Eating Clean: The Highly Active Person’s Guide To Food Intolerances

Highly active people, such as weekday/weekend warriors, endurance athletes, Crossfitters and other movers and shakers, eat a lot and we are gassy.

It’s the sad, stinky truth.

We simply consume more carbohydrates than the average person, and the bacteria in our intestine feed on those excess starches and produce gas as a by-product. But many active people experience more unpleasant and serious issues that accompany high food intake, or just a love of food in general, and these issues go far beyond the occasional fart.

For example, are you constantly congested, or produce excess mucus while lifting weights, doing your workout of the day, swimming, cycling or running? Are you frequently fatigued, even when you’re not exercising, or have fuzzy thinking? Does it seem that when you go to the bathroom you’re either constipated or have diarrhea?

Any of these unpleasant reactions to food can be indicative of a food intolerance, and with the growing prevalence of this issue and the high calorie intake of active people, it’s highly likely that you are affected.

So what can you do about it?

An Example of A Food Intolerance

How about we use endurance sports as an example…

Let’s take a look at Joe triathlete.

He doesn’t know it, but he has a deficiency of the liver enzymes that dissolve fructose. Every time he eats fruits, candies, baked goods, sports gels with fructose and even some vegetables, he feels queasy and tired, and his brain feels foggy. Sometimes, he even gets ravenous and has to eat mountains of pasta or rice to feel good again.

Jane triathlete feels exactly the same way as Joe when she consumes foods containing fructose, however, unlike Joe she has adequate liver enzymes, but impaired fructose absorption from a deficiency of fructose carriers in the small intestine.

As you may have guessed, both Jane and Joe would be classified as having a food intolerance to fructose.

The term “food intolerance” is widely used for a variety of unpleasant responses to specific foods or compounds in foods, and is not to be confused with a food allergy. A food allergy, which is often accompanied by much more serious symptoms such as throat swelling or respiratory distress, occurs when certain food proteins, such as shellfish or peanuts, are resistant to digestion and thus identified by the body as harmful invaders.

The immune system then reacts as if the body is under attack, and triggers potentially life-threatening allergic reactions such as hives, shock and a severe drop in blood pressure.

In contrast, rather than an adverse immune system response, a food intolerance typically results from one or a combination of six different factors:

1) a deficiency, which is a lack of chemicals or enzymes necessary to digest a food (e.g. lactose intolerance);

2) malabsorption, which is an inability of the digestive system to absorb specific nutrients;

3) a sensitivity, which is a hyper reaction to a normal amount of a substance, usually some type of pharmacological compound like a food additive, preservative or coloring;

4) an immune antibody response to food that is mediated by less serious antibodies than a full blown food allergy (e.g. gluten intolerance);

5) a toxin present in food from either contamination or mold (e.g. afflatoxin from peanuts); or

6) a psychological reaction to food from an emotion associated with that food, such as never being able to eat chili without feeling nauseous due to the time you ate chili on a road trip and got car sick.

The most commonly known food intolerances are lactose and gluten, both of which have sparked entire industries of lactose-free and gluten-free foods.

But other lesser known intolerances include food additives, preservatives, artificial colors and flavors, fructose, and foods that contain high levels of salicylate, which can include many fruits, juices, vegetables, spices, herbs, nuts, tea, wines, and coffee.

What To Do About A Food Intolerance

So how do you cope, stay active and workout if you have a food allergy or food intolerance?

If you simply cannot complete a training session without gas, bloating, frequent bathroom stops or digestive cramping, it’s likely that you have a food intolerance, and there is a compound or multiple compounds in your diet that is causing that response.

While moderate indigestion is normal from the high carbohydrate and calorie intake during long training sessions or a long event like a marathon or triathlon, it is not normal to have the excessive mucus and coughing, itching, rash, sinus inflammation or headaches that dozens of active individuals have reported to me after simply doing a daily training session – and this is also a potential sign of a food intolerance.

The good news is that with proper identification of specific intolerances, adjustment of dietary intake, and choice of training and racing fuels, food intolerances can be a non-issue for even the most active person.

How To Find Out If You Have A Food Intolerance

Food intolerance testing is confusing to say the least.

Options include breath testing, skin pinprick, a stomach gastroscopy, an intestinal biopsy, stool analysis, skin sample analysis, electrical current testing, reflexology method, and more – and there is controversy in the medical and nutrition community about which test is best.

If you actually suspect a specific intolerance, this can help to choose the proper test. For example, a fructose intolerance is best identified via a breath test, which measures undigested fructose via hydrogen levels in the breath, whereas a lactose intolerance is better measured via analyzing the blood sugar response to lactose consumption.

Home test kits are also common, and most of the athletes who I have tested for food intolerance simply use a home stool analysis test kit. Another simple way to identify intolerances is via an elimination diet, in which suspected culprit foods are eliminated, then reintroduced one-by-one over a 2-4 week period.

What To Do If You Have A Food Intolerance

The nature of the food intolerance will significantly affect the steps you take.

For example, since a gluten intolerance is related to an antibody reaction and immune system response to gluten, it may be necessary for you to switch to a gluten-free diet. The same can be said for fructose intolerance, which requires a complete elimination of fructose and sucrose from the diet. But if you have a lactose intolerance (like I do), it can be effective to simply take a lactase enzyme pill immediately prior to consuming any dairy foods.

Since multiple food intolerances are quite common, it may be necessary for youto adopt a diet that is free from common food culprits, especially if the athlete is eating thousands of calories each day to support training or racing.

Below, you will find a sample “Eating Clean” meal plan that avoids common allergy triggers, such as soy, gluten, dairy, shellfish, and peanuts, while still allowing for high calorie intake. While not intended as medical advice, this plan does eliminate common sources of food intolerance, while still allowing for adequate energy intake.

A Sample “Eating Clean” Meal Plan

Breakfast: 3-4 omega 3 fatty acid eggs from free range hens, cooked in coconut oil with spinach, red onions and garlic. For carbohydrates, add 1 small sweet potato or yam, baked, or fried in coconut oil. Salt and pepper to taste.

Mid-Morning Snack: Gluten-free, dairy-free energy bar, such as the Cocochia bar.

Lunch: Salmon-avocado sandwich or wrap. Use two small slices sprouted, gluten-free bread or wrap, a can/packet or small fillet of salmon, 1 small avocado, and 1 large handful dark leafy greens like spinach or kale. Dress with olive oil and vinaigrette, and serve with ½ cup cooked wild rice.

Afternoon Snack: Hummus with flax seed crackers. For hummus, blend 1 and ½ cups of soaked, strained and cooked garbanzo beans, ½ cup tahini, 3 tablespoons olive oil, 1-2 shallots, ½ teaspoon of sea salt, ½ teaspoon cumin, ½ teaspoon black pepper, ½ cup lemon juice, 2 tablespoon chopped parsley and a pinch of paprika. Buy gluten-free flax seed crackers for dipping, or make your own (recipes abound on the internet).

During Workout: Boiled, salted baby potatoes, or non-fructose based gel or sports drink.

Post-Workout Shake: Combine 1 tablespoon almond butter, 1-2 scoops hemp or pea protein (e.g. LivingProtein), 2 tablespoons shredded, unsweetened coconut, 2 tablespoons sunflower seeds, and 4oz unsweetened coconut milk.

Dinner: 6-8oz organic, grass-fed meat of choice, served with 1 baked sweet potato or yam, ½ cup cooked quinoa mixed with steam

Questions, comments or feedback? Leave them below! If you work with a Superhuman Certified Coach, you’ll get access to personalized meal plans, detailed and customized nutrition advice, and more.

4 thoughts on “Eating Clean: The Highly Active Person’s Guide To Food Intolerances

  1. I’ve just been reading some of your e-books on nutrition for triathletes. I have just signed up for my first Ironman and have Fructose Malabsorption(diagnosed with a breath test).
    You recommend coconut oil, butter and milk but I was lead to believe that they have a high fructose to glucose ratio and can therefore result in some quite unsavory symptoms(just as my husband).
    Can you enlighten me on this as I would love to incorporate this into my diet.