Gluten free options for athletes

In recent years gluten intolerance and celiacs disease has definitely risen dramatically. The reasons for this are not entirely understood, but one theory is the processing that goes into wheat, barley and rye products for some people creates difficulty with the digestion process. For individuals that are prone to this condition (people with a family history, Caucasians, people of European decent and women more commonly than men) the villi of the small intestine are damaged and can not absorb the nutrients from products containing gluten. Typical symptoms of a gluten sensitivity include bloating and abdominal distension, abdominal cramping, malodorous gas,  clay colored stool and floating stool, mouth sores, cracking at the corners of the mouth, irritability/moodiness, muscle soreness/weakness.

For those athletes that are recently gluten free, finding training and pre race fuel options can be tricky. However, most athletes who have either chosen or been forced to make the change to a gluten free diet will agree that this change does help with abdominal comfort during workouts. Aside from pre race jitters, often endurance workouts can result in gastrointestinal distress which may be eliminated by a gluten free diet.   A lot of times its trial and error when it comes to gluten free products because unfortunately flavor and texture can be compromised. Although there are plenty of options for carbohydrate consumption, I have yet to find one that is as tasty as the traditional pasta dinner. Those who are gluten free can still enjoy pasta, but instead of that which is made from enriched wheat flour the choices are limited to rice or corn pasta. It is important to try these in advance and be prepared for a difference in texture compared to a typical pasta. Rice or quinoa are also great options for pre race dinner. All of the above mentioned choices can be combine with a variety of sauces, veggies, meats and cheeses (given lactose is not a issue) to provide a tasty, satisfying meal. The morning of a race it is essential to fuel properly to maintain energy levels throughout the event. For some people who are gluten intolerant oats are not an issue, but if they are gluten free options of oatmeal and hot cereal are available as well as cold cereals and gluten free bread. Carbohydrates are an important primary fuel source and provide the “kindling” for the fat burning flame. Gluten intolerance does not mean you should eliminate carbohydrates altogether, but rather find products that you find palatable and incorporate them in place of the traditional breads, pasta and products that contain gluten. The best advice I can give is experiment with different  products to find what you like well in advance of race day, so you eliminate the guesswork and can focus on your event. Be sure to include lots of fresh fruits and veggies to make up for the fiber that is lost from the whole grains missing in a gluten free diet.

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