My Journey As A Gluten-Free/Low-Allergen Bodybuilder Part 4

Gluten-free bodybuilder Alex Silva heads to the grocery store and details the best products to add to your shopping list.

Alex SilvaLow-Allergen Lowdown: Gluten-Free Diet and Groceries!

During this article series, I have detailed the various aspects of gluten sensitivity/intolerance, and offered up my experiences regarding how to live and body build with the condition.  To quickly sum things up, gluten sensitivity is basically impaired ability to digest a protein called gluten, found in wheat, barley, rye, spelt, oats, and other grains.  Largely undiagnosed and often misdiagnosed, gluten sensitivity, known as Celiac Disease in its most severe form, results in the dying off of the villi that line the small intestine and absorb nutrients.

Gluten intolerance manifests itself in a variety of ways, often varying from one person to another.  Symptoms can include bloating, gas, acid reflux, other digestive issues, joint pain, fatigue, mouth sores, peripheral neuropathy (pain/tingling/numbness in arms, legs, etc), and a wide range of other conditions, sometimes as severe as seizure and long-term malnutrition.

Because gluten intolerance is relatively unknown, many who suffer from the condition may not know it, and may not even have any idea that the condition exists.  Through research of symptoms and possible causes, it is possible to decide whether to have blood tests and intestinal biopsy to diagnose gluten intolerance.  The only way to treat this condition is through completely eliminating gluten in the diet.

Bodybuilders--who need a variety of quality food, and lots of it, every day-- can find it difficult to eat gluten-free. Yet, given that almost debilitating fatigue and joint pain are among unchecked gluten intolerance’s symptoms, it is, needless to say, critical that we do so.  Armed with the right resources, it is possible to find quality protein, carbohydrate, and fat sources that support a gluten-free lifestyle with all the high-quality nutrients a bodybuilder needs, and avoid the foods that would cause reactions from gluten, including workout-ruining fatigue and spirit-crushing muscular weakness.

Success in a gluten-free bodybuilding lifestyle begins, of course, in the grocery store.

Pringles potato chips made with wheat starch.  Ice cream containing wheat flour cookie batter.  Soy sauce made with wheat. Gluten can appear in the most inconspicuous of places in each and every aisle of your local supermarket.  In this edition of Hypoallergenic, I am going to give readers brands to look for, sample grocery lists, and a rundown of my daily gluten-free, low-allergen diet, including pre- and post-workout protocol.

Grocery stores that I frequent here in the DC area include Wegman’s (an upper-end grocery store and my favorite), Giant, and MOM (“My Organic Market,” a local organic food chain). Of course, each bodybuilder is on his or her own to scout out the local offerings in terms of grocery stores.

As a gluten-free bodybuilder shopping in a run-of-the-mill supermarket, the hurdles and hidden obstacles can be many.  Your journey begins, however, in a relatively non-threatening section - produce.  Given a relative tolerance to fruits (unlike my digestive issues with blueberries and apples), picking through the produce section can be painless.  Usual bodybuilder fare includes, but is certainly not limited to, blueberries, bananas, sweet potatoes, avocados, spinach, broccoli, and green beans.

Green beans

When navigating the rest of the grocery store (which hopefully offers a designated gluten-free foods section, often found in the “natural” or “organic” foods section), brands to look for include:

  • Enjoy Life: This brand specializes in VERY low-allergen foods.  I enjoy their Puffed Flax cereal, which is made from flax and whole sorghum flour.
  • Bob’s Red Mill: Though not all of their products are gluten-free, one of this brand’s specialties is gluten-free flours, meals, and hot cereals.
  • Arrowhead Mills: Common among low-allergen options, this brand has a variety of gluten-free foods to make life a little easier.
  • Glutino: A lot of the gluten-free bakery products are under this name.  However, many of these are not bodybuilder-friendly, so choose (and cheat) wisely.

These brands are the ones with which I am most familiar.  There are plenty of other options, though, depending on where you look and the extent of a given store’s selection.

Along with my gluten sensitivity, I also host a variety of other food intolerances.  Substitutions for some of the products I can’t consume on a regular basis:

  • Milk (milk proteins and lactose): Goat milk (Meyenberg), almond milk (Blue Diamond), coconut milk (SO Delicious Brand).
  • Peanuts: I would probably eat almonds anyway, and I substitute almond butter for peanut butter.
  • Oats, Rice: Creamy buckwheat cereal (Bob’s Red Mill).
  • Bovine whey/casein protein powders: Chunk light tuna, goat whey protein.
  • Chicken, Turkey, Beef (often corn-fed,  seems to cause reactions for me): Shrimp, other seafood, grass-fed beef (poultry, chicken especially, still gives me stomach problems)

Now, with a basic idea of what to look for on grocery store shelves, here is an example of an ideal gluten-free bodybuilder’s grocery list:

  • Chicken breast
  • Ground beef
  • Bags of brown rice
  • Canned Tuna
  • Bananas/Apples
  • Sweet Potatoes
  • Frozen Blueberries
  • Raw spinach
  • Natural Peanut Butter
  • Eggs, Egg Beaters
  • Plain Almonds

Flax cereal

Gluten free isle:

  • Rice/corn pasta
  • Gluten-free Oats

This list assumes that gluten sensitivity is the only intolerance in play.  With my intolerances spanning gluten, eggs, dairy (lactose as well as milk proteins), other grains in general, peanuts, blueberries, and apples, my grocery list tends to be a bit more limited, and sometimes I have to get creative, and look further into valid substitutes for gluten-free foods that I cannot eat.

Alex Silva’s Gluten-Free, Low-Allergen Shopping List:

  • Frozen Tilapia
  • Frozen shrimp
  • Canned tuna
  • Local free-range eggs (in moderation)
  • Raw baby spinach
  • Bananas
  • Quinoa
  • Creamy buckwheat
  • Orange juice
  • Extra-virgin Olive Oil
  • Plain Almonds
  • Almond Butter

From Whole Foods, MOM (My Organic Market), Wegman’s, etc.

  • Grass-fed ground beef (to avoid corn contamination)
  • Ostrich filet (very expensive)
  • Almond/Coconut Milk
  • Goat Milk (large amounts of this gives me an upset stomach, but it’s certainly better than bovine milk)

As you can see, my shopping list is slightly more limited when it comes to “traditional” bodybuilding foods like rice and eggs, and the foods need to be a little more specific.  But no matter how many or what types of food intolerances you have, there are always options for foods that can promote a healthy lifestyle and steady, significant results when paired with proper training and nutrient timing.

Speaking of nutrient timing, now that I have outlined foods to shop for, I will give an idea of how I apply these foods in my daily diet.

Alex Silva’s Gluten-Free Mass Gainer Sample Diet:

I eat a lot of fish and grass-fed ground beef, which I feel it contains enough fats, so I don’t eat many direct fat sources.  I feel that a greater focus on carbs creates an anabolic state that makes up for potential muscle gain lost in the absence of a lot of red meat in my diet.

Daily Calories: 3700-3800. Macro Breakdown: 40% Protein, 50% Carbs, 10% fat.

  • Pre-Morning Cardio: 40g Protein, 0g Carb, 3g F 6:00am - 8oz chunk light tuna or 2.5 scoops Goat whey.
  • Meal 1: 40g Protein, 80g Carbs, 4g Fat 7:30am - 6 oz shrimp, 1/2C creamy buckwheat w/ 1 mashed banana.
  • Meal 2: 40g Protein, 66g Carbs, 3g fat 10:00am - 5 oz tilapia, 1/2C creamy buckwheat w/ half mashed banana.
  • Meal 3: 40g Protein, 66g Carbs, 4oz fat 12:30pm - 2.5 scoops Goat Whey, 1/2C creamy buckwheat w/ 1C blackberries.
  • Meal 4: 40g Protein, 66g Carbs, 3g Fat 3:00pm - 5 oz tilapia, ½C creamy buckwheat.
  • Meal 5: 40g Protein, 80g Carbs, 4g Fat 5:30pm - 7oz shrimp, 13oz skin-on sweet potato.
  • Lift: 6:30-8:00 pm - Aminos Intra-workout.
  • Meal 6: 44g Protein, 60g Carbs, minimal Fat 8:15pm - 2.5 scoops Goat whey or 8oz chunk light tuna, 32 pieces candy corn (or 60-70 grams other dextrose).
  • Meal 7: 40g Protein, 60g Carbs, 6g Fat 8:45pm - 5oz steak, 1/2C Creamy buckwheat.
  • Meal 8: 56g Protein, 0g Carbs, 4g Fat 10:15pm - 8 oz tilapia.

The macronutrient breakdowns per meal aren’t exact, but overall, the macros add up to a 40/50/10 ratio at 3750 calories per day.

Because this is a mass diet, I will sometimes throw in an extra banana or two through the day in my buckwheat.

This is a very basic daily diet.  Buckwheat can be substituted with quinoa at some meals, and I’ll sometimes throw in some spinach or almonds at any point during the day for additional calories, health benefits, and to switch up the foods I’m getting every meal.

For pre-contest or cut dieting in general, I will maintain the 40/50/10 ratio, but drop 300-500 daily calories every 2-3 weeks or so, and am far more strict in my per-meal macros.  The maintenance of this amount of carbs in the cutting diet allows for optimal muscle sparing, a solid pre-workout meal, a good post-workout insulin spike, and overall sanity during the diet.

Many bodybuilders say that you should not feel 100% on a pre-contest diet.  While this is somewhat true, I believe that misery can be minimized by keeping carb levels somewhat high.  The muscle maintenance and higher-energy lifts while operating on a calorie deficit will speak for themselves.

Through my last three articles, I have driven home what foods can be eaten and how to eat them, foods that can’t be eaten, and foods to watch for when eating gluten-free.  In this article, I’ve brought the information to where the rubber meets the road: the grocery store.  I hope this article will send readers off into the world with a new found confidence in eating correctly and safely, gluten-free or not.

Until my next article, eat well and train hard, and look for some interesting new material in the near future.  And remember, gluten-free dieting is not difficult when you follow the correct guidelines and develop smart habits.  Gluten-free living is a relatively new concept, but can drastically improve health and performance.  Always be willing to test the status quo, in diet and in training.

To contact Alex: facebook.com/arsilva

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.