In this article, we will take a look at a gluten-free diet and its effects on runners.
In athletes, gluten-free diets are becoming increasingly popular with many self-diagnosing and claiming to suffer from “gluten sensitivity.” People who experience symptoms such as diarrhea and abdominal bloating find eliminating gluten eradicates these symptoms. Some athletes might think a gluten-free diet could provide health benefits or help boost performance. In reality, eliminating gluten unnecessarily could leave the athlete with more problems, but more importantly, if an athlete does suffer from gastrointestinal (GI) problems, there’s risk that eliminating gluten without medical examination could leave them with a missed diagnosis of coeliac disease.
Coeliac disease is a life-long, autoimmune condition and it affects one in 100 people. It’s a response of the immune system to the protein gluten. The body reacts, causing damage to the lining of the intestines, which in turn causes malabsorption of vitamins and with many, diarrhea. The affected people can suffer from pain, bloating, weight loss, hair loss, fatigue or anemia but symptoms are different from person to person.
Some sufferers can be symptomless and only receive a diagnosis by chance, or by routine blood tests. It’s treated by complete removal of gluten from the diet. If adequate support has been given from a dietitian and the gluten free diet is followed, symptoms will be controlled, running performance should improve and most importantly, long-term consequences such as osteoporosis and anemia avoided.
If an individual has self-diagnosed and has got rid of gluten without medical support, there’s risk of suffering from numerous deficiencies such as iron, calcium and some B vitamins. Therefore, there are many nutritional issues to consider with a gluten-free diet, and even more so if you are an athlete. Running puts stress on the body even without a condition such as coeliac. Being a gluten-free runner is a challenge and careful dietary planning is crucial to make sure you still achieve optimal performance.
WHICH FOODS CONTAIN GLUTEN?
Gluten is found in wheat, barley and rye and these grains make up carbohydrate-rich foods such as pasta, bread, flour and cereals. If avoiding gluten, regular reading of food labels is important to completely exclude it from the diet and a close eye must be kept on processed foods and ready meals. Even sauces and condiments may have a hint of a gluten component in them.
Whether you’re a beginner, elite or club level runner, carbohydrate fuels performance, and this is the main challenge for the gluten-free runner. Most carbohydrate we consume as athletes is derived from gluten-containing grains found in bread, cereal and pasta. Avoiding such foods could lead to anxiety about correct fueling. Rightly so, as if carbohydrate levels are suboptimal, a drop in performance could be seen as a result of higher fatigue levels, alterations in blood sugar levels and inability to recover after an event.
Today there’s an increasing trend of people who aren’t coeliacs choosing to avoid gluten. In consequence, there’s far more choice than ever of gluten-free products. However, we should mention that these products can be pricey. With a little bit of planning, there are naturally carbohydrate-rich foods that will properly power your runs, such as potatoes, rice, lentils, sweet potatoes and quinoa. These will fuel your muscles in the same way as gluten-containing alternatives. You may consume many naturally occurring gluten-free foods such as fruit, vegetables, meat and fish in abundance without worrying about their affects and contributing positively to an energy filled, balanced diet for performance.
TRAVELING AND EATING IN RESTAURANTS
Eating at home can be easily planned but as an athlete, travelling to races is common practice, making it vital that you plan ahead. Carry gluten-free snacks such as dried fruit and nuts as emergencies and be prepared to discuss your dietary requirements with restaurant staff. This could mean calling ahead to the restaurant to find out what they have on offer, or communicating with the waiter on arrival. It’s essential to point out the importance of avoiding cross contamination, such as chips not being cooked in the same oil as breaded fish.
GI problems are very complex and can be hard to manage, especially alone. It’s vital that individuals don’t self-diagnose and exclude gluten from the diet. If an athlete is diagnosed with coeliac disease, with the right support from a sports dietitian, eating gluten free and attaining full working potential is feasible. There are many pure meals which might be gluten free; be sure to grow to be a dedicated label reader and in time, gluten free will grow to be second nature and all concentration can return to reaching that non-public finest.