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Archive for the tag “gluten-free running”

My Gluten Elimination Experience

On August 3rd, I embarked on a short-term journey. I have mildly struggled with digestive issues, both while running and in general, for quite a while now. I had played around with my fluid intake, adjusted my nutrition, cut out processed sugar, and monitored my diet in the days prior to long runs. All of these steps provided me with limited success and increased comfort, but many of the issues remained. Those ugly “runner’s trots” still emerged, undeterred by my attempts to vanquish them. I had to be missing something. There was clearly more I could do to adjust my daily habits.

For more than a year, our household has been mostly gluten-free and dairy free (we still cheat a bit on the dairy, but we are both suckers for really good cheese…can you blame us?). However, there is no cheating on the gluten for the beautiful epicurean. I’ve still managed to consume limited amounts of gluten, mostly in the form of whole grain breads, cereals, and my ever-expanding taste for quality micro-brews! It’s been interesting to watch the change in our lifestyle as we adjust our shopping and cooking habits. Foods that had been tried and true staples for us went by the wayside, and were replaced with ingredients neither of us had much experience with, whether it be cooking or eating. Luckily, the epicurean has a culinary gift (as if the name wasn’t a giveaway), so she has poured herself into the task of learning how to craft amazing gluten-free meals, and embrace the anti-inflammatory that keeps most of her Sjogren’s-related pains at bay.

gluten-free

As a side-note, I should point out that our choice to eliminate gluten and dairy had nothing to do with the variety of fad diets that seem to be the rage right now. Especially within healthy-living circles, gluten-free has somehow become a trend and people with no actual need to eliminate gluten are doing so in hopes that it will make them stronger or healthier. There are definitely health benefits to eating gluten-free, and research to demonstrate those benefits. There are also health benefits to eating a natural, unprocessed diet that includes whole grains, such as wheat, barley, and rye. If either of us had to choose, we would be including those whole grains in our diet. Alas, this is not a choice motivated by trendy media hype or experimentation. At times, it is frustrating to see people make that assumption when you explain your dietary restrictions, when in reality, eating gluten causes every joint in the epicurean’s body to become inflamed and feel as though her body was attaching her with burning needles. There is nothing hip about that. That is physiology and biology. *Ok, I’ll step off my soapbox now.*

As I was saying, our home has been free of most gluten and dairy, but I always consumed just enough on my own to never really know if it was impacting me. Since I still had no solution for my GI troubles, I decided to go on a gluten-elimination diet to see if that was indeed causing my issues, as gluten intolerance manifests itself in similar ways quite regularly. Ok, so I didn’t so much “decide” to attempt this elimination diet as the epicurean strongly suggested it over the course of a few months, and I finally, begrudgingly, gave in. I suppose it was a testament to my commitment to running that I was willing to give up bread and beer, right?

Prior to my dietary experiment, I thought I had a pretty good sense of the struggle that the epicurean and others forced to eliminate gluten go through. I had been with her for every meal, watched the early despair as realization after realization emerged with regard to foods she could no longer eat. I watched her strength as she adapted to a new way of life and adjusted her passion for cooking to accommodate her new restrictions. I was wrong. At the end of every day during that period, I went to bed still being able to eat that sandwich, muffin, or pastry. I could still select new beers to try. When I was alone, I could still walk into just about any restaurant and find something on the menu to eat.

gluten_free_running

I’m not naive enough to think that the last 5 weeks of gluten-free living provide me with a full understanding of a lifetime of avoidance. However, being in a position to need to make those choices for myself has given me a deeper understanding and greater appreciation for the experience as a whole. My transition could have been much more difficult, but I luckily have a supportive partner who understands both gluten-free living, and my commitment to running and my health. However, this dietary elimination experiment still reared it’s head at the most random times. It would catch me off-guard when I would be out with friends have realize at the last second that I couldn’t eat something or drink something. I spent even more time at the grocery store reading labels, searching for substitutes to my staples, and putting items back on the shelf after I realized I couldn’t eat them anymore. I ended up craving meals that I rarely thought about before. I am much more aware of choice than I was before.

After 5 weeks, my system had been cleared of gluten for the most part, and it was time to test my body. A few days prior to my planned gluten splurge, I inadvertently ate a malted-milk ball, not even thinking about the fact that it had gluten in it (malt)! I did, however, figure it out when my stomach quickly started churning, and I started sweating and feeling nauseous. This was not a good sign! However, I was going to stick to my plan and not jump to any conclusions. On the Sunday following my birthday (with Monday being a rest day), I cracked open a delicious bottle of small batch Sam Adams that I had been saving. Not only did I enjoy that beer more than I had any beer in quite a while, but I was keenly aware of that fact that it may be the last beer I ever have (yes, there are gluten-free beers, but they are a work in progress, to be sure!). After a few hours, I didn’t feel any different. The next day, I was still feeling fine. Perhaps gluten is not the culprit after all?

If it was going to be my last, it was going to be good!

If it was going to be my last, it was going to be good!

I’ve had gluten only one other time since that beer, again with no reaction. However, I’m still not entirely convinced that it doesn’t have something to do with my bodily concerns. I haven’t felt overwhelmingly different, but there has been a slight increase in my “comfort” on long runs. I’ve also recently noticed that Gatorade, even in small amounts (when given by others), is too much sugar for my stomach to comfortably handle in addition to my honey stinger chews. I shall indeed stick to water and electrolyte tabs. So, at the end of this interesting experiment, I may not have a concrete solution to the questions I sought out to answer. I’ll keep experimenting. What I do have is an even better appreciation for the effort and energy my partner puts into her diet and the food we eat. Her strength, commitment, and adaptability inspire me on a daily basis, and I’m happy to know that we signed up for this endurance event together!

Running Clean: The Gluten & Allergen Free Expo

I don’t claim to be an expert when it comes to gluten-free eating, but I’ve learned quite a bit over the past year. In large part, that has been the result of tagging along on the beautiful epicurean’s dietary adventure. As I’ve learned more about it in general, I’ve found myself giving more thought to the role it already plays and could potentially play in my training. Just as gluten sensitivity, gluten intolerance  and full-blown Celiac’s Disease diagnoses have exploded in recent years, so too have the products marketed at those living with these conditions.

I find it very interesting that these products typically find their way into the health food section of most supermarkets. They have been quickly embraced by the health-food community, and folks have flocked to adopt a gluten-free diet without much information on the overall benefits of these products. As I’ve indicated before, I have fully embraced many facets of a healthy diet, and I continue my quest for the perfect running fuel to sustain me during longer and longer distances. As such, I’ve made it a point to keep my mind open to as many new nutrition products as possible in the hopes that one of them will provide that perfect energy!

Enter the Gluten & Allergen Free Expo. These events, which are being held across the country, bring together food and natural health product vendors from across the country, all hoping to make their mark on the gluten-free demographic. We had read about the expo several weeks ago, and were already planning on going when we entered a drawing at our local grocery store for free tickets. As luck would have it, we both won a ticket, so we were able to attend the expo as guests of HyVee!

GFAF-Expo-01

After driving around for a bit more time than either of us had patience to accommodate, we found the expo nestled in a convention space that was located on the grounds of an amusement park of some sort. After living in Iowa for 8 years, I’m sure I’ve heard of the park before, but I really had no idea what it was, and it proved to be a strange cross between a wild west ghost town and Pleasantville. There were over 100 vendors on hand to display their wares, so we had plenty of exploring to do. While walking around and sampling food, it was refreshing (especially for the epicurean) to be able to casually taste all of the samples without worrying about the gluten content. We tried everything from soup to beer, although a large majority of the vendors were showcasing various baked goods and mixes.

GFAF-Expo-02

Can you see what I mean?

What was fairly consistent among the vendors was the reality of processed food. Now that I’m looking more intentionally at gluten-free products while shopping, I’ve increasingly noticed just how similar the products really are to everything else on the shelf. Stores are placing gluten-free products in health food sections and marking them as such, but they often contain just as much processed sugar as their gluten-laden counterparts. Now, I will definitely say that a larger percentage of these products are going to be better for you overall, but I have no doubt that as the demographic increases along with diagnoses, I will see more and more gluten-free versions of the same foods I avoid already.

Vendors at the expo.

Vendors at the expo.

Part of the difficulty in trying to flush out the role of gluten-free products seems to be the marketing and regulation of gluten-free products in the food industry. The FDA has been discussing how to regulate gluten-free products since 2005, and is just now reaching a conclusion on industry standards that they can enforce in content and labeling. They have been holding open forums and inviting feedback and questions from the public, much like they do with other new regulations they are considering implementing. It looks like they are going to settle on a designation of 20 ppm as the threshold for a product being labeled gluten-free. Many products claim to have far less gluten than this, but the scientific testing hasn’t advanced far enough for these claims to be substantiated. In addition, many products right now may indeed be free of wheat gluten but still contain rye or barley gluten. The choices for consumers have never been more difficult! There are currently two organization, the Gluten Free Certification Organization, and the Celiac Sprue Association, that certify products as gluten-free, so looking for their logos can give you some indication that the product has been tested for all possible sources of gluten, including vague classifications such as artificial flavorings.

A GF product explosion!

A GF product explosion!

Now, much like so many other subsets of the population, the running community has been swept up in the gluten-free discussion as well. There are countless recipes out there for gluten-free nutrition, energy sources for runners, and post-workout meals. In addition, gluten-free living is being linked to cleaner eating, and vegan diets more and more. Although these are not the same thing, there are some connections. Amazing runners, such as Scott Jurek and Rich Roll are making this healthy diet trend that much more compelling! However, if you don’t suffer from CD or Gluten-Intolerance, then simply giving up gluten but continuing to each processed foods is not going to aid your running performance. Nutritionists will still tell you that a diet of fruits, vegetables, nuts, and grains is important for energy, endurance, and recovery. In addition, the stories I read about ordinary runners who are cooking and eating gluten-free tend to all have something else in common- healthy, fresh foods, and a lack of processed sugar.

In the end, the expo was a good reminder for me that eating healthy isn’t simply a matter of buying the right products. I certainly enjoyed hearing more about a host of products I had never tried before, and we walked away with quite a few samples to try. Choice is everywhere in our lives, and eating healthy needs to be a part of a healthy lifestyle, which ultimately permeates everything I do. The increase in gluten-related sensitivities will certainly continue to play a significant role in the health of our population, as well as the products we consume. For those individuals that are forced to adjust to these changes, the influx of gluten-free products is definitely a positive sign of increased awareness on the part of the general public. As with most things, however, increased choice and increased access to information means being a responsible consumer is that much more important. Running clean will always be more than simply what you eat. Running clean is about how you live!

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