Professional runner Amy Yoder Begley cut out wheat, rye and barley to turn her gluten intolerance into an Olympic success.
When track fans think of Amy Yoder Begley, they picture her racing in the 10,000-meter finals at the 2008 Olympic Trials. That day, she electrified the crowd at Hayward Field by finishing third, shattering her previous P.R. and securing her ticket to Beijing as a member of the U.S. women’s team.
It’s hard to imagine that just two years before this feat, Yoder Begley was suffering from digestive troubles so severe she couldn’t get through a 30-minute workout without a bathroom break. Inadequate nutrient absorption caused her to battle constant injury, low bone density and anemia. Yoder Begley’s issues had been attributed to irritable bowel syndrome, lactose intolerance and even ovarian cysts. The athlete had plenty of diagnoses, but was unable to find relief from the symptoms that were forcing her running career to a standstill.
The game-changer: In 2006, a blood test revealed Yoder Begley had Celiac disease, an autoimmune condition in which gluten (a protein found in wheat, rye and barley) causes damage to the small intestine. Two weeks after Yoder Begley was properly diagnosed and changed her diet accordingly, her stomachaches and bloating ceased. Within a few months, her bone density and iron levels improved. And within two years, she was strong and healthy enough to make the Olympic team.
“It was the first time I felt like my body was actually doing what I wanted it to do, and what I knew it could do,” says Yoder Begley, referring to the 2008 Olympic Trials and the training leading up to it. “It was really exciting for me to be able to show that to the world.”
Adopting a gluten-free lifestyle was rewarding, but not easy. Yoder Begley, now 34 and living in Eugene, Ore., says it was difficult during those first years to find good options to replace her formerly favorite meals. In Beijing, she famously traveled offsite to an American restaurant to find gluten-free meals in the foreign country.
But with time, Yoder Begley says gluten-free product offerings as well as her own cooking strategies have greatly improved. “I don’t look at it as a diet, but as a healthy lifestyle that opens the door to a longer, healthier life and that gets rid of the issues I used to have,” Yoder Begley says.
Gluten-free hasn’t meant completely injury-free, unfortunately. Yoder Begley is currently recovering from complications following surgery to repair an injured Achilles tendon. She’s working back up to a training level that would allow her to participate in the Olympic Trials in June.
In the meantime, the athlete has been distracting herself by focusing on hobbies, such as walking her dogs and cooking her wheat-less specialties, which include spicy curry dishes and baked goods. “For me, it’s very therapeutic to be in the kitchen,” Yoder Begley says. “It’s what I do when I’m stressed.”
Chocolate-Chip Carrot Cake
Have your carrot cake and eat it too. Amy Yoder Begley’s recipe has all the decadence without the gluten or the guilt!
1 1/2 cups Bob’s Red Mill Gluten Free
All-Purpose Baking Flour
3/4 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup packed light brown sugar
1 1/4 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. ground cinnamon
11/4 tsp. xanthan gum
1/2 tsp. salt
1/4 cup vegetable oil
1/2 cup applesauce, unsweetened
1 1/2 tsp. vanilla extract
2 cups carrots, finely shredded
12-ounce package mini semi-sweet chocolate chips
3 ounces reduced-fat cream cheese, softened
1/4 cup butter, softened
2 cups powdered sugar
1 tsp. vanilla extract
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease and flour a 9-inch-by-13-inch baking pan (Yoder Begley likes to coat the pan with a mixture of flour and unsweetened cocoa powder).
In a large bowl, combine flour, sugars, baking soda, cinnamon, xanthan gum and salt. In a small bowl, combine eggs, oil, applesauce and vanilla. Stir the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients, blending well. Stir in the carrots and chocolate chips. Pour the batter into the pan and bake 35 to 40 minutes. Cool completely in pan on a wire rack. (To make cupcakes, use paper liners and bake for 25 to 30 minutes).
While cake is cooling, make frosting. Beat cream cheese and butter in small bowl until well blended. Gradually add powdered sugar and vanilla extract, beating until the mixture reaches a spreadable consistency. Spread frosting on cake and serve.
Nutritional info per serving:
355 calories, 3g protein, 15g fat (7g saturated), 58g carbohydrates, 2g fiber, 241mg sodium