Life StoryDec/Jan 2015 Issue

Q&A: Skater Valerie Maltais Describes Her Special-Needs Diet

Canada's Olympic medalist speed-skates to gluten-free health.

Photo courtesy of Bonnie Siegler

At 6 years of age, Valerie Maltais tried on speed skates, gingerly putting one blade on the ice and then the other. “I was so afraid of being on those long blades. I was doing figure skating before then but racing was completely different,” recalls the Quebec native, now 24.

Last February, Maltais brought home a silver medal for Canada in the 3000-meter Olympic speed skating relay. She repeated this victory a few weeks later at the World Championships, winning bronze in the 1000-meter relay and silver in the 3000-meter relay.

“You have to think as a team,” she says of the mindset needed to accomplish these relay wins. “We girls know what to do and what we need.”

Maltais knows what her body needs due to a personal history of digestive problems. Here, the 5-foot, 4-inch athlete talks about her special diet and how she keeps herself healthy and in top form.

Q: Your athletic training is rigorous. Can you briefly walk me through it?

A: I begin with a 30-minute warm-up—running and stretching—and then I go into skating. I’m on the ice for 2 hours in the morning and another 2 to 3 hours in the afternoon. I do this six days a week. It’s pretty intense.

Q: You had digestive issues for many years. What kind of symptoms?

A: I felt uncomfortable when training, skating and in my everyday life. I had bloating, stomach pains and problems similar to irritable bowel syndrome. I’ve also always been lactose intolerant. So I started making some changes in my diet, from being vegan to stopping and then reintroducing different foods. I finally discovered that I felt much better with gluten-free foods and a daily regimen of probiotics. It really helped me.

Q: Do you take any other supplements besides probiotics?

A: Yes. I take B-12, iron and vitamin D. I think athletes need more of these energy-boosting supplements.

Q: What convinced you to switch to gluten-free?

A:  I kept a food diary and it really helped me figure this out. I tracked my food intake and noticed I felt more energized, less bloated and had better overall digestion when I omitted the gluten. I am not a celiac but my body is very sensitive to gluten so I do control my diet. I began eating gluten-free in 2012. Living gluten-free just works best for me.

Q: So what type of gluten-free bread have you tried that’s tasty?

A: I really love Udi’s products. I love their muffins, cookies, breads.

Q: What kind of dairy substitutes have you found work best for you?

A: Usually I drink almond or soy milk. But when I’m traveling, I don’t want to be real picky and act like a diva, so I might have a little regular milk. Going gluten-free and taking probiotics, my overall health and life are so much more manageable now that I can do that without suffering big consequences.

Q: Have you ever thought of trying the low FODMAP diet?

A: No. I figured out my best diet through trial and error, sometimes experiencing more of the error. [Laughs] I’ve found what works best for me and I’m sticking to it.

Celebrity correspondent Bonnie Siegler lives in Los Angeles and Kentucky.

Editor’s note: Celiac experts strongly recommend that people be screened for celiac disease before embarking on a gluten-free diet.

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