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October « 2012 « Christie Sym's Blog


Archive for October, 2012

GLUTEN FREE EATING PART 3: Putting it into practice!

Saturday, October 20th, 2012


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

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

Monday, October 15th, 2012

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

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

Wednesday, October 3rd, 2012

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