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Fueling options for the gluten free endurance athlete

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Fueling options for the gluten free endurance athlete

As many of you know, I’ve gone back to my endurance athlete ways.

I played around with being a figure athlete for a while, when I wasn’t “allowed” to ride due to the complexity and fragility of the surgical repairs to my knees, but when I was cleared by my orthopedist to return to road cycling last fall, I jumped back in.

Since then, I’ve progressed significantly and am learning to get my head and preconceived notions out of the way of what my body is capable of.  

Training for endurance athletics versus training for aesthetics and strength require very different types of fueling, specifically during exercise.  I definitely run well on carbohydrate (yes, I know it’s not “necessary” to life, and some people do fine on low carb diets, even endurance athletes, but I am not one of them.  Trial and error and experience have taught me that I do just fine with carbs.)  In general, when training for strength and aesthetics, your actual exercise time is not very long, usually less than an hour.  There’s no real need for “during exercise” fueling.  On the other hand, I can easily be out for 2-4 hours training on the bike, on a generally 5 day per week basis.  That requires some fuel.

As an endurance athlete with celiac disease, I have to be very aware and careful with what fuel I choose.  I always carry enough food to sustain me, as I do not like to be dependent upon finding appropriate food while at a ride or race.  (The only exception is a banana-I feel very safe peeling one of those myself and eating it, and pretty much every convenience store/gas station has bananas these days.)

As always when it comes to specific brands and foods, if it is a packaged/labeled/manufactured item, always check labels and double check with the companies if you are not sure.  Although these items were safe and gluten free at the time this was written, formulations and ingredients change and it is always better to be careful.

There are quite a few options out there, so I’m just going to focus on the ones I’ve personally tried.  Let’s split it up into fluids, gels, and real food (aka food that requires chewing.)  Just for grins.  Let’s remember that sugars are OK when you’re exercising for a long period of time, and for the sake of this discussion that means > 90 minutes of a moderate intensity.

Fluids

  • Good old water.  If your training session is 90 minutes or less of moderate or easy intensity, you’re good with just water or perhaps a low calorie electrolyte providing beverage, such as…
  • ZYM. I like ZYM Catapult because it has a little caffeine (a performance enhancer) but not too much, and I like the Berry flavor.  It has a little fizz to it but it goes away quickly.  I’ve also tried the lemon lime flavor which was quite good as well.  The flavoring is subtle.  These are handy because you can toss the tube into your pocket and take it with you, which saves me having to use Gatorade on the road to refill out of desperation.  (The osmolality in Gatorade is not my friend, tummy discomfort galore.)  I’ve heard Nuun tabs are similar, but I’ve not tried those.
  • Generation UCAN.  This is technically a pre-training drink, but it is a fluid, so here you go.  I did extensive testing and reviews of Gen UCAN, and still use it.  I alternate UCAN with a mixture of honey and coconut oil as my pre-ride fuel.  (I ride very early in the morning.)  UCAN is a carbohydrate and electrolyte drink, designed for use pre-workout.  Read my reviews here: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3.
  • First Endurance Electrolyte Fuel System Drink Mix.  This is my drink of choice for providing carbohydrate and electrolytes in fluid form while training.  I’ve tried another brand (Hammer’s HEED) which I did not like the taste of and did not have as good of an electrolyte profile as the EFS does.  I like the Fruit Punch flavor.

 Gels (’cause when I’m riding hard, ain’t no way I’m chewing.)

  •  Honey Stinger Energy Gel.  This is my current favorite.  The packets are easy to open, and the consistency of the honey is slightly watered down so it is easy to swallow.  I like the chocolate and Ginsting (which is a regular honey flavor with a little caffeine) flavors.  I especially appreciate the limited ingredient list.  Honey is a really good carbohydrate source for athletes, by the way.  Check it out.  The research was funded by the Honey Board, but still.  It’s also good for lots of other stuff.  (As an aside, that is why on the days I do not use Gen UCAN as my pre training drink, I use a mix of coconut oil or coconut butter and honey.  The medium chain triglycerides in the coconut oil get used for fuel, and the honey is a great carb source.  I started using this on the suggestion of Kelli Jennings at Apex Nutrition.  As Kelli says “These are fast-acting, quick-metabolizing energy foods.  The honey provides moderately fast carbs that act similarly to maltodextrin (moderately fast and longer lasting than glucose), natural enzymes to improve digestion, and antioxidants.  The organic coconut oil provides fast-acting medium chain triglycerides which are used directly by the mitochondria of cells (energy producers) without the need for bile or slow digestion.”  I am working on a DIY energy gel using these and salt, but haven’t got it yet.) The packaging for these gels is easy to open, yet is sturdy enough for a full packet to make it through the washing machine without breaking open.  I speak with first hand knowledge.  Got to check those jersey pockets.
  • Chocolate #9.  Like Honey Stinger Gels, these have a lovely ingredient list.    These were VERY chocolatey, and had a considerably thicker texture than the Honey Stinger.  They were like brownie batter, which would be lovely under different circumstances, but trying to swallow it as quickly as possible lessened my enjoyment.  Plus, it made it harder to get out of the package with your teeth.  (Keep in mind, this is while I’m riding, so teeth and one hand.)  These have less carbohydrate than the Honey Stingers as well.  These were good, but for my purposes and taste I prefer the Honey Stinger gels.

Real Food aka you have to chew it.

(For me, these are used for a ride > 2.5 hours.)

  • Bananas.  Self explanatory.  Really, any fruit, but none have the comic potential that bananas do.  Cyclists are a funny group.  Bananas are one of the few chew-requiring foods that I can eat on the bike.
  • Jovial Fig Fruit Filled Gluten Free Organic Cookies .  Fig Newtons are kind of a staple in the endurance world.  I was feeling nostalgic, so went looking for a gluten free alternative and came across these.  They are handily packaged in 2’s, which is perfect for tossing in a jersey pocket.  Tasty, too.
  • Raisins or any dried fruit.
  • LÄRABAR .  I like the Cherry Pie, Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough, and Carrot Cake flavors.  You may be different.  A friend of mine bought the Peanut Butter Cookie and hated it, while I like it.  The combo of nuts and dried fruit gives a little bit of faster carb and the longer lasting fat fuel.
  • Coconutz Fuel Energy Balls.  Check out my review of the awesome balls here.
  • Honey Stinger Organic Energy Chews.  These are nice because they don’t require too much chewing, in a pinch you can even just swallow them.  My only gripe is that they leave your fingers sticky, so try to shoot them into your mouth from the package.
  • Sweet potatoes.  Kelli Jennings of Apex Nutrition gives some awesome recipes here.  I’ve not tried these yet but they sound great, although potentially messy.
  • Potato wedges with sea salt
  • Fig and Honey Rice Cakes from The Feed Zone Cookbook (great book, very gluten free friendly.)

More ideas

My friends Kim at Gluten Free is Life and Pete at No Gluten, No Problem are endurance runners.  Check out their blogs for some more ideas.  Also, Pete was co-author with my sister from another mother Melissa, the genius behind Gluten Free for Good of the eagerly anticipated book, The Gluten-Free Edge: A Nutrition and Training Guide for Peak Athletic Performance and an Active Gluten-Free Life. It will be released on July 3rd, so go pre-order it.  It’s going to be awesome.  And that’s not even because I was one of the gluten free athletes interviewed for the book, I promise.

Hopefully this gives all you endurance athletes some ideas!  Like I said, this is by no means an all inclusive list, these are just the items I’ve tried and used.  Please leave a comment if there is something else you use and like!

If you need some more info for generally eating a healthier gluten free menu, not just for sports nutrition, check out Gluten Free and Fit 101 for lots of articles to get you started.

Guest Post: Kim Bouldin from Gluten Free is Life

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Hi guys!  My name is Kim and I write a blog on gluten-free living called Gluten-free is Life.  Erin asked if I would do a guest post and I was thrilled and honored to write one.  I have been gluten-free for a little over 4 years now.

Kim and her daughter, Hannah

Training

I am currently training for my first full marathon.  I ran my first half marathon last October and learned a lot about nutrition and fueling and some of the unique obstacles that come along with following the gluten-free diet.  I believe that every obstacle is only as big as you make it out to be.

Where there is a will to get over an obstacle, there is a way to get over it.  There are just as many protein-filled foods out there to fuel a gluten-free athlete as there are to fuel any other athlete – it is all about creativity.

Training foods

Now that I am really ramping up my training, I have to pay close attention to the foods that I am putting into my body.  I have to make every calorie count.  For those that know me, I do have a sweet tooth.  I have to limit some of those treats now so that I have room for those nutrient dense foods that will carry me through my runs, especially the long ones.

Some of the protein-rich foods that I include in my diet are:

  • Egg whites
  • Lean chicken
  • Lean turkey
  • Salmon
  • Lean red meat (filet mignon)
  • Beans (garbanzo &black beans are my favorites)
  • Nut butters (almond butter has a special place in my heart)
  • Greek yogurt
  • Quinoa (Erin’s note-this is a combo of carbs and protein, but is unique in that for a carb source it is unusually high in protein)
  • Buckwheat
  • Millet
  • Cheese
  • Nuts
  • Tuna

All of the above foods are naturally gluten-free.

For carbohydrates, I include:

  • Oatmeal (Bob’s Red Mill or Lara’s by Cream Hill Estates)
  • Brown rice
  • Breads made from whole grain gluten-free flours
  • Brown rice cakes
  • Gluten-free cereals
  • Blueberries
  • Strawberries
  • Apples
  • Pears
  • Grapes
  • Dried Fruit (raisins, cranberries, cherries, figs, apricots)
  • Bananas
  • Corn Tortillas
  • Squash (acorn, butternut, kabocha, spaghetti)
  • Peas
  • Potatoes (baked sweet or regular)

I make up most of my diet from the foods listed above & fill in where necessary.  I have been playing around with different foods for my pre-run fuel.  Some of my favorites have been:

  • Zing Bars (love the protein in these)
  • Rice Cakes w/ Almond Butter
  • Banana w/ Almond Butter
  • Blueberry Muffins from Purely Elizabeth

I don’t like to run with a lot of food in my stomach, so this has been something I have really been experimenting with.  While I like bananas, they make my stomach feel the fullest of all the options I listed above, so I have only been using that if I have no other options.

Refueling

For refueling, I try to grab a re-hydration drink of some sort.  I have been experimenting with coconut water & it seems to work well & doesn’t make me feel queasy like Gatorade does.  I will be reviewing some coconut water later this month on my blog.

Once I get the drink in, I reach for protein and some carbs, but mainly protein.  I usually go with a 1 egg/3 egg white frittata made with spinach & tomatoes.  I add in some Frank’s Red Hot to spice it up.

(Erin’s note-LOVE Franks’! Favorite hot sauce by a long run!)

I will also have rice cakes with almond butter & fruit spread on the side.  I have been toying with some protein shakes, but haven’t found one that I love yet. The You Bar Shakes were good, but they are dairy based.   I don’t do well with a lot of dairy or soy, so that makes it tough.  I have yet to try the rice protein shakes.  They are next on my list.

Challenges

One of the biggest challenges I have had to overcome is eating after my long runs to get enough calories in.  I know this sounds silly to some, but I have no appetite after my long runs.  I have to break all the “rules” with listening to my body’s hunger cues, because they are just not there on days when I run 8+ miles.  I literally watch the clock to make sure I am getting some kind of food in every 3 hours or so.  I try to eat smaller meals on these days so I don’t feel “stuffed” and then in turn, sick.

These are the days that I really need to make every calorie count by getting the best nutritional bang for my buck.  I snack on dried fruit a lot on long run days – calorie dense &can be an excellent source of fiber, nutrients, antioxidants and complex carbohydrates.  I love adding dried fruit &walnuts or almonds to my salads.  I have found that eating “by-the-clock” on long run days works well for me.  It helps me keep my energy up through the day and not feel like I was run over by a bus the following day.

I am entering week 9 of marathon training now.  I have a half marathon race coming up on March 21, 2010 that I am using as a training run.  I am running this race to help raise money for the March of Dimes and a couple of NICUs in the Atlanta area.  Only 10 more weeks until my first marathon!  Wish me luck!

Erin’s note: GO KIM!

Kim was previously profiled here as a Gluten Free Athlete. She gives many great reviews and advice for families with children living gluten free at Gluten Free is Life.

Non Celiac Athletes Going Gluten Free: Is there a Performance Benefit? Part 2

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In Part 1, we reviewed some mainstream and popular athletes who had gone the gluten-free route. The experiences that they shared showed a perceived improvement in performance on a gluten free diet. These athletes were not diagnosed with celiac disease. So, what gives?

There are several potential reasons why the athletes may have in fact shown improved performance. These are essentially educated guesses, as we don’t really KNOW.

The sciency reasons:

1) The athletes were undiagnosed, but had celiac disease.

The statistics for celiac disease, and the numbers of undiagnosed, stagger me every time. Approximately 1% of the population (in the US, Canada and Europe) is estimated to have celiac disease. Here’s the kicker-95% of those are undiagnosed.
It’s very feasible that some of these athletes have been walking around with celiac disease and didn’t know it. Put them on a gluten free diet and all kinds of magic happens. We’ll talk about the magic in a bit.

2) The athletes were gluten sensitive.

This is a bit of a can of worms. “Gluten sensitivity” is a big umbrella term that covers a bunch of stuff. Celiac disease falls under this umbrella. However, as we are learning, celiac disease as it is currently diagnosed only refers to damage to the small intestine, which is also referred to as gluten sensitive enteropathy. Gluten can cause damage to many other areas of the body, not just the gastrointestinal system (your guts, for easy reference:) Gluten sensitive neuropathy
(nervous system-brain and peripheral nerves) is recognized as being the most common. However, gluten can affect many other systems of the body, and for more information on the various conditions I recommend you check out Shelly Stuart’s incredibly thorough 12 part series at her Celiac Nurse blog, for which a link will be at the end of this post.

A study performed in Iceland back in 1992 showed that 25% of the randomly selected 200 participants (48) showed high levels of gliadin antibodies. Antibodies are produced when the body mounts an attack against the offending invader-in this case, gliadin, the a portion of the gluten protein. 14 of these 48 people also had gluten sensitive enteropathy, or what is commonly referred to as celiac disease-gluten sensitivity of the gut. 25% is a lot of people to show a form of gluten intolerance. I’ve heard varying numbers and statistics thrown around for gluten sensitivity, even as high as 70%. This is difficult to pin down though. Interestingly, a study published in the journal Gut in 2007 (frustratingly, I could not
access the free full text, but the summary only-luckily there was an article that covered it on celiac.com) showed all NON-CELIAC participants in the study showed an antibody response when challenged with gliadin. All of ’em. Not some, all.
And that brings us to…

3) liminating gluten can have positive effects for all.

I’m going to preface this by saying that more research needs to be done, before the wheat growers association (I made that up, I don’t know that an organization by that name exists, but I’m sure there is one to that effect) comes and sues me. It is possible (how’s that for covering my butt) that wheat gliadin can cause intestinal permeability and immune system response in the intestines. Also, this permeability can cause additional damage to other areas of the body, including the nervous system. And given the research mentioned above, this may extend to everyone, not just those with diagnosed/undiagnosed celiac disease or gluten intolerance. It appears that there is a huge spectrum of tolerance to these wheat proteins-ranging from absolutely no apparent ill effects, on to celiac disease and related autoimmune disorders.

4) Improved absorption of nutrients all around!

If these athletes did have an undiagnosed gluten sensitive enteropathy, then it stands to reason that with eliminating gluten they were able to absorb more nutrition. More nutrition=feeling better=performing better. If it was a gluten sensitive neuropathy, they were able to think better. Thinking better=improved performance.

OK, enough science. You asleep yet?

Here’s the less technical reasons these athletes may have improved their performance.

1) Eliminating gluten meant eliminating a large number of processed foods.

Let’s be honest. Aside from hidden gluten, eating a gluten free diet does not have to be hard. Although I am grateful to the manufacturers for giving us gluten free options of processed food-there is just as much junk that’s gluten free as there is gluten full. Gluten free junk is still junk. Naturally gluten free foods are easy, can be inexpensive and highly nutritious. Stick to the perimeter of the grocery store, keep your diet primarily fruits, veggies, meats/fish, beans, nuts, eggs, potato and rice. Easy peasy. It also is inherently more nutrient dense than eating processed food-gluten free or not. More nutrients=more fuel to muscles and brain=higher performance.

2) Eating gluten free made them more aware of overall food quality.

Sometimes as athletes we just look at food as fuel. And that’s not necessarily a bad thing. But, we perform better with
higher quality fuel. Like a high performance car. Put in crap fuel, get crappy acceleration and knocks. With the added attention to eating gluten free, additional attention can be given to high quality food. This is exactly why I feel so strongly that celiac disease is a blessing in disguise. Built it reminder to eat well, should we choose to perceive it in that light. The athletes on the Garmin team (and now Radio Shack) are certainly receiving a very high nutrient density diet. These guys make their living performing, and their livelihood depends on them performing well.

So I have to say that yes, there can absolutely be a benefit to non celiac diagnosed athletes eating gluten free. Just like
in everything though, it depends on what you eat and how much-not just that it’s gluten free.

It will be interesting to see the press on the Radio Shack cycling team and the gluten free diet as the Tour de France gets closer. Lance’s return to the biggest race in cycling to sure to get a ton of coverage.

Please leave a comment below with your thoughts or experiences!


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