I may not be there yet, but I’m closer than I was yesterday..
I may not be there yet, but I’m closer than I was yesterday..
By Ian Stokell (Read Part I here.)
While the need to be gluten-free if you have celiac disease, or are gluten or wheat intolerant is obvious, benefits for those without negative reactions to gluten are less concrete, even for pro triathletes.
For current XTERRA world champion Lesley Paterson and multiple IRONMAN 70.3 champion Timothy O’Donnell, —both gluten intolerant, and multiple IRONMAN and 70.3 champion Heather Wurtele—who has a wheat allergy, the results of going gluten free have been striking.
“I basically feel very fatigued,” Paterson says of gluten’s effect on her body. “It’s almost like I have flu symptoms with achy muscles, headaches, chills, heat and cold sensitivity.”
It’s a similar situation for O’Donnell. “My gluten intolerance struck me on many levels,” he says. “It caused nausea, bloating, digestive issues, acid reflux and vomiting during races. It also caused general lethargy.”
Wurtele experienced digestive problems connected to her wheat allergy. “Before going gluten free I found that painful gas and cramping was an almost daily occurrence,” she says. “I just sort of accepted that a sore stomach was my thing. I would almost always have to dive into the bushes for any run over an hour. My digestive system was just irritated.”
For other pro triathletes that don’t have specific gluten or wheat conditions, such as Olympic gold medalist Simon Whitfield and multiple IRONMAN champion Luke McKenzie, the decision to go gluten free was less obvious.
Whitfield, for example, just wanted to see if it made a difference. Though not as strict anymore, he says he still avoids pasta and over-indulging in bread. “I’m surprised by the ‘gluten defenders,’” adds Whitfield. “It’s almost like a ‘gluten mafia,’ protecting bread and bragging about how much gluten they eat. I don’t really care. I noticed a difference for me.”
“I’m not 100 percent gluten free and have never been diagnosed as a celiac,” says McKenzie. “I just went gluten free as a suggestion to losing a little body weight and to generally feel better, which I did. I try keep my diet as gluten free as possible, but I treat myself from time to time which I feel hasn’t done me much harm.”
Dr. Alexander Shikhman, rheumatologist and founder of the Institute for Specialized Medicine and Gluten-Free Remedies says that the beneficial effects of eliminating gluten on physical performance are not incidental. He explains that when gluten protein is digested, something called exorphins are produced. When exorphins penetrate the blood-brain barrier, they interact with brain nerve cells and behave much like narcotics. This can lead to attention deficit, fatigue, mood swings and miscommunication between your brain and muscles. He says because of this, anyone can improve his or her performance by avoiding gluten.
Going gluten free isn’t easy. Paterson avoids anything containing gluten or soy. “I’m religious about it, so eating out with me is no fun,” she adds. O’Donnell says he avoids all gluten as much as he can, steering clear of breads, pastas, and beer.
Finding gluten-free foods is becoming easier, thanks to the popularization of the diet and the availability of products. Many grocery stores now include entire aisle sections of gluten-free foods, and most mainstream products feature gluten-free alternatives for their high profile brands.
Paterson says she eats lots of rice, as well as gluten-free bagels, bars, and cereal from Udis. Proteins (other than soy), veggies, fruit, and dairy are all allowed. “There are lots of choices really,” she says. “I mainly eat meats, fruits, nuts, and yogurt,” O’Donnell adds. “I eat a lot of gluten-free specific products too, such as granola and other treats.” Whitfield has his own list that includes chia seeds, yams, bacon, Greek yogurt, and steak.
For professional triathletes and middle-of-the-pack age-groupers alike, there seems to be a pattern to the benefits of going gluten free. “The best way to describe it is that I feel free and clear,” Patterson says. “I can access my energy and feel excited about life.”
O’Donnell says that since adopting the diet, all of his physical symptoms are gone. “My GI system works much better in races, and after taking Zantac for over a decade for acid reflux, I no longer need to take it. I feel clear-headed and motivated to train and race.”
Digestion is key for Wurtele, who says she has a “generally happier digestive system, and less painful gas and stomach cramps.” She says it’s also easier to maintain a better body composition.
Whitfield, even though he’s not totally gluten-free, says he’s noticed better sleeping habits, less bloating on runs, and a proclivity to make better food choices in general. McKenzie reports less bloating and gas, and an easier time maintaining a body weight 2-3 kilograms lower.
For those who suffer from celiac disease, gluten intolerance, and wheat allergies, avoiding gluten is a necessity. But there is considerable anecdotal evidence from non-sufferers as well, many of whom are quick to list the diet’s benefits. Perhaps the best way to find out if a gluten-free diet will benefit you is to try it.
Next month, part three of this gluten-free series looks at diagnosis, testing, and the process of going gluten-free. (Read Part I here.)
Ian Stokell holds a MA in Physical Education from Chico State University, with an emphasis on coaching. He has coached a variety of sports from running to volleyball to soccer, where he holds national certifications. Currently, he is directing his efforts toward motivating and coaching triathletes.
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|If you have been thinking about going gluten-free or just cutting back, check out this article for important triathlon specific information.|
Take a stroll down any high street grocery aisle and you’ll notice the term gluten-free on an ever-increasing number of products. Visit specialty grocery stores and you’ll see entire aisles dedicated to the products.
Gluten free is one of the biggest trends not only in sports nutrition, but in the health and fitness world in general. According to the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, the United States gluten-free market rose 28 percent from 2004 to 2011 and now tops out at more than $2.5 billion a year.
Dr. Alexander Shikhman, rheumatologist and founder of the Institute for Specialized Medicine and Gluten-Free Remedies, describes gluten as “a protein found in certain grains, including wheat, barley and rye.” It’s found in many processed foods, including pizza, bread, pasta, and most cereals, and in unlikely culprits like beer, vinegar, jams, and soy sauce. Gluten-free foods include potatoes, rice, beans, nuts, oats, popcorn, and quinoa.
Most people have no problem with gluten, but for some it can cause digestive problems. For a small number of people who have celiac disease, it can be life threatening.
Human digestive enzymes cannot completely digest gluten in the gastrointestinal tract,” explains Dr. Shikhman. “Consumption results in the formation of large protein fragments that typically are excreted along with other unusable parts of the food we eat. But in genetically susceptible individuals, these fragments launch an immunological chain reaction causing chronic inflammation and autoimmune responses.”
For those with celiac disease, the gluten protein contributes to an immune reaction in the digestive system, which can lead to permanent damage to the lining of the small intestine. This can lead to an inability of the intestine to absorb essential nutrients.
Lesley Paterson, a prominent IRONMAN 70.3 pro and two-time XTERRA world champion, went on to a gluten-free diet at the suggestion of her doctor. “I had a tolerance test done by my specialty doctor after complaining of digestive issues, bloating, and fatigue” she recalls. “My test came back positive and he recommended that I should give it a try.”
Though gluten intolerances or wheat allergies are different from having celiac disease, moving to a gluten-free diet may alleviate common symptoms such as cramps, diarrhea, and constipation.
“If people genetically predisposed to gluten intolerance do not ingest gluten, the illness will not manifest and their symptoms will subside,” says Dr. Shikhman. “They will likely have increased energy, more focus and less gastrointestinal problems.”
Paterson says gluten affects her in a complex way. “Basically it compromises my immune system by impacting the flora and fauna (microorganisms) in my gut. I get bloating, gas, nausea, and severe flu-like symptoms, plus plenty of fatigue.”
While many of the benefits of a gluten-free diet are anecdotal for those without digestive problems, there is no lack of willing proponents, as the multi-billion dollar industry will attest. According to Dr. Shikhman, the benefits are real. “For someone who does not have digestive problems the benefits are improvement of endurance, improvement of ‘mental performance’ and energy increase.”
Anecdotal or not, what is undisputed is that eliminating gluten from your diet—for example, in breads and processed foods —means less sugar and fat, and a move towards fresher foods.
Many believe that going gluten-free also means weight loss because of the lowered carbohydrates. But this is not a guaranteed result. Any ensuing weight-loss may simply be a by product of eating a healthier diet—fewer processed foods and more fruits and vegetables.
When it comes to weight loss, the opposite might even be the case. Gluten-free products, although lower in starch and carbohydrates, are also lower in fiber, which helps to make you feel full. As a result, people on a gluten-free diet might actually eat more. People may also think that, because they are eating healthier foods, they can consume more. Gluten-free products also tend to be lower in vitamins B and D, fiber, folic acid, iron and calcium. This is because, unlike regular wheat flour, gluten-free wheat substitutes are very often unfortified with necessary nutrients.
Going gluten-free helps different people in different ways. Paterson says it has made her feel free and clear. “I feel like my energy systems are functioning a lot better, that I am much less fatigued from training and I recover quicker. It’s been a gradual process though and has taken a year to really feel the top benefits,” she says.
For anyone thinking of going gluten-free, the first step is getting tested. While medical testing, such as by blood or biopsy, requires that there is gluten in the body’s innards, another possibility is simply to try it and see if it has any affect. Dr. Shikhman then recommends trying an elimination diet. “Eliminate gluten for at least two-three months and pay attention to how you feel; then reintroduce gluten to see if your symptoms come back. If they do, chances are you have a sensitivity or intolerance. Alternatively, you can have blood tests focused on genetic markers associated with gluten intolerance.”
After the Race
Stocking this list before race day will cover nearly any surprise you might encounter. Buy everything you need—the rest is either household items or things you can only get after registration.
|After discovering some mishaps along my journey to the finish line, I share with you what I learned at my first triathlon.
1. Face Your Fears: Swimming Swimming is a big fear of mine. So I decided to hire a swim coach. Not just any swim coach, a child’s swim coach. I needed a few lessons onbasic swimming techniques to just get comfortable in the water.
2. Get the Right Gear Pick up a really good pair of goggles, a swim cap and a swimsuit. Know that swimsuit sizes for women run differently than your typical swimwear. Also, I purchased two pairs of goggles—one that had a really good dark tint for my sunny-day workouts and a clear pair for early morning or evening swims.
3. Focus on Your Weakness, But Not Too Much Since swimming was my weakness, I thought I needed to spend every second in the pool. But a friend said, “During my sprint, my swim portion took me 12 minutes.” A light bulb went off. I realized if I just got decent at swimming, I could pick up my pace during the run (since running was my strength). So, I rearranged my training to swim for 20 to 30 minutes a few times a week and really push myself hard during my run and bike workouts.
4. Practice Your Transitions Many newbies overlook this. I did too. A couple of days before your event, spend about 20 minutes practicing. Run to your bike, run with your bike, and practice getting on it. Ride your bike for a few minutes and then practice getting off of it and running your bike back to your transition spot. Also, practice putting on your socks, shoes, sunglasses and bib. It’s amazing how many seconds you can shed with practice
5. It’s Okay to Panic If you’re scared of swimming, like me, go out in open water a couple weeks before your race. Make sure to bring a friend or coach to support you. The first time I went out in the water, I had a panic attack.Things were touching my legs, fish swam by my legs and salty water tasted awful. All the unknowns and unfamiliarity got to me. But, I was able to get that out of my system. By race day, I felt confident going into the water.
6. Garbage Bags and Cooking Spray The first time I tried to squeeze myself into my wetsuit, it took me almost and hour. Tip number one; don’t try to do it in your house when it’s warm. Pro triathlete Sarah Haskins and her husband, handed me two garbage bags. Apparently plastic bags help suits glide on. So I stuck each leg into a garbage bag. Her husband then sprayed my legs and arms with cooking oil. What took and hour at one point, took five seconds. I never leave home without garbage bags and cooking oil.
7. Lay Everything Out and Take Your Time As simple as this sounds, do it. Lay out your shoes, socks, sunglasses, bobby pins, helmet, goggles and swim cap on a towel. Everything has a place. Organizing your gear will help you seem less frazzled when going through transitions. When you’re switching items, it’s okay to talk to yourself to help you stay focused. It helped me remember to take off my helmet before starting my run.
8. Crumple Your Race Bib Why crumple your race bib? To keep it from flaring around when you bike and run. Crumple it up into a ball, and then uncrumple it. Itwon’t look pretty, but it will help it to stay put. Plus, all the pros do it, so again, you’ll look like you know what you’re doing.
9. Start to Unzip Your Wetsuit Back to the dreaded wetsuit. If you lather yourself up with body glide or cooking oil, taking it off shouldn’t be too difficult. As you run out of the water towards the transition area, start to take off your wetsuit. By the time you make it to your transition spot your wetsuit should be half off. All you have to do is slip your legs out. You’ll save tons of time.
10. People Will Touch You in the Water Know that during your swim portion there will be people that didn’t practice swimming in open water prior to race day. Understand that thosepeople might panic, grab your legs, or accidentally swim into you. Try to swim on the outside of everyone, or stay back in the wave to give yourself room so you can avoid random people grabbing you. If it does happen, know that people are probably doing it by mistake; they’re not trying to take you down.
11. Say “Left” During the bike portion you need to stay three bike lengths behind the biker in front of you. If you think you have the speed and power to pass them, yell left and pass on the left. You have 15 seconds to pass and get ahead of the rider. They should then back off to give you the appropriate space. Sometimes this doesn’t happen as it should, but you should be the bigger person and follow the rules.
12. Heavy Running Legs When you get off your bike and start your run portion, know that your legs will feel like a ton of bricks. It will feel like there is super glue on the bottom of your feet. Nothing is wrong with you; it will just take a little bit of time for your body to adjust. It’s a weird feeling at first, but if you’re mentally prepared for it, you won’t panic. Just work through it and continue on your merry tri.
13. How to Hold Your Bike If you watch YouTube videos of the pros, you’ll see them holding their bike seat with their hands as they run through the transitions. As a newbie, don’t do this! That is a very hard skill to master and it’s easy to lose control of your bike. To keep control of your bike, place your hands on the handle bars. When it’s time to get on your bike at the appropriate spot, keep your head looking forward as you swing your leg over your seat and reach for the pedal.
14. Follow Signs and High Five Spectators Whether it’s your first tri or hundredth, there are people out there cheering you on (whether you know them or not). Give them some love too and high five someone. It will give you a little boost of energy and help you go the distance.
15. Cross the Finish Line Like a Champ If you’ve read all the slides and take these tips into consideration for your event, then you’ll look like a pro at your race. It’s our secret. So if you look like a pro, and you race like a pro, it only makes sense to finish like a pro. When you see that finish line in the short distance, pick up the pace and charge. Finish strong, throw your hands up like Rocky Balboa and celebrate… you just completed a triathlon. You now have bragging rights.