Grain-free, Dairy-free, and Running Strong

[The following post is part of a series on runners and their diets. Angie Bee runs on a gluten and casein-free diet. For other posts in this series, scroll down and read about running on vegan and paleo diets.]

by Barefoot Angie Bee

One day a couple of summers ago I ate a cheese tortilla. You know, some cheddar cheese melted in a flour tortilla with some hot sauce. About 20 minutes later I hated my life. I was depressed, anxious, and all around unhappy. What the bleep was going on? I was having a lovely day with my family and then all of the sudden it changed. After some contemplation I realized that the only thing that had changed was my diet.

I had been eating out of the garden for about two weeks prior and had not had any gluten or casein (gluten is a protein in wheat and casein is a protein in dairy). That’s when I realized that foods had a profound affect on the quality of my life in a way that I had never thought possible. It was wonderful insight and provided a level of empathy for my son who has autism and has the most severe food sensitivities of the family. Two of my four boy spawns have food intolerances. It never occurred to me that I too would share these food sensitivities.

So fast forward to today and I have a pretty long list of foods that I can’t have. I am gluten, casein, soy, most nuts, rice, sorghum, and egg free. For a long time I was angry that there were so many foods that I couldn’t have. The life lesson here is that there is so much that I CAN HAVE and it’s all about perspective!

I was brought up in a house where food was a treat. If you were good you got a treat. Holidays, family get togethers, special occasions all called for pizza and soda and some kind of dessert. Consequently my whole family is overweight. Thanks to my food limitations I am not overweight and quite healthy. Most of all, I feel great. It has been a two-year journey so far and I feel better than ever. I have also lost all of the baby weight from growing 4 boys.

I am also a barefoot runner and have been for almost two years now. I have run a barefoot marathon on this diet and have refined even more since that race in October. Barefoot running and my special diet serendipitously go hand in hand in that they are both a minimal perspective.

Ok, so I will back up a bit. I first thought that my only issues were with casein and gluten after that dreaded and beautiful cheese tortilla incident. Wheat and dairy are the two biggest offenders. But through trial and error, elimination and reintroduction of foods, I have been able to identify many offending foods and eliminate them from my diet.

Most of the foods I eat now are ones that I have prepared myself. That is the key to a special diet.  Making the bulk of what you eat. It has many benefits. First, you know what you are eating. Many times packaged foods have tricky ingredient lists and may be processed on shared equipment. It can be very satisfying to prepare foods for yourself and your family. As you learn about nutrition, it becomes very gratifying to make meals that are rich in nutrients.

I eat lots of beans and veggies and fruit as well as chicken and venison. I struggled with anemia last summer and upped my red meat and spinach consumption, both high in iron. Now that I am supplementing iron I am able to eat mostly chicken and turkey with occasional venison. I learned that if you struggle with anemia (and most female distance runners do) vitamin C is extremely important to absorb iron from your diet. I also exclusively use a cast iron skillet for cooking.

Some of the premade foods that I eat are corn tortillas and Sunbutter. Sunbutter is from the gods themselves!!

Sunbutter is better than peanut butter. I like to mix sunbutter and honey for a quick snack. Winter eating is the easiest with so many soup options, but eating out of a summer garden is equally lovely. Every summer veggie is wonderful dipped in homemade hummus! I also eat bags and bags of frozen mixed berries. It’s quite refreshing and again another food brimming with nutrition.

I should add as a side note that most of my symptoms of food intolerance are emotional and behavioral and not so much gastrointestinal, although eggs and soy give me a wicked bellyache. One of the most difficult aspects about all this food intolerance business has been being honest with myself when a food does not work for me.


This has been tricky more on an emotional level since I thought that I had to fuel with GU and other gels. Lately I have been experimenting with making my own chews and gel. It’s going well, although packaging has been the biggest obstacle.

I have been fueling with Gum Drops and it has been working very well while I work on my own recipe! I love Gum Drops and Jelly Beans so it’s easy to replace GU with those. I drink nuun electrolyte drink for every run and it helps keep cramps at bay and replenishes the salts that I lose while sweating. Hydration is important all the time and not just when exercising. My family and I drink nuun when we are sick or traveling. Sometimes in the morning I wake up with a bit of a headache and nuun gets rid of it.

Although wheat is a great source of carbs it’s not the end all solution. I find that potatoes and sweet potatoes are great sources of carbs. I really like to cut white potatoes into coin shapes and bake on a cookie sheet at 425 for about 40 minutes. Sweet potatoes are wonderful boiled until soft, and then drizzled with olive oil. And add salt, pepper, and Nutritional Yeast.

Have you tried Nutritional Yeast? If you have not I would highly recommend it! It is JAM PACKED with nutrients and has a lovely mild, cheesy, nutty flavor. It’s great on everything.

For the kids I like to make rice pasta with a nooch (what we call nutritional yeast) sauce and it’s better than mac and cheese in so many ways (see recipe link below)! I put it on popcorn with garlic and it makes a great nutritious snack.

The day before a long run or a race I like to eat potatoes once or twice that day. I don’t think that stuffing myself makes a difference, but for good measure I will eat potatoes. I think that olive oil and Nooch are fantastic all the time. About an hour before a run I like to eat chia seeds mixed in applesauce. It has never upset my stomach or caused heartburn during a run. Chia seeds are not just for Chia pets, although they are charming nonetheless.

We like to keep beans made up for burritos in the fridge. It consists of black beans, onions, and tomatoes. I also chop fresh cabbage to put on the beans with some olive oil and Nooch. I could (and do) eat that about every day and don’t think I will ever get tired of it! Probiotics and healthy intestinal flora are important for our overall well being. There are more bacteria in our bodies than our own cells, so being friends with our bacteria is a must.

I used to drink Kefir, which is similar to yogurt; however now that I am dairy free I make my own Kombucha. Kombucha is sometimes referred to as a wonder drink and I must agree with that statement. It is an excellent source of not only probiotics but B vitamins as well. (See recipe instructions below.)

Now when I eat, I enjoy the foods I eat and rarely think of what I am missing out on. It has been a journey of personal growth that I didn’t expect to be on, but I am much happier and healthier. Soon we will be planting a bigger and better garden and I can’t wait until those hot summer days of fresh veggies dipped in homemade hummus (recipe instructions below). Another thing I could eat daily!


Uncheese Sauce

I used this recipe to get started and now have learned that some oil, water, salt, pepper, and nooch works quite well to mix with noodles.

Homemade Hummus

Hummus is one of those dishes that you can’t mess up!

Hummus is a pureed garbanzo bean dip with Middle Eastern origins. Serve with pita (I use corn tortillas) and an assortment of fresh vegetables. Tahini, or sesame seed paste, can be found in health food stores, gourmet shops and even many grocery stores.

To start you need Chickpeas (garbanzo beans). Chickpeas don’t need to be soaked and cook in about 45 minutes so it’s cheaper to get them by the bag.

Next you will need some kind of oil. I prefer Extra Virgin olive oil and my husband likes to cook his oil with onions or garlic. We use about a quarter cup to a third of a cup.

About two Tablespoons of Tahini paste. Go by flavor. Sometimes I don’t add it at all.

About a 1/4 cup of lemon juice.

Garlic and onions and salt and pepper.

You can add anything you like after your basic ingredients of chickpeas, oil, tahini, lemon juice, garlic, salt, and pepper.

It’s wonderful with a pesto flavor, and roasted red peppers are lovely in hummus as well.

Homemade Kombucha

Kombucha is trickier and could be a whole blog post alone. It takes time, but spring is a nice time of year to start.

A SCOBY is the Symbiotic Colony of Bacteria and Yeast that transform sugared tea into a probiotic goldmine! I started my SCOBYs from GT Daves Raw Kombucha. I poured some of the store bought raw kombucha into a small glass and kept it warm until a SCOBY grew on the top. It will look like white film covering the surface and will grow thicker. After around 10 days it will need to be fed.

Here is the link to my starting out post.

As the SCOBYs grew, they could process more sugar tea solution. Kombucha needs a dark warm place to brew for usually about 10 days. The first time I fed them I put green tea brewed with about five bags in an apple sauce jar (glass jar) with about 1/8 cup of sugar and after it was under 80 degrees I poured the contents of the starter jar in with the tea and sugar.

Never use metal with your SCOBYS. Always use wooden spoons and glass containers. The SCOBYs need to breathe so use a tea cloth or paper towels kept on with a rubber band as a lid. Kombucha brews best at 78 degrees. Cooler takes longer and if its too cool then undesirable bacteria can take hold.