Gluten Free Menu for Athletes: Tips for Better Performance

marathon runnersWith an estimated one in ten people showing signs of gluten intolerance, it’s reasonable to presume that a good percentage of those people are either athletes or take part in competitive sports. Even those that don’t exhibit symptoms can try a gluten free menu to help improve performance. In fact, celebrated athletes including Novak Djokovic, Justin Morneau and Sarah Jane Smith have all done so. If you don’t have sensitivities to gluten based foods, you can still make the transition and eat gluten free during the period when you need to be at your physical peak.

Can a gluten free menu really help improve performance?

As an athlete, you might be unconvinced about the benefits of a gluten free diet. Some people are a little hesitant because of the belief that consuming less carbohydrates, which is a natural result of staying away from gluten, can make your energy levels drop. Others believe the gluten free diet actually enhances performance. The reason is that gluten tends to lead to uncomfortable digestion issues. When you improve your digestion you give your body a better chance of absorbing nutrients and improving your overall athletic results.

Why is there divided opinion?

There’s a basic reason for the two opposing viewpoints. Although our internal organs are generally the same the day we are born, how we treat them from that point onwards varies considerably. As infants, we don’t have a say in what we’re fed and our immune system develops accordingly. As a result of all this, our bodies can react differently and develop different tolerance levels to certain food types.

How can I substitute the energy providing foods that I need?

Energy comes from the intake of carbohydrates. Approximately 15g per 1kg of your body weight is recommended. These carbohydrates come from the consumption of processed foods including pasta, bread, cereals and energy bars. On a gluten free diet, you can replace these items with products that are made from ingredients such as organic corn, potato, nuts, quinoa, rice (all varieties), beans, flaxseeds, tofu and tapioca.

What advantages are there to being gluten free?

  • By removing the gluten, your body’s immune system rests and the required absorption are restored. This helps the body to function at its optimum level and aids muscles to repair more efficiently.
  • The hypoglycaemic effect created by intense exercise is minimized.
  • Gluten free diets help maintain stable blood/sugar levels during exercise, which in turn is optimal for the increase in the strength of the muscles and stamina.

What does the gluten free diet consist of?

As an athlete, you probably already carefully monitor what you eat. The gluten free lifestyle builds on this by removing a lot of processed foods and incorporating more natural foods. Here’s a simple list describing the primary food types:

  • Organic foods that are gluten free – fruit, whole grains, vegetables, legumes.
  • Vegetables that are fresh or frozen, not vegetables that have a coating or accompanying sauce mix.
  • Fruit that is fresh, frozen or dried. All fruits are gluten free.
  • Gluten free variations of quinoa, millet, oats, granola, pasta, bread, cereals and cereal bars, sorghum.
  • All dairy products are safe including butter and cheese, eggs (from the shell) are also perfectly safe.

This list really does only scratch the surface of what foods you can enjoy as part of a gluten free menu, and the bottom line is you can eat anything that doesn’t contain gluten from wheat, rye and barley. If you’re buying pre-packed products, check the labels carefully to ensure what you are buying doesn’t have any gluten. If in doubt, leave it alone and find something that you know is safe.

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