Chocolate Milk for Recovery? The Most Common Food Intolerance Is Lactose Intolerance

Lactose is a sugar carbohydrate found exclusively in animal milk products such as milk, yogurt, cheese, and ice cream. Lactose digestion requires the enzyme lactase in order to break down lactose into smaller simple sugars for absorption.

All human babies have lactase enzyme in order to digest their mother’s milk, but the enzyme usually decreases by around age 5. The lack of this enzyme and therefore the inability to properly digest lactose-containing foods triggers symptoms including diarrhea, stomach pain, and bloating.

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Certain populations have maintained the lactase enzyme, thus allowing them to consume dairy foods as an important food source. Essentially, maintaining the enzyme is a genetic mutation that became advantageous for survival. Northern Europeans as well as descendants from certain parts of Africa, the Middle East, and central Asia continue to express the enzyme lactase into adulthood.

Studies show that some populations, including African Americans and those of Asian descent, are almost all lactose intolerant.

Indeed, lactose intolerance is probably one of the most prevalent food intolerances worldwide. Dairy is most definitely one of the first foods to consider when looking at potential sources of food intolerances.

Even some people who are lactose tolerant can sometimes experience symptoms of lactose intolerance under certain circumstances. For example, normally lactose tolerant athletes might experience lactose intolerance symptoms because of irritants, antibiotic use, stress, celiac disease, normal fluctuations in gut flora, food poisoning, stomach bugs, or tough workouts that irritate the gut.

Chocolate Milk for Recovery?

While the nutrient profile of chocolate milk makes it a good recovery drink, it shouldn’t be a surprise for athletes that drinking chocolate milk right after a tough workout might lead to lactose intolerance symptoms—even if they can normally drink milk without any issues.

Lactose dose is relevant, too. Levels of lactose vary among dairy foods. For more on this most common food intolerance, see The Athlete’s Fix.

The Athlete's Fix by Pip TaylorIn The Athlete’s Fix, registered dietitian Pip Taylor will help you find your problem foods—and the foods that make you feel and perform your best. The Athlete’s Fix offers a sensible, three-step program to identify your food intolerances and develop your own customized clean diet that will support better health and performance.

Find The Athlete’s Fix in bookstores; bike, run, and tri shops; and online from VeloPress, Pip Taylor (in Australia), Fishpond Australia, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Chapters/Indigo, and your local independent bookseller.

Chocolate milk photo: Flickr/Meal Makeover Moms

Sports Foods Might Cause Up to 40% of Gastrointestinal Distress in Athletes

Sports foods and drinks often rely on fructose as a key carbohydrate fuel ingredient. Yet studies show that up to 40% of athletes have fructose malabsorption, which causes gas, bloating, and other gross GI issues.

Sound familiar?

Fructose is a FODMAP carbohydrate and it’s very common among processed sports foods, even all-natural ones. Studies show that the all-too-familiar gas, bloating, and gross GI issues so many athletes experience might be caused by the fructose found in their sports drinks, bars, and gels.

AF-sports-foodsUnder normal circumstances, fructose is absorbed through the gut wall and transported to the liver for processing. Sometimes a particular protein needed for this normal digestion is missing, and fructose sugars end up in the large intestine instead.

Once in the large intestine, gut bacteria ferment the fructose and you know what happens next: gas with bloating, diarrhea, flatulence, and the urgency to rush to a bathroom.

Some degree of fructose malabsorption may be present in as much as 30-40% of athletes. When you consider that sports foods and drinks often use fructose as a carbohydrate source, they could potentially be to blame for some of the GI distress that frustrates so many athletes.

Fructose malabsorption can be made worse by a variety of factors. For more, check out The Athlete’s Fix.

The Athlete's Fix by Pip TaylorIn The Athlete’s Fix, registered dietitian Pip Taylor will help you find your problem foods—and the foods that make you feel and perform your best. The Athlete’s Fix offers a sensible, three-step program to identify your food intolerances and develop your own customized clean diet that will support better health and performance.

Find The Athlete’s Fix in bookstores; bike, run, and tri shops; and online from VeloPress, Pip Taylor (in Australia), Fishpond Australia, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Chapters/Indigo, and your local independent bookseller.

Sports Foods Will Kick You When You’re Down

Processed sports foods often trigger symptoms of food intolerances precisely because they are consumed when you are most vulnerable—during exercise when you are dehydrated and when blood is pulled away from your gut and intestines to tend to other jobs.

What are sports foods? I define sports food as electrolyte and energy drinks, whey and other protein powder drinks and shakes, recovery bars, energy bars, gels, and chews—anything that is designed and marketed for use before, during, or after sport. But they also can include other packaged foods that people frequently use in such a scenario, such as granola bars or protein bars.

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Thanks to good marketing and the lithe, fit athletes who serve as the products’ ambassadors, sports foods have a halo of fitness and health around them. In reality, most sports foods are not very different from a candy bar or soda in terms of their impact on the body. Most sports drinks contain 10 teaspoons of sugar, and bars, gels, and sports chews or blocks typically pack in over 20 grams of sugar.

To be clear, sports foods have a time and place, and the intention of this book is not to necessarily eliminate all sports foods from an athlete’s diet.

Clearly they can be of benefit; they are packaged for convenience, and it is difficult in some scenarios to replicate this ease of use. I too turn to regular sports foods at times.

Yet before the recent advent of sports-specific foods, athletes were able to compete and fuel successfully, and many continue to do so eating just real whole foods. This fact alone demonstrates that sports foods are not strictly necessary.

There have also been scientific studies conducted showing that foods such as raisins and bananas are equally good in terms of performance when compared to sports drinks or gels.

Do you need to use sports foods and drinks? Absolutely not. Can sports food products still be a healthy solution for someone with food intolerances? Yes.

But remember that sports foods can kick you when you’re down, especially since so many of them are packed with common irritants like fructose, gluten, lactose, artificial food chemicals, salicylates, amines, etc. Even if you might be able to eat a sports bar as an afternoon snack with no consequences, that same bar during exercise might push you over your own threshold and cause GI distress. Many of your body’s normal systems are most vulnerable during exercise, when you’re asking your body to really go for it.

Here are a few tips from The Athlete’s Fix on how to manage your sports food intake to avoid triggering any of the many symptoms of a good intolerance. For more guidance, see the book.

  • For very short events (<30 minutes), try a real sugar mouthwash (artificial sweeteners don’t work). Swish and spit. Studies show you’ll get a boost and your gut will never know what didn’t hit it. Or simply don’t eat or drink.
  • For short events (under 1 hour), the sugar mouthwash is still a good idea. Or you could simply not eat! Stick with water and only consume calories if the energy demands of your event truly require it.
  • For short to medium events (1-2 hours), fuel up 2-3 hours beforehand. This timing gives your body plenty of time to process foods normally. See The Athlete’s Fix for more energy guidance.
  • For longer events (2+ hours), chances are you’ll need to eat something. Stick with real foods, if you can. If whole foods are too bulky, sports foods might be the better energy source. Key workouts give you the opportunity to confirm which sports foods and energy drinks agree with you. Remember that all sports foods require a lot of water to digest them, even if you are tolerant of those foods.

The Athlete's Fix by Pip TaylorIn The Athlete’s Fix, registered dietitian Pip Taylor will help you find your problem foods—and the foods that make you feel and perform your best. The Athlete’s Fix offers a sensible, three-step program to identify your food intolerances and develop your own customized clean diet that will support better health and performance.

Find The Athlete’s Fix in bookstores; bike, run, and tri shops; and online from VeloPress, Pip Taylor (in Australia), Fishpond Australia, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Chapters/Indigo, and your local independent bookseller.

“Bad Sleep Foods” Can Make for a Restless Night

Sure, sure—everyone knows coffee can keep you up all night. Alcohol messes with your sleep cycle. Even big meals, spicy foods, or rich meals can make for a rough night in bed.

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But reactions to specific foods and food ingredients may cause poor sleep patterns as well. New studies show food intolerances can cause insomnia, restlessness, frequent waking, restless legs, nightmares, sleep talking, and sleep walking. The most common bad sleep foods include:

  • Salicylates
  • Amines
  • Glutamates
  • Wheat/gluten, corn, and dairy
  • High-sugar foods

Learn how to spot these bad sleep foods and ingredients in The Athlete’s Fix.

The Athlete's Fix by Pip TaylorIn The Athlete’s Fix, registered dietitian Pip Taylor will help you find your problem foods—and the foods that make you feel and perform your best. The Athlete’s Fix offers a sensible, three-step program to identify your food intolerances and develop your own customized clean diet that will support better health and performance.

Find The Athlete’s Fix in bookstores; bike, run, and tri shops; and online from VeloPress, Pip Taylor (in Australia), Fishpond Australia, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Chapters/Indigo, and your local independent bookseller.

Bed photo: Flickr/thien-kim

GI Issues: The Most Common Symptom of a Food Intolerance

Gastrointestinal specialists, dietitians, and nutritionists spend a lot of time talking about bowel movements. In my experience, the same thing can be said of athletes. Although there are those athletes who remain a little more shy, I can guarantee they are still thinking about it—and for good reason:

Gastrointestinal complaints are among the most common and frequent complaints of endurance athletes, in particular runners.

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60-90% of Runners Have GI Troubles

The feeling of urgency that hits during exercise is often called “runner’s guts,” a state that is widely accepted as part and parcel of being an athlete. It is estimated that the vast majority of runners, somewhere between 60-90%, have experienced some sort of gastrointestinal distress: nausea, diarrhea, stomach cramps and pains, bloating, and burping. I would argue that every runner experiences GI issues over the course of his or her years of training and racing. Those who haven’t are either lying or are new enough to the sport to be unaware of the joys that lie ahead for them.

  • Upper GI distress manifests as heartburn, vomiting, belching, bloating, nausea, and/or stomach pain.
  • Lower GI distress includes cramping, gas, urgency, and diarrhea.

Yet GI distress is not something you have to put up with to enjoy your sport.

The Athlete's Fix by Pip TaylorIn The Athlete’s Fix, registered dietitian Pip Taylor will help you find your problem foods—and the foods that make you feel and perform your best. The Athlete’s Fix offers a sensible, three-step program to identify your food intolerances and develop your own customized clean diet that will support better health and performance.

Find The Athlete’s Fix in bookstores; bike, run, and tri shops; and online from VeloPress, Pip Taylor (in Australia), Fishpond Australia, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Chapters/Indigo, and your local independent bookseller.

Portapotty photo: Flickr/Lucian Venutian

Is There a Test for Food Allergies, Food Intolerances, and Food Sensitivities?

Yes, there are several tests but most of them are unreliable.

Blood tests for food intolerances are wildly unreliable. These blood tests look for IgG antibodies, which are a marker of exposure to food proteins, not an indicator of an allergy or intolerance. So when blood testing comes back with a long list of foods that you are supposedly intolerant of, don’t be surprised that all the foods on the list are foods you consume regularly and/or ate recently! Some research indicates that the presence of IgG antibodies may even be a marker of food tolerance, not a food intolerance.

Testing at different labs: Different labs have returned different lists of food intolerances to the same people, and results from the same lab for the same person have also given different results. In other words, blood testing produces lots of false positives and false negatives and is not reliable or evidence based.

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Other unreliable tests include hair tests, iris tests, pulse and heart rate tests, electrical conductivity tests, strength testing, and cytotoxic testing.

Breath analysis is the one method of testing that can reliably identify just one type of food intolerance, which is the malabsorption of certain sugars or carbohydrates.

The Athlete's Fix by Pip TaylorIn The Athlete’s Fix, registered dietitian Pip Taylor will help you find your problem foods—and the foods that make you feel and perform your best. The Athlete’s Fix offers a sensible, three-step program to identify your food intolerances and develop your own customized clean diet that will support better health and performance.

Find The Athlete’s Fix in bookstores; bike, run, and tri shops; and online from VeloPress, Pip Taylor (in Australia), Fishpond Australia, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Chapters/Indigo, and your local independent bookseller.

Scientist photo: Flickr/US Army RDECOM

Habits and Foods that Cause GI Problems for Athletes

Gastrointestinal complaints are among the most common and frequent complaints of endurance athletes, in particular runners. In fact, 60-90% of runners have GI troubles. Higher intensity exercise makes GI issues more likely, and women experience GI issue more commonly than men.

Here are the foods and habits that often cause GI distress for athletes:

  • A food intolerance, of course.
  • FODMAPs: A kind of carbohydrate
  • Fructose: Commonly found in sports foods and drinks
  • Lactose: Found in varying levels in dairy products
  • Caffeine: Found in coffee, tea, soft drinks, chocolate, sports foods
  • Meal timing: Eating too close to exercise
  • Fat and fiber: Too much of either can rush your guts.
  • High-carb sports drinks: Dehydrate your gut before they rehydrate you
  • Dehydration: Can wreck your gut.
  • Stress: Key workout or pre-race nerves can make you run for the port-o-let.
  • NSAIDs: Can cause leaky gut syndrome.
  • Antibiotics: Can decimate your gut biome.
  • Bad posture: Puts physical pressure on your gut.
  • Vibration: Running and jumping, anyone?
  • Antidiarrheal and antinausea meds: Believe it or not, new research shows these meds interfere with hydration and make things worse for athletes, not better.

GI distress is not something you have to put up with to enjoy your sport! The Athlete’s Fix can help you identify your problem foods that cause your GI distress. If your GI issues aren’t caused by a food intolerance, there are several other strategies that can make life easier.

The Athlete's Fix by Pip TaylorIn The Athlete’s Fix, registered dietitian Pip Taylor will help you find your problem foods—and the foods that make you feel and perform your best. The Athlete’s Fix offers a sensible, three-step program to identify your food intolerances and develop your own customized clean diet that will support better health and performance.

Find The Athlete’s Fix in bookstores; bike, run, and tri shops; and online from VeloPress, Pip Taylor (in Australia), Fishpond Australia, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Chapters/Indigo, and your local independent bookseller.

Pasta photo: Flickr/Adam Wyles