My Journey As A Gluten-Free/Low-Allergen Bodybuilder Part 2

Gluten-free natural athlete Alex Silva tells the hypoallergenic bodybuilder about the best fast food choices, restaurant foods and adult beverages.

Author Alex SilvaGlutenus Maximus: Part II - Dining Out

It was one of my first times eating anything but rice at a Chinese restaurant since I had started eating gluten-free.  My dad, thinking of ordering me the “egg noodles,” asked the woman taking our order if there was gluten in the recipe.  In hindsight, she had absolutely no idea what he was talking about.  But she still confidently answered “No,” and this answer, in the absence of knowledge, sealed my fate for the rest of the night.  As I ate them, I remarked how much they tasted like real, wheat noodles.

Soon after finishing, however, it was clear that they more than just seemed like real noodles.  The bloating, fatigue, and mouth sores that I had experienced early in my college career before being gluten-free came back full force, and I was miserable for the rest of the night and into the next day.  This was a valuable experience, however, as it drove home the lesson that not all foodservice employees are familiar with gluten sensitivity, and it’s better to always check for yourself the content of what you are eating.

The first installation of Hypoallergenic left you with a better sense of how a gluten-sensitive individual can effectively manage a gluten-free diet on a daily basis.  These guidelines, though, assume that you are able to read all labels and control ingredients.  As all bodybuilders know, however, maintaining this control is next to impossible once one leaves the kitchen and opts to eat at a restaurant or other prepared food establishment.  This is taken a step further still for an athlete trying to eat not only healthily and cleanly, but gluten-free as well.

There are two primarily important rules to remember when dining out gluten free.  One, always ask for a gluten free menu.  With the spread of gluten sensitivity and celiac disease awareness, many restaurants now specify their gluten-free options, and many have developed a gluten-free menu, complete with appetizers, soups, salads, entrees, and desserts.  This takes the guesswork out of your experience, and can make your time much more enjoyable and stress-free.

Secondly, do NOT rely on your server to know if a menu item is gluten free.  Most servers will not know, and will many times claim “no gluten” simply because they have no idea what you’re even talking about.  For this reason, it’s a safer bet to ask for the gluten free menu, or, if this is not available, a list of ingredients for a given product.

Some traditionally “clean” bodybuilder foods to keep an eye on in restaurants include:

Steaks: Marinated prior to preparation, while steak itself does not contain gluten, marinades and sauces used often do.  Ask for marinade-free, “dry” steak, or, if you have a smartphone, whip that bad boy out and search for the restaurant’s marinade ingredients to check for yourself.

Eggs/Omelets: A couple of years ago, about 5 months into my gluten-free lifestyle, I was surprised to learn that a certain “internationally-known pancake house” actually adds pancake batter to its omelet mixes in order to make the eggs more “fluffy.”  To make it worse, when I told the server this and asked for no batter in my eggs, she flat-out denied the batter story--after I had just read it on the menu fine print.  This is a clear example of servers not always knowing vital information that ensures you stay gluten-free.  In order to avoid this problem completely, I always order Egg Beaters in my omelets, which helps cut down on unnecessary calorie excess in an omelet, anyway.

Salads: While salads may seem like a healthy choice (though they often exceed 600-900 calories astoundingly quickly), dressings may contain wheat or other gluten ingredients as thickeners.  Tread carefully with dressings--it’s never too difficult to ask to see a bottle with a label or substitute for a more “watery” dressing that likely does not need a thickener (“light” options or vinaigrettes are often safer than other dressings).  Also, always ensure that your salad will not come with croutons.  While some gluten-free individuals may be okay simply removing them from the salad, others will feel the effects of any residual crumbs that may remain.

Gluten free food

Oats: Gluten-free oats do exist, but a diner that serves oats will most likely not offer them, unless it is a specialty health food/gluten-free restaurant.  In general, it is safer to simply avoid oats when dining out, since you do not have control over what type are used or their preparation.

“Crusted” or “Crispy” items: Though a bodybuilder should not be looking for these types of foods often, I understand that sometimes we allow the “fat kid” in us to take over.  However, a gluten-free bodybuilder still needs to watch what “cheat” foods he or she consumes.  These items are usually crusted or crisped with batter made from wheat flour, immediately removing them from the list of gluten-free cheat food options (though this isn’t necessarily a bad thing).

Now that you have a better idea of how to eat more safely at restaurants, I’d like to provide you with a brief list of my personal favorite:

Gluten-free, Bodybuilder-friendly Chow Spots

Steakhouses: Once I’ve completed the “steak inspection” outlined earlier, I find that a steakhouse is always a safe bet for some serious bodybuilding food.  My usual fare includes: dry sirloin steak, two dry (no butter or sugar) sweet potatoes, and a dry green veggie (broccoli or asparagus, for example).  In order to make this meal a little less bland (something most bodybuilders are used to anyway), I order plain cinnamon (make sure it is NOT cinnamon sugar) on the side, and mix it with some Splenda on my sweet potatoes.  Delish.

Other great choices I get from time to time at steakhouses include dry grilled shrimp, a loaded baked potato (great gluten-free cheat that’s not too dirty when compared to other possibilities), any number of dry or low-butter fish options (cooks usually need to use some butter so the fish doesn’t burn to the grill), and salads that have passed the gluten-free tests I mentioned earlier.  A great option that some steakhouses offer is a salad bar, which allows you to control what goes into your meal.  Careful, though, about cross contamination and gluten ingredients at the salad bar being dropped into gluten-free ingredients you are trying to use.

Breakfast spots: In general, any breakfast menu will include eggs, potatoes, and omelets, which can all be great bodybuilding options.  When I hit a place serving breakfast, I always look at the omelets first and generally go with the meatiest option available (as long as I’m not dieting).  Fruit bowls (with some Splenda if you’re feeling especially risky), red potatoes, and hash browns (as a higher-fat cheat) are all go-to carbs for me at breakfast when eating out.  The cleanest gluten-free (and overall) protein possible at breakfast is egg whites or Egg Beaters.  Throw (just a little) ketchup on them, after checking the label, and they are not half bad (though not as good as that fruit cup you’ve got waiting for you afterwards).

Alex Silva

Sub shops: For those especially sensitive to gluten, you may want to steer clear of anywhere that serves bread as its staple.  However, sub shops, especially those trading in healthier choices, are great places to go and request that your sub be substituted for a salad bowl with all the same fixings or as a lettuce wrap.  Specifically, Subway does salads, Jimmy John’s does lettuce wraps; these are the two I frequent when I need a quick meal.  As always, choose romaine lettuce over iceberg, plain meats over those with sugary, potentially gluten-containing seasonings or sauces.

As a bodybuilder, part of staying sane and not burning out is relaxing every once in a while, getting out of the kitchen, and hitting a local restaurant for some better-than-usual eats.  With these guidelines in mind, it will be much easier for the gluten-free bodybuilder to go out, make healthy choices, and avoid gluten while doing so.

Speaking of staying sane and going out...

A Night on the Town

Sometimes, dinner out may be accompanied by a couple of drinks at the restaurant, or even followed by a walk to the local watering hole.  As a bodybuilder, I try not to go out too much, given that it can mean irresponsible drinking, irresponsible eating as a result, and subsequent lack of sleep.  But fear not, my gluten-free friends, for this condition actually gives us a leg up on everyone else around us.  Sensitivity to gluten means eliminating many alcohols (for those over 21) and after-the-fact foods from our exploits.

This segment is not meant to promote drinking alcohol, but if I am going to claim to be giving an all-around view of healthy, gluten-free living and bodybuilding, this portion of the write-up is essential to increase chances of my readers staying totally gluten-free.

When being responsible and going to have a good time, I usually limit myself to 2-4 drinks.  This is just enough to be social, but not enough to hamper my goals or my mindset.  If and when you do decide to hit the town, here are a couple of guidelines to always remember as a gluten-free individual and as a bodybuilder:

Beer, unless the bar serves Red Bridge or another specifically gluten-free brew, is off-limits.  It can’t hurt to ask, though.  If you do get a gluten-free beer, limit these, as they contain a lot of empty calories and can make you feel bloated and not very much like a bodybuilder.  It’s still all about being in the mindset and sticking to your goals 24/7.

For mixed drinks, which I always stick to, order your mixer diet.  Diet coke and rum is my drink of choice.  This avoids unnecessary sugars and calories, especially late at night.

As I mentioned earlier, many alcohols contain gluten and should be avoided or scrutinized by those sensitive to gluten.  These include:

Beer: Brewed from malted barley or wheat, beer always contains gluten unless otherwise listed on the bottle.

Whiskey: Barley, wheat, and rye, all three of which contain gluten, are the grains most commonly used to make whiskey.  I have never had a whiskey that didn’t give me a gluten-allergic reaction, and would recommend always steering clear of it.

Fruit- or other-flavored Vodkas: Some flavored vodkas contain gluten; if one comes with the “gluten-free” claim, I would try it for myself and gage my body’s reaction to it.  It may be a good idea, however, to simply avoid flavored vodka, and mix regular vodka with your choice of diet drink.

Bourbon: Though the primary ingredient in bourbon is corn, the fermented mix also usually contains rye, wheat, or barley.

Malt beverages: If an alcohol is billed as a “malt” beverage, it is derived from barley, and therefore contains gluten.  These should always be avoided.  Examples include, but are not limited to, the Mike’s Hard products and Hurricane.

Now, with a clearer picture of what alcohols to avoid, here are a few that gluten-free individuals can still consume.  Remember, of course, to always gage your own body’s reaction, as celiac disease and gluten sensitivity often lead to a number of other (sometimes seemingly random) food allergies and intolerances.

Rum: My alcohol of choice, rum is distilled from sugarcane juice or molasses, and is thus gluten-free, given no cross-contamination or mixing with another liquor.

Wine: As most are aware, wine is made from grapes, which makes it 100% safe for gluten-free consumption.

Gin: Distilled from berries, gin is gluten-free in its pure form, but, again, it is always smart to keep an eye on your own reaction.

Tequila: The agave fruit is used to make tequila, which makes it gluten-free.

Brandy (Cognac):  Brandy is actually distilled from wine, which, as previously mentioned, is gluten-free.

Vodka: Though often distilled from rye or wheat, gluten is eliminated from vodka during the distillation process, which makes it technically gluten-free.  Some, however, may still have an issue as it is a grain alcohol, so drink accordingly.

Fast Food Restaurant Choices

So, you’ve had two or three rum and Cokes, chatted with your (possibly inebriated) friends, and have had a good time.  Now inevitably comes the shout, “Let’s go get pizza!”  As a bodybuilder, you may turn down this idea anyway, but as a gluten-free bodybuilder, this is absolutely out of the question.  I have dealt with the situation numerous times, and have found some acceptable (and delicious) alternatives.

Subway: Often open late, Subway salads are an ideal fast food choice that are healthier than a pizza (follow “sub shop” guidelines). Remember, gage your body’s reaction to eating in this bread-friendly restaurant.

Jimmy John’s: This quirky vendor of “America’s Favorite Sandwich” can turn any sub into an “Unwich,” which is their word for a lettuce wrap.  This makes many late-night options there an ideal low-carb, gluten-free snack.

IHOP: Now that many IHOP locations are open 24 hours, this is ideal post-bar fare (use breakfast spot and steakhouse guidelines).  Oh, and make sure that, hypothetically speaking, there is no pancake batter in your eggs...hmm...

Silver Diner: My favorite out of all the diners I’ve sampled.  With typical “breakfast spot” and some “steakhouse” choices, this late-night gem can be treated similarly to IHOP.

And a final note for your night out, regardless of where you end up: drink TONS of water!

And there you have it.  Follow the guidelines I’ve laid out in this article, and you are well on your way to a gluten-free bodybuilder’s evening out, complete with dinner and a couple of drinks afterwards!

I would like to invite any and all readers to write in about their own bodybuilder-friendly (and gluten-free, if you’d like) dinner venues, nightlife restaurants, and any other “venturing outside of the kitchen” food choices.  With enough feedback, I’ll be able to do a segment with your responses!

NOTE: The content provided in this article is for recreational purposes only and the information is not intended to treat, diagnose, cure, or prevent any disease. I am not a professional on this subject, and the information provided herein is strictly based on anecdotal evidence and should not be used in the place of professional guidance. If you think you may have Celiac Disease or sensitivity to gluten, seek the advice of a medical professional.