Gluten Free Fitness

Gluten Free Athletes

Non Celiac Athletes Going Gluten Free: Is there a Performance Benefit? Part 1

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My Dad handed me a Men’s Journal magazine, saying “they talk about gluten free in here.” I looked at the front cover and sure enough, there it was at the top of the cover. “No More Wheat-the Surprising New Diet for Athletes.” My very sophisticated first response was “huhmph” or something along those lines. I am rarely at a loss for words, but I was caught without anything pithy to say.

Several months ago, a friend of mine had mentioned that the Garmin professional cycling team was going gluten free. (Prior to my last knee surgery I was a fairly avid cyclist-now I just can’t take the chance of crashing onto one of these very expensive knees.) The driving force behind this decision is Dr. Allen Lim. He now is working with Team Radio Shack (Lance Armstrong’s current team.) We’ll get back to the reasoning behind going gluten free in a bit. Let’s take a look at some athletes who have taken the gluten free route and their experiences.

Winning without wheat

The Men’s Journal article titled Winning Without Wheat discussed the Garmin’s team experience and results with going gluten free. It was noted that the athletes were gluten free during the racing season-not necessarily the off-season. During the season, the riders reported performance improvement along with reduced digestive issues. (I found it interesting that the article did not mention if the athletes had been tested for celiac disease, or if any of them chose to continue eating gluten free off season.) It was not reported if the performance improvements were perceived, or if there had been specific testing parameters on a “regular” versus gluten free diet.

The word on wheat

An article in Bicycling magazine titled The Word on Wheat discussed the idea of voluntarily going gluten free, and the potential pitfalls of a gluten free diet. (which I addressed in the nutrient deficiencies in the gluten free diet post and refers you to Peter Bronksi’s well written review) They also mention celiac disease versus non celiac gluten intolerance.

A pro triathlete named Desiree Flicker is quoted as saying:

It does end up being a lot healthier because it forces you to stay away from overly processed foods.

Flicker was diagnosed with celiac disease at age 29 after dealing with gastrointestinal issues for almost 10 years. She noted a performance improvement after going gluten free. (To me this is a “well, duh” moment-of course a celiac will have improved performance on a gluten free diet-but we’ll get to that.)

Gluten free to ease digestion

The rationale presented behind originally moving the Garmin team to gluten free is basically to ease digestion. There are multiple fragments of gluten that can cause adverse reactions, even without specific wheat allergy or celiac disease.

The spectrum of non celiac gluten intolerance is an area that seems to be expanding rapidly. Improved digestion leads to improved absorption of nutrients, which can then translate into improved performance.

Correlation doesn’t necessarily mean causation

Keep in mind that while this can be a correlation, it’s not necessarily a causation without proof. In other words, it looks like a gluten free diet may be associated with improved performance, but without specific controlled variables we cannot say that a gluten free diet caused the improvement in performance.

I was unable to find any research studies that examined the effects of a gluten free diet and performance. It does appear that there is quite a bit of anecdotal evidence where people have experienced improved performance.

Based on these anecdotes, it appears that there is potential for improved performance in athletes to eat a gluten free diet even if they are not diagnosed with wheat allergy or celiac disease.

In Part 2 of this article we will take a look at why a gluten free diet may correlate with an improvement in performance.

Stay tuned! If you have experienced improved performance with eating gluten free speak up! Leave a comment below!

Supplements for the Gluten Free Athlete: Glutamine

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Here’s a shocker-I have a fitness background. In the fitness world, there is something that is affectionately referred to as “bro-science.”

Interestingly enough, there is actually a definition for “bro-science” at urbandictionary.com:

Broscience is the predominant brand of reasoning in bodybuilding circles where the anecdotal reports of jacked dudes are considered more credible than scientific research.

There has been much debate surrounding glutamine in the weight training world. It was touted as a recovery booster/fat mobilizer/muscle sparing/ all that and a bag o’ chips for many moons, and turns out that the research doesn’t support that position. (Gleeson, M. Dosing and efficacy of glutamine supplementation in human exercise and sport training J Nutr. 2008 Oct;138(10):2045S-2049S among others.)

Fight bro science

There are many good bros and female bros (bras?) out there fighting the good fight and protecting the world against the proliferation of bro-science. A few are Alan Aragon, Lyle McDonald, Leigh Peele, and Cassandra Forsythe, as well as my buddy JC Deen. There are many others of course-but these are a few I reference regularly and have in my Google Reader.

Ok, so what does this have to do with celiac disease, living gluten free, or glutamine supplementation?

Glutamine and gut health

Although glutamine may have limited benefit from a sports performance/physique enhancement perspective, it may be much more useful for gut health.

First of all, what is glutamine? Glutamine is an amino acid. It is considered conditionally essential (meaning there may be times when the body cannot produce enough, and it must be ingested through the diet.) The gut tissue has been found to absorb up to 65-76% of ingested glutamine.

Also, glutamine is used for fuel by the cells in your body that fight disease and infection. When plasma glutamine levels are lowered, this can contribute to suppresion of the immune system. In short, glutamine helps reduce inflammation, improve immunity, promote repair, and assist in production of other important factors in the gut.

I have to note that in looking through the scientific research, I have found studies that support these statements, and other studies where no significant difference has been shown. As always, this is a case of buyer beware-educate yourself, discuss it with your doctor or health care practitioner, and make an informed decision. It will not hurt you, but it may not help either. There has been quite a bit of supporting evidence that it is beneficial for gut health.

Some of you may be thinking:

But glutamine is an amino acid found in gliadin-and a reaction to gliadin is what is examined when gluten intolerance is being tested.

Dr. Stephen Wangen in his book Healthier Without Wheat: A New Understanding of Wheat Allergies, Celiac Disease, and Non-Celiac Gluten Intolerance clarifies

Do not be confused by the fact that gliadins contain glutamine. This does not mean that glutamine is a problem for people who are gluten intolerant, nor does it mean that glutamine should be avoided. In fact the opposite is true…

Two forms of glutamine

Note: Glutamine can be found in two forms, and this is particulary important to note if you have celiac disease or gluten intolerance. There is L-glutamine, which is the free form amino acid, and glutamine peptides. Glutamine peptides are often sourced from wheat, and can cause a reaction in those with sensitivity. Avoid glutamine peptides, and if you choose to supplement look for L-glutamine.

Dr. Wangen states that due to the fact that the small intestine uses glutamine as a primary energy source, providing extra L-glutamine can assist in speeding the healing of the digestive tract. He recommends a dose of 3 grams (3,000 mg) split into 3 doses throughout the day.

Shari Lieberman also discussed L-glutamine supplementation in her book The Gluten Connection: How Gluten Sensitivity May Be Sabotaging Your Health–And What You Can Do to Take Control Now. She recommended 500 mg-3 grams of L-glutamine.

There also have been studies of non-celiac endurance athletes which have shown protective immune system qualities when the training load is high. (L. Castell, The effects of oral glutamine supplementation on athletes after prolonged, exhaustive exercise. Nutrition Volume 13, Issues 7-8, July-August 1997, Pages 738-742 )

So what does this mean to the celiac or gluten intolerant athlete?

It means that supplementing with L-glutamine may be a worthwhile expense. If you are training hard, your immune system and gut can use all the help it can get with recovery. It can help with antioxidant control of free radicals produced in exercise. By maximizing your gut health, you are maximizing absorption and therefore fuel.

What’s your opinion? Have you taken L-glutamine? Leave your feedback in the comments!


Resources

Stephanie Diamond: Gluten Free Athlete Profile

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Stephanie has had some very cool adventures in life and in fitness!

Stephanie and her husband-that's the summit of Mt Kilimanjaro in the background!

Stephanie and her husband-that’s the summit of Mt Kilimanjaro in the background!

Stephanie Diamond, age 33

Hometown

I grew up in Hope Valley, Rhode Island. I currently live in Bujumbura, Burundi, Central Africa.

Sports and accomplishments

Running and hiking. I trekked to the summit of Mount Kilimanjaro in February 2009.

Celiac trigger

I was under a lot of stress at my job and I’d lost nearly 10 pounds in a short amount of time. I was already pretty thin, so losing weight was a weird thing for me. Plus I was moody and just not feeling great. Being aware of the symptoms, it didn’t take me long to make the connection to celiac disease. I also quit the job. I was diagnosed in the summer of 2003. A couple years earlier, my brother had been very ill; it took a year for him to be diagnosed with celiac disease. I was able to see the symptoms in myself and get tested and get on the gluten-free diet before I got as sick as he did.

Training

I’m building my base for half marathon training. I run 3 to 5 miles several times a week. On my off days I play tennis, go hiking, or do yoga, depending on my level of energy. I never really got into strength training, even when I had to do it for my high school and college teams. When I was training for Kilimanjaro I weighted a pack to about 20 pounds and walked up and down the mountain that I live on. Three miles, three times a week. It really helped prepare me for wearing the pack on the trek.

Nutritional philosophy

I become a monster when I have an empty stomach so I graze most of the day. I listen to my body and eat what it tells me to. Sometimes that’s a lot of fruits and veggies, sometimes it’s a big chunk of meat. I do try to balance things. But I love ice cream, cheese, and other heavy, creamy foods. I run so I can eat them.

I love the grass-fed beef and other meats here in Burundi. I never thought I would eat goat, but it’s delicious! We get good fresh milk and lots of fresh fruits and veggies. Many of the local traditional foods are gluten-free and I’ve had fun trying them. Lots of rice and cassava and beans. They brew beer from banana and millet. It’s a yummy treat.

When trekking, a good portion of my weight is Lara Bars and Kind Bars. They are convenient for snacking on throughout the day. I also bring gluten-free instant hot cereal for breakfasts. I love to start a day on the trail with a hot breakfast.

Pre/post workout food

Pre workout I eat very little. Before tennis or hiking I’ll usually have a bowl of gluten-free granola mixed with some flax cereal because I need to be sustained for a couple hours.

On running days I’m up and out so early to beat the heat that my stomach’s not awake yet. I usually have a little water and sometimes half a Lara Bar. I rely on having had a big healthy dinner the night before–lean meat with veggies, rice and beans, or quinoa pasta.
Post workout I love toast with peanut butter and a tropical fruit smoothie. (Mango and pineapple are always in season here. I love it!) I brought my breadmaker, so if I get 3 hours of uninterrupted electricity I can make my own gluten-free bread. There’s no Whole Foods to run out to for a loaf if I’m really craving it.

Sports supplements

I take a multivitamin with my snack after a hard workout. I started doing that on the Kilimanjaro trek. Every afternoon when we got to camp we had a snack of popcorn and tea. I took a vitamin and some ibuprofen. Luckily I don’t need the ibuprofen on a daily basis. But it helped on the mountain.

Upcoming plans

I’m looking for a half marathon to do the next time I’m back in the States, which will hopefully be this winter. I haven’t run one since before my celiac diagnosis. I’d also like to spend a week or two on the Appalachian Trail next summer. I wish I had time to try the whole thing!

Advice for other gluten free athletes

Regardless of whether you’re gluten-free or not, you have to find the foods that work for you. It takes time and dedication, but anyone who wants to be healthy has to do it.

Final notes

I’m just a regular person who likes to spend time outdoors.

I was a picky eater before my diagnosis, and I was scared my choice of foods would be all but demolished. But the gluten-free diet pushed me out of my comfort zone and I’ve tried so many new, delicious foods that I could have been eating all along.

Getting to the top of Mount Kilimanjaro on that last day was the hardest thing I’ve ever done. It’s mentally and physically draining. But now I feel like I can do anything. It’s a little corny, but it’s true. I think of it whenever a challenge comes my way.

As you can see, Stephanie has some unique and very interesting stories. Please check her out:

Life in Africa blog: http://whereintheworld-stephanie.blogspot.com/

Gluten-free blog: http://stephaniefood.blogspot.com/

Twitter ID: @StephanieSD

Thanks so much for sharing your story Stephanie! I’m ready to go out and hike the closest mountain! (Here in South Florida that would be the bridge over the Intracoastal.) OK-maybe not, but all of these athletes have been truly inspiring.

Kelly Baker: Gluten Free Athlete Profile

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I first ran into Kelly on a bodybuilding/fitness message board. She keeps a journal there, and with gluten free in the title-I was intrigued. Kelly always keeps a positive outlook and has encouraging words for others. Here she is!

Kelly Baker

Kelly Baker

Kelly Baker

Age 31, resides in Columbus Ohio.

National Physique Committee Figure Competitor, Women’s Tri-Fitness Competitor

I was diagnosed July 21, 2008, and oddly enough it was an attempt at finding the best diet for my body. A training partner had undergone the test, received a Celiac diagnosis, and had had the most staggering transformation I’d ever seen. I figured it was worth a shot as I had thought myself lactose intolerant for years.

I didn’t have a true “trigger” so much as I was becoming more symptomatic over time. I’ve probably always been like this.

Training Program

I use the P/RR/S (Power, Rep. Range, Shock) system, combined with plyometrics, and various forms of cardio. I try to be as sports-specific as possible depending on what I’m competing in. My husband and I are looking to do some serious cycling next summer, so I will be more cycling focused between NPC shows.

Nutritional philosophy

I have other major intolerance’s in addition to Celiac Disease in the forms of soy, dairy, eggs, and most nuts and seeds. I stick with lean protein sources and lots of vegetables, fruit, and gluten-free grains. I avoid processed foods as much as absolutely possible. The more ingredients it has the less I trust it.

For pre and post workout nutrition, I have chicken and a rice cake for both. Sometimes I eat Steel Cut oats in place of the rice cake.

Favorite sports supplements

The following from ALR Industries; Chain’d Out, T-X, Zero-Stim, Hyperdrive 3.0, ProAnabol, WTF Pump’d, Primed Ultra, Poison, Comatose, and Lean Dreams. For cycling related power-ups GU Chomps work very well.

(Editor note:I have contacted ALRI in an attempt to obtain a listing of their gluten free products and have not yet received a response. Kelly notes she has never has an issue with their products.)

Upcoming competitions/training plans

I competed in my second Figure show on October 3rd, which will be followed by some medical testing to determine the extent of an injury to my knee. I plan to compete next March in Figure, take most of the summer to do some serious cycling (75-100 mile rides) and compete in two more Figure shows in October 2010.

Advice for other gluten free athletes

Where there’s a will, there’s a way. In some ways it is harder for us to function nutritionally, but in a lot more ways it is easier. We must give our systems quality fuel, and we think about what goes “in” much more than a normal person would. For anyone competing in Bodybuilding or Figure it makes the diet a lot easier. Our diets are cleaner to begin with which means less rebound between shows so returning to show conditioning is easier for us to do.

Final notes to share

July 21, 2008 I got my life back. I’d always been fatigued no matter how much I slept, suffered from low blood sugar crashes several times a day, and couldn’t make the gains I was working so hard to make. That day, I found out that 90% of my diet, pristine by conventional nutrition standards, was toxic to my system.

Once my diet changed the fatigue drained away, the hypoglycemic incidents stopped, and I no longer agonized over the way I’d react to anything that went in my mouth. Discoering I was a Celiac along with my other intolerances was freeing. For nearly 30 years, I had no idea what it was like to actually feel good. and I would not trade any of this for the world.

Thanks for sharing Kelly-best wishes with your knee and your future plans!

Editor note: Read this article about how celiac can help improve you awareness of proper nutrition and thus your diet.

Gluten Free Athlete Profile: Kimberly Bouldin

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I originally “found” Kim through her blog-she has some great stuff so make sure to check her out. Then she “twitted”-or whatever-“tweeted?” about going running and I said to myself-“Self-check this lady out!” Here she is!

Kimberly Bouldin

Kim and her daughter, Hannah

Kim and her daughter, Hannah

Hi, I am Kim. I live in central Ohio, right outside of Columbus with my husband and 2 kids. My current sport is running. I am training for a half-marathon on October 18th. I hope to train for a full marathon next May! I just ran my first race ever in July, a 10K (ran it in 53:22). I finished 2nd in my age group & 25th overall (out of 75). (Editor note: Whoohoo! Way to go! I was a gymnast growing up. I started at age 5 until I was 13 or 14.

As far as celiac and diagnosis, I had suffered on & off since I was a teen with anorexia. I had a recurrence as an adult, after the birth of my daughter. It wasn’t nearly as severe as the first time, but still, something that needed addressed. I began to see a dietician. The dietician is the one who suggested I get tested for Celiac disease after my telling her about all the foods that bothered me when I ate them. I had previously been told that I had IBS (editor note:see-the garbage can diagnosis strikes again!). My bloodwork was positive and I was instructed to go gluten-free. It was only after I went gluten-free that I saw a GI doctor, who wanted me to go back on gluten to confirm the diagnosis with an endoscopy/biopsy. I declined because I felt so much better off of gluten….it was night & day.

That was enough for me. I went on to have my kids tested and my son was diagnosed at the age of 10 with Celiac disease. He did have the endoscopy/biopsy done. I knew better by the time he was tested. He is a thriving, happy 13 year old hockey player now. 😉

I am not positive what my trigger was, but I suspect it was the birth of my first child in 1996. I started
having stomach issues after having him. They got much worse after the birth of my 2nd child in 2002.

Training

Right now my training consists of lots of running. LOL! I run 5 days/week and my max was 35 mpw-miles per week (editor note-I hardly even drive 35 miles per week). I also try to incoprorate strength training, but that has gotten tough as my mileage increased. I am now in the tapering stage of my training, so I am working back in some crosstraining & strength training.

Nutrition

My nutritional philosophy is pretty simple: I strive to eat mainly whole foods that are naturally gluten-free. I do enjoy the occasional treat (dark chocolate is my best friend), but I feel best eating little to no processed foods. I also stay clear of artifical sweetners as much as I can. They really seem to irritate my stomach. If I need to sweeten food or baked goods, I use sugar or agave nectar.

Favorite pre-post workout foods are plain & simple – bananas before. Afterwards…egg white omelet w/spinach & tomatoes, waffles or brown rice cakes with almond butter and fruit spread and fresh fruit.

Favorite sports supplements

Long runs over 8 miles require fueling mid-run & drinking gatorade (powdered & diluted) to keep me from getting dehydrated. For my mid-run fuel, I rely on Clif Shots or Shot Bloks for the most part. They are caffeine free (I don’t drink caffeine) and don’t bother my stomach.

Upcoming competitions

Half Marathon on 10/18/2009 and full marathon in May 2010

Advice for other gluten free athletes

Make sure to treat your body right. Make sure to properly fuel your body for the best performance possible.

You can find out more about Kim at her blog Gluten Free is Life

Thanks for sharing, Kim, and best wishes on your upcoming races!

Gluten Free Athlete Profile: Caitlin Burman

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Caitlin is here in my neck of the woods in South Florida. It was a pleasure to learn her story!

Caitlin Burman

Caitlin Burman Gluten Free Triathlete

Caitlin Burman: Gluten free triathlete

Age: 21
Location: I’m currently at school at the University of Miami, Florida and live in Coral Gables. Originally from Severna Park, Maryland. I have competed in 10 triathlons, including two Collegiate National Championships.

I was diagnosed in March 2009. I was in the process of being diagnosed with Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis and was having unbearable stomach pains, headaches, and was always fatigued. After being told everything from it was stress to IBS, I did some research and found celiac. I insisted on being tested. My results were negative, but because my symptoms persisted, I insisted on being tested again. My results were still negative, but my stomach was bloated and I was still having pain. I decided to go gluten free anyway. Within 24 hours, all of my symptoms disappeared. I do not know my trigger, and in hindsight, I have probably been dealing with this most of my life.

Caitlin’s training schedule:
I swim four times per week, cycle twice per week, teach a Spin class twice per week, and run three times per week.

Nutritional philosophy:
I believe we are what we eat. If you eat large heavy meals, you will be large and heavy! I don’t believe in eating processed foods. I don’t think humans were meant to consume chemicals. I eat a balance of lean meat, fruits and vegetables, with very few grains. I prefer to eat locally grown organic foods, to help contribute to a sustainable earth.

Her favorite pre and post workout foods:
My favorite pre workout food is a Lemon LaraBar. After a hard workout, I like a guava smoothie.

Her favorite sports supplements are:
Orange GU chomps. They even guarantee gluten free on the box!

Caitlin’s current plans:
I’m currently training for USAT’s Collegiate National Championship in April. To prep, I’m racing Escape to Miami, Suncoast
Sprint, Miami Man, and Miami International Triathlon.

Advice to pass along to other gluten free athletes:
Get out there and compete! You’ve already gone gluten free, which requires the same type of diligence and commitment that athletics does.

Thanks for sharing you story Caitlin and best wishes on your upcoming races!

Athletes Living Gluten Free

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As this is a blog about living with celiac, being gluten free and fitness-it only stands to reason that I will be spotlighting gluten free athletes. This will be an ongoing series of gluten-free athlete profiles. Please feel free to contact me if you would like to be involved, and pass the word to those you think may like to be involved. Amy at the Savvy Celiac recently shared a blog post on athletes with celiac disease, which you can find here.

The word “athlete” may have some associations in your mind. What do you think of when you think of an “athlete.” An Olympian? A collegiate D1 player? A marathoner? A powerlifter? Or a human being with a belief that moving their body can positively impact their life? A person who embraces the unique ability that they personally have for activity?

Here is my definition of “athlete.”

An individual who recognizes the importance of doing something the human body is designed to do: move. One who makes regular physical activity a part of their day, and may even feel odd if a day goes by where they don’t move as much. One who takes any challenges they are given, whether physical or mental, and uses that challenge to fuel them. One who chooses to not make excuses, but design solution when problems arise in the way of their fitness goals. You don’t have to compete to have the mindset of a warrior and an athlete. Don’t sell yourself short. Think, train, eat, live like an athlete. You are an athlete. Accept no limitations.

An athlete may be a walker, a triathlete, a weightlifter, a football player, or none of these categories.

An athlete is one who moves their body with the intention of making themselves better-physically, emotionally, mentally.
Move your body. Honor your design. Live your life.

What is an athlete to you? Let me know…share your thoughts in the comments!