Recently, my new teammie and twitterfriend Sonja decided to dabble in the world of gluten-free, by following Team First Endurance’s Gluten Free program. Being gfree myself for the last 18months, I won’t be able to test out the program, so I’m excited to hear what Sonja has to say about it (I’m not really willing to forego my bloat-free diet to confirm something I already know). It is interesting that so many professional athletes are going gluten free, albeit not year-round, but their claims for improved performance are not to be scoffed at.
From Chelsea Willis’s blog:
Let me preface by saying: I don’t think everyone has to go gluten free. It’s not the end-all-be-all answer to every problem related to our health. I don’t know if I, personally, have Celiac disease, or if I have an allergy to gluten or wheat, or even if I have a sensitivity to it. I know that when I was in high school, I was diagnosed with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) and given some little purple pills, which didn’t really seem to do a whole hell of a lot to influence my stomach issues. I know that I gave up lactose, which seemed to help my “stomach issues”, during my first few years of college (as well as a lot of other foods because I was going through a small bout of an eating disorder). And I know that I had an upper GI scope when I was 23 because I couldn’t explain the weird bloating and cramping that was going on with my gut. I thought that chalky taste might never go away. I was even a vegetarian for a few years because I thought that maybe the meat was mistreating my gut. Did it change anything? Nah. I just didn’t eat bacon for a two and a half years. Words can’t describe how disappointing that was.
What exactly was I going through? It really isn’t pleasant, so I will try to spare you all the details and just say I had a very uncomfortable accumulation of gas in my lower gut practically every evening. If I drank a glass of milk, I’d have to run to the toilet 15 minutes later (it was literally like clockwork). Even if I didn’t have milk, I’d still get crampy and bloated. I’d really only have diarrhea after having milk, so I self-diagnosed myself as lactose intolerant, but the Lactaid pills did absolutely nothing. After a night of drinking beer, I had the most wicked hangovers and zero retention of nutrients as they passed through my gut the next day (sorry, I know I said I’d spare you the details).
When Baberaham found out what I was experiencing, he was curious if it might be a gluten intolerance. Several of his family members have Celiac (sister, mother, grandmother, and aunts), but lucky for him the genes weren’t passed along on his DNA. I didn’t go in for a test (there really aren’t places that do Celiac – or even allergy- testing in my area), I just removed gluten from my diet. It took a while to get it all out; I realized that my favorite cereal was contaminated with malt flavoring and my Quaker Oats were probably contaminated on the processing line. But, eventually, I felt as though I had found a safe diet and my symptoms slowly disappeared.
I don’t cheat (on purpose) on my gluten free diet. It works, and I like it that way. I really don’t care how good that burrito might taste… it’s not really worth the cramping and bloating. It’s interesting that I can tell when I’ve had something that has gluten in it- after going out to eat at a restaurant or ordering lunch at the MUB. My symptoms return and I get uncomfortable. Sometimes I even double over in pain. To make things easier, and prevent the risk of grabbing something gluten-saturated, Baberaham has also adopted the gluten free diet, and sticks to it, too (and doesn’t cheat).
I’m really glad I went gluten free. Not only can I have dairy now (without the GI distress that I was plagued with before), I am comfortable gut-wise before going to bed. And, I’ve never been plagued with the infamous GI drama that comes with racing the long course triathlon. My guts are the last thing on my mind when I’m swimming, biking, and running, unless I’m hungry, of course.
How do we make it work? There are some really simply tricks I’ve learned in the last year and a half that have helped me make my diet a lot more easy. Read on:
1. Dine out less.
At least in the Keweenaw, gluten-free awareness is pretty minimal and restaurant servers don’t really understand that gluten is in flour. After asking if the french fries were breaded, I was once told “Oh, no- They are beer battered”… as if that is different. So, Baberaham have resorted to just dining out less.
This isn’t always easy, especially for people who travel a lot for work. So, do your homework! When I travel for races, I try to find gluten free restaurants online before heading out for food. Restaurant chains like PF Changs and Red Robin have gluten free menus. When in doubt, order a salad without croutons (and get o&v dressing) or get a burger without the bun. Watch for seasonings (get your food without the seasoning). These are sometimes laced with gluten! And, when in doubt, ASK! The restaurant business is a customer-oriented business. Without questions and demands, they won’t know what the customer wants. Asking also raises awareness and keeps the wait staff up-to-snuff with what is on the menu.