Some of the most common symptoms of a gluten intolerance are unexplained aches, fatigue, headaches, joint or muscle pain, bloating or other digestion problems. Gluten intolerance, also known as celiac disease, is a condition which has been gaining recognition as a contributing factor in many health issues. New evidence suggests that as many as 1 in 10 people are gluten sensitive, or gluten intolerant. Many autoimmune illnesses may also be associated with gluten intolerance such as, fibromyalgia, chronic fatigue, rheumatoid arthritis, thyroid disorders and diabetes. About 1 percent of the North American population is estimated to have celiac disease. Celiac disease is currently described as damage to and mal absorption of nutrients in the small intestine. Gluten may inflict damage on other areas of the body as well.
Whether you are an elite or a recreational athlete, your diet typically relies on adequate carbohydrate intake. The majority of this energy is derived from the gluten containing grains. When these foods are eliminated from the diet, there is a chance that an athlete may not be able to refuel correctly, or they may become deficient in important nutrients such as B-vitamins, forms of iron and fiber.
Some athletes are afraid to follow a gluten-free diet because they are concerned about their carbohydrate/energy intake. Carbohydrates before, during and after training or competition are essential in maintaining energy levels, regulated blood sugar, prevention of fatigue, and quick recovery after an event.
In fact, some athletes believe that following a gluten-free diet has performance enhancing advantages. The reason is that athletes choose high glycemic, refined or processed carbohydrates as a quick recovery food, most of these choices contain gluten. When these foods are eliminated from the diet the benefits outweigh the risks, elevated performance results from a diet that is low glycemic index, high fiber, and adequate in lean protein.
The rationale behind why many athletes follow gluten-free diets is basically to ease unappealing digestive symptoms during competition. Improved digestion leads to improved absorption of nutrients, which can then translate into improved performance. Based on anecdotal evidence, it appears that there is potential for improved performance in athletes who eat a gluten-free diet even if they are not diagnosed with an allergy or celiac disease.
Carbohydrates are an important source of energy, especially during exercise. The recommended intake of carbohydrates is up to 15 g/kg of body weight yet; type of sport, energy output and climate may affect the recommendation. Breads, pasta, cereal, rice, and fruit are the common food products that an athlete is likely to choose. Unfortunately, those diagnosed with celiac disease are unable to eat the wheat based items. Typical healthy carbohydrate substitutions within a gluten-free diet include all varieties of rice, organic corn, flaxseeds, quinoa, tapioca, potato, amaranth, tofu, nuts, and beans.
Following a gluten-free diet does show some advantages:
1. With gluten removed, the body's immune system can rest and absorption can be restored. The body can then function at optimal levels and repair muscles more efficiently.
2. The hypoglycemic effect that results from intense exercise is minimized.
3. A gluten-free diet helps to maintain a stable blood sugar level during exercise, which is optimal for an increase in muscle strength and stamina.
Tips to Live Gluten-Free
1. Emphasize the foods which are naturally gluten-free, such as vegetables, fruits, starchy vegetables, legumes, and certain whole grains.
2. Choose fresh vegetables or frozen without sauce, fresh, dried or frozen fruits, all varieties of fresh corn, potatoes, and squash, dried beans and lentils, whole grains such as certified gluten-free, breads, cereals, pastas, granola, oats, millet, quinoa, amaranth, sorghum, teff, corn tortilla, tapioca, all varieties of rice, eggs, organic tofu, all natural nut butters, cold pressed oils, and vinegars.
3. Read food labels. The Food Allergen Labeling and Consumer Protection Act states that 'wheat' must be on the food label if wheat is used in the food. This is not true for barley and rye; food manufacturers do not have to label foods that contain barley or rye. If you are unsure about a products' ingredients avoid it. Labels must be read every time that you purchase food. Manufacturers can change ingredients at any time.
Follow these steps to ensure that every packaged food that you buy is gluten-free:
Look for 'GLUTEN FREE" clearly labeled on the packaging. If it is labeled certified gluten-free, then it is safe.
Read the allergen statement. If the product contains wheat, put the food down and look for another option. If the product does not contain wheat, then...
Look for a statement regarding the facility in which the food was processed. If the food was processed in a factory that also processes wheat, put the food down and look for another option.
Tiny amounts of gluten hidden in foods will cause damage to the intestinal lining. Avoid cross contamination in your home and when eating outside of your home.
If you live alone, throw out or give away anything that contains gluten or could have been contaminated with gluten, such as peanut butter or mayonnaise. If you live with others, place vividly colored stickers on gluten-free foods.
Discard wooden cooking utensils, cutting boards and non-stick pans that may be contaminated with gluten.
Use soap and water liberally. Clean dishes and utensils very well to remove gluten. Keep your sponge clean.
At the market avoid bulk bins with shared scoops.
Flour sifters and mesh colanders should not be shared with gluten-containing flours.
Deep fried foods cooked in oil shared with breaded products should not be consumed.
Living with Allergy/Intolerance
It is natural to mourn old food habits for a period of time after being diagnosed with celiac disease or gluten intolerance. Stay focused on all of the foods that you can eat.