Q&A with Sports Performance Coach

May 2, 2012

Q&A with Sports Performance Coach

Dr. K.C. Wilder explains the unique challenges facing athletes with gluten-related disorders – and how to overcome them.

Dr. K.C. Wilder is a Sports Performance Coach who has worked with athletes who have celiac disease and other gluten-related disorders. We grabbed her for a few questions about her practice and the advice she offers gluten-free athletes. Learn more about Dr. Wilder on her website.

NFCA: What experience do you have working with athletes with celiac disease and other gluten-related disorders?

Dr. K.C. Wilder - Performance CoachDr. Wilder:Throughout my years as a Performance Coach, I’ve had initial consultations with athletes who: a. are in a slump or express low energy, nausea, or stomach pain and have not yet been diagnosed as celiac, b. athletes who have been recently diagnosed with celiac disease and are still coming to terms on how to comply with the new dietary restrictions and changes that they need to incorporate into their life. It’s not uncommon for an athlete to walk into my office and have the self-perception they are in a “slump.”

In the first scenario above, I will make a referral to their family doctor before proceeding. In the second scenario, I will work with the athlete to facilitate a lifestyle change. I will work with the athlete to shift from a compliance mindset to an adherence mindset. This subtle – yet powerful – shift in perception will move an athlete from following the advice of a Medical Doctor or Nutritionist to taking personal responsibility and acceptance that they need to make the change for their own physical health, which is tied to their emotional well-being. The adherence mindset is the shift towards acceptance. I have found that the athlete will follow a gluten-free diet rather than a “gluten-light” diet if they accept full responsibility for making the change. They will eat gluten-free not because it was prescribed to them by a doctor, but because it makes them feel better physically, mentally and psychologically. In the adherence mindset they will make the changes under their own volition and their own free will. They’ll do it because eating gluten-free makes them feel the way they want to feel.They are taking ownership of the change through education, counseling and a complete awareness that they their athletic performance will be enhanced by “tweaking” their diet based on their unique needs.

NFCA: What are some unique challenges that gluten-free athletes face?

Dr. Wilder: A newly diagnosed athlete may not feel comfortable sharing their diagnosis, therefore the challenge can alter how they perceive themselves. Below are some unique challenges a gluten-free athlete may face.

  • Carb-loading is not as simple for gluten-free athletes.
  • In the educational process of “what” to eat to carb load, an athlete may need to refer to a website, Twitter or an App on their smartphone that tells them specifically what you can eat to carb load. For example, brown rice pasta, bananas, sweet potatoes, gluten-free breads.
  • Accepting and embracing the gluten-free diet.
  • Social challenges. If their teammates judge them or see them in a different light because of being celiac, that is not the responsibility of the athlete to change their perception.
  • Saying “No, thank you” to that warm plate of pasta served at the team dinner.

NFCA: Your practice focuses on anxiety, which can be both a symptom of undiagnosed celiac disease and a result of the social challenges of a gluten-free diet. How do you help athletes overcome their anxiety?

Dr. Wilder: I help them by focusing on their sports performance. In sport psychology literature, eminent researcher Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi defines “flow.” Flow is a state of consciousness that is effortless and leads to absolute absorption in the process of one’s life experiences. There’s a loss of sense of time, temporary alleviation of anxiety or emotional obstacles, a sense of being energized and productive. When you find engagement in what you are doing, when you’re tuned in and absorbed in your own experiences, it facilitates flow. When you are feeling a deep sense of engagement it is hard to feel anxious or worry about celiac disease or non-celiac gluten sensitivity. You are living in the moment.

Other advice is:

  • Cognitive restructuring
  • Acceptance of the lifestyle change
  • Positive Psychology and adapting the attitude of learned optimism
  • Mental Imagery
  • Relaxation exercises

NFCA: What advice do you have for athletes who are considering a switch to gluten-free?

Dr. Wilder:For athletes thinking of “going” gluten-free, I suggest the following:

  • Consult your physician and get tested for Celiac
  • Keep a food journal and record everything you eat
  • In the food journal also record how you FEEL emotionally and physically
  • Take baby steps in making the changes
  • Develop a deep level of awareness of how the intake of certain foods impacts your performance