If you've visited a grocery store recently, you probably noticed a large number of products labeled gluten-free. I'm sure you've heard about the growing gluten-free movement, and you may even be aware of celiac disease. (See How Athletes With Celiac Disease Can Eat Healthy and Stay Gluten-Free.)
However you may not know that gluten, a protein found in wheat and other grains, is often used as a food additive for flavoring, or as a stabilizing or thickening agent. Celiac disease and other, less severe forms of gluten intolerance are becoming more common, so if you think you may have an allergy, you need to address it immediately. (See also What Gluten-Free Athletes Need to Know.)
Many people, including pro athletes, who have no obvious allergies, seem to be jumping on the gluten-free bandwagon. What is this new diet approach in which wheat is avoided? According to cardiologist Dr. William Davis in Wheat Belly: Lose the Wheat, Lose the Weight and Find Your Path Back to Health, wheat raises blood sugar higher than nearly all other foods. This is because wheat's additives lead to overeating and psychological addiction. It also increases inflammation, which has been linked to a myriad of serious health issues, including rheumatoid arthritis, skin diseases and Hashimoto's thyroiditis.
Strictly from an athlete's performance perspective, inflammation and blood sugar spikes are not in your best interest. Plenty of wheat alternatives are available that will maintain your blood sugar levels through hard training sessions, help to avoid bloat and keep inflammation at a minimum. They include complex carbohydrate sources like potatoes, rice, yams and quinoa. In addition, fruit can also be used as a healthy carb alternative. The influx of gluten-free products is making the wheat-free life relatively simple. Now, even if a recipe calls for flour, you can get non-wheat varieties such as rice flour, coconut flour or almond flour at health food stores or your large neighborhood supermarket.
Why a Gluten-Free Diet Might Help
If you've noticed a slump in your energy level, or you believe it's lower than it should be, you could definitely benefit from a wheat-free diet. (See How to Boost and Maintain Energy.) It could also help if you're looking to shed some weight or just want to get an extra edge over your competition.
Gluten-free does not mean carb-free. It's just that your sources of carbs are cleaner varieties. A wheat-free diet is perfectly acceptable for maintaining athletes' energy levels. Try adopting a gluten-free way of eating for awhile and see if it makes a measurable difference. You won't know unless you try.