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Your body is your most priceless possession; you’ve got to take care of it! -Jack Lalanne

It's your body..  Use it!

It’s your body.. Use it!

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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.

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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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Indoor vs. Outdoor Running: 3 Things to Know About Treadmill Training By Caitlin Chock • For Active.com

Treadmill running is a great substitute for outdoor running when conditions are too wet or too cold. This article highlights a few diffences and things to think about when transitioning to each indoor and outdoor running.

The rain is pelting down, hail slices through the night air like bullets, and the cracks of thunder and flashes of lightening set the backdrop for any great horror movie. The sounds of your footfalls are lost in the chaos, but the miles ticked off aren’t done on the slick pavement, but rather, in an indoor haven on the treadmill.

The treadmill can be an excellent training tool for runners when weather conditions are uninviting or downright dangerous, or when running outside isn’t an option. Not to be scoffed at by “running purists,” there are times and places when a treadmill is a better bet:

  • Safety: When it is too dark out to safely navigate your route, or when the weather has left the terrain iced over or slick enough to invite a fall and possible injury.
  • Workout Quality: If the conditions outside don’t allow you to run safely at a faster pace, you can turn to the treadmill to make sure you’re able to hit the proper level of exertion.
  • Hills and Incline Training: If you don’t have access to a steep hill or an incline that is long enough, you can create your own using the grade on a treadmill.
  • Injury Prevention: The belt of the treadmill is more forgiving than the hard pavement; running on a treadmill reduces impact and is easier on the body. This can be especially important for those coming back from an injury.
  • Family: Leaving the kids unattended to go out for a run isn’t exactly a glowing parent strategy. “I use a treadmill because I need to be close to my family, and we got our treadmill the day our second son Grant was born. I watch both our sons most mornings and I can still do my workouts and spend time with them,” explains Michael Wardian, an elite ultrarunner who does much of his training on the treadmill.

Indoor Versus Outdoor Running: The Differences

While there are treadmill benefits to boast of, there are still key differences runners need to be aware of between indoor and outdoor running.

Hamstrings: Because a machine powers the treadmill belt, the mechanics of your running stride differ when you run outside. When running on the treadmill, you use your quads to push off. But, unlike outdoor running, where you would typically rely on your hamstrings to finish the stride cycle and lift your leg behind you, the propulsion of the belt does much of that work for you. This means your hamstrings aren’t firing as much and don’t get worked running inside as they would outside. The extra effort demanded of your quads is also a factor to keep in mind.

Terrain: Or more correctly, the lack thereof. “Something that I try and keep in mind is that the treadmill is really consistent and even, but outside things are constantly changing. Each change takes energy and thought, so I remind myself not to zone out while outside and especially on trails, where a bad footfall can mean stitches and a new tooth,” says Wardian. 

Outside of a potential fall due to unsteady outdoor footing, landing wrong on your foot can cause strains and other injuries. If you’ve been doing much of your running on a treadmill, your body is used to a nearly even and constant stride. Should you run outside, your risk of an injury from even a minor misstep would be higher because the small muscles, tendons and ligaments of your ankle haven’t been forced to get used to a variety of landings. (i.e.: sharp turns, curbs, uneven pavement, trails, etc.) 

Wind Resistance: Even in ideal outdoor conditions you run against air resistance; you don’t get inside, so the paces you run on a treadmill are a bit easier than they would be outside. To negate this, you can put the treadmill incline up to 1.5 percent to account for lost wind resistance and make the paces comparable to those run outdoors.

With these key elements in mind, you can adapt your training as need be. If you’re doing much of your running indoors, make sure to supplement with extra hamstring-strengthening exercises. 

To safeguard your ankles, work on balance and mobility drills such as balancing on one leg on a Bosu ball or pillow. After you can hold there, test your balance further by moving your arms or reaching down with your opposite arm towards the foot you are balancing on. This will build strength in the ankle area.

How to Transition Between Indoor and Outdoor Running 

If you have been doing nearly all of your training indoors, you need to be especially cautious as you begin to move back outside. You need to transition gradually in order to avoid a resulting injury. So start with one or two of your easy, shorter runs per week outside and build from there; you can also split runs up—some miles can be completed on the treadmill and the rest outside. 

Of course it works both ways: If you’re moving from all outdoor running to more treadmill running, rely on the gradual transition method.

As we head into the winter months, if the wind is hollering, the snow has left your running route only navigable by snow-shoe, or you need a training partner who doesn’t care if you’re tired and would like to slow down, the treadmill can be your respite.