Posted by: Heart of America News | February 1, 2012

Tri Nutrition – Is Gluten Free The Way To Go?

By Ron Adkins

Heart of America Triathlon News

Top athletes — including Wimbledon champion Novak Djokovic — tout the benefits of a gluten-free diet in their training regimens. Going g-free, they claim, decreases fatigue and gastro-intestinal discomfort, and, surprisingly, increases energy reserves when high performance is needed.

Other athletes and diet experts, however, wonder if such results are the exception rather than the norm. G-free diets fly in the face of traditional thinking among triathletes especially, who consume large quantities of high-gluten carbs — like white bread and pasta — during race season.

“Currently, there is no scientific evidence to support that a gluten-free (G-F) diet improves athletic performance in athletes without Celiac Disease,” says Kimberly Proctor, RD LD, dietician for HyVee Food Stores. But Proctor agrees that “some athletes may seek to go G-F as a way to manage digestive symptoms like diarrhea or constipation. Many endurance athletes suffer with these complaints due to the rigors of training.”

“It is possible for athletes to meet their nutritional requirements while following a G-F diet,” Proctor adds, “but doing so requires very careful attention to food choices. Care must be taken to consume adequate carbs for optimal performance. Many G-F products on the market are not fortified with B vitamins and iron, and those not made with whole grains are often lower in fiber.”

Proctor believes that the issue may be less about going gluten-free and more on an emphasis toward whole, natural foods. Whether a diet is g-free or not, paying attention to the foods consumed can only improve a triathlete’s performance.

Writing in the November 2011 issue of Triathlon Plus magazine, performance nutritionist Dr. Kevin Currell stated that going gluten-free automatically compels athletes to think about other food choices. Going g-free means cutting out pre-processed foods and cooking from scratch, paying closer attention to ingredients and their nutritional value.

Proctor agrees. “Gluten-containing foods are not inherently unhealthy, just as GF foods are not inherently more healthy. A G-F donut will be just as laden with sugar and fat as a regular one. The good news is that many natural foods (fruits, veggies, fresh meats and low-fat milk) are naturally G-F. There are also a number of gluten-free grains available that have wonderful nutrition profiles. Trying grains like quinoa, millet, brown rice, amaranth, corn, buckwheat and teff can add variety while supplying necessary carbohydrates.  Potatoes and sweet potatoes are also naturally G-F.”

It is recommended that triathletes consult their physician before going gluten-free. Triathletes who have already gone g-free are encouraged to work with a registered dietitian with experience in sports nutrition to help develop a diet plan.

What do you think about gluten-free diets and triathlon training?  Let us know by leaving a comment.

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Responses

  1. Appreciated the quantity of quality information succinctly delivered with nice balance. This article was easy to read, understand and feel I have gained a better understanding of the topic.

  2. There are many gluten free diet plans on the internet but i always choose those that are very tasty. ”

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  3. Switching to a gluten-free diet is a big change and, like anything new, it takes some getting used to. You may initially feel deprived by the diet’s restrictions. However, try to stay positive and focus on all the foods you can eat. You may also be pleasantly surprised to realize how many gluten-free products, such as bread and pasta, are now available. Many specialty grocery stores sell gluten-free foods. If you can’t find them in your area, check with a celiac support group or go online. ^

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