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Coach's Column with Namrita O'Dea

Posted by: Shannon Boffeli |January 4, 2011 9:07 PM

This week our question goes to Namrita O'Dea. A licensed dietician and member of the Topeak/Ergon racing team, O'Dea helps riders fine tune their bodies for maximum performance through her business 55 Nine Performance Nutrition.


Question: I always thought bread and pastas were supposed to be the best "biker foods" now I hear about all these people doing Gluten free diets or the Paleo diet that completely cut those sorts of food out. What is up? Should I be looking into these or are they just a fad?


Gluten is a protein found in wheat, rye, and barley.  If you have celiac disease, even the slightest bit of gluten will trigger abdominal cramping, diarrhea or constipation.  If you also have a problem with anemia or frequent weight loss or gain, you may want to get checked for celiac disease or even a gluten intolerance which is more common.  A gluten-free diet will offer life-changing relief if you really do have a gluten intolerance or celiac disease.  However if you don't have one of these conditions, going completely gluten-free can get expensive and inconvenient and may not be any better for you than a regular diet.  A gluten-free diet is free of wheat (durum, semolina, kamut, spelt, triticale), rye, barley; and many of the following: breading, broths, coating mixes, communion wafers, croutons, imitation bacon, imitation seafood, marinades, pastas, processed meats, sauces, gums, stuffing, and even soup bases.  But, you may still eat oats, rice, corn, soy, potato, tapioca, bean sorghum, quinoa, millet, buckwheat, arrowroot, amaranth and nut flours.  So, as a gluten-free athlete it's still fairly easy to take in enough carbs from any of these, plus fruits and vegetables. 


The paleolithic or preagricultural hunter-gatherer type diets have also made a comeback.  The premise of these diets is that our modern diets, diets of "civilization", are implicated in many of the chronic diseases seen today.  A typical paleolithic diet consists of lean meat, fish, eggs, fruits, vegetables and nuts while excluding cereal grains, dairy and legumes.  Research from the University of California San Francisco School of Medicine has shown paleolithic diets to decrease blood pressure, improve glucose tolerance, decrease insulin secretion, increase insulin sensitivity, improve total cholesterol, LDL, and triglycerides without weight loss.  For athletes wanting to transition to a paleolithic diet it takes careful planning to ensure adequate energy and nutrient intake. Modifications and exceptions may need to be made in order to get enough calories and carbohydrates, especially during the race season and periods of heavy training.  In addition, if you follow a strict paleolithic diet a calcium + vitamin D supplement may be needed.

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