We have all heard the saying “you are what you eat,” but for an increasing number of athletes it really is more about what you don’t eat. For those following a Gluten Free diet, one that avoids gluten found in wheat, barley, rye and sometime oats the benefits are clear. Gluten, which is also used as a preservative in some foods, sticks to the small intestine in a way that decreases the ease at which vitamins and minerals are absorbed by the body. Cutting food that contains gluten from your diet may ultimately lead to increased gastrointestinal efficiency.
For people with Celiac Disease, an autoimmune disorder, gluten also causes permanent damage to the small intestine. Following a gluten free diet is the only known treatment and a necessity to ensure good health. While studies show that roughly 1% of the U.S. population are diagnosed with Celiac Disease, a recent survey of consumers shows that 15-20% want gluten free products.
Foods that are not included in a gluten free diet are enriched flour, pastas, breads, fried, packaged or frozen meals and, sadly, most beer. The alternative is a diet heavy in fresh fruits, vegetables, nuts, beans, meats, fish and a variety of whole grains that do not contain gluten such as quinoa, buckwheat, rice, corn and soy. The diet itself begins to highlight things that health and nutrition professionals encourage us to eat every day and may be why a growing number of healthy eaters, including athletes, have taken to eating gluten free not as a dietary restriction but a means to a healthier and better performing body.
Subscribing to a gluten free diet does rule out many common sources for carbohydrates, B vitamins, Iron and fiber which are essential to muscle performance. It is, however, possible to train and supplement those needs with alternative grains while also focusing on the introduction of more fresh produce and simple ingredients. Even if reducing or eliminating gluten from a diet as little as a few days leading up to an event have been known to sufficiently ease gastrointestinal distress from participants during the event.
A gluten free diet is about being more aware of the fuel we choose to put in our bodies. Understanding food labels, reducing gluten and introducing a wider variety of grains is important in knowing a more well rounded diet.