Monday, June 29, 2009

Separate but Equal?

Lately the gluten-free community has been abuzz with the news that Betty Crocker has come out with a line of GF brownie, cookie and cake mixes. This after two members of the Betty Crocker family went because of a Celiac diagnosis, the other because her family went GF. (Betty Crocker, it's also worth noting, is part of the General Mills brand, which has worked to make its Rice Chex and other cereals gluten-free.) Many GF bloggers, in particular, have gone gaga over the Betty Crocker development, praising it unabashedly.

There is, of course, something to celebrate here. For one, Betty Crocker now supports both the Celiac Disease Foundation and the Celiac Sprue Association. For another, it offers added choice (mainstream choice, at that) to gluten-free consumers looking for specialty food products.

Set within the broader context of the gluten-free food community, Betty Crocker becomes the latest big step in what amounts to a GF version of a civil rights-esque movement toward "separate but equal." In many respects, this is what we've been asking for - heightened awareness, increased product choice and availability, equality, not a second-rate foodie experience. When we go to the grocery store, we buy our separate but equal specialty GF products, and when we dine out at restaurants, we make our dinner selections from our separate but equal GF menus.

Then again, separate but equal didn't work so well for civil rights seen through the advantageous lens of hindsight. And I have to wonder how it will work out for the gluten-free community. While part of me does applaud developments like Betty Crocker offering a line of GF products, part of me also laments it.

Up until very recently, going gluten-free has actually been a two-fold switch in diet (I've said this before in an implied way on this blog, and explicitly in comments I've left on other GF blogs). There is a switch from gluten to gluten-free, but there has also historically been a necessary switch from processed food to whole, natural foods. This was in part a matter of circumstance - because of a relative scarcity of specialty GF foods, we gravitated toward naturally gluten-free foods such as whole meats and fish, fresh fruits and vegetables, etc. Either that, or we baked our own treats from scratch at home.

But now, the landscape of gluten-free foods has changed (and continues to change) in big ways. Namely, gluten-free foodies can now trade a glutenous processed food American diet for a gluten-free processed food American diet, if they so choose. That's a shame.

We switch from a gluten to a gluten-free diet because we are sick, and we want to make our bodies healthy. Don't you switch from processed food to whole, natural foods for the same reason? It's no secret that, to grossly overgeneralize, Americans are unhealthy eaters. Gluten-free cuisine, in turn, is often a liberation from an unhealthy diet. It is opportunity knocking on your door, and before the Betty Crockers of the world offered their GF cake mixes, it was a door we had to walk through. Now we have the choice to walk through that door or not. We can eat a separate but equal processed food diet... Or we can eat a healthy, whole, natural GF diet. I encourage you to choose the latter.

I can say with certainty that you won't find GF box cake mixes in the cupboards of the Bronski household. When our sweet tooth does have a craving, we'll make a dessert from scratch. And barring that, we'll order from a specialty GF bakery like Aleia's or Mariposa. They make delicious GF desserts with ingredients I'd recognize from my own pantry, and which are free of preservatives and other unfamiliar ingredients. For my money, the world needs more from-scratch home GF cooks, and more Aleia's and Mariposas.

Perhaps one day we'll write about the box mixes on this blog (from Betty Crocker, and from the companies that are sure to follow)...if only for the sake of reviewing them for those readers who would appreciate such information. Otherwise, though, I plan to set my culinary sights on other territory...namely a gluten-free diet which is happily separate but not quite equal.

- Pete

Friday, June 26, 2009

Friday Foto: Mozzarella Sticks

Here's an admission: Kelli and I are big fans of brew pubs. Or at least, we used to be. (We still are, in a sense, though it's often exceedingly difficult for me to eat there these days...) Sometimes we'd just get a big craving for pub food - you know the drill...things like wings, chicken fingers, AND mozzarella sticks.

Happily, with a stash of GF bread crumbs (either homemade or store-bought), mozzarella sticks are easy to make, and oh so delicious. Here's how we do it:

1 pound brick mozzarella cheese (not fresh mozzarella)
¾ cup GF flour
2 tablespoons water
2 cups Italian-seasoned GF breadcrumbs
Dried basil
Dried oregano
Garlic powder
Salt and pepper
Olive oil

1. Cut the mozzarella into sticks that are about ½ inch square and 3 inches long.
2. Put the flour into a shallow dish. Whisk together the egg with the water in a second shallow dish. Put the breadcrumbs in a third shallow dish. Season each dish (flour, egg wash and breadcrumbs) with a dash of basil, oregano, garlic, salt and pepper. To keep your hands from getting too messy while breading the cheese, use one hand for the flour and breadcrumbs and the other hand for the egg.
3. Dredge the cheese in the flour, then coat with the egg wash, and then coat with the breadcrumbs.
4. Heat about a ¼-inch-deep worth of oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. When the oil is hot, but not smoking (if the oil smokes, reduce the heat), begin frying the cheese just until the breadcrumbs are golden. Turn the pieces of breaded cheese until all sides are brown. Be careful not to keep the cheese in the oil for too long as it will melt and ooze out of the breading.
5. Serve with marinara sauce. We make our own starting with a base of diced, no-salt-added canned tomatoes, though go with what you like.

- Pete

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Going the Distance: Part 4

Wellington Lake (swim leg) and Pike National Forest, site of the Xterra Buffalo Creek, 2009.

Saturday morning, June 20, dawned cold and overcast. Clouds hung low over the mountains, and the air was a crisp 45 degrees as Kelli, Marin and I arrived for Xterra Buffalo Creek, my first Xterra of the 2009 race season. In Xterra, as with traditional triathlons, you're primarily competing against other people in your same age group. For me, that's the M30-34 division. And at Buffalo Creek, that field of competitors was especially deep...roughly 50 men in my division alone. (By comparison, another Xterra that same day in Oregon had just 6 men in my division.) Competition would be fierce.

Me heading out onto the bike portion of the race...20 miles of dirt roads and glorious singletrack.

Based on each leg of the race - 1 mile swim, 20 mile mountain bike, and 5 mile trail run - I estimated my finish time to be 3 hours and 15 minutes. I got off to a great start in the race, swimming right on pace for where I wanted to be. The mountain bike was spectacular. After an initial descent on dirt roads, the course turned off onto singletrack that climbed into Pike National Forest, and then wound its way through alpine meadows of wildflowers where the Hayman fire (the most devastating wildfire in Colorado history) decimated the landscape just a few short years ago.

After the run, at the end of the race.

The run - a 5-mile loop around Wellington Lake - was great. As I turned the far corner of the lake and began to head home for the finish line, the competitors around me all turned out to be in my age group (the numbers marked on our calves and shoulders make ID'ing one another easy). We pushed each other, opening up our strides and quickening the pace as the race end neared. When it was all said and done, I edged out some guys, but got edged out by others. My finish time: 3 hours and 16 minutes, just one minute off my prediction. This was nothing short of remarkable, considering that in ski mountaineering racing, my estimates are often off by a factor of 30-60 minutes! It was a great race day.

With the race behind me, it was time to recover...which brings me to the final installment of Going the Distance - post-race nutrition. When a race is all said done, you've pushed your body hard, fatigued it, and broken down muscle fibers. Post-race is the time to rebuild those muscles and enable your body to rest and recover.

As far as the rest is concerned, different people have different guidelines for how much rest you should give your body after a race before you start training again. Rest and recovery are just as important to your performance as intense training days. Without the rest and recovery, your body gets beaten down by all the training. With the rest and recovery, your body recuperates and becomes stronger. As a general rule, the longer and more intense the race, the longer the recovery period. So, for instance, give your body more time after a marathon than after a 10k. I typically give my body a baseline of 2-3 days of complete rest, and then judge how I'm feeling subjectively from there. I can take an extra day or two or three, if needed. Or if I'm feeling fresh and ready to get back into training, I can get back into my routine and start focusing on the next race.

As far as the nutrition is concerned, I focus on proteins (and their building blocks, amino acids). Getting protein into your system ASAP, and keeping amino acid levels in the blood high, are crucial steps for rebuilding your muscles. For me, that means a meat binge (eggs, or steak, or chicken, or pork), but you can introduce protein into your diet in a number of ways. (My meat binge is partly practical...I need the protein for my muscles...but it's also psychological. After sucking down glucose-heavy energy gels during a race, I find I really crave something savory and protein-y.)

Also, don't forget about the carbohydrates. Remember that carbs...which break down into glucose...and then get stored in muscles as glycogen...were depleted during the race. You need to replenish those stores of energy, too.

So, that's my quick and dirty four-part series about gluten-free nutrition for endurance athletes/racing. But the information can be used far beyond that relatively narrow scope... Wanna kick some butt at the company picnic softball tournament? Have a big hike in the mountains coming up? Want more energy for being active in general? Put this info to good use, and get out and live an active gluten-free lifestyle!

In the meantime, I'm already eyeballing the next race on my calendar - Xterra Beaver Creek (which is also the Xterra Mountain Cup regional championship race), coming up in mid-July. Just a few weeks to tweak the training and improve upon my last performance.

- Pete

Friday, June 19, 2009

Friday Foto: Cinnamon Rolls

Well, this is officially the latest Friday Foto I've ever posted. Depending on which time frame you're in, this has the potential to be a Saturday foto! Today was a crazy article deadline, Marin's six month appointment with the pediatrician, and final preparations for the Xterra race, which starts in just a little more than twelve hours as I write these words.

Today's Friday Foto is of cinnamon rolls. The rolls above started out nice and separate from one another, but we failed to account for just how much they'd puff when we baked them! As they pushed out into one another, I couldn't help but notice the geometry...all the concentric circles, each set within a hexagon. After this photo was taken, we topped them off with icing and devoured most of the lot (with a little help from our friend, Tom).

The basis for the cinnamon roll is a sweet bread recipe that comes from my family's Polish mock cake. But instead of the mock cake's poppy seed filling, we substitute cinnamon sugar and butter. You'll forgive me for not posting the recipe here...time is tight tonight, and I need my sleep before the race. But if anyone does want the recipe, please leave a comment and I'll update the post next week.

Until then!

- Pete

UPDATE 7/15/09: You asked for it, and here it is... the recipe!

The Dough
¾ cup milk
½ cup sugar
1 ½ teaspoons salt
½ cup butter
1/3 cup warm water (about 110°F)
4 ½ teaspoons active dry yeast (2 packages)
3 eggs, room temperature
4 ½ - 5½ cups GF flour
2 teaspoons xanthan gum

The Filling
¼ cup butter, melted
¾ cup sugar
3 tablespoons ground cinnamon

The Glaze
¾ cup powdered sugar
2 tablespoons milk

1. Heat the milk in a saucepan until bubbles form around the edge of the pan (scald the milk), remove from the heat and stir in the sugar, salt and butter. Cool to lukewarm, about 115°F.
2. Pour the warm water into a large bowl. Dissolve the yeast in the warm water.
3. Add the lukewarm milk mixture and eggs to the yeast, and stir to combine. Add 4 ½ cups flour and xanthan gum to milk/egg mixture. Mix well and form the dough into a ball. Add more flour if needed to make dough soft and smooth, and only a little tacky.
4. Roll out the dough between two large sheets of plastic wrap to form a rectangle that is 24x16 inches. (Create large sheets of plastic by slightly overlapping the long edges of two sheets of standard plastic wrap that are each two feet long.)
5. With the dough rolled out, brush the dough with ¼ cup melted butter. Combine the sugar and ground cinnamon and sprinkle on the dough.
6. Roll the dough to form a 24-inch long roll. Pinch the long edge of the roll to seal. Slice the roll into 16 equal cross-sections, each about 1½ inch wide.
7. Place the rolls on a greased 13x9x2 baking pan. Set the pan in a warm location free from drafts and let the rolls rise for 30 minutes.
8. Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 350°F.
9. Bake the rolls for 25 – 30 minutes or until golden brown.
10. Remove from the oven and let cool for 15 minutes.
11. Mix together the powdered sugar and milk to make glaze.
12. Drizzle the glaze/icing over the cinnamon rolls and serve. Don’t put the glaze on too quickly after the rolls come out of the oven or it will melt off because of the residual heat.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Going the Distance: Part 3

Sucking down a cup of gatorade at the start of the run at the Cheyenne Sprint Triathlon in Wyoming, 2008.

So you've maintained a healthy and balanced GF diet throughout your training, you've carbo loaded and tapered the week before the race, and now it's time for "the show." That's today's focus - Part 3 of Going the Distance - the during race nutrition.

Nutrition while actually racing is nothing to scoff at. In fact, the longer the race, the more important the during-race nutrition becomes. Your body needs sustained energy, and continued intake of fuel (calories, liquids, electrolytes) to keep from bonking and hitting the wall. But what to eat? It's one thing to plan meals around training. It's quite another thing to eat when you're pushing hard in the middle of a race.

As a general rule, you want to consume foods that are easy to digest, don't sit in the stomach, and most importantly, that digest and metabolize quickly, providing needed energy. The most readily available form of energy during actual racing is probably glucose (a simple sugar), followed by its next of kin, fructose (the sugar found in fruit). The tricky part about ingesting sugars during a race, though, is accounting for their impact on blood sugar and insulin levels (the glycemic index). Foods with a high glycemic index and load will cause a spike in blood sugar (good for a rapid burst of energy), but they'll also result in a subsequent crash in blood sugar levels (not good when you want to sustain your effort over the course of a race).

What to do? You have two basic options: a) stick to foods with low glycemic index and loads, or mix high and low index foods, or b) continue to periodically ingest foods and frequently sip a sports drink in order to keep the sugars flowing in (this, in turn, sustains blood sugar levels until after the race, preventing the crash until after it really matters).

For short distances races (10k and under), I usually don't worry about eating during the race. Depending on race conditions, hydration can be a factor, but I don't focus too much on eating. For middle distances races (those lasting 1-4 hours), I'm a huge fan of GU's energy gels, which come in a variety of flavors. They're easy to carry, easy to eat on the go, and they're balanced with a good blend of sugars, nutrients, etc. For long distance races (such as a 12-hour adventure race, which usually takes me about 9 hours to complete), I mix it up a bit more. At transition areas where gear is stashed, I'll also have bananas, oranges, chocolate, and other foods waiting. This provides a better variety than simply sucking down a billion GU packets, though I continue to use them as well.

With that said, I'm now three days away from the Xterra Buffalo Creek. I've been tapering this week... did my last speed workout on Monday, my last brick (bike immediately followed by run) yesterday, and my last swim today. Thursday and Friday are rest days so I'll have fresh legs come Saturday morning. I've also been chowing down... marinated steak with roasted potatoes and grilled Vidalia onions last night for dinner, an Asian rice noodle bowl for lunch today (almost pure carbs), and grilled pork tenderloin with rice and veggies tonight for dinner.

Last but not least, Part nutrition, will appropriately enough come next race. Between then and now, there will be the usual Friday Foto, but otherwise, I'm getting into race mode. Wish me luck!

- Pete

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Product Review: Pom Wonderful

Tomorrow I'll continue with Part 3: During-Race GF Nutrition of my four part series on Going the Distance. But for today, I thought I'd shift gears and post a product review. We haven't done one in a while, and it was time we got back on that horse! Usually when we do product reviews, we're assessing specialty gluten-free foods that otherwise wouldn't be gluten-free...cookies, breads, pastas, beer, etc. For today, though, we're bucking that trend and reviewing a product that is naturally gluten-free: Pom Wonderful's 100% Pomegranate Juice. We do our best to steer you toward the best specialty GF foods out there. Why shouldn't we steer you toward the best naturally GF foods out there, too?

Pomegranates have been cultivated for thousands of years, and they've had a loyal foodie following over the millenia, thanks in part to their abundant health benefits (which range from cardiovascular health to potent antioxidants). The friendly folks at Pom Wonderful shipped us a case of their juice, along with some accompanying information. To PW's great credit, they not only included a fact sheet summarizing the health benefits that have been uncovered (or proven) via clinical research. They also included a sheet of specific citations from peer reviewed journals...Clinical Nutrition, American Journal of Cardiology, Journal of Nutrition. Kudos to that.

As the company's name suggests, PW uses exclusively Wonderful variety pomegranates (there are more than a dozen varieties) grown in California. The Wonderful variety, for its part, originated in Florida, and was brought to California in 1896. It is prized for its juiciness, great flavor, and for its status as one of the healthiest varieties of the already healthy pomegranate.

We love Pom Wonderful's 100% Pomegranate juice, not just because pomegranates are good for you, but also because all you get is 100% pomegranate juice. There's no high fructose corn syrup, no added sweeteners, no filler juices. Each bottle is pure goodness. I enjoyed drinking it straight, or cut 50/50 with seltzer to make a refreshing pomegranate spritzer.

Wanting to branch out and use our supply of Pom Wonderful juice in more inventive ways than simply enjoying a spritzer, we also made the juice into a steak sauce (reminiscent of a red wine sauce, but brighter and sweeter in flavor). Here's the recipe:

1/2 cup Pom Wonderful 100% pomegranate juice
1 tbsp butter
10 black peppercorns, crushed
Garlic powder

If you're pan-searing the steak, use the PW juice to de-glaze the pan and then make the sauce. If you're grilling your steak, as we did, we recommend adding a bit of GF beef stock to the sauce to increase the depth of flavor.

We also used the Pom Wonderful juice to make a pomegranate-cherry sauce that we served over crepes for breakfast. If you're a fan of fruit-based sauces on your crepes (or pancakes, or waffles), then you'll love this sauce, too. The sugar balances the tartness of the cherries, and pomegranate juice brings in added element to round out what would otherwise be purer cherry flavor. Here's how to make it:

About 1 pint cherries, halved and pitted
½ cup sugar
2 tbsp cornstarch
1 cup (8 oz) PW juice

Mix the ingredients together cold so the cornstarch doesn't get lumpy. Then bring to a boil for one minute or so. Let cool (somewhat) and serve over your crepes.

Our final analysis: we give the Pom Wonderful 100% pomegranate juice an enthusiastic two thumbs up.

- Pete

Monday, June 15, 2009

Going the Distance: Part 2

Me and my race partner, Tom, making final equipment checks before the start of the Adventure Xstream Vail 12-hour adventure race in 2007.

Transitioning to the whitewater paddling section (1 of 2 on this course) on the Colorado River.

Part 2 of my series on Going the Distance is about pre-race nutrition. (If you missed Part 1 on nutrition for training, or want a refresher, you can read it here.) I like to divide the pre-race nutrition into two parts...the week leading up to a race, and the foods you eat immediately pre-race (night before and morning of).

In the week leading up to a race, there are two changes that go hand in hand - one a change in training, and the other, a change in diet. The change in training is known as the taper, whereby you gradually reduce your workload leading up to the race. This is designed to maintain your fitness, but also allow your muscles to rest and recover. The change in diet is the carbo load I precisely advised against in Part 1. Typically 2-3 days before a race, you want to purposefully pump the carbs in your 60% or more (as opposed to 40% while training).

These two shifts work in tandem to replenish glycogen stores in your muscles. In essence, you want to make sure that your fuel tanks start off at max full for race day.

On the other hand, you don't want to shift your body too far away from its ability to efficiently draw on fats/triglycerides for energy, either. For that reason, as race day draws near in the wake of your carbo load, return to your normal balanced diet. This is important, not only for the carb/fat balance, but also because your normal diet is familiar. You don't want to eat anything that could upset your body...nothing new or strange, nothing that sits too heavy, nothing that's too difficult to digest.

For a meal the evening before a race, I'm a fan of combining a meat with a good source of carbs...say a steak with mashed potatoes and salad, or eggs with roasted potatoes and bacon, or chicken with rice and veggies. Then, the morning of the race, I eat a pretty normal breakfast - maybe some GF corn flakes or Rice Chex, two yogurts, some fresh fruit like a banana or an orange. I eat it a little earlier than usual...typically two hours before race start, so that I can be sure it's fully digested. Then, as the race start approaches, I switch to my during-race nutrition, which often consists of energy chews or energy gels and a sports drink. But that's for part 3, so more on that to come.

- Pete

Friday, June 12, 2009

Friday Foto: Kolachkis

I'm pausing in my series about Going the Distance with gluten-free nutrition for today's Friday Foto...Kolachkis. When I wrote yesterday about for the most part avoiding sweets, baked goodies like these kolachkis are when I happily make an exception. (And hey, you can't adhere to a super strict training diet 24/7... you have to indulge, in moderation, occassionally - it's good for the soul and the psyche. That's the same reason why I - and other athletes - still drink beer and wine and other alcholic beverages.)

Kelli's family has roots in the Binghamton region of New York State (an area known as the Southern Tier...south of the Finger Lakes, but north of Pennsylvania). With a large Eastern European immigrant population, kolachkis are a popular local treat, and Kelli's family has been happily making them for a long time. The version above uses Solo brand cherry filling, though you should feel free to get wild and crazy.

1 cup butter (2 sticks), room temperature
8 ounces cream cheese, room temperature
2 ½ cups GF flour
2 teaspoons xanthan gum
Powdered sugar
1 can fruit or nut filling

1. Preheat the oven to 350°F.
2. Combine the butter and cream cheese in a mixer on medium speed until completely incorporated. Stir in the flour and xanthan gum.
3. Refrigerate the dough overnight.
4. Roll out the dough in a generous amount of powdered sugar to less than ⅛-inch thick and cut into 2 ½-inch squares. Put about one heaping teaspoon of filling in the center of each square.
5. Roll the cookie to enclose the filling, leaving the ends of the roll open. You can roll the kolachkis either edge to edge, or fold them corner to corner.
6. Place on an ungreased cookie sheet. (When working with the dough, do not let it get to room temperature. If it begins to get too soft, put it back in the refrigerator for a few minutes.)
7. Bake for about 15 - 20 minutes, until the edges just turn golden brown. (Don’t let the prepared cookies set on the cookie sheets at room temperature for too long. Otherwise, they’ll melt too much in the oven.)
8. Let rest for five minutes on the cookie sheet. Remove and sprinkle with powdered sugar.

- Pete

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Going the Distance: Part 1

Ascending a final short uphill to the finish line of the COSMIC Crested Butte ski mountaineering race.

Today's Going the Distance: Part 1 focuses on gluten-free nutrition for training. Maintaining good nutrition throughout training is important, not only for the sake of performance while training, but also for the sake of your muscles' rest and recovery in between training sessions. Traditionally, the mantra for an athlete's diet has been "rich in carbs, low in fats." Also traditionally, the carbs part of that equation has meant wheat-based bagels, breads, pastas, etc.

Why the emphasis on carbohydrates? To oversimplify, the rationale is thus: the fundamental unit of energy in exercise is ATP (adenosine triphosphate). You probably learned about this in a bio or chem class long ago... Our mucles generate ATP, in turn, from stored glycogen. And glycogen is the storage form of glucose, a basic sugar that we get from carbohydrates. To reverse the rationale, then, athletes' strategies focused on ingesting high ratios of carbs in order to maximize glycogen storage in the muscles and liver (in a sense filling up the gas tank in preparation for physical activity).

If only it were that simple. But before I explain a slight complication, I must digress... In training, there's aerobic activity and anaerobic activity. Anaerobic pathways kick in when we're outputting high intensity for short durations of time (think sprinters in the 100m dash). The energy is available quickly, but it's an inefficient process that doesn't deliver much ATP over time, and lactic acid quickly builds up in our systems, inhibiting our ability to continue performing at that level. Then there's aerobic pathways, which are much more efficient, supplying plenty of ATP to our muscles and successfully managing lactic acid before it has a chance to build up.

Now here's the complication: our bodies also have another available energy store, in addition to carbohydrates...fats (triglycerides). And it turns out that the duration and intensity of our training impacts how much we pull from our carb reserves and fat reserves in recruiting energy for a workout. In short, the longer distance, moderate intensity training sessions pull more from fats, and teach our bodies to do so efficiently. Of course, our muscles can also pull from the glycogen (carb) stores when needed, especially during bursts of more intense activity.

The important take home message is that, for endurance athletes, a more balanced diets of carbs, protein and fats (something akin to a ratio of 40/30/30) will yield better results than a carb-rich, low-fat one.

As a gluten-free athlete, then, how do I personally fuel my body? My carbohydrates come largely from potatoes, rices, GF pastas, and breads made with GF flour blends. My protein typically comes from small portions of lean meat - chicken, turkey, lean cuts of pork, and occasionally, red meat (steak). The fats come from the meat, too, as well olive oil, peanuts and tree nuts. (There are plenty of fresh fruits and veggies thrown in there, as well.)

Importantly, I don't count calories, and I don't carefully examine each plate of food to ensure the ideal 40/30/30 ratio. Instead, I simply strive to make sure that each meal is generally well-balanced. And my body is pretty good at telling me when a meal isn't. For example, during peak training and race season, my metabolism feels like it is in overdrive. However, if I eat a meal with too many carbs and not enough protein, or vice versa, I find that I'll digest it quickly and be ravenously hungry a short time later. The balanced meals, on the other hand, keep my hunger satiated for longer, and my energy feels more sustained throughout the day. I also eat almost no processed foods, and relatively few sweets with refined sugar (except on days...or weeks...when Kelli and I go on a mad baking spree).

Over time, this type of gluten-free diet for endurance training has enabled me to go from a time in my life when running a flat 1.5 mile out-and-back on the road was difficult, to a time now when I complete multiple 10-12 mile trail runs with lots of elevation gain every week. The training certainly has something to do with it, but so does the nutrition.

The next installment: Part 2 - pre-race nutrition.

- Pete

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Going the Distance: Intro

Running out of the T2 transition at the Xterra Beaver Creek 2008.

In just 1.5 weeks I have my first Xterra race of the season...the Xterra Buffalo Creek, southwest of Denver. For those readers that are unfamiliar, Xterra is an international off-road triathlon race series. Each race typically consists of a 1 mile open water swim, a 15-25 mile mountain bike, and a 5-7 mile trail run, often with lots of elevation gain thrown in for good measure.

This year, as both a personal goal and as part of a new book I'm working on, I'm attempting to qualify for the Xterra national championships, which take place in Utah in September. There...I've said it publicly, so now I'll have some accountability for achieving that goal! Achieving it certainly won't be easy, but I also believe it's attainable. I've been training hard, eating well, had some valuable learning experiences in races in years past, and I'm highly motivated for the 2009 race season. Of course, I also live in arguably the fittest city in the fittest state of the country, competing in the most competitive age group of the most competitive region for Xterra (all of those statements are open to interpretation, but you get the general idea...).

With the race close at hand, I thought the time was right to do a series on GF nutrition for athletes. Whether you're a gluten-free athlete, or an athlete who adheres to a gluten-free diet, this info will be useful to you. Since this is a blog about the gluten-free lifestyle, I'll focus mostly on GF nutrition, and not as much on training. However, the two are intimately related, and I'll explain how when appropriate in subsequent posts.

In traditional thinking (and traditional athlete diets) gluten plays an important role, in the sense that it's heavily present in wheat-based breads and pastas that athletes use to carbo load leading up to a race, and it's present in the celebratory beers they drink after the race. The gluten-free endurance athlete has to come at things from a slightly different angle, one that may actually give us a slight advantage over our competitors (more on that to come).

As a caveat, let me say now that my perspective on GF nutrition for endurance athletes is geared toward events that have longer durations, with periods of high intensity exhertion thrown in (ski mountaineering racing, Xterra, adventure racing). These are events that typically last 2 hours to as many as 9 hours or more. This is important, because it affects how our bodies (and our muscles in particular) recruit and use energy.

For my flavor of racing, I have a hierarchy of nutritional needs. A) I need fuel for endurance (long duration). B) I need fuel for speed (high intensity). C) I need fuel for explosiveness (to tackle a climb, burst past a competitor, sprint to a finish). D) And of course, through it all, I don't want to bonk (hit the wall).

Keeping those needs in mind, posts over the subsequent days will cover four major topics: 1) nutrition while training, 2) pre-race nutrition, 3) during race nutrition, and 4) post-race recovery nutrition.

Until tomorrow...

Monday, June 8, 2009

GF Adventure: The Trooper Traverse, a 4-day ski mountaineering route

In 1944, a group of soldiers from Camp Hale's 10th Mountain Division in Colorado completed what has come to be known as the Trooper Traverse. It is a serious and committing 4-day ski mountaineering route over the Sawatch Mountains from Leadville to Aspen. The traverse crosses two wilderness areas, surmounts three 13,000-foot passes, and spends almost its entire length above 11,500 feet in elevation.

My buddy, Josh, and I recently retraced the traverse (I was on assignment...the article should come out this winter) - our route was a little over 30 miles in length, and the trip was epic, to say the least. But we successfully completed the route, rolling into Aspen on Day 4 after not seeing a single soul since early on Day 1.
Mother Nature definitely conspired against on this trip - it began snowing on the afternoon of Day 1, and continued snowing for more than 24 hours straight. We faced problems with slab avalanches, and then Days 3 and 4 smacked us with rainstorms after we've already fought our way through the snowstorm and whiteout conditions that reduced visibility to just a few hundred yards.

But we were all smiles in the end (and quite tired), and celebrated the journey as the soldiers did...with an Aspen Crud at the Hotel Jerome. (An AC is equal parts vanilla milkshake and bourbon.) To check out a detailed photo gallery from the trip, check out my website here. (Just place your mouse pointer over the right-hand portion of each photo and click to advance through the gallery.)
- Pete

Friday, June 5, 2009

Friday Foto: Angel Food Cake

With the four day ski mountaineering traverse behind me (it was epic...there'll be a post about that coming soon), life is settling back into its usual rhythm. It's interesting the things your body craves when working hard in the backcountry for days on end. For both me and my trip partner, Josh, the penultimate craving was for a beef hamburger with a hefty side of fries (craving satisfied). Only now, two days after the trip concluded, are sweets starting to take on their usual appeal. And now that the appeal is back...angel food cake anyone?

1 ½ cups egg whites at room temperature (about 10 – 12 eggs)
1 ½ teaspoons cream of tartar
¼ teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons GF vanilla extract
½ teaspoon GF almond extract
½ cup granulated sugar
1 ½ cups sifted powder sugar
1 cup sifted GF flour
1 ½ teaspoons xanthan gum

1. Preheat the oven to 350°F.
2. Whip the egg whites, cream of tartar, salt, vanilla and almond extract in a mixer using the whisk attachment until soft peaks form.
3. Add the granulated sugar a little at a time, beating until stiff peaks form. Do not under mix (make sure your peaks are stiff!).
4. Sift the powder sugar, GF flour and xanthan gum together.
5. Carefully fold the flour mixture into the egg whites just until all the flour is mixed in.
6. Pour the batter into a 10-inch angle food cake pan. Bake for 40 – 45 minutes on the lowest rack in the oven. When the cake is removed from the oven after baking, immediately invert it to cool thoroughly upside down.
7. Once cooled, loosen the cake from the sides and bottom of the pan, remove and serve with fresh strawberries and whipped cream.

- Pete