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.

Quick Tips For Going Gluten-Free

Get Label Savvy
Gluten sneaks into many condiments and most salad dressings; read ingredients and labels carefully, as it can even be in shampoos, lotions and medications.

Restaurants And Food Prep
Many restaurants are catering to gluten-free diners; however, cross-contamination is an issue you need to be aware of. Cross-contamination occurs when the same cooking space, pots, dishes, utensils, etc., are shared between regular dishes and those designated gluten-free.

“Cross-contamination is a word to know and ask questions till you feel comfortable, even if it takes 45 minutes,” Yoder Begley said. Keep this in mind for when you cook at home too. “Triumph Dining has books that list gluten-free restaurants in each city.”

Get Packing
“When packing for a trip I take a lot of my own food in a carry-on. I usually take Justin’s nut butter, Udi’s GF bread, GF oatmeal packets and fruit,” Yoder Begley said.

Calcium And Carbs
“Usually calcium is a big one that can get missed if they eliminate dairy as part of the process,” Austin said. Be sure you’re getting enough calcium and don’t skimp on the carbs either, as there are plenty to be had even on a gluten-free diet. “It is just about getting enough calories and making sure they don’t get too many of them from fat and protein because they are trying to cut out gluten-related carbs and end up eating a diet that is too high in fat and protein.”

RELATED: Amy Yoder Begley On Running Gluten-Free

Sample 3-Day Gluten-Free Menu

Day 1
Breakfast: Two slices Udi’s gluten-free toast (flax seed version), scrambled eggs, fruit (2-3 cups fluids; continue to drink water/fluids throughout the day)

Lunch: 2 cups GF marked chicken noodle soup, half a turkey sandwich (Udi’s bread, lean turkey, tomato, mustard), spinach salad with walnuts, raspberries and vinaigrette dressing, 2-3 cups fluid

Snack: Mango, low-fat cheese (diary or non-dairy version) and GF Mary’s Gone Crackers

Pre-run: GF sports drink (Gen UCAN) or fruit smoothie

Post-Workout: GF sports bar

Dinner: 1 cup brown rice, grilled chicken breast, grilled vegetables

Snack: 1 cup Oikos Greek yogurt or cottage cheese or 1/2 cup ice cream (dairy or non-dairy version)

Day 2
Breakfast: 1 cup Puffins GF cereal, 1/2 cup LF milk, scrambled eggs (2-3 cups fluids; continue to drink water/fluids throughout the day)

Lunch: Chickpea and Chicken Salad (lettuce, veggies of choice, chickpeas, grilled chicken breast, GF dressing), fruit, 2-3 cups fluid

Snack: 1 cup cottage cheese and fruit

Pre-run: GF sports drink (Gen UCAN) or fruit smoothie

Post-workout: GF sports bar or ½ turkey sandwich (Udi’s GF white bread, lean turkey meat, lettuce, tomato, mustard)

Dinner: Grilled salmon, baked potato (sour cream/butter/cheese) salad with light dressing

Snack: Bonnieville’s Power Cookies or GF bagel or 1/2 cup ice cream

Day 3
Breakfast: Two Vans GF frozen waffles topped with fruit and syrup, scrambled eggs (2-3 cups fluids; continue to drink water/fluids throughout the day)

Lunch: Turkey Burger (Udi’s GF bun, frozen or self-prepared turkey burger, lettuce, tomato, mustard), fruit, 2-3 cups fluid

Snack: String cheese and fruit

Pre-run: GF sports drink (Gen UCAN) or fruit smoothie

Post-workout: Banana and peanut butter or GF sports bar

Dinner: 2 Chicken tacos (corn tortillas, chicken, lettuce, tomato) 1/2 cup Amy’s black beans, ½ cup rice

Snack: GF chips (Pop Chips Salt and Vinegar), GF bar or GF crackers (Glutino’s Cheese Crackers)


About The Author:

Caitlin Chock set the then National High School 5k Record (15:52.88) in 2004. Still an avid runner, she works as a freelance writer and artist.