How Food Allergies Can Mess With Athletic Performance

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*FOOD AS A SOURCE OF PHYSICAL AND MENTAL WELL-BEING
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If you’ve played sports competitively — and yes, rec sports count — you know the feeling: You want to perform at your peak and deliver for your team, but the focus, energy, and determination to finish just isn’t there. The fatigue is almost painful in its intensity, shooting through your body like a warm, foggy cloud. It’s not dehydration, either. There’s just nothing left in the tank and whatever it is, it’s derailing your game.

Later, you revisit your prep: Did you get enough sleep? Was your diet clean enough and filled with the proper macros? Was it stress?

Throughout this thought process something you most likely never thought about was food allergies. But perhaps you should. Many health problems — both major and minor — are not just hereditary; they can also be related to one’s diet. Diabetes, heart disease and even Alzheimer’s disease and certain types of cancers are now recognized as diet-related, according to dietary specialists James Braly, M.D., and Patrick Holford in their book Hidden Food Allergies: The Essential Guide to Uncovering Hidden Food Allergies and Achieving Permanent Relief ($12 @ Amazon.com). It’s also the case that potentially crippling conditions such as headaches, depression, anxiety, asthma, digestive issues, joint aches, fatigue, low energy and low motivation are also now often tied to diet. And if you’ve ever tried running wind sprints, or running and sliding into second base, or going coast-to-coast for a layup, you know how difficult – or close to impossible – that can be with both a migraine and a severely bad digestive tract flaring up. No energy to play in that nightcap game of the doubleheader? That may be largely because of what you had (or didn’t have) for lunch.

It’s also the case that potentially crippling conditions such as headaches, depression, anxiety, asthma, digestive issues, joint aches, fatigue, low energy and low motivation are also now often tied to diet. And if you’ve ever tried running wind sprints, or running and sliding into second base, or going coast-to-coast for a layup, you know how difficult – or close to impossible – that can be with both a migraine and a severely bad digestive tract flaring up. No energy to play in that nightcap game of the doubleheader? That may be largely because of what you had (or didn’t have) for lunch.

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*ELIMINATION AND CLEANSE DIETS
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You’ve heard phrases like this before: carbs are the devil! Gluten-free is the way to go! Countless books have been written and studies conducted on why certain foods or food groups are the best and worst things for our well-being. If you have painful, frequent digestive problems, chances are you have tried to figure out the root cause of the problem in your diet. However, if you frequently experience things like fatigue, anxiety or mood swings — which all undoubtedly affect not only your athletic performance, but your life – you may not have thought to look for a fix from food.

Enter a cleanse or elimination diet. These ideas have risen in popularity thanks to the alluring notion that by restricting our diet to foods considered ŭberpure, and limiting foods that are widely regarded as bad foods (such as dairy, sugar, eggs, alcohol, caffeine, gluten, nightshade vegetables, soy and peanuts), we can not only give our system a chance to cleanse, but by slowly introducing each potentially “bad” food back into our diet again and observing the results, an individual can identify which foods are the true problem foods. This realization can then help one get to a place of better mental and physical well-being.

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*BLOOD AND SKIN TESTING FOR FOOD ALLERGY AND SENSITIVITY
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More scientific methods can also help pinpoint food allergens and sensitivities. Skin testing and blood testing traditionally used for IgE antibodies, or “immediate onset” allergies, are fairly common. According to Beaumont Hospital – Royal Oak allergist Devang Doshi, M.D. in Royal Oak, Mich., these tests identify the classic extreme allergies to peanuts, nuts and fish that can be debilitating and even life-threatening. These are typically identified early in life and the test is often administered as a traditional skin prick test.

During this skin prick test, the doctor will use a small plastic probe or needle to gently prick or scratch the surface layer of skin with a drop of solution containing the food allergen. It is generally not painful, and there is no bleeding; the scratching on the surface of the skin feels similar to a fingernail scratch. After the skin is pierced through first surface layers of skin, what is left is a residual protein, or dot, on the surface of the skin. If a mosquito-bite-like reaction occurs, it indicates that a patient has antibodies against the specific allergen that was tested for. This can include particular proteins, foods, pollen, mold, dust or pets. The test also shows resistance to antibiotics such as penicillin, and venom from bees, wasps, hornets, and fire ants (for those living in the Southern part of the United States). Depending on your individual personal history, you might be tested for one food or several. Results usually appear within 30 minutes.

Blood tests for IgE antibodies take several days to analyze, so are generally only used for those with skin rashes that make the skin test impossible. The IgE “immediate onset food allergy” skin prick test is also slightly cheaper than its IgE blood test counterpart, ranging anywhere from $4-10 per test. The IgE blood test is typically just a few dollars more. For both the IgE skin and blood tests, it’s recommended that several tests are conducted to reduce false positives or negatives as well as other environmental factors.

For those who don’t have an “immediate onset” allergy, pinpointing a food culprit can be a bit tougher, Doshi said. If you’re feeling tired, sluggish and just generally not well during your daily life and athletic endeavors, it may be worth trying a combination of IgG antibodies blood testing, which can help detect food allergens for “delayed onset” food allergy, followed by a version of the elimination diet.

The food sensitivity IgG antibodies test consists of collecting a blood sample, sometimes dozens of times, and running it for hundreds of food items. There is a level assigned based on the IgG antibodies present, and if there is a food sensitivity shown, the food may not agree with the patient. The drawback with this testing is that there is a high likelihood of false positives.

“If someone is questioning that their physical issues are due to food sensitivity, a lot of the IgG tests come back positive,” Doshi said. “So to just say this food or that food is a real problem, and one this person has to avoid, or limit, it’s hard since there can be different values from different labs. If you send tests to five different labs, you may get five different lab results. It’s not a standardized test, and in the allergy community there is not necessarily a widespread consensus to say this is the way to do it. The inconsistent results can obviously lead to frustration on the patient’s end.”

What should be done after the IgG results come in and there is a strong indication that some foods may be causing allergic reaction or sensitivity across all of the test results? One should consistently eliminate some of those identified foods for a couple of weeks. If there is no change in symptoms, the patient should continue to eliminate other food groups that came back with high levels of antibodies. Once symptoms begin to subside, you can start pinpointing the foods to avoid. It’s important to note, one must continue to stay away from the bad foods to continue to remain symptom-free. Essentially, the IgG test can be used as good guidance for embarking on an elimination diet in an informed manner. It can be a “short cut” for an effective elimination diet in that it can help to identify which are the “bad” foods. This can consequently enable you to feel physically stronger, less sick and more prepared to engage in strenuous athletic competition more quickly than you would be without having the test results to guide you through your diet.

But, if one chooses to go to the doctor to have an IgG antibodies blood test administered, one should keep in mind before having the “delayed onset food allergy” test that patients often have to pay out-of-pocket for it, since the procedure is not covered by most insurance. It can cost over $1,000.

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*DNA TESTING FOR FOOD ALLERGY AND SENSITIVITY
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Some doctors and scientists in the food allergy community believe DNA testing and evaluation is the most effective way to eliminate the guessing game in athletic diet and well-being. Take for example Dr. Dan Reardon, the co-founder and CEO of the DNA-based fitness and nutrition program, FitnessGenes. Dr. Reardon is a medical doctor who specializes in Human Anatomy, and he is also a certified personal trainer with over 15 years in the fitness industry,a fitness writer, two-time author and Science Editor of Muscle & Fitness and Flex magazines in the UK, Europe, and Australia.

“After years bringing DNA-based workout programs to the pro-athlete community, we are thrilled to be able to offer this comprehensive online fitness and nutrition platform to consumers all over the world,” Dr. Reardon said. “Our online platform will take the guessing game out of the equation and utilize each client’s genetic blueprint to get them in the best shape of their lives.”

FitnessGenes, which calls itself the only DNA-specific online platform of its kind, purports to eliminate the guessing game from fitness and nutrition. With a quick DNA kit and customized digital report, FitnessGenes says it can reveal specific genetic traits, including metabolic tendencies, dietary sensitivities, fat burning capacity, muscle type and recovery time. Once results are revealed, their fat-loss and muscle-building genetic training system (or GTS) programs provide personalized, week-by-week exercise plans and nutritional recommendations based on your DNA, to maximize fat burning, muscle building and improve overall health and wellness.

Once a user receives their genetic results, they can pick from one of four GTS programs that provide personalized, week-by-week workouts and nutritional recommendations based on their DNA. The price of a FitnessGenes DNA kit and report is $199, and muscle-building and fat-loss GTS programs are also available for men and women at $1 per day.

So the next time that familiar warm, weary achiness creeps in at the gym or on the playing field, keep in mind there are a slew of affordable ways that might help get to the bottom of your problems by analyzing your diet, and giving you the knowledge to take charge of your physical health and athletic performance.

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