Todd Lodwick, a gluten-free Nordic combined skier, has been chosen to carry the American flag during the Opening Ceremony of the Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia. The first American Olympian to participate in six Winter Games, he will lead 229 athletes from the United States when they enter the Fisht Olympic Stadium.
“Being nominated to carry the flag at the Opening Ceremony is one of the greatest honors that has ever been bestowed upon me…” Lodwick told reporters in Sochi. “Going into my sixth Olympic Games, it feels like I have already won a medal, and to cap off my career by representing the United States of America and Team USA is truly a privilege.”
As the first U.S. Nordic combined skier to win a World Cup, Lodwick helped pioneer the sport, which combines ski jumping with a cross-country race, in the United States. His impressive résumé includes six World Cup gold medals, five Grand Prix wins and a silver medal from the 2010 Olympics, where he helped propel his 4×5 kilometer team to the podium.
Lodwick experienced significant health improvements after becoming gluten-free.Through a series of food elimination diets in 2011, the Olympian discovered he had a wheat allergy when medication no longer controlled his asthma. The change required him to sacrifice some of his favorite traditions, like sharing donuts with his two children at his favorite bakery. Switching to the gluten-free diet took “a lot of self-control,” Lodwick says.
“One of the biggest challenges is staying healthy and being on top of my game,” he explains. “Going gluten free was probably the biggest change in my skiing career.”
A true veteran of the sport, 37-year-old Lodwick joins an elite group of six-time international Olympians. He credits his gluten-free diet for continuing to bolster his performance.
“Being gluten free is something I believe in, and making that choice has extended my career,” Lodwick says. “It has improved my skiing in a huge way, and it has enabled me to continue in an endurance sport that is demanding and that I truly love.”
Looking Toward Sochi
Chris Creveling, a gluten-free short track speed skater, will also compete at the Olympics for the first time this year.
Like Lodwick, Creveling is a born athlete. By the time he reached his 20s, he was a world champion inline speed skater and was taking his skills to the ice as a member of the U.S. National Short Track Speed Skating team.
Yet when fatigue and back pain began to interfere with his performance in 2012, he knew he needed to make a drastic change. With the guidance of a nutritionist, he eliminated gluten from his diet that spring.
“I was sort of in a rut. My energy levels weren’t high, I felt like the training was getting to me,” Creveling says. He found his body responded well to the gluten-free diet and that enabled him to train as hard as needed. “It really did help inside and out.”
Creveling says the results were nearly instantaneous. A few months later, he beat out former Olympians to win both the 1,000 and 400 meter World Cup team time trials.
Competing While GF
Both Olympic hopefuls express passion for their sports despite the physical challenges of being gluten-free athletes. With high speeds and crashes the norm, speed skating can become “NASCAR on ice,” Creveling jokes, and focus is essential. The skater practices a grueling six to eight hours a day, six days a week in Salt Lake City.
“We have such high-intensity training every day,” the 28-year-old says. “It’s really important what you put in your body.”
Creveling consumes about 5,000 calories each day, sticking to nutrient-rich fruits and vegetables as well as meats, dairy and gluten-free pastas. “I attribute a lot of my performance to my diet,” he says. “Not only eating healthy, but being conscious of everything that I eat.”
Both Lodwick and Creveling emphasize the importance of having team support for their gluten-free lifestyles, especially when traveling for competition. Although international travel is one of Lodwick’s favorite aspects of the sport, he says finding gluten-free foods can be a challenge on the road. He often brings granola bars for emergency backup when traveling overseas.
Creveling faces similar problems during international competitions and takes along a “suitcase full of food” to ensure he gets the right fuel for race time and between meets. The extra preparation paid off this past September in Shanghai, where he helped his team clinch a relay gold medal in the Short Track World Cup.
One place where the athletes won’t have to worry about gluten-free dining is the Olympic Village. The dining hall is equipped with free 24-hour options and a wide selection of cuisines. Nutrition and allergen information is provided next to each dish, and staff members are well informed about allergens during food preparation. A nutritional kiosk will direct the athletes to the gluten-free dishes in each area.
“They do such a great job, providing and catering to the needs of athletes and staff from around the world,” Lodwick says.
Although Creveling has not yet experienced the Olympics firsthand, he is confident that switching to gluten free will fuel him in Sochi.
“With my diet and everything I’ve constantly worked on over this past year, there’s a huge chance that I will be even better going into the Olympic Games,” he says.
Lodwick is equally optimistic for the 2014 Olympics, and adds that skiing helps him maintain a healthy, fulfilled life.
“Flying through the air when you let go of the bar, it’s 10 seconds of my life that everything disappears,” Lodwick says. “It forces you to live in the now. It forces you to live in this exact moment and not think about anything outside of that or the past. It takes all the stresses of the world away.”
Living gluten free is simply part of his commitment to the sport. “It’s what I’ve been trained to do,” he explains.
This article has been updated from its original version in the January/February 2014 issue. Visit the Gluten-Free Living blog for the latest news on these Olympians.
Todd Lodwick’s Favorite Fuel
- Bob’s Red Mill gluten-free oatmeal, mixed with cinnamon, almond milk, blueberry Kind granola and agave nectar
- Gluten-free toast with peanut butter and agave nectar
- Chicken and rice without sauce
- Epic Brewing Company’s Glutenator beer
Chris Creveling’s Go-To Eats
- Salads with kale and beets
- Corn-, quinoa- or rice-based pasta
- Corn tortillas with rice and beans
- KIND bars
- LÄRABAR products
- Greek yogurt
Hillary Casavant is the editorial assistant for Gluten-Free Living and a writer in the Boston area.