By Zach

Hope you all are embracing Celiac Disease Awareness Month to the fullest. In our Tuesday post, we shared a bunch of ideas and activities you can do to promote gluten-free efforts. For today’s post, we’d like to mix things up a bit and have Olympian Nathan Brannen shed some light about his experience with a gluten-free lifestyle as an Olympic Games middle distance runner.

1.    Can you briefly share your personal story of being gluten-free?

The reason I decided to become gluten-free was a result of my coach. Besides being a world-renowned coach, he is also a world-renowned physiotherapist and suggested that I try a gluten-free diet. This gluten-free practice was something he had been doing for years as an injury prevention strategy.

Gluten is a binder and he found that people that had high-level gluten diets tended to be more injury prone than those who were gluten-free. Physiologically, he found gluten also acted as a binder in the body as well, causing muscle and tissue to get stuck and not move or reacted properly. I figured it couldn’t hurt to try since I had been very injury prone over the last few years. I have found my body to feel much healthier and my injuries have been at a minimum since I switched to a gluten-free lifestyle. I have been gluten-free for just over a year, I feel fit and my running is now stronger than ever.


2.    Please tell us a little about yourself and your career.

At the University of Michigan, my freshman roommate, Alan Webb, and I were the first two sub-4 high school milers to run for the same program in history. By the time I ended my Michigan career, I had won four NCAA titles and ran the second-fastest collegiate indoor mile in history.

After earning a silver medal and winning the Canadian 1500m title in 2006, my 2007 season came to an early halt when I sustained a herniated disc near the base of my spine. After missing five months of training, I opted to have surgery in November. Then began the long comeback to the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games.

The next years were my stepping stones to get me to where I am today – training for my second Olympic team in hopes to once again compete at the Olympic Games. I’ve put in the effort, trained smart, and consistently. I’ve also made a big change to my diet by going gluten-free, which has helped me out immensely as it has lessened my chances for injury.


3.    As an Olympic athlete exercising a gluten-free lifestyle, have you faced any challenges? If so, what are some trick of the trade you’ve learned?

The biggest challenge I face is when I’m traveling around the world racing. It’s difficult to live a gluten-free diet in countries where pasta is a major staple of their pallet. It becomes very tricky to find sustainable alternatives that will not only give me the nutrients I need but also the caloric intake.

The key is learning the foods that are gluten-free or other alternative foods that I can either take with me or find readily when around the world.


4.    I would imagine you’ve been training for the London Summer Olympics. What does your daily training look like? How are you preparing?

My daily training consists of waking up at 7:00 a.m., eating a small snack, then take a 60-90 minute run or do a hard workout on the track. Then I bring my body back down to a vegetative state so I can recover and eat a solid meal. In the evening, I’ll usually take another 35-45 minute run, eat a small snack, stretch 30 minutes before bed, and be in bed by 10:30.

My days are very structured and I try to keep myself on a pretty strict routine and diet. Other normal activities during my day are ice baths for recovery and treatments such as chiropractic, physiotherapy and massage. I also add in 2-3 lifting sessions per week.


5.    What are some of your favorite gluten-free meals that give you the strength and energy to outperform?

My favorite dinner is a spinach salad with strawberries, feta cheese, olive oil and balsamic dressing alongside quinoa and some meat, which usually consists of chicken, steak or salmon. Quinoa is a protein-rich food and is great for athletic recovery. I especially love the taste used in a cold salad with garbanzo beans, kidney beans, tomatoes, feta, spinach, and a dash of salt with a small amount of olive oil.