Hello friends! I’m Katie, and I write a blog called Nourishing Flourishing. I generally focus on sharing recipes that are gluten-free and vegetarian (most are vegan and grain-free, too), but I don’t think anyone would really notice those particulars… Tasty food is tasty, regardless of other labeling! …But I digress. Back to the topic at hand.
Matt asked me to guest post today, and since I’m assuming you are here at The Athlete’s Plate because you’re interested in athletes, and/or plates, I thought I would talk about my new line of dishware featuring star athletes.
I kid, I kid. Actually, I want to do a quick rundown of why so many athletes are starting to turn to gluten-free eating. I’m not trying to preach about GF here, but I do find this topic interesting as someone who needs to eat GF for health purposes. Some athletes are compelled to make this change because they have been diagnosed with celiac disease, an aggressive autoimmune response to the protein found in wheat products, rye, barley, and triticale. Others are now finding that a gluten-free diet is simply superior nutritionally for them, and thus improves their performance by leaps and bounds (<– …get it? *snort*). Now, anytime one talks about gluten-free diets, things get messy. There’s a real difference between celiac disease, wheat-allergies, gluten-intolerance, and gluten sensitivity, and we don’t want to use these terms interchangeably. I’ll include some resources at the end of this post if you are interested in learning more about celiac disease; but for now, I want to talk about one microcosm of this issue: why athletes who do not have the diagnosis of celiac disease are transitioning into GF lifestyles by choice.
I’ll be the first to note that there aren’t any studies yet published on this (to my knowledge). But, there is a lot of anecdotal support from pro-athletes that back up the basic science that Dr. Alan Lim (along with others) applied to the Garmin-Transitions and Radio Shack pro cycling teams (as in, those of Lance Armstrong and Christian Vande Velde). Just using this group of cyclists as an example, members of the team noted that they digested better, and thus recovered, slept, and performed better. The question many were asking was, “Why?”
Gluten is notoriously difficult to digest (now more than ever before, though it’s debatable whether that is due to environmental reasons or crops that have been altered genetically too quickly for our bodies to adapt), and leaves little pieces of itself behind in the intestine. All humans — not just those with celiac disease or intolerance — lack an enzyme needed to fully break down gluten. Over time, these residual fragments become lodged and ferment, leading to gas, bloating, inflammation, and an imbalance of the intestinal bacteria, which can lead to a host of other problems. Because we absorb nearly all the nutrients from our food via our intestine, all this disruption keeps our bodies from accessing all the vitamins, minerals, and other nutrition our body needs. You can imagine how not only the discomfort of being distended and crampy (amongst other things), but also lacking in nutritional fuel, could hinder an athlete’s performance.
Any athlete will readily state that food is key to function; what you put into your body is what you’ll get out of it! While no one should jump into a gluten-free diet without researching first, this is certainly an option that athletes can explore as they seek to achieve their performance goals. I will say that suddenly replacing wheat with other processed foods, even if they are gluten-free, will not be beneficial. A large part of the advantage of a gluten-free diet is the incorporation of whole foods as carbohydrate sources, rather than the refined ones of the standard American diet. This means whole gluten-free grains (especially ancient grains like quinoa), vegetables, and fruits. When we start replacing the old glutenous products with primarily white rice, tapioca, white potatoes, and corn (not that these are bad in and of themselves), we will probably see the high glycemic index of these foods messing with our insulin and thus our performance. There needs to be a healthy balance in a GF diet as well. This post is good place to get more analysis on the topic (and it’s written by legit athlete Peter Bronski).
Here are more resources if you’re interested in delving into this a bit further:
Clues to Gluten Sensitivity
And here is a fairly comprehensive list of symptoms of celiac disease (With over 200 known symptoms, this disease can manifest itself as uniquely as the individual who has it! Just something to be informed about.)
And with that, feel free to contact me with requests for Katie’s line of collectible Athlete Plates.