The first question might be—is there a connection between gluten sensitivity and exercise? The answer is a bit more complicated than you might think, at first… isn’t it always?
I’d like to talk about two ways gluten intolerance impacts exercise: nutritional deficiencies and a more complicated condition called “food dependent, exercise-induced anaphylaxis.”
First, complete nutrition is sometimes difficult for those of us with gluten sensitivities and this includes the entire spectrum from those who feel some mild discomfort after ingesting food with gluten in it, to those who have serious discomfort to those with full-blown celiac disease. Without proper attention to nutritional balance, not only do we not get the full range of nutrients, vitamins and minerals, but we may not even feel like doing any physical activity—our energy might be low, time might be short and maybe, well, we just want to relax and not DO anything!
Second, there is a condition called food dependent, exercise-induced anaphylaxis (FDEIA). It is most common in teens and young adults. It appears in some individuals who exercise—usually pretty strenuously, soon after eating a specific food. It appears to be a true allergy in the sense that the immune system is reacting with histamine release, IgE antibodies and the whole range of allergic responses such as itching, lightheadedness, difficulty breathing, hives, an asthma attack, abdominal symptoms, and even anaphylaxis. Some of the most common “triggers” are celery, wheat (i.e. gluten), soy protein, cheese, and shellfish. Aspirin and other NSAIDs can be the trigger as well.1 The solution to this is a preventative one—avoid the triggers, once you know them and wait 1-2 hrs after eating before exercising. Sometimes the reaction happens when the individual exercises first and then eats—again; the “cure” is to wait for 1-2 hrs to eat after exercising as well.
No doubt about it most of us have sedentary jobs, sedentary hobbies and little time. I have a 2nd degree black belt and I know full well I need more exercise, need to train again and need to get more active. It’s tough to find the time, the place and the motivation. But, without the physical activity, more can get flabby than just our midsections and thighs! We lose strength in our bones, lose muscular strength, stamina, energy ….and, to top it off, are prone to more chronic diseases such as cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes, and obesity.2, 3
Diet and exercise are associated with preventing chronic diseases such as osteoporosis4 and can affect conditions such as anemia5 as well.
All nutrients are important and all body systems interact. But, there are some nutrients that are particularly important for bones and blood—and these are the ones that can be most impacted by exercise.
Calcium: Calcium is so important for both men and women to maintain bone density and strength and prevent osteoporosis. Since so many people with gluten sensitivity are also dairy sensitive, the best non-dairy sources of calcium are listed in the table below. Exercise is also vitally important—mainly weight-bearing exercise such as walking (easy and doesn’t require anything much more than a pair of good shoes), hiking, dancing and jogging. You can use weights as well. Know your limits and don’t overdo it. My personal favorite is walking the dog—it may be his favorite too!
Vitamin D: Vitamin D is everyone’s favorite “new” vitamin—and I’m sure glad it is! Vitamin D is important for healthy bones (working along with calcium), a strong immune and nervous system and is probably important in the prevention of some cancers, autoimmune and neurological disorders.
Minerals such as Iron, Zinc and Copper: As probably everyone knows, if you are anemic or have “iron-poor blood”, you feel tired all the time—and that is NOT a time when you are interested in exercise! Most anemias’ are due to a deficiency of the minerals iron, zinc or copper or to Vitamins B12 and folic acid. Again, people with gluten sensitivity may not be getting as much of these minerals and vitamins as they need. The table below shows the best gluten-free sources of each.
|Calcium||Sardines, salmon and shrimp, bok choy, collards, turnip greens, spinach and broccoli|
|Iron||Beans, legumes, beet and turnip greens, broccoli, bok choy, molasses, dried dates and raisins, fish and red meats. Vitamin C helps with the absorption of iron, so lots of vegetables and fruits will give you both.|
|Zinc||Oysters, liver, seeds (pumpkin and squash), roast beef, chocolate (yay!), lamb and peanuts|
|Copper||Liver, seafood, nuts, seeds, sesame and sunflower seeds, cashew nuts, beans and molasses.|
|Vitamin D||Sunlight! Ok—its not a food—but if you exercise in the sun, you get ALL the benefits! As far as food sources: fatty fish (also great for the omega-3 oils), whole eggs and liver.|
|Vitamin B12||All seafood, liver, beef, lamb, eggs|
|Folic acid||Organ meats, legumes, potato, sweet potato, fruits and vegetables|
2. Woolf K, et al, Physical activity is associated with risk factors for chronic disease across adult women’s life cycle. J Am Diet Assoc, 01-JUN-2008; 108(6): 948-59.
3. Valderas JM et al, Defining comorbidity: implications for understanding health and health services. Ann Fam Med, 01-JUL-2009; 7(4): 357-63.
4. Sinaki M et al, The role of exercise in the treatment of osteoporosis. Curr Osteoporos Rep – 01-SEP-2010; 8(3): 138-44.
5. Clark SF, Iron deficiency anemia. Nutr Clin Pract – 01-APR-2008; 23(2): 128-41.