Rice Bulking Update 2: How Gluten Kicked My Ass

After gaining a respectable 2.2 kg of muscle and only 0.2 kg of fat in July by adding white rice to my formerly-low-carb routine, I decided to see what would happen to this weight-gain experiment if I replaced the rice with pasta instead.

Why pasta? You’ve probably heard about the "gluten-free" craze that has taken the health and fitness world by storm in recent years. If you've ever wondered what the big deal is about gluten and when gluten-phobia started to become mainstream, check out How to Keep Feces Out of Your BloodstreamIf you don’t have time to read the article, then this quote just about sums it up: 

"OK, calm down, I get it. Bread, pasta, and cookies are yummy. They are also likely killing you.” 

But is eating gluten really all that bad? After all, we humans have relied on grains for sustenance since the dawn of civilization. 

Well, as someone who likes to find things out for himself, I wanted to see what adverse effects, if any, my body would feel from reintroducing gluten back into my diet after 7 months of being gluten-free (excluding cheat days).   

As you’ll see next, I got more than I bargained for...

Unexpected results from the gluten diet

This past month has been rough.

For the sake of my own well-being (I'll explain later), I decided to end this gluten experiment on August 27th rather than wait until the very end of the month. 

By August 27th, I had gained only 0.5 kg of total weight compared to a gain of 2.4 kg in July. Meanwhile, my body fat percentage increased to 11.3% compared to staying flat at 9.4% in July. 

If we calculate the changes in lean mass and fat mass based on these figures, this means that I gained 1.3 kg of fat and lost 0.8 kg of muscle.

Top: weight in kg. Bottom: body fat %. Notice how the trend line for my body fat percentage rises in August after actually declining in July.

As you can see from the chart, it wasn’t until August 12th that I was able to finally get my weight back above my July ending weight of 64.9 kg. 

What's going on here? 

Basically during the first 3 weeks of August, I had diarrhea 8 times (mostly during the first 2 weeks), and I felt “off" for the entire month.  

Could the diarrhea and overall decline in performance have been caused by something other than the switch to pasta? It’s certainly possible. But I feel the occurrence was too frequent and too closely correlated with heavy-pasta days to not be caused, at least in some part, by the pasta. 

Ironically, I actually felt better after cheat days when I no longer stuck to the pasta diet and ate whatever I wanted!

Thankfully, by week 4 the diarrhea stopped — but who knows what damage has already been done, or undone, to my gut in exchange for regaining my tolerance to gluten.

What did I learn from this gluten experiment?

  • My reaction to pasta seems very similar to my reaction to dairy. I grew up chugging milk directly from the gallon milk cartons. It wasn’t until later in life, when I stopped drinking milk and eating dairy products on a daily basis that I began to realize that I was lactose intolerant. I guess I can say I have gluten intolerance now too (yippee!).
  • It seems that simply limiting (rather than eliminating) a certain food to 1-2 days per week for an extended period of time and then reintroducing it back into your diet can be enough of a change to help you determine whether your body would perform better with or without that food.
  • Based on the results, it seems like pasta may be slightly fattier (i.e. more fat-promoting) than rice, though you’ll probably agree that getting fatter was the least of my problems.
  • It’s hard to gain weight when sticking to natural, unprocessed foods — even if you are eating decent sized servings of rice or pasta with each meal (note I am referring to plain white rice and plain pasta without sauces). Without my multiple cheat days, I don’t think I would have put on much weight, even though my 2,000 calorie target (150g carb, 125g protein, 100g fat) on non-cheat days left me feeling very full.  

What’s next? Authentic, Italian gluten!

My hope is to be able to wrap up this bulking experiment and reach my goal of 68 kg by the end of September. 

I also hope to answer 2 more questions along the way:

  1. In July after bringing white rice back into my diet, I didn't experience the type of negative effects with rice that I had with pasta. If I now switch back to eating rice in September, will I feel better? 
  2. To keep things consistent, I ate only Barilla brand spaghetti. Is there something about mass-market pasta like Barilla that is more likely to trigger adverse effects than, say, fresh pasta made and eaten daily in Italy? Does the type of pasta or how the pasta is prepared matter? Is all gluten created equal? 

I’ve already switched back to eating white rice (no more pasta!), so we’ll see if things get back on track in September.

Then as luck would have it, I’ll be heading to Italy for 2 weeks at the end of September, so we’ll be able to see how my body reacts to binging on authentic, Italian gluten after being somewhat gluten-free for 30 days. 

I’ll let you know how things go after I get back.

[This is Update 2 of this experiment. Check out Bulking 0Bulking 1Conclusion]

In the meantime, leave a comment below. I’d love to hear your thoughts.