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Is Gluten-Free The Way To Be For Runners?

posted by Jennifer
Is Gluten-Free The Way To Be For Runners?

Are you a carb-loving runner who wants to increase energy levels, manage your weight, and get rid of that mid-day fatigue?  If you have heard that going gluten-free is essential to boost performance, consider the following before you are swept into yet another “trendy” diet.

Celiac Disease and Gluten Intolerance

Gluten is a protein found in wheat, rye, and barley. For those with Celiac Disease (CD) or Gluten intolerance (GI), consumption of these proteins leads to bloating, cramps, diarrhea, fatigue and in the case of CD, damage to the small intestine among other side effects. For these individuals, following a strict gluten-free diet is the only healthy way to eat, but what about us folks who are tolerant of gluten?

Suggested Reading: Clarifying The Amount Of Protein In An Athlete’s Diet

Performance and the Gluten-Free Diet

Research has yet to show a gluten-free diet offers additional performance benefits over a balanced diet. If you are a runner who does not experience adverse effects when you consume gluten-containing foods, hang onto to your whole-grain bagels and pasta! Save yourself the stress and money. A gluten-free diet means extensive label reading for hidden sources of gluten every time you shop, and can be expensive.  The average cost of a gluten-free loaf of bread costs around $5-$6!

One reason athletes experience increased energy levels on gluten-free diet in the short term is because a healthy gluten-free diet means skipping out on the fast food joints, and filling up on whole foods.  It also means cutting out foods we tend to over-eat and drink. Think about it. Beer, pastas, breads, cookies, cakes, muffins and sauces are all sources of gluten in the diet, dished up and served in large portions. Unfortunately, a diet filled with muffins, cookies, and white bread, whether they be gluten-free or not, is not the answer to better performance. In both cases you end up consuming a large amount of refined carbs, unhealthy fats, and sodium.  There is also risk involved with the gluten-free diet over the long term. Individuals may actually hinder performance due to inadequate intake of complex carbohydrates, vitamins, and minerals. Most gluten-free breads, pasta products, cereals, and baked goods are much lower in vitamins, minerals, nutrients, and fibre than the whole grain products they replace.

Find a Balance

A balanced diet is the key ingredient to increased energy and well-being. For runners especially, a balanced diet needs to include sources of complex carbohydrates to help replenish muscle glycogen post-run.  This can include gluten-containing whole grains, such as whole wheat bread and pasta, and also includes whole foods that are naturally gluten-free, such as:

  • Fruits
  • Vegetables, especially starchy vegetables such as sweet potatoes and squash
  • Nuts and seeds
  • Beans and legumes
  • Lean meat, fish, seafood, and poultry
  • Nutrient-dense whole grains such as quinoa, brown rice, buckwheat, and teff

Whether you are GI, have CD, or are just trying to boost performance, the take home messages are the same:

  1. Follow a balanced diet, selecting wholesome, natural foods
  2. Pay attention to portion size
  3. Limit the amount of processed foods you eat high in refined sugars, saturated & trans fat, sodium, and calories

If you believe gluten is causing you problems and would like help implementing a gluten-free nutrition plan, contact Jennifer Broxterman, Registered Dietitian and Sports Nutritionist in London, Ontario to help keep you running at your best.

Written By: Jennifer Broxterman, Registered Dietitian & Sports Nutritionist and Courtney Laurie, Southeastern Ontario Dietetic Intern
NutritionRx |

Offering professional nutrition counselling services in London, Ontario.
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  1. Great article, Jennifer. I actually just posted a similar article on my blog, but added a few additional gluten-free grain options.

    Not trying to steal your thunder by posting the link, but I really think you’ll find some of the additional gluten-free grains helpful. Here is a quick breakdown:
    Corn – High supportive antioxidants
    Montina (Indian Rice Grass): More Protein than brown rice
    Arrowroot: Thickens at a lower temperature than flour
    Oats *: Have more soluble fiber than any other grain
    Rice: Good Source of Panothenic Acid & Thiamin
    Sorghum: Rich in B Vitamins
    Wild Rice: High in manganese and zinc

    Hope you enjoy and good luck if you’re on a gluten-free diet yourself.

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