Join the Glu-tan Clan
By Rick Ashworth – MSc Applied Sports Science
Now that we’re well into the year it is hoped that you’re all making decent headway towards the health and fitness goals that you identified at the start of the year; you don’t need to have succeeded completely yet and, if you did, then you should have altered your goals to help continue your progress to a fitter and healthier you.
However, if you’re a bit like me you might have seen your strength and speed improve a little but your weight remaining exactly the same regardless of training volume and intensity so, clearly, it’s my diet that’s at fault or, most likely, my inability to stop snacking as I wait for dinner to cook!
Admittedly, I don’t want to eat so little that my power and strength suffer but a few kilos lighter could see a dramatic improvement in my speed and endurance. Also, I think I might have a slight gluten intolerance and, should I want for another reason, I have been led to believe that cutting out gluten can also help to improve my hay-fever and that’s got to be a good thing as the weather begins to turn (it’s a slow process I appreciate but I’m forever hopeful – still talking about the weather here).
Of course, as far as gluten is concerned, I’ve read about Novak Djokovic putting his great athleticism down to a gluten-free diet but as an amateur athlete who likes his wheat (bread, biscuits, chocolate and even Soreen!) how much of a difference can it really make?
Well, I have decided that there’s only one surefire way of finding out. From the end of this week I’m cutting out bread, the small lotus biscuit I enjoy so much with my multiple coffees, gone is granola and muesli, no more of my mother’s gorgeous fruit loaf, no, the only concession I’m taking is to keep my two pints-a-week on a Friday night and being diabetic, if my blood sugar is crashing during training then I might allow myself something sweet, otherwise, I’m going to do my absolute damnedest to remove all traces of wheat, rye and barley from my diary for at least six weeks – long enough to see what the effects might be.
To succeed I’m going to have to follow a few simple rules and if you want to give this a go then this is what you’ll need to do too:
- Check the label. I’m hopeful that you do this anyway, checking calories per 100g rather than per serving, looking at added sugar and carbohydrate totals but, now, all allergen information too. This will be on the ingredients list in bold by law. Wheat, rye and barley will be highlighted for you and they will usually be one of the first ingredients listed down to the quantities used but a quick scan will show you whether the product is a yes or a no.
- Use the 12th Man. Taking a meaningful look at the packaging of your favourite food will probably bring you out in a cold sweat, yep, there’s a lot of wheat in there and if not then the other two will more than likely rise up in its place. However, though it’s a bit more time consuming you can shop around or even bake things yourself with gluten-free substitutes like gluten-free flour that can be found in many supermarkets (in fact most have an area dedicated to gluten free food these days). Gluten-free did use to mean swapping lovely, nutty, granary bread for a sheet of cardboard but there is far more variety and many more suppliers who have taken the time to create good tasting gluten-free foods and ingredients and you don’t even need to be gluten-free to try!
- Paleo? Settle your heart rate down and remember that fruits, vegetables, meats, fish, poultry, and a large number of diary products are all gluten-free. You can quite comfortably make a full meal, dessert and snacks out of the food just listed so going gluten-free is hardly like putting your head in the noose. Just don’t go with breaded fish or hams and other such altered meats, fish and poultry.
- Grape & Grain. Basically, beer is out (yes, I know that I’m cheating but it’s only two pints-a-week, give me a break…). However, wine, spirits and cider are all in and there are gluten-free beers out there too if you’re prepared to dig them out. Let’s face it, six weeks without beer is hardly a long time and you’ll soon realise if it’s the booze that’s preventing those pounds from shifting.
On a different note, bulgar wheat might be popping up in a variety of celebrity diets at the minute but to be gluten-free you need to set that aside and go with quinoa, polenta or millet (to name but a few of the gluten-free grains available). Rice noodles, too, are fine as is normal rice in place of pasta and if you really can’t cope without spaghetti bolognese then buckwheat noodles can be used instead.
- It might sound ridiculous but a great many sauces contain wheat flour (Soy sauce being one of them). Always check the label on pasta sauces, gravies, stocks and general condiments. You could make your own sauces and thicken them with cornflour if needed?
Those five are really the only things you need to think about if you want to try going gluten-free. If you’re Coeliac on-the-other-hand then you need to make sure there is no factory cross-contamination and you might need to be a little more creative in the kitchen but to just try a slightly different outlook on your diet and see what happens to your weight, body composition and energy by cutting out wheat, rye and barley then just follow the above steps and see what happens? I’m not offering any magic success to health just another way of trying; stuffing your face on a gluten-free diet can still make you put weight on but it does strip a fair few calorific foods from your diet.
I’ll let you know how it goes…if only a could tolerate cider (it’s not an allergy just a dislike)…
As a final afterword, for the vast, vast, vast majority of people eating gluten will make absolutely no difference. Your body is perfectly capable of processing the gluten protein and, indeed, I’ve lived for forty years without really thinking too much beyond calories, carbohydrates, proteins and fat and if you can do that then you’ll have a decent understanding of what you’re eating and why your body looks the way it does. However, for some (a seemingly larger percentage of the population than originally thought), a mild gluten intolerance can promote (in no particular order): bloating, skin rash, constipation and fatigue after eating. Don’t take my word for it, I’m not a doctor and, really, you need to eliminate gluten totally for about a month and then reintroduce it and see what happens but even a month might be far too short a timeframe but it’ll give you an indication or whether you’re feeling better off gluten than on.