Athletes are always looking for ways to improve their performances. This article explores 2 types of nutrients found in everyday foods. XTERRA nutrition expert Alexandra Borrelly breaks down the basics on gluten and dairy products, and how reducing the intake of these two could be nutritionally beneficial when it comes to training and racing.
By Alexandra Borrelly
Athletes are always looking for ways to improve their performances. In this article, we'll explore two types of nutrients, gluten and dairy, found in everyday foods that could have an impact on your training and racing.
Being Gluten Free is often seen as a choice or a ‘fad’, but it can have a big impact on certain individuals. In order to really understand if it will benefit you, first we need to explore what exactly Gluten is.
Gluten is a dietary protein found in wheat, barley and rye. Essentially Gluten is a thin membrane that surrounds the starch molecules to ‘glue’ it and hold its shape. Gluten is found in foods such as pasta, cereals and most types of bread. Around two decades ago the development of mass food production saw the introduction of increased amounts of starch. The amount of gluten also had to be increased in order to maintain the consistency of their products. This additional gluten has led to an increased number of people suffering from a reaction after consuming foods containing gluten. This reaction is generally caused by the body’s immune system responding to changes in the intestinal barrier caused by gluten’s ‘glue’ like properties restricting the absorption of nutrients. In extreme cases, a severe reaction can lead to celiac disease, longer-term chronic diseases and autoimmune conditions.
So, what does this mean for XTERRA athletes?
Reactions to gluten are more likely to occur when we’ve really stressed our digestive system during hard training or racing. Intestinal Ischemia-reperfusion is a condition where we’ve starved our gut of blood and oxygen (redistributing it to our working limbs), causing damage to the intestinal barrier and increasing the chances of a reaction to gluten.
With our long-term health in mind, it could be worth avoiding foods containing gluten when eating after a hard training session or a race, or perhaps reducing your gluten intake completely swapping in foods such as Rice, Buckwheat, Corn, Millet, Quinoa and Potatoes.
Dairy products and in particular cow-based products are very much part of our daily diet. Milk, yogurt, cheese, ice cream, are all things I bet you have in your fridge right now. Probably because it tastes really good! Whilst everyone will say that cows-milk is a good source of protein with amino-acids, it’s a bit more complicated than that and in some cases, dairy can actually be bad for you…
- Lactose (or milk sugar) needs an enzyme called ‘Lactase’ in order to be broken down and digested. Some people will be lactose intolerant, unable to produce the enzyme which can result in a reaction from the digestive system known as ‘lactose intolerance’
- The proteins found in cows’ milk are very different to human milk we drank as babies. Our digestive enzymes are largely unsuitable for breaking down and digesting these proteins when compared to the four stomachs that baby calves have!
- Cows’ milk does contain large quantities of Iron and Calcium, but like proteins humans generally lack the ability to digest the amount available.
- Cows’ milk is biologically designed to help a small calf grow into a big cow relatively quickly. Its structure focuses on bone growth, allowing a calf to weigh over 100kg in just one year! It’s unclear if humans benefit from this.
- Cow’s producing non-organic milk have often been treated with antibiotics which can leave trace amounts in their milk. These antibiotics can provoke a reaction from the body, damaging the intestinal lining preventing normal digestion.
Perhaps consider reducing the amount of cow-based dairy products you consume, replacing them with goat or cheese derivatives which cause fewer problems with your body. Vegetable based milk, such as almond or hazelnut milk, can be a great alternative for breakfast use.
Alexandra Borrelly Lebrun is a pharmacist and has studied sports nutrition and natural medicine. She works at Organicoach, where they create optimized nutrition plans for athletes of all levels.