Gluten Free: Friend or Foe?

Is Gluten Free (GF) appropriate for you? There are several professional athletes and pro sports teams that are endorsing a GF diet, making it easy to assume that amateur athletes should eat a GF diet as well. But you might want to think again.

A registered dietitian organizing the macro-nutrient intake for a pro athlete is different than amateur athletes purchasing GF foods thinking they will reap the same benefits. Pro teams are eating GF to avoid inflammation that could possibly arise from eating gluten-containing foods. For an event like the Tour de France, which consists of 21 consecutive days of racing, this is important because there is a lot of inflammation in the body due to the constant breakdown and trauma placed on muscle tissue. Udi’s Gluten Free However, for the average athlete racing twice a month, or even two ironman triathlons in a single year, restricting GF may not be as necessary because there is enough time to recover and rebuild in-between events.

In addition, if you are consuming a healthy diet consisting of Omega-3 from fish sources (supplements, if necessary), which decrease inflammation, your body should manage fine. Do not take this to mean you should increase your Omega-3 intake substantially if you are already consuming wild salmon, cod, halibut, or tuna 2-3 times per week. Egg yolks are also a good source of Omega-3 fatty acids in the form of DHA and Omega-6 fatty acids in the form of arachidonic acid. These two fatty acids contribute to high HDL levels, so don’t let the fear of cholesterol prevent you from eating eggs. Instead, eliminate your intake of trans and saturated fats (fast-food burgers and fries).

Have your diet analyzed by a Registered Dietitian before super-compensating with any vitamins or minerals. No one should change to a GF diet until they are successful on a non-GF diet. This means, your daily nutrition and racing/training nutrition should be dialed-in and perfected before you make a change. If you are not taking in the proper amount of calories and nutrients normally, trying to convert to a GF diet will be difficult. A client recently asked if he should only be eating GF foods, and my answer was no. Since he has not expressed any symptoms associated with gluten-intolerance or Celiac disease, nor has had any symptoms related to nutritional deficiencies, there is no indication that a GF diet is necessary. My advice to him was to remain faithful to his current eating habits, consuming varied complex carbohydrates and little refined sugar while maintaining his optimal weight.

We know a diet high in refined sugars and processed foods will not fuel athletes well. If they stop eating bread, cake, and muffins made with white flour and gluten, they need to replace those carbohydrates with other sources. Ideally, they would be in the form of buckwheat, sweet potato, quinoa, millet, potato, and/or spelt.

Food labels should be read as closely with GF foods as non-GF foods. This is because several GF food lacks vitamins, minerals and fiber. For example, Food For Life Brown Rice Bread is low-fat but lacks calcium and iron and is low in fiber. Food for Life does make other breads that are not GF, and they are higher in fiber, vitamins, and minerals.

Going GF for the non-athlete can lead to weight loss due to the restriction of food options. If someone eliminates muffins, bread, and cake without replacing them with GF food, they are reducing their caloric intake. Beyond health reasons, a GF diet is popular for this simple reason. Just like any other restriction diet, you can lose weight.

In summary, if you are eating a diet with varied sources of complex carbohydrate, minimal refined and processed food, minimal sugar/simple carbohydrate (except during and after training), lots of vegetables and fiber, and have no nutritional deficiencies as determined by a registered dietitian through blood work and diet analysis, you do not need to spend the money on purchasing GF food. Simply eating well can prevent inflammation, gas, bloating, constipation and most symptoms that one has from eating gluten.

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