Back to Basics: Adopting a Pseudo-Paleo Lifestyle that Suits a Gluten-Free Athlete

OK, the holidays were bad. Very indulgent. Lots of treats (yes, I bought the one- pound peanut butter cup over the holidays…), and I was buying Immaculate’s pre-made GF cookie dough at LEAST once a week to make a batch so I had a constant supply of fresh cookies. When I was training, I was eating things like marshmallows, GF cookies, chocolate and more GF cookies. My diet was full of bread, refined pasta and rice, and I was just feeling sort of bloated, tired and not very satisfied with myself.

I realize that if I want to be a decent marathoner, I need to treat my body right, and start fueling it properly. You don’t put 87 regular in a car that is supposed to run on premium. It’s worth making the switch to see if your body can positively respond, so I knew I REALLY needed to work on cleaning up my act. I had to stop acting like marathon training was a license to eat everything in sight.

I decided to research a diet that would benefit a gluten-free lifestyle that wasn’t loaded with empty and unsatisfying carbs and processed foods. I really wanted to put a muzzle on my sweet tooth. I also wanted to try to reign in my salt tooth (which is JUST as bad, if not worse, than my sweet tooth). I wasn’t interested in cutting calories, just cutting the ones that weren’t as beneficial to my training.

I found the concept of the Paleo diet intriguing. It’s naturally gluten-free and relies on whole foods for a bulk of the diet plan. I will admit though that I am not into super-strict dieting, and when I saw that Paleo involved avoiding dairy, peanuts, legumes and (God forbid) coffee and wine, I was a little hesitant. After all, I already have to eat a strict diet for medical reasons, so I didn’t want to cut gluten-free foods that were considered natural, whole foods.  I decided to look into a pseudo-paleo diet, which was basically a whole food diet but not nearly as restrictive…maybe more like a P90X Phase 1 diet plan.

So what sorts of changes have been made thus far?

Cauliflower Rice
Instead of incorporating rice and pasta into my meals, I am using riced cauliflower. It’s simple to make and actually somewhat satisfying as a substitute. Instructions on how to make it can be found here. I also attempted to make my first cauliflower crust pizza, and I will say it turned out very well! It’s definitely a trial and error process, but one I think I can easily stick to. Now a tub of cauliflower rice is always on hand in the fridge, and even though it has maybe a 5-day window for freshness, I can promise it NEVER lasts that long.

New Flours and Baking Adventures
I decided to see what I could do with low-carb, higher protein flours, like coconut flour, ground flax and almond meal, and it’s definitely been somewhat adventurous. Coconut flour is VERY different than anything I have ever baked with, as you don’t need much at all to make a recipe. Most recipes call for 1-3 TABLESPOONS instead of the usual 1-2 cups of flour simply because the flour absorbs liquid very easily. But on that same note, the recipes also call for eggs. Lots and lots of eggs! In fact, most recipes for something like a loaf of bread call for 4-5 eggs. Also, a lot of these recipes I’ve tried rely on nut butters as a binder, and may call for something like ½ CUP of almond butter, so I’m grateful I can stop by Trader Joe’s and load up on their organic nut butters!

Different, yes, but the results have been GREAT. I made this recipe not too long ago and the banana bread was a HUGE hit with Chris, he really loved it! Unlike a lot of gluten-free recipes, it turns out very dense but moist, unlike the usual dense and dry. Also, I swear that we are satisfied sharing one slice, mainly because it’s protein-rich so it’s also very filling. Also,HOORAY there’s natural FIBER in the recipes, something processed gluten-free foods sorely lack. Another fun thing about these recipes is they call for the use of parchment paper, and that makes clean up and getting the loaf from the baking pan an absolute BREEZE.I love to cook but hate to clean up afterward, so this is a win-win.

One of my favorite indulgences on weekends, especially when I have a long run, is pancakes. Fortunately I don’t have to go without them, as I’ve made pancakes with almond meal and also tried one with an almond meal/coconut flour combination and both turned out incredibly satisfying (and almost too filling). A lot of my GF pancake mixes had a lot of salt (600+ mg for a ¼ cup!!), not enough fiber, and a lot of calories…the almond meal ones are incredibly easy and very much satisfy that pancake craving I enjoy on weekends.

Snacking
I’m trying to rely much more on fruit, nuts and protein for my snacks. In the past it was easy to grab a cookie, tortilla chips or pretzels, so I had to adjust my snacking mentality.  It was a little tough at first, but now I find myself actually CRAVING something like an apple or a banana with almond or sunflower butter, or even something as simple as a hard-boiled egg. Salt cravings are put to ease with something as simple as a handful of pistachios or almonds, and if I have a sweeter and more indulgent craving…that banana bread is pretty damned good and all you need is half a slice.

So Long Bread and Tortillas, Hello Lettuce Wraps
I actually don’t mind lettuce wraps at all, if anything, GF bread rolls make me feel too full. I’m attempting to make tacos with lettuce wraps (not even close to being as fun, so perhaps I can find or make a flaxseed wrap of some kind) and they are actually not too bad either. It’s an easy enough switch and saves plenty of empty calories.

In the End…
Now will I have a cheat day once in a while? Sure, life’s too short.  I was actually treated to sushi the other day and wasn’t going to turn THAT down! But I definitely do like the idea of overhauling my diet and sticking with it to the best of my abilities. Sometimes it’s harder when traveling, but all it takes is proper planning. And I think on days I run a race…I should allow myself the extra indulgences…but who knows, I just might like sticking to healthy fare anyway.

I’ll be interested in seeing how I fare with my upcoming races on this diet. My training hasn’t suffered from “low-carb” living because I still eat plenty of fruit, at least 3-4 pieces a day and I haven’t felt my energy levels flagging any more than usual. So I will be sure to keep you posted once I cross the finish line! My first race will be on February 14, the Myrtle Beach Marathon. It will be my 22nd state and my 25th marathon and I am hoping to do well since it’s flat and the temps should be ideal for racing. I personally don’t like pancake flat courses, but considering I have been doing a LOT of treadmill training this winter, it might be for the best!

Have you tried a low carb or paleo diet? How has it worked for you?

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