Ask the Coach: Gluten, Ripped in 30; Runner’s Fatigue

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Problems with gluten; Using strength workouts to become a better runner; Blood tests when experiencing fatigue

Got Rid of Gluten

Recently I had been experiencing extreme bloating, racing heartbeat and shortness of breath, and discovered that I am gluten intolerant. I dropped all gluten foods, and feel like a new man. What is it about gluten/wheat that causes such adverse effects in athletes?

—Joe Scorsone, Asheville, NC

Just a year ago, sports nutritionists considered wheat a concern only if you were among the one percent of the population diagnosed with Celiac Disease, an autoimmune disorder of the small intestine. Now, even for athletes who don’t test positive for Celiac, the grain is being implicated in everything from asthma and eczema to exercise-induced anaphylactic shock.

The problem lies in the type of semi-dwarf wheat that is now commonly grown. As Dr. William Davis, cardiologist and author of The New York Times bestseller, Wheat Belly: Lose the Wheat, Lose the Weight, says, “The changes introduced for increased yield [of wheat] resulted in changes in many other genetic and biochemical characteristics.” The result is a toxic wheat that is now present in a wide array of foodstuff—basically, the entire middle of the grocery store.

Dr. Davis lists a sampling of other substances in modern wheat that can cause problems including: gliadin, which in addition to causing mind “fog,” addictive relationships with food and appetite stimulation, opens the intestinal barriers to foreign substances leading to inflammation of many organs and joints; amylopectin, which makes cartilage stiff and brittle, leading to erosion and, eventually, arthritis; and agglutinin, which causes bowel toxicity, and also inflames joints.

Although genetic variation means we all respond differently to certain foods, there is absolutely no risk in eliminating wheat from your diet to see how you feel. There might just be a lot to gain.

Ripped in 30

I recently incorporated some Jillian Michaels Ripped in 30 workouts as circuit training on non-run days. Afterward, I struggled to meet my time goals in training, especially in shorter speed workouts. Is there any benefit in doing these types of workouts to increase running fitness and speed?

—Jared Scray, Milwaukee, WI

Working on your overall strength can pay huge dividends. In the long run your body will be more injury-resistant, and your running career
will last longer. Ute CrossFit owner and CSCS certified trainer, Bobbie Hackenbruck of Salt Lake City, Utah, says, “The focus and point of any cross training should be to strengthen your body so it stays strong, balanced and injury free for your specific sport or race.”

Your strength work, however, shouldn’t make your times slower, or impair your ability to train effectively. If it does, it’s time to reassess your scheduling. Says Hackenbruck, “A strength-training program should ensure that you are adequately recovered for your important running workouts.”

There are two ways to achieve this. The first is to periodize
 your strength training during a transition phase, which is planned time off between training events that is focused on rebuilding and rehabilitating. The second is to prioritize the strength more heavily during an early base-building phase. Because this phase focuses on low-intensity gradual volume progression, strength work can be added with minimal detrimental effects. Strength training is hard work and always comes with a cost, but it can be injected into any training phase with the proper adjustment to your running 
intensity and volume.

Feeling Fatigued

I’ve been feeling fatigued and it’s taking me longer than normal to recover from workouts. Aside from the standard ferritin-iron blood tests, are there any other blood tests that I should request?

—Kevin Marsden, Los Angeles, CA

Your issues are common in trail runners. The two most likely culprits are low iron, which impairs the oxygen-muscle transport, and adrenal fatigue. Both are symptoms of overtraining, poor nutrition or inappropriate lifestyle choices (sleep, stress management, etc.).

Chris Kresser, M.S., L.Ac, frequently sees these symptoms
in hard-training athletes at his Berkeley, California, functional- medicine practice. If you have ruled out low iron, the next likely culprit is what is deemed adrenal fatigue. Says Kresser, “The hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis [HPA axis] governs our response and tolerance to stress through the production of various stress hormones, such as cortisol and DHEA.”

Training is a form of stress, and can overtax the HPA axis, causing a decline in performance, and eventually health.

Kresser says the most effective way to test for this decline in HPA axis is a saliva adrenal-hormone profile from a lab like BioHealth Diagnostics. These tests check DHEA and cortisol levels at four different times during the day. This is important because cortisol levels fluctuate; it’s high in the morning, to help you get out of bed, and low at night, to allow you to sleep. Kresser also notes, “Most conventional doctors don’t offer this test, so you may need to find a functional- or holistic-medicine practitioner.”

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