Fitness Resources

Month: November 2019

Gluten-Free Thanksgiving Sides: 6 Ideas by Katie Ferraro on November 20, 2018

Do you have a gluten-free family member or friend attending Thanksgiving dinner this year?If the thought of trying to make gluten-free Thanksgiving dishes sounds daunting, we’ve got you covered. Here are six delicious ideas for gluten-free Thanksgiving side dishes.

Start With the Stuffing
Traditional stuffing doesn’t work for the gluten-free group because it’s made with bread. Fortunately, gluten-free bread has come a long way in recent years, and many varieties and brands taste every bit as good as their gluten-containing counterparts. You can easily substitute store-bought gluten-free bread in a traditional stuffing recipe. Stick to gluten-free breadcrumbs or make your own from gluten-free bread mixed with shredded cheese to top off the stuffing.

Bright Green Brussels Sprouts Salad
Kick up the color of your Thanksgiving spread by serving a shaved Brussels sprouts salad. Simply shred or very thinly slice raw Brussels sprouts and add lemon juice, olive oil, shredded or shaved Romano cheese, and roasted pistachios, pine nuts or pepitas for a gluten-free side dish that is sure to please everyone’s palate.

Sweet Potato Casserole
Whether you make your sweet potato casserole with or without butter and brown sugar, one of the greatest things about this dish is that sweet potatoes are naturally gluten-free. Both white and orange sweet potatoes are packed with nutrition and are a great carbohydrate-rich side dish to serve your gluten-free guests.

Gluten-free Gravy
Regular gravy is usually thickened with all-purpose flour, which is not an option for gluten-free eaters. Instead, look for recipes that use naturally gluten-free thickeners, such as pureed vegetables or cornstarch, arrowroot or even mashed potatoes.

A Perfect Gluten-free Pie
What’s Thanksgiving without pumpkin pie? Or pecan…or even apple for that matter? But the flour in the pie crust is problematic for those who eat gluten-free. Thankfully, there are a number of alternative grain-free flours available that work well in pie crust recipes. Many recipes require combining gluten-free flour with potato starch, but you can usually find gluten-free ready-prepared pie crusts in the freezer aisle of your grocery store this time of year.

Smoked and Spiced Pecans
If you’re looking for a gluten-free snack that smells and tastes like Thanksgiving, try making your own smoked and spiced pecans. Search for recipes to make “smokehouse nuts” and you’ll find that, in usually less than an hour, you can make a delicious snack or appetizer that doesn’t call for gluten.

Post Author


Katie Ferraro


Katie Ferraro, MPH, RDN, CDE is a consultant dietitian and diabetes educator specializing in nutrition communications and family feeding. As a mom to 5 small children and creator of the popular blog The Fortified Family, Katie believes that good food fuels strong families. You can read more of her work at

What Is the Cause of Muscle Cramps?

by Len Kravitz, PhD and Rogelio Realzola on Oct 22, 2019

A discussion of the popular theories on what causes muscle cramps.

Muscle cramps can stop athletes in their tracks. Although they usually self-extinguish within seconds or minutes, the abrupt, harsh, involuntary muscle contractions can cause mild-to-severe agony and immobility, often accompanied by knotting of the affected muscle (Minetto et al. 2013). And cramps are common; 50%–60% of healthy people suffer muscle cramps during exercise, sleep or pregnancy or after vigorous physical exertion (Giuriato et al. 2018). There is no gender difference with skeletal muscle cramps, but they appear to occur more often in endurance athletes and in the elderly (Naylor & Young 1994).

During endurance exercise, muscle cramps correlate with the length and intensity of workouts. Fitness pros and clients frequently talk about muscle cramps, but until recently, little has been known about their actual physiology.

Types of Muscle Cramps

Giuriato et al. categorized muscle cramps into three groups:

    1. Nocturnal cramps occur during sleep without any clear trigger.
    1. Pathological cramps are a consequence of having diabetes, nerve dysfunctions or metabolic disorders.
  1. Exercise-associated muscle cramps occur during or after exertion. The first scientific confirmation of these types of cramps dates to 1908, when they were described in miners working in hot and humid conditions.

Muscle Cramp Risk Factors

With marathon runners, research has found certain risks associated with the occurrence of a muscle cramp (Schwellnus, Derman & Noakes 1997). These risks include a longer history of running, advanced age, higher body mass index, shorter daily stretching time, irregular stretching habits and a family history of cramping. Schwellnus, Derman & Noakes report that the two most important observations from the research are that exercise-associated cramps for marathoners are muscle fatigue (linked to longer runs) and poor stretching habits.

Early Theories About Muscle Cramp Causes

Theories on the Cause of muscle cramps
Early theories on the source of muscle cramps focused on electrolytes, dehydration and the environment.

Schwellnus, Derman & Noakes analyzed three early theories on the causes of exercise-associated muscle cramps.


Blood plasma contains electrolytes, such as sodium, potassium, chloride, bicarbonate, calcium and phosphate. Although electrolyte depletion is often blamed for causing cramps, there currently is no solid explanation of how low serum electrolyte concentrations can result in the condition. Schwellnus, Derman & Noakes pointed to two studies that measured serum electrolyte concentrations in endurance runners at prerace, immediate postrace and at 60-minute postexercise recovery. Neither study found a connection between postrace recovery, muscle cramps and changes in serum electrolyte concentrations.


In the past, studies have suggested treating muscle cramps in workers and firefighters with fluids and electrolytes. But those studies did not measure hydration. More recent studies that have estimated blood volume and plasma volume do not support the theory that dehydration has a direct link to exercise-associated cramps.


This theory sprang from the condition referred to as “heat cramps.” While exercising in a hot, humid environment may be correlated with the development of muscle cramps, no evidence shows cramps are linked to an increase in core body temperature.

Current Theory on Muscle Cramps

The newest concept of muscle cramps is a neuromuscular theory (Giuriato et al. 2018). This theory has evolved to point to two origins: a central (spinal column) and a peripheral (neuromuscular junction).

The central or spinal origin theory suggests that the involuntary contraction of a muscle occurs when nerve messages to the spinal column are altered, perhaps due to muscle fatigue (see “The Neuromuscular Theory of Skeletal Muscle Cramps,” below). This results in an imbalance of excitatory (from muscle spindles) and inhibitory (from Golgi tendon organs) spinal messages to muscles (see “What are Muscle Spindles and Golgi Tendon Organs?,” below). This neural signaling imbalance leads to enhanced muscle cell excitability and cramping.

With the peripheral origin theory, scientists suggest there is abnormal excitation of the motor nerves terminal branches to the muscle, causing cramping.

The scientific evidence of a neuromuscular theory is mounting. The research appears to show that, in some cases, fatigued muscle can’t fully relax. This condition leads to an imbalance between excitatory signals and inhibitory messages to the muscle. So the most recent research appears to support the central origin theory of the muscle cramp (Giuriato et al. 2018; Scwellnus, Derman & Noakes 1997).

For information on the neuromuscular theory of skeletal muscle cramps; muscle spindles and Golgi tendon organs and muscle cramp prevention, see “Ouch! What Causes Muscle Cramps” from the October 2019 print edition of Fitness Journal. If you cannot access the full article and would like to, please contact the IDEA Inspired Service Team at 800-999-4332, ext. 7.