait and strengthen the muscles, tendons, and ligaments of the foot.   Furthermore, the foot has a wonderful feedback mechanism: when you’ve worked it out enough for one day, it tells you quickly! Your arches will be sore, your foot will be raw from pavement, or you’ll get the dreaded top of the foot pain. When you run barefoot, your body precisely engages your vision, your brain, the soles of your feet, and all the muscles, bones, tendons, and supporting structures of your feet and legs. If you do anything wrong, the foot will tell you.  The foot is the great disciplinarian.  You can’t over-pronate, can’t over-train, and can’t over-stride when barefoot running.

So, when wearing shoes, a runner is more likely to use an undesirable foot strike motion due to the majority of the padding placed in the rear of the foot.  This causes a runner to more likely strike heel first, an undesirable and injury prone running motion.  Furthermore, the argument is wearing shoes can cause the small muscles in our feet to weaken and the tendons, ligaments and natural arches to stop doing their job. It is believed that the result of supportive shoe inserts, orthotics and extra cushioning is poor foot biomechanics and increased risk of foot, leg and knee injuries.

Potential Harms of Barefoot Running

Suddenly going barefoot or wearing a minimal shoe can be quite a shock to the foot and require a slow adaptation phase. But that isn't the only concern about a shoeless workout.

Shoes offer a significant amount of protection from road debris such as glass, nails, rocks and thorns. They also offer insulation in cold weather and protect us from frostbite in ice and snow.  Most of us are not used to going barefoot, so a minimalist shoes or bare foot will cause the muscles to initially feel overworked.  In some, this can lead to injuries such as Achilles tendinitis or calf strain.  Lastly, the bottom of the foot for most people is soft and tender.  Going without a stiff-soled shoe may initially cause plantar pain and blisters.

So, to go barefoot or not?  It is a very individual thing which some people can be very successful with, and others cannot. I have coached many who simply cannot make the transition for one reason or another, and I don’t think there is any reason to force them to.  It goes back to the old saying of “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it!” If you have no problems and no pain, do you really need to change anything?

If you or your client decide to give barefoot a try, my advice is to start very slow, expect significant calf strain after even your first day of half mile or mile. Suddenly going barefoot or wearing a minimal shoe can be quite a shock to the foot and require a slow adaptation phase. Start off slowly and stop if it doesn’t feel right, since you are probably used to wearing regular shoes.  A great way to learn and adapt your feet is to try it first barefoot on a hard but smooth surface like a tennis court, a track or a grassy field. Your body will quickly tell you what to do.  Listen to your body.  In the end, the ultimate experts on footwear are you and your body.

For those of you who want to make the barefoot leap and try it out yourself, check out the below list of barefoot gear. Remember, you don’t have to go entirely barefoot. There is a growing list of minimalist running options. The list below is ideal for those that want to strip off traditional running shoes but not go entirely shoeless:

Vibram Five Fingers are the most popular barefoot shoe and are really starting to take off amongst the minimalist culture.

Huarache running sandals are also very popular and inspired by tribesman from around the world.

The Nike Free is Nike’s response to the barefoot running phenomenon.

Jill Bruyere

Jill Bruyere has been coaching runners for over 11 years. She is an ACSM certified trainer and coach based in Seattle, Washington.  Jill trains clients in her area through her own running business, Run with Jill Bootcamp.  She trains clients for all distances of running from the 5k to marathon distance.  She created and sells two marathon training programs and has successfully helped many people from all over the world complete a successful marathon race.   Her training program and blog can be found online: http://www.runwithjill.com