In The Gluten-Free Edge Melissa and I talk about "food as fuel," and about nutrient dense, whole, gluten-free foods as "high octane" fuel. Of course, you have lots of options for what kind of fuel you're putting into your body. It can be high octane, or it can be the kind of low-quality junk fuel that fouls up your engine pistons and valves, muddies up your exhaust, and otherwise reduces engine performance.
As I noted in yesterday's blog post about regaining balance, for a little while there I'd drifted way too heavily toward the latter, putting all sorts of gluten-free crap into my body. The result was predictable and undesirable. And so over the course of the last four weeks, and continuing ahead, I've been working to reverse that trend. Doing so started with streamlining my gluten-free diet.
Mind you, I'm not on a diet. But I have adjusted what I eat and when I eat it. I'm not interested in losing the weight I'd gained through severe calorie restriction. I've been training hard in advance of the imminent ultra racing season. In the course of four weeks I've gone from not training at all to logging 35 miles on trails per week, and this week I'm on track to hit 40 miles. The mileage will only continue to go up. And that doesn't count the one to two yoga workouts I'm also doing each week. Your body can't do that without the calories and carbs and fats it needs for energy, and without the protein and other nutrients it needs to rebuild recovering muscles and maintain immune system strength.
Instead, I'm making smart choices about the gluten-free foods I put into my body. In other words, I've switched to high octane fuel. Many of the changes I've made are reminiscent of a blog post from just over one year ago about making resilient New Year's resolutions. Here's are 10 things I've done this time around to align my diet with my weight loss and training goals, and the anticipation of a big year of endurance racing:
1. I'm drinking mostly water throughout the day, avoiding the added empty calories that come with drinking fruit juice or other flavored beverages when ultimately I'm simply thirsty and need to maintain hydration. The one exception is after a workout, when I'll often immediately swig a glass of juice to get some needed sugars into my system.
2. I've scaled back on the alcohol consumption drastically, though I still enjoy a glass of wine, a mixed drink, or a bottle of cider or gluten-free beer a handful of nights each week.
3. As a family, we've balanced our consumption of high glycemic index Jasmine rice (a former staple of our diet, and still a part of it) with more Basmati and whole grain brown rice.
4. I'm eating 5 to 6 times per day, instead of having three large meals spaced out by many hours. A typical day includes a recovery smoothie following an early morning workout, breakfast, a mid-morning snack, lunch, a mid-afternoon snack, and dinner. In addition, I've tried to entirely eliminate snacking after 9:00pm. 8:00pm is even better.
5. Nutrient dense whole foods. As much as possible, I'm working to eat gluten-free foods that are naturally rich in nutrients important to athletes, such as iron, calcium, potassium, sodium (to a degree), protein, appropriate carbohydrates, and healthy fats.
6. I'm remaining aware of portion sizes. When I love the food in front of me, I tend to take a second or even third helping at times, eating until I'm uncomfortably full, simply because I enjoyed the meal, and not because I'm still hungry and need more. Now, I fill my plate with slightly less food, and stop eating when I'm no longer hungry and comfortable.
7. Fresh fruits and vegetables take center stage, including at meals as well as for snacks, when they might be paired with nuts, peanut butter, or hummus.
8. Gluten-free baked goods made primarily from corn and rice have been all but eliminated. Almost no cookies, cake, or other "goodies" (allowing for an occasional indulgence now and then). Just about the only cereals I eat these days are the Nature's Path Organic Crunchy Vanilla Sunrise and Crunchy Maple Sunrise flavors. They have some organic whole grain corn and brown rice, but I love that they also have buckwheat, quinoa, flax, amaranth, and molasses. Really good stuff.
9. Fiber! I make sure there's plenty of it naturally in my diet.
10. Sugar. I've worked to drastically reduce the amount of added refined sugar I get in my diet. For example, I've swapped yogurt with fruit on the bottom (lots of added sugar) for plain Greek yogurt to which I add a dollop of natural fruit preserve.
What does all this mean? Am I left feeling deprived with the foods I eat and don't eat? Not in the least. I eat like a king. (Or at least, a gluten-free king in training for some big endurance trail running races...)
Here are some examples of meals I've enjoyed in the past few weeks:
- Chicken tikka masala and chicken korma
- Garlic shrimp over spaghetti marinara (whole grain brown rice GF noodles)
- Pad Thai
- Steak with grilled onions
- Black bean corn tacos with grilled vegetables
- Pizza (from scratch crust)
- P.F. Chang's China Bistro
- Scrambled omelets (with eggs, peppers, onions, bacon)
- Pancakes with pure maple syrup
- Herbed grilled chicken with Swiss chard
- Asian meatballs
- Lentil soup
- Ham sandwich on multigrain GF bread
- Sweet potato fries
- Roasted Brussels sprouts and seasoned potatoes
- Grilled asparagus
- Berries, oranges, apples
- Almonds, cashews, pecans, peanut butter
- Nut milk
- Plain Greek yogurt with natural fruit preserve
- Recovery smoothies
You can streamline your gluten-free diet, too. Maybe pick one or two or three items from my list of ten changes above, and work to incorporate them into your own life. Sooner than you think, they become second nature. And the better you feel and look as a result of those changes, the more you're motivated to keep it going.
To get you started, try this recipe for my current go-to smoothie. I can't get enough of it.
Pete's Power Recovery Smoothie
Makes 1 large smoothie
1 ripe banana
1 cup (a hearty handful) of spinach leaves
1 cup frozen blueberries
1 cup almond milk (or a 50/50 blend of almond milk and kefir)
Add all ingredients to a blender and blend until smooth.
This recipe is: gluten-free, refined-sugar-free, nut-free, tree-nut-free, fish-free, shellfish-free, lacto-ovo vegetarian.
Note: If made with all almond milk, this recipe is also dairy/casein/lactose-free and vegan. Either way, it's packed with natural fruit sugars, fiber, calcium, iron, and protein.
Photo courtesy Stock.xchng / Kiril Havezov