Does your high-protein, moderate-carbohydrate bodybuilding diet disagree with you? You might have a food allergy. The top offenders, says Leslie Bonci, MPH, RD, director of sports medicine nutrition at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center, are egg, milk, soy, nuts, peanuts, fish, seafood and wheat. These are staples in many bodybuilders diets.
The good new, notes Bonci, a spokesperson for the American Dietetic Association and expert in both sports nutrition and food allergies, is that you can eat well and fuel your training even if you have a food allergy. "There's always an alternative," she says. "the goal isn't to give up so much, but to have alternatives."
How you know if you have a food allergy? The symptoms can range from annoying to life-threatening. The annoying would be a slight skin rash or lips swelling. The life-threatening would be anaphylactic shock, when the throat closes up and the whole body swells. In between would be symptoms like an upset stomach, diarrhea or less-severe respiratory symptoms, says Bonci. Allergen testing by your doctor can help you determine if you're allergic and to what, so you don't end up unnecessarily restricting your diet, Bonci explains.
By definition, allergies involve an immune-system response to a protein in the food. Some reactions may seem like allergies, but aren't. If milk upsets you, you might be lactose-intolerant because you lack the digestive enzyme lactase, but you're not actually allergic. You might be able to enjoy small amounts of milk or cultured milk or milk with the missing lactase added.
For a bodybuilder, an allergy or sensitivity to a lean protein source might seem like a major hurdle. Not so, says Bonci, who's also a nutrition consultant to the Pittsburgh Steelers. "Athletes choosing protein supplements need to look at the label to see the source of protein. If their allergic to milk, they need to make sure there's no whey or casein. It's vitally important to see that nothing in the product will be problematic," she explains. "Thank goodness protein composition is spelled our on the label."
If you're allergic to milk, try soy milk. "So many soy milks taste so good nowadays," says Bonci. If you're allergic to egg, get protein from lean meat, poultry and fish, as well as milk-based protein powder.
Gluten For Punishment
Allergy to gluten, a protein found in wheat and other grains, can put a crimp in any bodybuilder's carb intake. In fact, the condition can damage the small intestine and interfere with nutrient absorption. The allergy, also known as celiac disease, is much more common than previously thought, according to a University of Maryland School of Medicine study published earlier this year. The researchers estimate that 1.5 million Americans, one of every 133, are effected.
The trick to managing this allergy is to eat a gluten-free diet, avoiding grains alike wheat, rye, barley and oats. Gluten-free foods are available at natural-food stores. Many prepared and restaurant foods contain hidden grain products, so beware ingredients like stabilizers, emulsifiers, modified food starch and, of course, flour.
Wheat allergy is actually different from celiac disease. With wheat allergy, other grains are usually okay, with your main goal being to avoid wheat and foods that contain it. With celiac disease you need to avoid a lot of grains as well, especially ones that have similar proteins. Either way, read labels, buy special foods and watch out for prepared foods. Also talk with your doctor about allergy testing.
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