The Ultimate Guide for Athletes with Food Allergies
An internationally recognized and highly respected professional athlete came up to me recently and asked, “What is with all of this gluten free nonsense in America and why do I keep meeting people with multiple food allergies? This was never an issue in my country and I honestly had never heard of such things until I started to play in the States a few years ago.”
He was right. We are a mess.
In fact, you can’t walk into an infant daycare anymore without seeing peanut, egg, dairy, wheat and soy allergies. You can’t walk onto a college campus without seeing at least one portion of the cafeteria dedicated to food allergies. Every single time I consult or speak, whether its a corporate lunch and learn, high school sports team, or group of VIP executives, there are at least 2-3 individuals in the crowd with multiple food allergies, food sensitivities or food intolerances.
So what gives?
Well, hang around because in this post we are going to review the reason behind multiple food allergies, provide a list of food allergies, discuss what happens if you keep eating food you’re allergic to and discuss the best allergen-free protein powders so athletes with food allergies can fuel up, recover, and achieve peak performance day in and day out.
What’s the Deal with Multiple Food Allergies?
First things first, please check out our post discussing the difference between food allergies, food sensitivities, and food intolerance. Food sensitivities are more common than food allergies, however, for simplicity’s sake, I am only going to refer to food allergies in this article. The recommendations will not necessarily differ for those suffering from food sensitivities. Yes, there is definitely a huge range in severity of symptoms when it comes to both food allergies and food sensitivities but this is not an individualized consult so we are going to generalize a little. No one has time to plow through a 8,000-word article!
Alright so why are we seeing a sudden skyrocket in athletes with food allergies? (And ADHD, behavioral health disorders, blown-out thyroids, obesity and Alzheimer’s for that matter.)
Our bodies are in overdrive and our immune system can only filter so much for so long.
In today’s toxic environment, heavy metals, pesticides, mold, chemicals, tissue acid waste, food additives and more are compounding in our bodies faster than we can manage. This is what causes the immune system overload.
When we are exposed to toxins for an extended period of time, our body’s excretion pathways eventually become clogged and we can no longer filter and metabolize these toxins at a respectable rate. Hence why repeat exposure to toxins compromises our health (multiple food allergies, cancer, autoimmune disease,) and our appearance (acne, wrinkles, eczema, rashes, dark circles under eyes).
And let’s say that theoretically, you lived in the purest environment on the planet, you never used chemical-laden beauty products, never smoked etc., poor diet and stress alone can cause the body to accumulate and store excess waste products to the point where it can cause inflammation and disease.
When an athlete comes into my office and is only able to tolerate a very small amount of food, it is the biggest clue that their body is under “arrest” from toxic overload. It is not “bad luck” as the individuals might assume. And these individuals are not “hypochondriacs” as their friends and family often assume.
Can you Give Me a List of Food Allergies?
While anyone can develop an allergy or an adverse immune reaction to just about any food, here is a list of the top food allergens:
Trailing right behind, we can add tree nuts, peas, coconut (the FDA considers it to be a tree nut but technically it is a fruit), sunflower, kiwi, mango, avocado, banana, and strawberries.
What Happens if You Keep Eating Food You’re Allergic to?
And now, for the most famous question of them all….
What happens if you keep eating food you’re allergic to?
There is actually no hard and fast answer to this question.
Why? Genetics play a role, our environment plays a role, diet plays a role, and frequency of consumption of that food(s) plays a role. In other words, there is no way to know for sure, and the spectrum of reaction varies tremendously.
Some individuals may experience such a severe anaphylactic reaction to a brief lick or whiff of that food that they are at risk for death while others are walking around with a true IgE mediated food allergy (not a sensitivity) and they have no idea.
Now, let it be known that there are always signs/symptoms of a food allergy, but those that are less severe i.e. fatigue, hives, eczema, reflux/the feeling that food is getting caught in your throat during a meal, etc. are often ignored. Plus, most physicians are more inclined to write a prescription to treat the symptom vs. trying to figure out the root cause. (Hence why so many people suffer from food issues for countless years and they don’t even realize it.)
In summary, it is not possible to be 100% sure of what might happen to someone who repeatedly consumes a food they are allergic (or sensitive) to, but what we do know for certain is that the immune system can only take so much of a burden over time. If someone is continually eating food their immune system cannot tolerate AND they are living in a toxic environment AND they are stressed AND they have the genetic predisposition for breast cancer, Multiple Sclerosis, Celiac Disease, depression, you name it, it would not be a surprise whatsoever if those “ugly” genes began to manifest themselves. In fact, that is exactly how it all happens.
The disease that many of us experience or see in others does not magically appear or come about just “by chance”, I can promise you that.
Posts related to our Ultimate Guide for Athletes with Food Allergies:
- 7 Best Gluten Free Grains
- 13 Best Grass Fed Whey Protein Powders
- The Ultimate Elimination Diet Meal Plan Guide
- Stomach Pain? Is it a Food Allergy or Intolerance?
- Food Allergy vs. Sensitivity vs. Intolerance: Major Differences Compared
- Food Sensitivity Symptoms & Testing Explained- The Ultimate Guide
- The Low FODMAP Diet for Athletes: Destroy Gut Issues with Food
- 7 Crucial Elimination Diet Strategies for Success
How Do I Know What to Eat With Multiple Food Allergies?
Our previous articles focused on planning basic meals with food allergies, then dining out with food allergies, and the best basic substitutions for the top food allergens, this post is going to focus solely on protein shakes for athletes with multiple food allergies and multiple food sensitivities.
As you read through this list of alternatives, please keep in mind that protein powders are meant to supplement a balanced diet and enhance muscle recovery. These powders are NOT meant to replace real food.
Please also keep in mind that it is always best to work with a registered dietitian to ensure that you are getting all of the necessary nutrients, electrolytes, etc. that your body needs. Not all of the following protein powders may be specific enough to your unique biology and training demands.
Best Dairy Alternatives
While whey protein is the most classic protein choice for recovery (from a research, taste and blend-ability standpoint), it is also one of the most common offending agents, thus leading to a need for alternatives.
- #1 NSF Certified For Sport Choice: Garden Of Life Sport Organic Plant-Based Protein – BCAA Amino Acid Protein Powder The winner for those looking for a great tasting non-dairy powder with a comprehensive amino acid profile. This powder also packs a punch with BCAAs, glutamine, and probiotics in it.
- #2: NOW Nutrition Egg White Protein with BCAAs is affordable, easy to digest, and effective when it comes to the maintenance of lean muscle mass. Bonus: It is Certified by Informed Choice!
Now, we know there are many of you out there who are unable to tolerate egg in addition to any form of cow’s milk. Fear not, our next option may become your newest secret weapon.
- #3: Designs for Health Pure Paleo Beef Protein Powder is a great alternative for those who prefer not to consume dairy, but would like their amino acids to come from an animal-based powder. Designs for Health steals the show with their Pure Paleo Protein Powder. We know this is a new concept for many and it might sound strange to consume a protein powder made from beef, but hear us out:
- Dairy-free PurePaleo contains over 97% pure, complete proteins and collagen-specific amino acids for optimal recovery.
- Designs for Health’s HydroBEEF formula is made of beef from animals raised in Sweden free of any GMO or pesticide filled grains, grasses, and ensilage.
- PurePaleo has a Nitrogen Score over 100 (higher than whey!) making it easier to breakdown. The HydroBEEF protein has been hydrolyzed into peptides thus making it better for digestion, assimilation and absorption.
(If your main reason for chugging whey is to gain weight or lean mass, check out these dairy free weight gain shakes.)
Best Soy Alternatives
Soy is often hailed as one of the best proteins for recovery due to its comprehensive amino acid profile, thus making it a top pick for the plant-based athlete. However, it is also a common food allergen.
It’s not extremely difficult to find a protein powder without soy as the main ingredient, but the issue arises when soy is added as a preservative or binding agent in so many products on the market. Hello soy lecithin and soybean oil!
Here are our top 100% soy-free, plant-based picks:
#1: NSF Certified for Sport Top Pick: Garden of Life Plant Based Protein for Sport Performance. This blend of pea protein and other legumes is perfect for the soy-free athlete. GOL Plant Based Protein contains 30g of complete organic plant protein, a variety of anti-inflammatory compounds and extracts (tart cherry and turmeric anyone??), and 2 billion CFU of clinically studied probiotics to further enhance muscle recovery.
#2 Sunwarrior Warrior Blend High Performance Organic Plant Based Protein. Sunwarrior’s performance blend is a fan favorite due to its wide variety of flavor options ranging from berry, to chocolate, vanilla, unflavored and mocha. Certified organic and vegan, this soy-free protein blend touts 25g protein per serving and MCT from coconut to better fuel your workout.
#3 Orgain Protein’s Organic Plant Based Protein Powder is our final soy-free choice. Famous for its affordability and minimally chalky texture, this powder is usually the fan-favorite when it comes to plant-based taste. Our favorite is peanut butter!
And for those who prefer to ride on the portability train, Orgain makes portable plant-based protein shakes.
Best Pea Protein Alternatives
Nothing is more frustrating than being a plant-based athlete who does not tolerate pea protein. In case you haven’t noticed, it is in just about every popular plant-based powder on the shelves.
If you find that pea protein is also not a friend of yours but you wish to keep everything plant-based, here are our top picks:
#1 NSF Certified For Sport Pick: Modus Plant Based Protein offers a unique blend of pumpkin seed protein and potato protein to bring you a Certified for Sport, plant-based, pea protein-free powder!
#2 Nutribiotic Brown Rice Protein Powder has been a game changer for my athletes with numerous food sensitivities, especially for those who struggle to digest pea protein and other high fiber legumes. The only ingredients in Nutribiotics organic rice protein powder is enzymatically processed organic rice and organic vanilla flavor!!
#3 Nutiva Organic Hemp Protein Powder is excellent for the athlete who would prefer a plant-based protein powder but is unable to tolerate pea protein or other similar ingredients and additives. Its high in fiber, digests easily, has a solid amino acid profile (more on that in just a sec). Expect it to be a bit more gritty than some other protein powders however. This is a staple in Michael’s routine and one that he uses weekly amongst a few other protein powders for variety.
If you choose the hemp protein powder, our suggestion would be to add 3-5 grams of NOW Sports leucine to your shake in order to ensure that you are experiencing ultimate muscle repair and recovery. While the hemp amino acid profile is great, leucine is an amino acid that plays a crucial role in recovery and hemp protein is slightly lacking in this area.[3,4]
Best Corn Alternatives
Sure, corn is not used as the actual protein powder base, but it is often added as a sweetener, preservative or binding agent in shakes and bars. It is actually one of the hardest ingredients on the planet to avoid.
Here is a list of commonly consumed ingredients that contain corn or are derived from corn: High fructose corn syrup, corn syrup solids, corn starch, erythritol, citric acid (which comes from mold in corn-derived sugar), maltodextrin, dextrose, and xanthan gum.
Best corn-free protein shakes:
# NSF Certified for Sport Top Pick: Stronger Faster Healthier’s (SFH) Pure Whey Protein is made from grass-fed, free-range cows from small dairy farms in California and contains very few ingredients, none of which are derived from corn.
Want to supercharge your recovery and save time when making a shake? Then, be sure to also check out SFH RECOVER Whey Protein which we crowned as the new king of post-workout protein powders. This powder starts with their base grass fed whey sourced from New Zealand cthen adds leucine and creatine to assist with muscle recovery, d-ribose and L-Carnitine to restore ATP in muscle, Co Q-10 to aid cell recovery, and FruiteX-B, a patented vegan mineral complex shown to improve joint discomfort.
#2 Plant Fusion’s Elite Activated Peptide Protein is often ranked in the top three for taste in the world of plant-based powders. It is Certified Informed Choice and does not contain any derivatives of corn.
#3 Opportuniteas Whey Protein is one of the purest and basic proteins on the market. There are zero added ingredients that could potentially contain corn-just grass-fed whey protein and <1% sunflower lecithin (simply to help it mix a bit easier). Oh, and they give at least 1% of all their annual sales to charity. No corn, no problem!
Best Sunflower Alternatives
Sunflower is similar to corn in the sense that sunflower lecithin or sunflower seed protein is found in the vast majority of popular protein powders on the market. Here are our top sunflower-free picks:
#1 Certified Informed Choice Top Pick: If you are looking for an extremely pure, sunflower-free protein that has a safe for sport stamp, NAKED Whey Protein is the purest of the pure with only one ingredient, 100% grass-fed whey protein from small dairy farms in California! It can be extremely difficult to find a quality whey protein without any form of sunflower in its ingredients (because otherwise its very hard to mix without a blender) and thankfully, Naked made it happen.
Be prepared to use a Vitamix with a personal cup adapter (which is what we use at our home) or a Nutribullet if you plan to make your shakes with a whey protein powder that does not have sunflower lecithin. (If you prefer to buy protein in bulk, Naked is typically the most affordable option.)
#2: Ka’Chava Tribal Superfood Plant Based Protein is a comprehensive, plant based meal replacement shake, loaded with antioxidants, superfoods and adaptogens. This powder is incredibly popular for its taste and comprehensive nutrient profile. You will notice it is a higher calorie option and is perfect for the sunflower-sensitive athlete who does not have time to eat a balanced meal immediately after training.
#3: NOW Nutrition Egg White Protein is as simple as it gets with just one ingredient, egg white powder! No sunflower lecithin!
#4 Nutiva Organic Hemp Protein Powder As mentioned above, this is one of Michael’s favorites. Just be sure to add some NOW Sports Nutrition leucine to your shake to top of the amino acids for optimal recovery.
Best Coconut Alternatives
Coconut is all the rage these days, and for good reason, but not when you can’t tolerate it! Here are our top completely coconut free alternatives:
#1 NSF Certified for Sport Top Pick: Garden of Life SPORT Certified Grass Fed Clean Whey Protein is hands down one of our overall favorite protein powders for athletes. Similar to its plant-based sibling, this is packed with BCAAs, glutamine, and probiotics. It mixes easily, tastes great, and is free of coconut.
#2 Vega Sport Plant Based Protein blends well, is Certified Informed Choice and does not contain coconut.
# OWYN is our final favorite pick for a truly coconut free product. OWYN batch tests every single product made to ensure that it does not contain coconut or any tree nuts for that matter.
Best Peanut and Tree Nut Alternatives
We realize peanuts and tree nuts are rarely ever the main source of protein in a powder, but, at the same token, these are commonly used ingredients for added flavor and texture. Plus, we work with many athletes who are so sensitive to peanuts and tree nuts that they cannot even tolerate a powder that was manufactured in a facility that uses peanuts/ tree nuts.
Here are our top three companies who do NOT manufacture their powder in a facility that also processes tree nuts and or peanuts:
#1: NSF Certified for Sport Top Pick: Klean Isolate Natural Chocolate Whey Protein is our top pick for the athlete who is sensitive or allergic to the top allergens, in particular peanut and tree nuts. Klean Isolate Whey Protein is safe for sport and tested by both the manufacturer of the product as well as Klean Athlete themselves for common allergens. Those who experience anaphylaxis may likely safely consume this product as it is double tested for any trace of allergens.
#2: OWYN is an awesome source for any athlete trying to avoid peanuts/tree nuts or any of the top allergens. OWYN offers portable protein shakes as well as a protein powder. This is the absolute best option for the athlete with life-threatening food allergies. OWYN tests every lot of every ingredient before every manufacturing run. OWYN uses accredited 3rd party laboratories to test for the presence of Top 8 allergens using Enzyme-Linked ImmunoSorbent Assays (ELISA).
#3: Designs for Health Pure Paleo HydroBeef Protein ranks again as a quality protein powder! This pick is especially awesome for the athlete with a severe sensitivity or allergy to tree nuts.
Multiple Food Allergies/Extremely Restricted Diet
And last but not least, for the athlete who is battling numerous food sensitivities and the list continues to grow, here are my top suggestions:
#1 NSF Certified for Sport Pick: Vital Proteins Collagen Peptides. Flavorless, odorless and blends incredibly well. It is also free of the top 8 allergens. (For the highly competitive athletes reading this article, yes, the leucine content is not as high as we would like it to be for optimal recovery and in that case, I would suggest adding 1 scoop of NOW Sports Nutrition’s leucine.)
Also, for convenience when traveling, Vital Proteins offers portable collagen packets.
#2 Nutribiotic Organic Rice Protein was mentioned above but it is worth pointing out again as this is well tolerated by our most sensitive athletes. There are only two ingredients, organic rice and organic vanilla or chocolate flavor. You may also purchase the unflavored version.
#3 Nutiva Organic Hemp Seed Protein Powder is a perfect choice for the highly sensitive athlete as the only ingredient is organic hemp protein! Hemp protein is especially beneficial for athletes who are unable to tolerate grains and legumes.
In the meantime, PLEASE seek a highly qualified functional nutrition trained dietitian in your area by clicking here. When the root of your health issue(s) is treated, you will be able to successfully reintroduce many of the foods you were once unable to tolerate.
One last #protip: for all of our elite, professional and college athletes who are tested for banned substances: If you would like to try a powder that is not NSF Certified for Sport or Informed-Choice Certified, please be sure to keep track of the lot number of each container you consume. This way, you can contact the company and retrace steps if ever there is a need.
While our goal as a sports dietitian is to help you steer clear of banned substances, an even more important goal is to help keep your immune system and digestion in check so you can recover more quickly and achieve peak performance. Doing this also helps maintain lean muscle mass and preventing unnecessary weight loss. So, for some of you, that may require venturing out of your comfort zone to try new things with your protein powder.
So, there we have it my friends, the top protein powder picks for the athlete with multiple food allergies or sensitivities. We hope you found this article to be helpful. If you enjoyed this article and would like to learn more, please submit your request to us. We work around the clock to tailor our information directly to you!
Lastly, in case you missed it earlier and would like to learn more about how to navigate the wild world of food allergies and sensitivities, check out our favorite posts regarding dining out with food allergies, finding the best substitutions for the top allergens, and meal planning around the top food allergens.
Happy eating and refueling to all my friends out there with multiple food allergies!! Your healthiest self is just around the corner.