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The Gluten-Free Triathlete: Part II

In this second installment of our three-part series on gluten, top pros share why they decided to go gluten-free and the benefits they’ve experienced.


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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My First Triathlon: 15 Things I Learned By Fara Rosenzweig

DoubtersAfter 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.

4 Ways To Recover Right By Sarah Wassner Flynn

These are the best ways to recover from a workout and the best ways to prevent injury.
The following article outlines the most effective ways to recover from workouts and prevent injuries while training for your next race.  Rub it, Drink it, Freeze it, Work it

Don’t let winter training take its toll on your body—4 things to do after every workout so you’re ready to take on your next tough effort.Rub It

As if you needed another excuse to get a massage, here’s one more:  Experts say that rubbing down muscles after exercise is as effective in preventing soreness than aspirin or other pain medicine. In a recent report in the journal Science Translational Medicine, researchers from the Buck Institute for Research on Aging in Novato, Calif., write that massage slows production of chemicals in the body linked to swelling, soreness and inflammation. Not only that, a good rub down increases blood flow and promotes the formation of mitochondira—which our body needs to create energy. So go ahead, book some time on the table after your next hard effort (or just grab your foam roller and self-massage). Your muscles will thank you.
Drink ItNew marketing has launched coconut water into to the mainstream, but it’s actually been around for ages as a way to rehydrate rapidly. “In World War II, they used coconut water instead when they ran out of IV fluids,” says Alan Kipping-Ruane, a USAT coach and official. Reaching for this thirst-quencher post-workout can restore electrolytes, potassium, and sodium lost through sweating. Zico Coconut water—which packs more potassium than a banana in every  bottle; 15 times more than the average sports drink—has recently started sponsoring triathletes including Greg Bennett, and Laurel and Rebeccah Wassner. Not crazy about coconuts? Chocolate milk is another idea recovery drink.
Freeze ItDipping yourself into a tub full of frigid water may be the last thing you want to do after a chilly run or ride, but an ice bath is a proven method of preventing injury. In fact, one new study says cold therapy can reduce soreness by up to 20 percent when compared with passive post-exercise rest. Just can’t do the dip? Have hope: The cryosauna may be coming soon to a spa or PT office near you. Currently used by elite athletes like distance runner Dathan Ritzenhein, this is a chamber that works to reduce the skin’s surface temperature to 30°F in just seconds, which then sends a message to the brain to increase blood and oxygen flow to your core. When you step back into normal temperatures, blood vessels expand, resulting in an instant energy boost, skin rejuvenation and quick muscle recovery—without the pain of an ice bath.
Work ItActive recovery is as important as your hard workouts. So even if you wake up completely spent from that interval session the day before, peel yourself off the couch and hit the gym. “I’ll do some very light movement to help speed recovery,” says pro triathlete Ryan Bates. “A five-minute spin on the bike, or a few laps of breast-stroke in the pool just to get the joints moving.” Agrees Kipping-Ruane, “I recommend doing a spinning workout or walking on a treadmill at a high incline (like 15 percent grade at 3-4 mph) for 10 to 20 minuteese. It’s tough, but it gets the legs going.”

5 Tips For Avoiding Cycling Injuries by Nathan Koch, P.T., A.T.C.

Follow these tips to prevent cycling injuries.

Cycling is an extremely repetitive sport that involves long duration and high-intensity training—which can ultimately lead to injury. Much like changing your car’s oil allows it to perform better and last longer, these five injury prevention techniques can help you perform at a higher level and reduce your risk of overuse.

1. Pre-workout: Perform dynamic stretches for 5–10 minutes, such as leg crossovers and scorpions to open up the hips and spine. They will help reduce joint and muscle stiffness prior to hopping on the bike.

2. During the workout:
Keep your cadence at 90 rpm or greater to reduce stress on the knee, specifically the patellofemoral joint (kneecap area). High-intensity training at lower rpm may have rewards but also comes with greater injury risk.

3. Post-workout: Use the foam roller to reduce muscle soreness and tightness. Focus on the iliotibial band, quadriceps and piriformis (a deep gluteal muscle).

4. Gear: Assuming that a professional bike fit has been done, keep well-documented measurements of saddle height and fore/aft position. Always check measurements when traveling with the bike and after a bike crash.

5. Shoes: Tighten cleat screws/bolts, as they sometimes loosen and cause the cleat to shift. Once you have the cleat in the ideal position, make sure you outline the cleat in permanent marker. Overuse injuries can be created if the cleat shifts too far forward or back, increasing stress on the knee.
Come in to KONA Multisport and set up an appointment with our professional Retul bike fitter to make sure you are in the absolute best position on the bike to help you go faster and be more comfortable.  While you are in, check out all of our triathlon gear, supplies, and equipment

A Killer Core Stabilization Exercise By Karen M Redmond, M.S. • For

Work on those muscular imbalances to improve your swimming, biking and running!
This core stabilization exercise works each side of your body independently—similar to the way you must recruit muscles and stabilize your pelvis and spine during running and cycling.

What it works: Lower fibers of rectus abdominis and transversus abdominis. In other words, the muscles that help stabilize the spine and pelvis.

Why you should do it: Most people have an imbalance in strength and stability between their right and left sides. Increased stability will help to minimize a dominant side, increase a more stable foundation to generate greater force (i.e. speed and power), and help minimize injury by stabilizing the spine and pelvis, which affects the stability of the knees, ankles and feet.

If you are “unstable” the foam roller will move and you will immediately feel the instability. This means that your muscles are not working optimally.

What you need: You can use a 4″ or 6″ diameter roller. 

How to do it: Lie on the foam roller vertically so that your head and tailbone are both on the roller. Stretch your arms out perpendicular to your body with palms facing up, and your feet a few inches apart. 

Lift your arms off the ground and draw your belly button inward.

  • Phase 1: Lift one foot a few inches off the ground and hold 5-10 seconds. Switch sides.
  • Phase 2: Lift one leg up so that your hip is flexed to 90 degrees. Switch sides.
  • Phase 3: Lift leg, flex hip to 90 degrees and then extend your knee. Switch sides.
  • Phase 4: Extend leg; then slowly lower and raise leg, keeping it straight. Switch sides.

Notes: You should not brace during this core stabilization exercise. “Bracing” is when the abdominal wall pushes out and the muscular tone becomes “hard”. You should be solid in each phase and on both legs before you progress to the next phase.

Do 8 to 10 reps on each side and hold each rep for 10 seconds. Rest 1 minute and repeat for a total of 1 to 3 sets. 

For other great workouts and triathlon training workouts and tips checkout our Swim Bike Run blog!  Also, get all of your triathlon racing and training gear at KONA Multisport!

6 Strength Training Exercises for the Offseason By Michelle Valenti •

Triathletes often times only work on strengthening their major muscle groups, but you also need to work on strengthening your core and other stabilizing muscles to help prevent injury and help keep you going strong longer while training and racing.  The article below has some great tips and exercises to try to build a strong triathlete body and also shares with you the reasons you need to do some core strengthening. 

You’ve probably heard that the offseason is a great time for triathletes to start strength training, or to pick it back up again. But why is it important and where do you start? Here Dave Scott answers these questions and provides six exercises to get you started.

Why is strength training important in the offseason?

Dave Scott: As a season progresses, and an athlete’s strength level increases, they tend to develop dominant muscles while the support muscles get neglected. When you neglect those smaller muscles, they start to shut down. So even though someone’s performance is going up, athletes are always hovering on the brink of injury. Athletes should work on both the small muscle groups and the larger muscle groups to help create balance.


If they keep repeating the same patterns—up their training, tack on more volume and increase intensity—but they don’t do supplementary strength training, that window of vulnerability goes up even more. And that just gets exacerbated as the years go by.

I’m a stickler for strength training year-round. And the offseason is the prime time to set that fundamental foundation for endurance athletes.

What are the most vulnerable areas for triathletes?

DS: One of the hot spots for triathletes (and runners and cyclists too) is the hip/glute complex. The glutes are the dominate muscles that generate the power and take a lot of the load, and the quad side often becomes overdeveloped. There are a lot of smaller muscles intricately overlaid in the butt and hip area that allow your hip to extend, flex, and rotate—those muscles should be addressed.

Another vulnerable spot is the core. The core extends from the base of your ribs all the way down through your abdominals, pelvic girdle and upper quad. It’s the same thing on the back side—from your upper hamstrings and glutes to your low and mid back. Those core muscles really help generate the power out of your quads. The whole core is made up of about 26 muscles front and back; if all of those muscles are working harmoniously you are obviously going to be more efficient.

Finally, it’s common to see athletes with internally rotated shoulders. Over time, your pecks get a little bit tighter and, since your pecks are attached to your humerus bone, that draws your shoulders inward. When you look at an athlete running, you want to see a smooth, flat back, which is difficult if the support muscles of the upper back and the mid back are really weak.

So where should triathletes start?

DS: When you start the offseason strength training program, you don’t want to gravitate to the major muscle movements. You really want to hit the smaller ones first. These should also be done at a slightly slower movement rate to help work on stability, balance and strength simultaneously. You really want equal musculature, equal tendon strength and equal connective tissue strength on both sides. It’s pretty rare—even with the best of the best.

Through it all, think about sitting (or standing) tall—like you should on a bike: You always want to keep the space between your ribs and your hip bone open. Core stability is what helps support your spine allowing you to sit and stand tall instead of slouching.

Think about when you do a squat: Your back should be square and flat, toes out a bit, shoulder blades retracted, neck neutral. This is the basic position for athletes in any sport because it offers the greatest base of support. It’s the most stable and will generate the most strength. If you are long—and your hips are high and your ribs are high—that’s the ideal position, not only on the bike but swimming and running too.

It’s easy, in a race when the intensity and stress is high, to fall back and slouch a little bit. So I’d start the exercises with the upper backs/mid traps.

6 Strength Exercises From Dave Scott

Exercise #1: Stretch Cord Row 

Grab a stretch cord; wrap one end around a pole (or a partner) and anchor it in front of you at the base of your ribs. Hold both handles, stand tall, tuck your scapula, and keep your elbows in tight and your thumbs up. Make a rowing motion: bring your elbows in to 90 degrees and pull the inside of your wrists to the outside of your ribs. As you release tension on the cord in a forward motion, only go to 150 degrees with your elbows. 

Do 3 sets of 12; every fourth rep do a few pulses where you squeeze your shoulder blades together.

In the offseason you want to avoid doing the same exercises with the same pattern each time, so to change the recruitment you can either change the load or change the angle. 

Variation A: rotate your hands during the exercise. Start with your thumbs up at extension; finish with palms up at ribs. 8-12 reps; pulse every fourth.

Variation B: Keep your ribs high and your back flat but hinge at hips to about 60 degrees. Same as above; start with thumbs up at extension, finish with palms up at ribs. This engages the spinal muscles, all the way down to the low back.

Exercise #2: Fly With Elbow Drop

Using a stretch cord, start with your hands together, your thumbs up, and a 150-degree bend in your elbows. Swing your arms up and out to the sides. The height of your hands should be at ear level and your elbows will close to about 130 degrees. Your hands, shoulders, elbows and ears should all be in the same line. If you are weak or have too much tension your hands will try to drift forward.

Once you’re in that fly position you want to draw your elbows down to your sides and bring your wrists in toward your shoulders. Let your arms come back up to the fly position, then relax for one rep.

Exercise #3 and #4: Stretch Cord Hip Extension and Abduction

Extension: Stand on an elevated platform (2-4 inches) with a stretch cord anchored around your right ankle (the other end should be around a pole or partner).  For the hip extension, it should look like you’re getting ready to kick a ball.  Your support leg (the left leg) should be slightly bent. Bring your right leg back about 12 to 18 inches; then bring it back to alignment with your left foot.

Do 12 reps; pulse six times in the back position on every fourth rep.

You’re going to feel this in your right leg (the stretch cord leg) but it’s really all about stabilizing your balance on the other leg as it works to hold your body in alignment.

Abduction: Step off block, turn your body 90 degrees and step your left foot over the stretch cord so that the cord is at your Achilles. Swing your right leg out to the side and back. Don’t let it come down to ground.

Do 12 reps; pulse six times in the back position on every fourth rep.

This is the single best exercise for your glutes and the rotator muscles in your glutes. Again, you will feel this in your stretch cord leg but it will also have a huge overload in that stabilizing glute.


Exercise #5: Romanian Deadlift

Stand tall; keep your back flat, your head in a neutral position and your hips high. Hinge at hips. Grab onto a barbell or weight bar. As you stand, your weight will shift back to your heels. Lift the weight keeping your arms straight.

As you lower your upper body, keep a slight bend in knees. Avoid rounding your back as you hinge forward; then come back up.   

The reason I really like this exercise in the offseason is that it helps to lengthen the hamstrings, and endurance athletes typically have tight hamstrings.

Exercise #6: Squat Curl Press

Take two dumbbells in your hands. Stand with your feet a little wider than shoulder width apart and your toes turned slightly out. Stand tall; keep your back square and your ribs high. Curl the weights up and put them on your shoulders: Keep your thumbs down, pinkies up and palms facing your ears. Your elbows should be pointing straight ahead.

From there, do a squat keeping your elbows high. If you drop your elbows, your shoulders will round. As you stand up out of squat use your core to drive the weights straight up over your head.  As you raise the weights, rotate your palms forward. Lower the weight down, squat, and then repeat.

KONA Multisport has all your triathlon equipment, running shoes, bike apparel, and swim accessories.  Come on in for all  your triathlon needs, advice, and motivation to get you started and keep you going!