It seems with any subject matter you'll find a variety of opinions on how to best approach success. How to hack your life in a way that guarantees absolutely trashing all competitors. Whether it's how to run the fastest, farthest & without injury or how to eat the optimum human diet an expert is just waiting to tell you what to do. Once I became serious about training and nutrition I did what I always do and I dove headfirst into research, reading and educating myself.
With both running and nutrition I quickly found out that there is a lot of disagreement about what the right answers are. People with all sorts of credible sounding titles and educational backgrounds completely disagreed with each other. Low carb? High Carb? Vegan? Paleo? High Fat? Raw? Who knows!! It seems that no matter your predilection for food taste some study or expert is available to back up your decision. Like bacon? Boom it's good for you. How about butter in your coffee? Yup, sounds like a good idea.
It's no better with running. High mileage? Low mileage? Tempo runs or all slow? Mid-foot, front foot or heel strike? Big fluffy cushiony shoes or minimalist? Is running good for you or bad for you? Should you cross train? The studies on every side of the argument are there to support your choice.
What I've realized, conspiracy theory or not, is that most "studies" are complete bullshit. Some aren't studies at all, they are simply opinions written by some blogger (damn bloggers) while others are industry funded and start out trying to prove a conclusion that the sponsor wants to put forth. Even peer reviewed studies may to be too narrow in scope, be looking at a skewed set of data or simply have equally funded or chosen reviewers. It's super frustrating for those of us that are just trying to navigate the best life without a science degree. Even talking to the educationally inclined I often listen closely and hear their internal biases using their educational background to criticize studies they don't like while refusing the believe the studies they like are possibly tainted. We live in a culture where expert opinions are bought and sold by industry and picked up by media looking for a new story. Want chocolate to be good for you? That makes an excellent news cycle.
I recognize I'm probably coming off as a bit of a quack. After all doctors, dieticians, scientists are simply non-biased scholars right? It's not like the people backing my thoughts on running or nutrition don't have their own biases and agendas. And I agree with you, but I'm not really here trying to sell a point of view, rather I'm hoping to give you some freedom to find your own path.
What I finally realized after a couple of years of heavy nutrition and running research is that everyone is wrong. When applying science to an individual we make the mistake of assuming that the statistics, science and opinions universally match up to every single person on the planet as if we are all carbon copies of each other. There are some generalizations that are true....statistically that is. If you eat a high fat diet you are more likely to have a heart attack. If you smoke you are more likely to have cancer. If you sit on your ass all day you are more likely to be obese. Like sugar? Hello diabetes.......usually. Have someone argue against these facts all you want, we all know intuitively they are true. Yes there are 90 year olds that have smoked their whole life and soda addicts that are skinny and diabetes free. That's what is called an anomaly or outlier. If I'm betting big on the odds I'm eating low fat, not smoking, avoiding excess sugar and exercising regularly and yes I'm wearing sunscreen.
It's the fringe issues that really get me though. Eat lean meat or no meat at all? Are we really getting enough protein? Should we supplement with vitamin D? Is 80km a week too much mileage for the average person? Is the barefoot running craze really just causing injury and should I buy those big cushy Hoka shoes? This is where I've finally found the real answer and that is...... it depends.
At some point we all need to do our own research, hear all the opposing opinions and actually make our own choices. Nobody can definitively tell you what is going to work for YOU. The real trick is that once you've made that choice you need to be your own honest critic. I can't tell you how many people talk to me about eating a high protein low carb diet because they want to get ripped and shed body fat and they are still struggling with their weight while my high carb diet has me eating like a maniac just to try and keep weight on. I'm not saying a high protein diet is bad, even though it's not what I do, I'm just saying that if you believe something and have bought into it's premise then follow it but check in with yourself to see if its working. Don't eat the Atkins or Paleo diet for 2 years claiming your initial 20 pound weight loss was an indicator of success while you still struggle to lose weight or keep it off.
You need to periodically take an honest look at how you feel and if you're just cherry picking expert opinions to suit your desire to consume vast amounts of bacon. Does chocolate milk really help you recover from a run or just it just taste awesome? Seriously. And even if you do trip your own internal bullshit meter it doesn't mean you have to change. If you realize that eating red meat isn't good for you after all but that you simply enjoy it then keep going on if that's your choice. At some point you may be ready for that healthy change but at least in the meantime you'll be more able to just say I eat it because I like it, not because it's going to turn me into the Incredible Hulk.
What I've done is gone through the effort at reading opposing opinions, finding the experts I believe, the ones I just feel good about. I admit they may be occasionally wrong, but I'm using myself as a test tube and trying to be as honest as I can with myself about how it's working. I've settled on a plant based diet as the most healthy, most peaceful and likely advantageous way of eating for me. I feel personally that most people would struggle with being vegan as I fear they would be unwilling to eat a variety of whole foods, eat enough food and prepare their own food so for most people that ask I recommend eating meat as a garnish on occasion and trying their best to eat as plant based as possible with little processed food. That's my opinion. It may be wrong. But on honest reflection it seems correct.
For running I feel that running as close to barefoot as you can makes sense. I like to feel what's going on under my feet. I believe that we should train on all sorts of different surfaces (road, trail, track) at a variety of speeds. I think cross training is essential (swim, bike, gym) and that there is such a thing as ideal running form. I believe high mileage is the best way to make huge gains so long as most of it is run at a truly easy pace, but that it comes with an inordinate risk of injury. The key is to find the balance. I also believe that we are all built to run and that when we choose not too we are robbing ourself of a natural form of fitness. My opinions may be wrong, but with trial and lots of error I believe I've found what is working in for my own body and what will probably work for most people.
Life isn't really about absolute truths. This way of thinking, this fluidity of thought and a willingness to be critical of your own path is useful for many things in life. Is your need for Netflix marathons really the best way to spend your leisure time? When you say you don't have time to exercise because your busy with career or parenting are you being genuine or upon reflection are you really spending 8 hours a week on Facebook? If your career path isn't bringing you success or joy are you really stuck or have you just surrendered to what is expected of you? I'm not providing you the answer, I'm just suggesting that you could reflect on your own truth.
Your choices matter. Find your experts, establish your beliefs, follow a plan and be willing to change if it's not working. If there ever was a secret to success it has to boil down to that.