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Christie Sym's Blog


Injuries suck, may as well be honest!

May 22nd, 2013 by christiesym

By now most in the triathlon world familiar with me are aware of the fact that I’m dealing with a pretty serious injury. I’ve shared snippets of it along the way, but to be honest have also hidden myself away from the sport that not too long ago was my world on a daily basis. Today, triathlon just feels like a sport I used to do, much like adventure racing, mountain biking, surf ski paddling, soccer, oh the list goes on. I remember loving roller coasters as a kid (in fact I still do), and clearly remember one day being allowed to stay on one particular roller coaster for a total of 17 rides (I was eventually kicked off when others decided it looked like a cool ride too!) Well this injury has taken me on one hell of a roller coaster ride, and an extremely long one at that, but this time I’ve wanted to get off at every opportunity, any opportunity.

To give you a quick run down on the facts:
- My foot started hurting (and I limping) late March 2012, 14 months ago
- My last race was August 11, 2012
- I continued to attempt running through the injury, despite severe pain during and after running (and eventually biking) up until October 2012
- The diagnosis was a plantar fascia tear at insertion to the heel (80% off the bone), stress reaction of the heel, plantar fasciitis and chronic inflammation throughout my entire foot and up through my ankle. Additionally I had neural impingement in my heel and ankle (a result of inflammation).
- I’ve been in a moon boot a total of 5 months, and on crutches a total of 10 weeks
- I can’t remember the last time I rode a bike, ran, or even walked further than about 500m in my boot.

(Please visit my website www.christiesym.com for full blog post!)

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Setbacks: We all face them at some time or another

March 28th, 2013 by christiesym

I feel it’s time to do a little update, as whilst others have been blogging about their latest race results or training camps, I have felt very little to contribute on this front. Then I had a think about it, and reminded myself that everyone gets injured at some stage in their life, and everyone struggles at some point along this road. So yes, I’m injured. No, I haven’t raced since my crash in Ironman New York in August, yes August 2012. Yes, there have been a lot of challenges, a lot of tears of frustration, moments of hope, moments of complete despair, enough scans of many types that I now feel almost qualified to read them myself, and a lot of appointments with some fantastic health professionals who have been the glue holding me together.
Whilst I won’t go into detail about my injury, let’s just leave it that my left foot has left me feeling like I’ve inherited a young, troublesome child who demands my attention every waking moment. It’s now been 3 months since I last ran, and approaching the same since riding my much loved bicycles. Heck I haven’t even been able to head out for a stroll to enjoy the fresh air, and it’s been 12 months since I took a pain free step. My saving grace has been the pool, where I have perfected the one legged flip turn and found escape from the demons that torment a chronically injured athlete. Here I am free, I can swim lap after lap until I am either so hungry or tired I must get out and face the fact that I still can’t walk on my left foot. I have developed a love of swimming, and have spent a lot of time working on what was previously my weakness when it came to swim, bike, run. I am well aware of how positive this is.
So in thinking about all of this, and pondering what exactly to write, I decided that I would share my perspective on dealing with disappointment through illness or injury. Hopefully at minimum I can share with others steps to take in dealing with setbacks, whether it be 2 weeks, 2 months, or a year.
Keep an eye out for my next blog, I’ll have it up in the next week, beginning with what I’ve personally learnt about listening to your body, and deciphering when a niggle is simply a niggle, and when it’s niggling at you to stop and listen! In the meantime if you’ve got any questions concerning dealing with a injuries or setbacks please be in touch, I’ll do my best to address them in my upcoming blogs.
Train hard but train smart.
Christie x

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2012: Reflection

December 19th, 2012 by christiesym

I would sum up most of 2012 with a quote taken from one of my favourite movies, Forrest Gump:

“Dear God, make me a bird. So I could fly far. Far, far away from here.”

Yes, it was a rough year. Although at the same time it has been a year of incredible change, opportunity, and clarity. A chance for me to look deep inside myself to determine who I am, as a person, and as an athlete.

So although I haven’t achieved what I set out to in 2012, I am actually quite relieved to see it come to an end, and ready to welcome in 2013. This year I won’t be wanting to fly away from anything, and instead making the most of each and every moment!

I’ve come to a lot of realisations this year, with the biggest and best of them being to understand what a great family, friends and support network I have around me. They’ve all been there to pick me up when I’ve fallen down; they haven’t judged me for mistakes or bad decisions I may have made, just helped me dust myself off and help redirect onto the right path to achieving my dreams.

With the year coming to a close, I’d like to reflect on a few of the highlights of 2012, as despite being quite a rough year, yes there were still some highlights.

  1. An invite from “the Doc” Brett Sutton to come and meet him in teamTBB camp in Mooloolaba in March.
  2. The “nod” from Doc to “give me a go” on teamTBB as a “real” professional athlete
  3. My race in Ironman New York up until my crash at 180.5km! I had implemented massive changes to my training and general approach to training and racing in the lead up to this event, and race day was just a magical experience.
  4. Returning home to my family and friends in Sydney in August, despite being broken, was a very happy time and a huge relief to be home.

The low points, well there’s no need to ponder over these, as 2013 for me is about looking forward to bigger and better things. I am so very grateful to be a part of teamTBB for 2013 and playing my part in growing the team on a personal, athletic and social basis. I am now well on the way to full recovery from my injuries sustained this year, and whilst my 2013 schedule is yet to be confirmed, I look forward to toeing the start line of races once again very soon.

A few very special mentions must go out at this time:

Doc, you have given me an opportunity to change my life, and for this I am forever grateful. I hope to make you and teamTBB proud in 2013 and beyond.

My coach Matt Koorey in Sydney, wow what a journey so far, thank you for everything, including rebuilding me from the ground up, not an easy task but you’ve stuck by me and I can’t put into words how much this is appreciated.

Daryl Philips of Performance Health Newport, thank you for believing in me, for getting my body back on path to the performance we know I’m capable of, and mostly for your honesty in treating my most recent injury. I could not have done this without your help.

My family: mum, dad and Mike, love you guys and thank you for putting up with me and loving me all the same ;-)

My best friends in the world Chedda, Pip and Rosi – I don’t need to say anything but love you so very much xxx

Last but not least Mike @ Northside Runners and Hugh @ City Bike Depot, thank you for welcoming me on board to save some money for my 2013 season.

2013 is going to be my fresh start and I can’t wait!!

Christie x

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GLUTEN FREE EATING PART 3: Putting it into practice!

October 20th, 2012 by christiesym


Now I know a lot of you are interested in learning what gluten free foods/fuel I use in my training and racing. I am going to share this with you, but do warn that you may be a little disappointed. I say this because, quite honestly, I keep it pretty simple. Your nutrition plan doesn’t have to be a complex science experiment, nor do you need a science degree to devise one. Quite simply, you need to determine what foods work best for you, experiment a little with the quantity, combinations, and timing of ingestion, and stick to what works.

So without further adieu, here you go!


Your fueling requirements are going to differ with the phase of training you are in, and your specific goals related to training intensities and body composition. At present I am focussing on building a big aerobic base and improving my body composition, thus my training fuel is kept to a minimum. I stick to water for hydration, and natural foods for fuel – banana’s and dates being my preferred fuel source. I will throw in a protein/natural food bar if I need it on longer/harder workouts.

For my bars I stick to products that are made entirely from natural food sources, including dates, almond butter, nuts, seeds, coconut, coconut oil, fruit and usually some sea salt. There are plenty of options available in health food stores and supermarkets world wide, or you can make your own. I mostly stay away from sports performance drinks in training, but do introduce them at the end of hard workouts leading into races so that my body is used to ingesting them. If I haven’t raced for a while or am not racing often I will do a race nutrition simulation 2 weeks out from the race, although generally you will get plenty of testing done in your low-key races.

Training fuel sources:


•Dates (I personally prefer the big, juicy Californian dates)

•Natural food bars (homemade or a few preferred brands whilst traveling)

•Snickers bars for long, hard sessions (or if I find myself out on the road needing more fuel – you can find them everywhere)

•Cytomax sports performance drink (race simulation)

•Muscle Milk protein powders (for recovery)


I always race with the same nutrition plan, and that is giving my body what it wants, when it wants it. Whilst this can differ slightly, it is only slight. I use the same fuel sources; I might just change up when I ingest what. Things that affect this include your current level of fitness, heat, humidity, cold (I need more calories during cold races), race tactics etc.

As mentioned above I stick to the same fuel sources, adding in more concentrated fuel sources to my race nutrition plan.

Racing fuel sources:

Bananas, dates and natural food bars as above

Snickers bars (NB: Mars Bars are NOT gluten free)

Cytomax sports performance drink

Cytomax energy drops

Gel (I use these minimally) – check they are gluten free, although most are

Muscle Milk powder varieties for recovery

People often ask me about the Snickers bars – I don’t chow these down every hour!! I cut them in half and pop in a bento box so they don’t melt, and generally stick to 1 in an Ironman race. Sometimes I’ll go 2. I have been known to have half on the marathon, but I was an adventure racer so used to digesting on the run ;-) Generally I would recommend sticking to these on the bike if you want to try them!!

Additionally, here are some of my all time rules for race nutrition:

Rule 1: Never ingest a carbohydrate solution and food/gel at the same time! No questions, just never do it!

Rule 2: Don’t use gels just because others do. Personally my body can only tolerate a small amount of gel, and thus I only use a small amount. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve tried to “teach” my body to tolerate gels, bottom line, they don’t agree with me in large quantities. Everyone is different. Dates are my gel. Natural, tasty, quick release sugar and they are available everywhere (fresh or packaged at a pinch). Again, dates work for me, but might not for you.

Rule 3: Salt requirements are an individual thing, some people need lots, and others need little. You can work this out in an expensive laboratory, or you can experiment. Personally I experimented until I worked out what suits my body in different environments. Don’t forget that your electrolyte drink contains sodium, as do your gels, bars etc so take this all into account before adding salt tablets to the equation.


As I’ve mentioned previously, I stick to a paleo inspired diet, which is naturally gluten free. This is a completely different discussion so I won’t go into detail on this aspect of my diet, but instead give you a good run down on how you can fuel yourself throughout each and every day, with tasty, nutritious gluten free food.


The first step is accepting that things are going to be a little different following a gluten free diet. The tastes and texture of foods will be what stands out, and the cost. A forewarning, the gluten free diet isn’t the cheapest to follow. So be prepared for an adjustment period, remain open to new ideas and if you don’t like something, don’t feel you’re stuck with no options. There is plenty of variety and eventually you’ll work out what you enjoy best.


There are plenty of GF cereals available in your local supermarket, no need to visit the health food stores and pay exuberant amounts. You can get everything from GF muesli’s, alternative grain flake cereals, coco-pop and rice bubble (children’s “fun”) cereals, and porridge (forget traditional oat porridges). Quinoa flakes also make a great porridge and are quick and easy to prepare.

NB: Gluten free Oats

There is much controversy over the suitability of “gluten free oats” for people with coeliac disease. Oats are thought to contain gluten through contamination in the manufacturing process. Specialty oats produced in a gluten free facility are available, although oats do contain a protein that mimics gluten, and thus creates adverse effects in some people with coeliac disease.

There are plenty of gluten free breads on the market. Many are terrible, and could form the brickwork of a house. What is available locally is obviously location and country dependant. Local farmers market’s often have fresh loaves with fewer preservatives than commercial brands, and often provide samples. Trial and error is the best bet here to find one you personally like. I often choose based on the ingredients, as I like to avoid grains such as corn and rice, and opt for more nutritious grains such as quinoa. A blend of flours is often a good middle ground and provides a nicer texture than loaves based on just one flour.

The same goes for baking your own bread. This is my favourite approach, and when I have time is the only GF bread I will touch. As above, a blend of 3 gluten free flours seems to produce the best results. I’ll share some of my favourite recipes on my website soon!

Most gluten free breads are best toasted, and freeze any that you don’t plan on eating within 1 – 2 days for optimal freshness.


Eggs are, in my opinion, faultless. I love them. Poached, scrambled, fried in a non-stick pan, hard boiled, soft boiled, or made into omelettes, they are delicious, nutritious and filling. Served on gluten free bread or simply with a side of fruit salad, you can’t go wrong with eggs. NB: I buy only fresh, free range organic eggs – yes they are expensive, but I was victim of salmonella poisoning from contaminated (cheap) eggs in 2010 and refuse to go cheap on them anymore.


A quick, easy and if need be portable breakfast option, smoothies can be tailored to your individual preferences with ease. Personally I freeze my favourite fruits in advance (banana, strawberries, mixed berries, mango, peaches) thus creating a thick consistency to your smoothie. Combine your choice of frozen fruit, almond milk (or dairy, coconut or soy), yogurt (natural or greek is best), and protein powder (my favourite is Muscle Milk, always check the label to make sure it is gluten free) and you have a delicious meal or substantial snack in minutes. You can add extra ingredients to your smoothies, such as LSA (crushed linseeds, sunflower seeds & almonds), your favourite nut butter (careful on the portions here), coconut oil, cinnamon and maple syrup or honey.


Now if you’re used to eating sandwiches, your days of eating sandwiches, as you know them is over. Accept and move forward. Gluten free breads simply don’t taste that pleasant untoasted, and due to the denseness of the alternative ingredients used, the slices are generally smaller for the same caloric content.


It is amazing how filling and satisfying a good salad can be. If you’re thinking of simple lettuce, tomato and cucumber salads, forget it. Salads don’t need to be boring. Think colour and variety.

My favourite salad ingredients include:

•Dark green leafy salad base (baby spinach, rocket, kale, mixed greens etc)

•Colourful raw or cooked vegetables (roasted vege’s are my favourite)

•Protein (boiled eggs, leftover chicken or meat, pancetta or ham)

•Cheese (goats fetta, haloumi, parmesan are my picks)


•Nuts and seeds (walnuts, macadamia’s, almonds, sunflower seeds etc)

•Healthy dressings like simple balsamic, olive oil, salt and pepper

Obviously you wouldn’t use all of these in one salad, mix it up and get creative.


An amazing gluten free food which can be served with some salad or protein, or can be used in a salad as you would cous cous (of which is not gluten free!). I have some amazing quinoa recipes I’ll share on my website shortly.


As per breakfast, eggs are brilliant any time of the day. Leftover frittata with some salad is a favourite of mine.


Again as per breakfast a smoothie is a quick, portable lunch option.

Rice cakes:

Top rice cakes (thick, thin, flavoured, unflavoured) with your favourite ingredients. A good base to spread onto rice cakes is avocado, hummus or tahini. Top with some protein (tuna is great, sliced egg, chicken, ham) and a little vegetable (baby spinach, rocket, sundried tomato, fresh tomato, herbs) and a little sprinkle of fetta or cheese of your choice. Finish with salt and pepper.

Sandwiches and rolls:

Now whilst gluten free bread is very different to what you may be used to, you can still have a sandwich, hamburger, or focaccia. There are an increasing number of specialist bakeries producing gluten free bakery products including hamburger and hot dog buns, focaccia bread, Panini’s, bread rolls, lavish type breads etc.

From experience I would recommend at least lightly toasting these products before use, although personal preferences will come in to play here. Gluten free bread products are becoming more widely available in café’s and restaurants, just make sure they know you are coeliac if that’s the case so they’re aware for cross contamination purposes.


To be honest not much really has to change here. You may have to alter the brands you buy for particular sauces and dressings, although every dish you have enjoyed previously should have an easy to prepare gluten free alternative.

Gluten free alternative for popular ingredients:

•Pasta: gluten free pasta (you can also get gluten free lasagne sheets)

•Cous cous: quiona (cook like you would rice)

•Wheat noodle varieties: rice noodles

•Gnocchi: Gluten free gnocchi varieties are available or you can make your own

•Soy sauce: Tamari or gluten free soy sauce

•Stir fry sauces and marinades: Plenty of gluten free brands available – most should be labelled

gluten free, if not the check ingredients list for wheat, malt vinegar, barley malt or malted barley.

•Salad dressings: As above for sauces, watch especially for malt and barley, especially in creamy dressings.

•Sausages: Gluten free sausages in supermarkets & most butchers


I can guarantee that this one will get you more often than not during social gatherings, unless your friends are also gluten free, or know you are and are very thoughtful people! Gluten free desserts are easy to prepare and there are alternatives for almost every dessert out there. I will share some of my favourites on my website over time so keep an eye out for them!

One point of note is the ingredient “wheat glucose syrup” – despite the word wheat, this particular ingredient is said to be so highly processed that the gluten cannot survive the manufacturing process. You will find wheat glucose syrup in some ice creams and confectionary. Provided there are no other gluten containing ingredients (look out for wheat starch and barley malt) you are safe to eat these products. The same goes for dextrose. For further clarification please consult a coeliac support website such as www.coeliac.org.au


Snacks are easy if you ask me, start with fresh fruit, yoghurt (natural or greek are my favourite), hummus with vege sticks or rice crackers, mixed nuts, boiled eggs, gluten free muesli bars or home made slices/muffins, the choices are endless. Always be sure to check ingredient labels and allergy warnings, and if unsure, don’t eat it!!

So there you have it, a little insight into how I fuel myself during training, racing, and in everyday eating, on a strict gluten free diet. As you can see, you’ll never go hungry, and although you will have to make some changes, once you get your head around what you can eat and what you can’t, it’s really pretty simple. Sometimes change is a good thing!!

Keep your eye out on my website for my favourite gluten free recipes, or follow me on twitter @christiesym

Christie x

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Gluten Free Eating: Part 2 – What can I eat?

October 15th, 2012 by christiesym

I like to categorise gluten free foods within my diet into a few categories. Personally I follow a paleo inspired diet, with modifications made to take into account my training load and need for fuel and recovery. As a coeliac, or even if you just prefer to follow a gluten free diet, you don’t have to adopt this method of eating. Thus I have outlined the most common sources of gluten free foods, where you will find these ingredients, and some ideas of what to use where. In my next article I’ll share some meal ideas which you can incorporate with or without the paleo influence, and share some of my favourite recipe ideas and the best ways to prepare and cook with gluten free ingredients.

Some important notes:

1. Texture

The texture of gluten free processed foods (especially baked goods) is very different to that of your standard gluten containing products. The reason behind this is that gluten is a protein that gives elasticity to dough, helping it to rise and keep shape, and often gives the final product a chewy texture. Gluten free breads and baked goods are often denser in texture and tend not to rise as much. Rice and almond meal based products are the densest, with flours such as coconut giving a lighter and fluffier appearance and texture.

2. Health

Just because you eat gluten free doesn’t make your diet healthier than those that eat gluten. A healthy diet consists of a balance of foods coming mostly from natural sources, including lean meats, vegetables, fruits, nuts and legumes. A gluten free diet can easily accommodate all of these food groups and thus can be a very healthy diet if, like any diet, you make sensible choices.

3. Glycaemic Index (GI)

With rice and corn being one of the cheapest, most readily available gluten free foods available, many gluten free breads, cereals and processed products are based on these ingredients. Both rice and corn are high glycaemic index (GI) foods, and thus overconsumption can lead to raised insulin levels, and inevitably weight gain. Thus it is important to watch what and how much of these products you eat.

There are plenty of great gluten free recipes available to make healthy, low GI breads at home, and health food stores and farmer’s markets often have alternative grain breads in the fridge or freezer section. Deek’s bread (www.deeks.com.au) is an example of such breads (sorry for those in the USA). As for cereals and other baked goods, look for those based on quinoa, amarynth, buckwheat, nuts and seeds. Quinoa flakes make a great breakfast porridge, and can also be used in baking at home.

Carbohydrate sources:

Here is a list of naturally gluten free grains you can include in your diet in place of the traditional wheat based products (breakfast cereals, pasta, breads including wheat/rye/spelt etc). You’ll be surprised how easy it is to create a gluten free base for your carbohydrate fix

•Rice including (in order of preference, lowest GI first) Wild, brown, basmati (or long grain), jasmine (or short grain). Rice flour is widely used in gluten free products including pasta, pizza bases, breads & baked products, and many GF based breakfast cereals and porridges. Where possible choose products based on brown rice flour.

•Quinoa: technically not a grain, quinoa is actually a seed and is very nutritious. Quinoa will grow on you and soon become a staple in a gluten free diet. Comes in it’s original small seed like form, flakes and flour. The flakes make a great porridge based cereal. Personally I toast my quinoa before cooking, more on this later.

•Potato: All potatoes are gluten free, including sweet potato. Baked, mashed, made into chips, all gluten free provided no gluten is added during preparation and cooking. Again comes in flour form and is used in some processed goods.

•Corn: Fresh on the cob, on a salad, or in flour form. Used in many gluten free products including pasta, bread and baked goods, also as polenta. Personally I steer clear of corn but it is perfectly safe to eat on a gluten free diet.

•Buckwheat: Despite the name, buckwheat is gluten free, is high in protein and has quite a nutty flavour. Also comes in flour form great for baking and well know for making buckwheat pancakes.

•Tapioca: Often used as a thickening agent (tapioca starch or flour) also used in puddings in it’s original form. Has almost no protein or vitamins, so not a very useful staple but is completely gluten free and safe to eat.

•Amarynth, millet etc There are a wide range of other gluten free grains you can include in your diet to provide variety in flavour, texture and nutrition. These are some of the ingredients you may come across in pre-prepared gluten free products and baking recipes.

Protein sources:

Most natural protein sources are gluten free so it is pretty easy to meet these demands, especially as an athlete with increased protein demands. No need to be vegetarian here.

•Fresh meats: Poultry, beef, lamb, pork you name it, its gluten free. It is what is added in marinades and cooking that you must watch for. One other thing to watch is buying roast chickens, if they’re stuffed – steer clear. Some organic chickens have a gluten free stuffing but be sure this is stated before consuming.

•Eggs are naturally gluten free, a great source of protein and nutrition, and make up a big part of my daily diet.

•Dairy: For the most part dairy is gluten free. In its natural state, milk, yoghurt and cheese are all gluten free.  Again it is ingredients added in processing that you have to watch for, including muesli in yoghurt or malt in flavoured milk.

•Protein powders: Check individual ingredient lists as each product will vary. Beware of cross contamination, probably best to stick to those that state they are gluten free or check with manufacturers to be 100% certain.

•Vegetarian sources: Tofu in its original state (watch marinades), legumes and nuts (again in their natural state) are all gluten free. Beware of vegetarian meat substitutes such as tempeh and texture vegetable protein, always check the label and ingredients list before consuming.

Fat sources:

I can’t personally think of any naturally occurring fats that contain gluten.

•Oils: Olive, canola, vegetable, coconut, avocado, macadamia the list goes on, whether used for cooking or salad dressings, all are gluten free. Some are obviously healthier than others, but all are safe to consume on a gluten free diet.

•Avocado’s and nuts are a good source of naturally occurring gluten free fats

Common misunderstandings:

Rice is gluten free, so why can’t I eat rice bubbles?

As with everything you eat from here on in, it’s not just the base ingredient that counts when checking a product is gluten free. It is the added ingredients that you have to look for.

Common ingredients to look for include:

-barley malt or malted barley (as found in regular rice bubbles & corn flakes)

-wheat starch (commonly found in confectionary)

-Malt vinegar (look for this in salad dressings, mayonnaise, in fact check the label of any condiment before using)

-Wheat (commonly found in soy sauce and commercial cooking sauces)

What vinegars can I have and which should I exclude?

Almost all vinegar is gluten free, with the exception being malted vinegar. So yes the following are safe: balsamic, white, rice & rice wine, red wine, apple cider

Can I eat lollies and chocolate/candy bars?

No not all of them, and in fact not many. Look for wheat starch in candy/lollies. On the other hand, “wheat glucose syrup” is deemed to be gluten free due to the high level of processing. Check www.coeliac.org.au for further clarification on this. There are labelled gluten free lollies available (Allen’s have a line commonly found in the health food section of supermarkets) and Woolworths have an “unlabelled” range of their own lollies that contain no gluten. Check the ingredients list if unsure.

As for candy bars, snickers are gluten free and I use them in races. Mar Bar on the other hand are not, containing barely malt. I used to think Cherry Ripe was OK but I find they make me sick as they contain traces of gluten as confirmed with Cadbury. If unsure contact the manufacturer to confirm before purchasing.

OK now you should have a good idea of what you can eat, and what to look out for. The ingredients list is always the best place to start, and check the allergy warnings following the ingredients list for “contains traces of” or “may contain traces of” warnings. Ultimately if your unsure, do without or contact the manufacturer before consuming.

In my next article I will share with you the foods I used for training, racing, and every day eating.

Christie x

Saturday, October 13, 2012

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Coeliac Disease part 1: The simple (but important) facts

October 3rd, 2012 by christiesym

You’ve been diagnosed with coeliac disease, now what?

Firstly, let’s differentiate between coeliac disease and gluten intolerance. Both scenarios’ warrant following a gluten free diet, although someone with coeliac disease does this not by choice, but through necessity. The life of a coeliac disease sufferer doesn’t have to mean a life of missing out; a well structured gluten free diet is healthy, well balanced, and tasty. Seeing there is so much I could write about, I’m going to leave this first article brief, and will endeavor to expand on this in the future. Below I’ve covered a number of area’s I feel are integral to successfully following a strict gluten free diet.

What is coeliac disease?

Coeliac disease is an autoimmune disorder of the small intestine that occurs in genetically predisposed people. Symptoms include chronic diarrhoea, failure to thrive (in children), and fatigue, but these symptoms may be absent, or appear in varying degrees of severity; thus why it is so chronically under diagnosed. Whilst an increasing number of diagnosis are being made through screening, an astonishing 75% remain undiagnosed, with 1 in 100 thought to have the disease. If you feel you may have coeliac disease, see your doctor for the appropriate tests before commencing a gluten free diet.

Coeliac disease is caused by a reaction to gliadin, a protein found in wheat, rye and barley, and also in oats from cross-contamination from crops/manufacturing processes. Upon exposure to gliadin, an immune system response occurs within the small intestine, causing small bowel damage. The body produces an inflammatory response, and the tiny, finger-like villi become inflamed and flattened, thus reducing the surface area of the bowel available for nutrient absorption.

What are the long-term risks of undiagnosed coeliac disease?
The long-term consequences of coeliac disease are related to poor nutrition and malabsorption of nutrients. Left untreated, coeliac disease can lead to poor health, osteoporosis, infertility, miscarriage, depression and dental enamel defects. There is also a small, but real, increased risk of certain forms of cancer such as lymphoma of the small bowel. In children, undiagnosed coeliac disease can cause lack of proper development, short stature and behavioral problems.

Fortunately, timely diagnosis of coeliac disease and treatment with a gluten free diet can prevent or reverse many of these problems.

Is there a cure?

The simple answer is no. There is no cure for coeliac disease. Although, you can control it through strict gluten free diet. This is where coeliac disease differs from gluten intolerance. Like any food intolerance, the body can tolerate a certain amount of this specific food, with each person’s individual tolerance being different. A coeliac disease sufferer’s tolerance to gluten is zero. Not a crumb. Now some may be able to eat a small amount and remain symptom free, while others (like myself) will be curled up in severe pain upon ingestion of as much as one small breadcrumb or a dust of flour. Regardless, with symptoms present or not, all with coeliac disease must adhere strictly to the diet.

Cross contamination.

Quite possibly the biggest risk to derailing your good efforts is that of cross contamination. This can occur in your own kitchen, at social gatherings, or whilst eating out. Whilst this doesn’t mean you’ll never eat out again, it does mean you have to take special precautions when doing so.

Below I’ve listed what I have found to be the biggest risks for contamination. Being aware of them is the first step to avoiding them.

-Toasters: when also used for gluten containing breads

-Chopping boards: ensure these are washed well if previously used for gluten containing ingredients

-Knives: as above for chopping boards

-Serving utensils: ensure utensils from a gluten containing dish don’t sneak into a gluten free dish

-Cooking equipment: for example a restaurant offers to cook you a gluten free dish, but uses the wok they just used to cook with gluten containing ingredients. These dishes must be washed well before use.

-Storage: Ever seen a bakery that makes gluten free bread or baked goods, then places the bread on or under a shelf with other gluten containing products? Gluten free products must be kept completely separate with special care taken to completely avoid cross contamination.

-Finally, no, you can’t just take the croutons out of a Caesar salad!

What can you eat on a gluten free diet?

Wheat, rye, barley and oats are out, so your typical breads, pasta, cereals and bakery products are no longer edible. What grains can you eat? Your eyes are about to be opened to a whole new wide world of nutritious eating. First a word of warning, gluten free products and grains can be expensive, so be prepared for this. In future blogs I’ll give you some tips on how to keep costs down while still being able to eat affordably and keep gluten free!

Firstly, there are plenty of naturally occurring gluten free foods. These include fresh fruit and vegetables, fresh meats and seafood, eggs, nuts and legumes, milk (in fact most dairy, if a dairy food contains gluten it will be an added ingredient ie. Malt in a flavoured milk or muesli in yoghurt), fats and oils, and gluten free grains (rice, corn, quinoa, amaranth, millet etc). If you base your diet mostly around these naturally occurring gluten free foods, you’ll have a very nutritious, balanced diet.

In addition to the above foods, there are a growing number of manufactured products labelled as gluten free. In Australia the laws are very strict when it comes to food labelling, but be warned, the standards are not the same in each and every country. If you unsure, it always pays to read the ingredients list. Or just avoid eating it. Once in the USA I was given a bar labelled gluten free, only to find malted barley in the ingredients list. I’m glad I found out by reading the label rather than eating it and ending up in the foetal position for the following 48 hours. Now whilst these foods are great for convenience, and the occasional sweet treat, be warned: quite often these heavily processed foods are based on rice and corn (high GI) and loaded with sugar. Many go on a gluten free diet in the hope to lose weight, but eat too many of these heavily processed foods and you’ll do exactly the opposite. Trust me, I found this out the hard way.

In my next article I will cover what I have found to be the most suitable gluten free foods for an active individual or athlete, in both training/racing and everyday eating.

I hope this explains simply what coeliac disease is and the first steps to consider when forced to live with this disease. I will follow up shortly with my advice on the gluten free diet, foods to use in training and racing, and how to maintain a social life when eating out. I also have a number of favourite recipes I’d love to share. In the meantime if you have any specific questions please feel free to contact me by email christiesym@mac.com or on twitter @christiesym

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Enjoying some down time!

September 7th, 2012 by christiesym

It’s now almost a month after my crash in Ironman New York, I’m back in my home town of Sydney and enjoying some down time from triathlon 24/7. My injuries have progressed well and rehab is well and truly underway, with our plan of “hurrying slowly”. Both Doc and Matty K have provided amazing support,  getting me back onto my feet and gradually progressing my revised training program. My mum, who you could say is pretty happy to have me home after over 2 years on the road, has been looking after me like only mum’s can.

Over the years I’ve had a lot of injuries, mostly the result of a crash (I used to be a XC mountain biker, crashing is part of the parcel), or illness. I think you learn something about yourself each time, and grow stronger as a result of each. It has been through the wise words of Brett that I have finally learnt that there is no point being impatient with an injury, or stressing over lost time. Every injury provides an opportunity to reassess and makes changes to better yourself as an athlete. In saying this, you can also do the opposite, and through impatience and frustration prolong or even worsen your situation.

So with this in mind I am taking the recovery time to catch up with friends, have some fun, and earn a little cash for next season. I have managed to maintain a fair amount of fitness through a revised program, starting simply with some walking, to the stage where I can now do a swim session with one arm, ride my indoor trainer, and enjoy some easy runs. I’ve rediscovered my reasons for racing, something I had lost sight of for a while there, and am enjoying each and every day for different reasons. I’ve found a new little coffee shop that opened up whilst I’ve been away, amazing coffee (and barista’s!) and revisited some of my favorite local spots that are just as I remembered them.

So whilst I am really looking forward to a new chapter of my life and triathlon career, I am also enjoying some time to stop and smell the roses before the hard work begins. Speaking of which, it’s time to test out mum’s new kitchen, we’ve got some baking to do!! If you’re lucky I might even share some recipes soon!

Enjoy every day, laugh, smile, and if your not happy, ask yourself why!?

Christie x

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Moving on…

August 24th, 2012 by christiesym

Life sometimes has a harsh way of delivering you messages, but as they say, everything happens for a reason. Three weeks ago I was running along the forest trails of Flagstaff, Arizona, at a pace I had never dreamed of running with such ease at 7,000 feet of elevation, singing to the song “I have a good feeling”. I wanted to pump my fists in the air, jump up and down, but I kept my calm and ran, fluently, with a smile on my face. I was, in my opinion, in the shape of my life thus far. I had a race the following weekend, Ironman New York, which I was actually excited to be racing, for the first time since I could remember. Quite simply, I was happy. I have this strange link shared between my fitness level and running shape, and my happiness. Quite simply, running fast makes me happy.

Fast forward two weeks and my world had collapsed around me. Now you might think I am simply talking about the crash I had 100m from transition, or the fact that this crash ended my race prematurely whilst in 3rd place at the US Ironman Championship. Perhaps even the fact that my US season was over before it had even really started. Unfortunately I am not talking about this at all, I’ve faced a lot of adversity in my life, and feel that for the first time in my career thus far, I handled the disappointment with the most maturity I have ever shown towards such disappointment. Despite the fact that I had sustained a concussion, quite severe road rash, soft tissue injury, boney fractures and bruises, I had a much larger emotional issue to deal with, at the exact same time.

There is only so much one can deal with at once and so I must thank those that showed so much support and love to me at a time when I needed it most. To my coach, Brett Sutton, your combination of support, decision making on my behalf when I was incapable of doing so myself, and tough love to keep me grounded and thinking straight, has opened my eyes and taken me to an environment conducive to healing and recovery. To my family and friends for welcoming me home with so much love, I can’t tell you how much this has meant to me. To my sponsors who have been so supportive, thank you, I will return to full health and return your generosity, we have a long journey ahead. Finally to all my friends and supporters around the world for your kind words, messages, encouragement and support, this has shown me how many people really care about me, so thank you.

So whilst my crash in New York brought huge disappointment, despair and sadness to my life, it has also presented me with a new opportunity to reassess my life and my career. I will take this opportunity to be a better person, both on a personal and professional level, and move on to the new opportunities that life presents. At 28 years old, I am at a stage where I have plenty of years left in my chosen career as a professional triathlete, but am also at the perfect age to make changes, capitalize and make the most of my opportunities on Team TBB and working with Brett. Now back in Sydney I am also fortunate to have Matt Koorey on board to work with Brett and I on a local level, and so I welcome Matt to the “team” and thank him for walking into the train wreck! I look forward to “hurrying slowly” and make the promise to both you and Brett to listen and change my attitude to recovery.

So it’s time to move on, catch up with friends and family, and as my coach has instructed me, go sit on the beach and relax. Wow, how often does a coach tell you to do that :)

I’ll keep you all updated on my recovery and look forward to be back racing when my body and mind are ready. Oh, and of course when doc let’s me :)

Christie x

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No point crying over spilt milk, but you’ve still gotta clean up the mess!

August 15th, 2012 by christiesym

Ironman New York
August 11th

Podium finish

Event lowlights:
crashing my Cervelo P4
having my 2XU compression sock cut off my leg to retrieve my timing chip
having my race end prematurely on what was a dream day

Event highlights:
having the best swim of my career to date
having the best bike of my career to date
the drugs the docs (eventually) gave me in hospital . . . yep they were good :)

Race recap:
I was once told that one day on race morning I’d wake up and just know that “it was on”, that it was going to be a great day. Well that pretty much happened every morning last week leading into Ironman New York City, and I was having to consciously calm myself down each and every day. The truth is I just felt fantastic, I was excited to race for the first time in a very, very long time, and I felt that I was ready to have a good crack at whatever was thrown my way. My swimming had been showing big signs of improvement, I was running better than ever before, and my riding, my strength, felt solid.

Logistically the race was difficult, as you would expect in a major city like New York with a split transition and down river swim. Despite this I was prepared, having carefully planned my weekend logistics out, and so didn’t find this a real problem. In addition having Lesley and Jakes from Cervelo there to check over our bikes was a blessing, and lovely to have the extra support on race day.

Race morning came around quickly and the early morning wake up was quickly forgotten as I hurriedly prepped my transition before boarding the ferry for the trip up to the race start. Yes I admit to having a real love of my sleep and every extra minute is cherished.

The pontoon/barge dive start was great, as was the separate male and female pro wave, and I had the best swim of my career to date. Despite the fact that it was a current assisted swim, I was proportionally much closer to the leaders than my chasing comperitors, ever in my career. The big bonus though was posting a faster swim than my boyfriend Bryan’s best ever Ironman swim. So thank you to the current’s that carried me in a rather quick fashion down to T1 :)

Out and onto the bike in 7th I quickly moved up into 4th position by mile 30, sticking to my race plan which was swim hard then start the bike patiently. By mile 40 I was ready to really turn up the heat and this worked perfectly now chasing down Bek Keat and the 3rd position on the course. At mile 56 I achieved this and set off for Amy Marsh and fellow team mate Mary Beth Ellis, a further 2 minutes down the road.

The bike course was fast and flowing with rolling hills and some fast descents, and a beautiful tree canopy overhead on approach to the far turnaround point. Bek held on although received a draft penalty so on approach to T2 as she pulled into the penalty box I was all smiles in 3rd position and feeling great and positive about the tough marathon ahead.

It was not long after, with only 50m to transition, that my world came hurtling down. Screaming down the 2-3 miles into transition (as you do, I used to be a mountain biker) I took the opportunity to flip my feet out of my shoes on the short flat section before the final steep descent. In hindsight I should have just kept them in until the final moment, but that’s why hindsight is such a great thing. Next thing I know I hit something and am in the air, weight forward as my feet bounced off my shoes. With no control left on the back end of the bike I did my best to bring the back wheel back down, and although successful found myself hurtling forward again as the steepness of the hill proved too much for the position of my body over my bike. I performed what must have been a spectacular somersault (been watching too much gymnastics during the Olympics, obviously), and quickly assumed the “crash” position, as practiced back in my mountain biking days (thanks Stan, I think my collarbone owes you one).

Now let’s be honest, hitting the ground always hurts! This time was no different, and I remember my head hitting hard, twice. My shoulder was radiating with excruciating pain, and I remember seeing a lot of blood. Dazed and confused, a spectator just down the hill obviously doesn’t like such scenes, and immediately began screaming hysterically. I really could have done without that. Although a couple of other people came to my rescue, including Mary Beth’s husband Eric, who were brilliant and with my persuasion helped me get back on my bike and roll down into transition.

The women’s change room morphed into a medical tent as doctor’s and medics fussed over me, whilst I stubbornly assured them I was fine and was going to continue. I was in 3rd after all, and was having such a great day. I was in total denial.

The first 7 miles went by OK, I was in a lot of pain and my shoulder wasn’t playing the game, so I basically just tucked it in like a chicken wing and carried it. The biggest challenge though was the noise, as each time I passed through the aid stations the fantastic volunteers would yell out what they had to offer. My head pounded, I wanted silence. On approach to mile 10 things had gotten a bit too much, and I slowed to a walk to recollect myself. A doctor out on course pulled me aside and informed me I had a dislocated shoulder and concussion, advised me to stop, and then put together a pretty convincing argument as to why I should take this advice. My day was over.

What followed was a lot of fuss, a couple of ambulances, a spinal board and lights and siren (I think this part was a little overkill), and finally being slapped down in the emergency room and left to twiddle my thumbs for half an hour. Glad it was such a rush to get me there!

So yes it was a very disappointing outcome to the day, having to withdraw and having injured myself (and my poor little Cervelo P4). Although it was also a very positive day with a breakthrough performance up until this point. So I’m not going to cry over spilt milk, but instead mop up the mess and get on with my job. I’m extremely thankful for the kind words and huge amounts of support I’ve received, so thank you. I’m now focussing my efforts on repairing this shoulder and hope to be back racing in Brazil in a couple of weeks!

Christie x

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Hot in the Mid West: Racine 70.3 & Evergreen Tri

July 17th, 2012 by christiesym

The mid west of America is basically comprised of corn fields, soya bean plantations, wind mills, and some very friendly people. In July, there are also a couple of races that, thanks to the great families I met in 2011, are very easy & accessible for me to bounce from one to another.
Starting in Bloomington, Illanois, the Saturday following Decatur Triathlon it was up a distance with the Evergreen Olympic Distance Triathlon. The swim this time wasn’t so smooth losing my goggles at the first turning buoy, and with navigation not being my strongest skill at the best of times I somehow managed to find my way around the course and into T1 in 3rd position. The bike is a rolling course through corn fields and wind mills, with lots of turns so it’s difficult to see your competition up ahead. Into T2 in 2nd, about 10 seconds down, I moved quickly out onto the run course (minus goggles this time!) and decided to throw down an early challenge, taking the lead and finding my run legs quite quickly. Taking the win is always exciting, but I was equally excited to enjoy the entire run, and feel the most fluid and efficient I have running for a very long time. Fingers were crossed I’d have these legs tomorrow in Racine! A big thank you to Dennis for allowing us to stay in the lake house yet again, and sorry we couldn’t stay to share a glass or two or vino after the race, no rest for the wicked!!

Returning to Ironman 70.3 Racine to defend my 2011 title I was feeling in much better shape than last year after the previous week of racing. Surely this was a good sign!? Although as the wise ol’doc says “it doesn’t mean sh#^ how you feel”, and today it didn’t: I’m stoked to have posted a full minute PR in the swim, something I’ve been working hard on so it’s good to see this is paying off. My bike felt strong, despite this I lost a further 2 minutes to the lead putting me 4.5 minutes back entering T2. Someone wasn’t real happy with this news. Running out with Jessica Jacobs I decided to take the first lap out solid but conservative, and hit the final lap hard. In hindsight this may not have been the best plan, with Jessica running away from me and taking the win, and myself running out of road to run down Dede for 2nd place, falling a minute short. The run was hot and humid, and whilst the men’s field was falling apart and resembling the scene of a war zone, the women’s race was turning into a real battle for 3rd through 6th position. I fought harder for 3rd place this year than I did for the win in 2011, so despite my run being slower than I had planned and hoped for, I was happy to have stayed strong and battled on for a podium finish.
So 3 races in 8 days, two victories and a 3rd place finish, a pretty successful trip and some great company, it’s now back to Flagstaff for a 3 week block leading into Ironman New York. Thank you to everyone for the kind words of support over the past week, my Team TBB sponsors, Cytomax and Muscle Milk, I couldn’t continue this journey without you all. Enough of this hot, humid heat and back up to 7,000 feet, I’ll make sure to pack an oxygen tank :)

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