Gluten Free Athlete
Yes, I am a Gluten Free Athlete
Oh you didn’t know? Well… I’m not too shocked.
So this post is little about me. A little about Gluten Free.
And a little about exploring GF as an athletic dietary option.
So let me start with the headliner: I am gluten free. Not because I felt like hopping on a fad or because I thought going glutenless would help my performance… but because I have Celiac Disease. There, I said it. It isn’t something I like to lead with. Maybe because it’s been roughly 7 years since I was diagnosed and back then, it hadn’t become an ‘it’ disease yet but rather just a disease. Something embarrassing, something I had to explain over and over… to family to the waitress to friends… Anyhow, I didn’t want it to label me. I still don’t. But I do want to talk about it. More, I want to discuss how going gluten free relates to athletic performance.
When I was diagnosed, I went off gluten. It was that easy and that was that. Being a dietitian and having a dietary disease made it a no brainer to change my eating style as doing so is the only way to not have Celiac flare ups. So for years, I have been gluten free. Now, I tend to forget I even eat that way, I just do. I eat at home more, I cook more, I eat salads and rice…. I don’t remember what a real donut or bagel taste like…. It is just the way I eat and I’m fine with that.
But there are times when I’m reminded that I’m different. That I need more care and attention that non diseased people.
I was reminded of the fact that I have Celiac Disease earlier this year. I had done some hefty winter training on the bike; SC, NC, AZ and CA. I was feeling great and thought I would seriously rock the 2015 road race season. Things did not go as planned. After my last training travel, leading into the first races… I just felt tired. An overwhelming tired. I thought I just needed to try harder. So I trained more. I went for runs and rides and my paces slipped… Distances I normally would have rocked felt endless… I would take naps after workouts, which I normally do not do. Week after week races of falling off the pack had me depressed. These were cyclists I knew I should be riding well with, if not better than. I was discouraged and upset. Then my legs started to tingle. I couldn’t sleep do to the non-stop crawling feeling. The real light bulb moment came while on a weekly group ride. I fell off the lead pack, which isn’t unheard of, it’s a hard group ride! But then I fell off the B group and the B- group. Nothing against the B riders, but this was wrong, this shouldn’t be happening… I remember just feeling sad and looking at the grass as I was riding and thinking, can I just get off the bike and take a nap… So something was WRONG. And then it clicked, oh yeah ‘I have Celiac Disease’. Why does that matter you ask? Well I had been traveling like crazy and had likely exposed myself (unknowingly) to gluten, which triggered my Celiac. My biggest symptom of the disease was Iron Deficiency Anemia.
A simple trip to the clinic (I don’t believe in having a family doctor) for a blood test confirmed my suspicion. I wasn’t just low, I was LOW. So I had to find a hematologist, transfer medical records, and make lots of appointments. Since I have GI issues that prevent the absorption of iron, and my levels were so severely low, the treatment would be a round of intravenous iron. Yeap, I sit in a chair for a couple hours with a needle in my arm as ferritin flows into me. Two appointments, two weeks apart. This would be my…. 6-7th round of this treatment throughout my Celiac history. So it doesn’t seem like a big deal. But the outcome… OMG THE OUTCOME…
Weeks later (it can take a long time to set in) I was amazed. I mean I knew something had been wrong, but its tough to see how far you’ve fallen when it happens gradually. After my treatments, I started to feel like I should have been feeling all along: Strong, Energized. I finished first female at Blood Sweat n Gears (even rode on George Hincape’s wheel). I took home CAT 3 champion for the Womens Midwestern Road Race. I took home Ohio Road Race Champion 2015 as a newly upgraded CAT2.
I was on fire. Recharged, rested, ready to go. I’m sad it took me so long to realize the issue. I should never let my health slip. This error really cost me the 2015 season. Thankfully it ended well and I’m healthy, being more attentive and ready to crush 2016. CAT 1 /PRO here I come.
How is life different as a GF athlete?
This is a huge part of why I focus on nutrition so much and why all the recipes I post are made gluten free.
Having Celiac definitely affects my life as an athlete. Mostly because my performance will suffer if I’m not paying attention to my health and avoiding gluten at all costs. The description above is not the first time Celiac has played into my athletic life. When I was first diagnosed, I was only beginning to dabble in running and cycling recreationally so it didn’t really bother me that I couldn’t seem to run faster than a 10minute mile. Once I overhauled my lifestyle to deal with the diagnosis, I became a faster runner, then a faster cyclist.
Don’t get me wrong, I work to be a good athlete, but just like anyone…. If you aren’t in tune with your body and your health, it can get the best of you.
On a daily basis I have to think about food all the time. Does that have gluten? Can I trust it? Should I take a bite? Etc. Mostly now it just involves some extra planning. Packing a lunch, packing my own snacks for a ride, packing a cooler with recovery meals… I’ve been to races that offer great selections of food before, during and after events… however, I typically cannot enjoy the spread. Bagels? No. Pizza? No. Donuts? No. Pre Race Pasta Dinner? No. You get the point.
This is a lifestyle for me. There will always be moments of struggle and annoyance. Just recently I learned of gluten hiding in chocolate... CHOCOLATE!!! Why!?!?! Sigh.
While frustrating sometimes, I believe it has made me a better athlete. I have to worry about my nutrition, not leave it to chance, not eat whatever is provided. This is a good thing. This is what we should all be doing. Be glad you don’t have a disease, but learn from those who do. Performance nutrition only works when you pay attention to your personal needs and are accountable for yourself.
Click HERE for tips on going GF as an athlete.
What GF eating looks like for me:
Here are the gluten free foods that make up the bulk of my intake:
1. Oats (make sure to get the GF ones, I typically go with Bob’s Red Mill)
2. Root Vegetables (A great natural source of carbohydrates)
3. Canyon Bakehouse Breads
4. Quinoa (of course)
5. Brianna’s Real French Vinaigrette
6. Pamela’s Artisan Flour
8. Wild Rice
10. All fruits/vegetables
11. Cheese and Plain Greek Yogurts
12. Red Wine
14. Pacific Organic Tomato Soup
15. Nuts and Seeds
16. Milk and Nut Milks
17. Udi’s Pizza Crusts
18. Paleo Coconut Wraps
21. Sky Valley GF Teriyaki Sauce
25. Haribo Gummie Bears