Should You Become A Gluten-Free Eater?

Many athletes are going gluten-free, even if they don’t have a gluten sensitivity. Why?

Not that long ago, most people didn’t have a clue what gluten-free meant. Unless you suffered from celiac disease, chances are you were eating ample amounts of gluten and didn’t even know it. Today, however, a gluten-free diet is so mainstreamed even Godfather’s Pizza got onboard.

Gluten is on everyone’s radar today, and as endurance athletes our interests become especially piqued when we see how well many athletes are seemingly able to perform after ditching gluten from their diets. Olympians Ryan Hall and Amy Yoder Begley, along with the entire Garmin-Sharp professional cycling team, are just a few examples.

Not all of them are gluten intolerant but have become gluten-free eaters with the reasoning that the root problem of gluten intolerance is the inflammation that occurs when gluten is metabolized by the body; thus it’s also being dubbed the “anti-inflammatory diet.”

Training wisely is a positive stressor on muscles—no avoiding inflammation there—but “needlessly” adding in another inflammatory-provoking element to your regimen, logically, wouldn’t seem to be doing you any favors. Runners are also no strangers to GI distress and a gluten-free diet could be your answers to both of these dilemmas.

“The main reason it’s called an ‘anti-inflammatory’ diet is because it usually forces you to eliminate many processed foods, including every packaged cracker, cookie, bread, cake, pasta, cereal and most deep-fried and battered foods,” said Krista Austin, Ph.D. “Usually if you do a gluten-free nutrition plan right, you end up replacing these with fruits, vegetables, lean proteins and other healthy foods such as yogurt, nut butters, hummus, quinoa, etc. Bottom line: we eat cleaner, more naturally-found foods and thus inflammation goes down.”

In the minds of most people, this can sound like more of a headache than a training element; however, wouldn’t a temporary headache be worth it if your performances were to improve?

RELATED: Is the Paleo Diet Right For Runners?

“The two most immediate things I noticed were the decrease in swelling and bathroom issues. I also didn’t dehydrate any more,” said Yoder Begley, who competed in the 10,000 meters at the 2008 Olympics. After her celiac diagnosis, Yoder Begley has become one of the leading forces behind spreading gluten-free awareness. “I [launched the] GF Olympian website … it answers a lot of questions about gluten-free.”

Yoder Begley also wrote the forward for “Gluten Free Edge,” a book catered specifically to athletes.

There’s no doubt that going gluten-free is accompanied by an adjustment period, but taking advantage of today’s gluten-free trend means you’ve got amble amounts alternatives at your disposal. Check out the following pages for some quick tips on going gluten-free along with a sample GF meal plan.

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