Food Intolerance and Sport: Hydration and Nutrition For A Food Intolerant Athlete

Racing a triathlon with D.I.Y sports hydration and nutrition!

Racing a triathlon with D.I.Y sports hydration and nutrition!

Before my food intolerances were diagnosed, I was your typical athlete, guzzling litres of coloured, flavoured pre, post and during sport energy and electrolyte drinks and scoffing packet upon packet of energy gels and bars. I thought my performance really depended on them.

There is a lot of hype (and indeed a booming industry) for Sports Supplements. As athletes, we become  convinced that we need these specialist formluations to maintain and enhance our performances. In fact, you grow to doubt your ability to perform well if, for example you forget to bring an energy gel to a race, or to swallow a caffeine enriched, coloured and flavoured sticky goo, mid-21k run.

So I’m going to share what I do, (which is suitable for the specific distances and training load that I maintain, for me) on a highly restricted diet, which for those who haven’t read my blog before is: Vegan (meat, dairy and egg free), Wheat/Gluten Free, Soy Free, Fruit Free (except the occasional pear), and limited in vegetable variety. I follow a dietary plan that is low in three naturally occurring food chemicals (salicylates, amines and glutamates) as well as free from any preservatives and added flavours, more on that here: Introduction to training as a Food Intolerant Athlete.

Before Training

In the early morning, 5a.m, I will have a black coffee with three sugars (coffee is the only thing I consume that is not strictly ‘allowed’ for the diet I follow. I find I am fine with this one coffee but any more, even decaf, will make me feel nauseous and head-achey. I don’t eat anything as I am usually out of the door for a run, down at the pool for a swim or on my bike by 5.45 a.m.

Mid Training

I train for 45-60 mins on average every morning. During this time I do not need any nourishment. Even in the summer (note that I train very early). I sometimes run or ride for longer at the weekend, say for 1.5 hours on and I don’t have any supplements then either. During a race I will have a bottle of homemade cordial on my bike and will try and take a couple of sips, but to be honest, for the distances that I race, (Sprint) I find I am quite capable of making it through without fluid. There will be many critics to this I know, but so far I am happy with my performance without it. I did race an Olympic/Club distance (1km swim, 30km bike 10 km run) last season and was planning to drink on the bike but I had a technical issue and my “straw” got stuck in my break (yup). I was OK (didn’t fall off) but still managed to complete the 30K bike leg and 10K run without any fluid at all (didn’t stop at the drink stations) and I ranked well in my age group. This isn’t because I’m an exceptional athlete (I’m not, I wish I was), the issue, I think, is dietary.

"Homemade" post and during sport hydration. Cordial and Salt Stick capsules

“Homemade” post and during sport hydration. Cordial and Salt Stick capsules

Post Training

I drink a large glass of homemade cordial (sugar, water and citric acid) and eat a full  breakfast: Two bits of Naturis Buckwheat Toast, with 2/3 can of beans (butter beans or kidney etc) with sunflower oil or safflower oil, a generous serving of salt and a sprinkle of citric acid. If it is boiling and I’ve sweated a lot, I’ll have 1-2 Salt Stick Capsules.

Proof of the Pudding

I’m sure there are many who will criticise the fact I do not supplement or nourish myself mid-training or mid race. However, as I have said, I am happy with my athletic performance and post race and training recovery so far. Last season was my first, proper racing season (after having the winter season for structured base building) and I competed in the top ten at my qualifying races and I have got a position on the Australian Team  Age Groups Category for the (ITU) Triathlon World Championships 2013 this September in London.

I must add however that since changing my diet, 2.5 years ago, I have noticed that my body feels ‘less needy’ for immediate food and drink. I used to have intense cravings for food and drink (all the time, not just in training), feeling grouchy and moody if I didn’t eat certain things. In the past, after a long run I would be gasping for a drink and food, the same would happen after a race. Now, my body feels ‘calmer’ and more resilient, sounds namby pamby but they are the best words I can really think of to describe it and I do not need to rush to eat and drink, although I always eat and drink within 30 mins of finishing. In my first half marathon, 4 years ago, before I started this diet, I had an energy gel at the 12km mark, and I felt dizzy and weak when I finished. In the half marathon I ran last year, I had no gel mid-race (nor ANY water or sports drink during) and I still felt strong and clear headed when I finished, and I ran over 15 minutes faster and had a super quick post race recovery. Some of that improvement will of course  be due to training, but it’s interesting to note that I can both race and train with lower immediate physiological needs for nutrition now.

My muscle mass is higher than it has ever been, my immunity is stronger than ever before and I have more energy than I ever thought was possible. I’ve got my youngest daughter (and her medical team at the RPAH and support from the Food Intolerance Network) to thank for all this of course, because if she hadn’t been so sensitive, she may never have been diagnosed meaning that I wouldn’t have looked at my own diet and  would have lived the rest of my life never knowing I was reacting to food.

Any thoughts? Feedback? Are you a lover of goo/gel, energy bars and brightly coloured electrolyte drinks or do you like to make your own sports food?

More on Food Intolerance here and recipes here

Many people are really curious to know what I eat because I am an athlete on such a heavily restricted diet yet  have such high energy levels and seem to perform OK, (which, intuitively they find quite inconsistent with the fact my diet has such little variation); so, as narcissistic as it sounds, I will be posting up a more detailed description what I eat per average day soon…

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