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Category Archive: Nutrition

2017 Chicago Half Marathon Athlete Guide Now Available

Welcome to the 21st annual Chicago Half Marathon and 5K weekend!

We are thrilled to be celebrating 21 years of bringing Chicago a premier half marathon experience which showcases both the beauty and vitality of our hometown. With a course that unfurls through Hyde Park and the Museum of Science and Industry, take in the radiant glow of Lake Michigan as you wind down traffic-free Lake Shore Drive.

With 12,000 athletes coming from 50 states and 4o countries, this is Chicago’s time to shine!

Before the big weekend is finally here, be sure to download the 2017 Athlete Guide. This page info source contains schedules, maps, race logistics and everything else guaranteed to help you find success over the weekend.

> 2017 Chicago Half Marathon & 5K Athlete Guide

Best wishes for an incredible weekend!

Energy Drinks

Sometimes, we need a little pick-me-up to get us through the day. To do this, some people turn to coffee, 5-hour energies, or some type of energy drink. While we may feel a boost of energy after consuming one of these options, they can have some troubling side effects that are unhealthy for our bodies. Because of the loaded amounts of sugar found in energy drinks along with the sweetened flavor, these beverages can go down easily and even become addicting to some. But, what exactly happens to our bodies when we consume an energy drink?

An article created by Mayo Clinic suggests that weight gain is a common side effect of energy drinks due to the large quantity of sugar found in the beverages. To go along with that, large amounts of caffeine, or caffeine-like substances, can also lead to:

  • Nervousness
  • Irritability
  • Insomnia
  • Rapid heartbeat
  • Increased blood pressure

The boost that you may get from energy drinks is short-lived due to the excessive caffeine and sugar found in them. Your body will soon come down from your “sugar high,” and you will experience a crash in your energy level. A recent publication by the National Institute of Health also suggest that the day following your energy drink consumption, you will experience “excessive daytime sleepiness” as well.

The advertising of energy drinks can oftentimes be misleading. Usually, athletes are featured in energy drink advertisements, suggesting that the drink can help improve or boost athletic performance. However, an article by Health Beat suggests otherwise. They state that “although the ads feature athletes, there’s no good evidence to support the idea that they improve performance. Some include ginseng and taurine, which could improve athletic performance, but there’s not enough of these ingredients in energy drinks to make a difference.”

Researchers have also emphasized that people with preexisting heart conditions, teenagers, and pregnant women should avoid these sugary energy drinks in order to prevent against serious medical complications. It is suggested that people should limit themselves to 16 ounces (500 ml) a day when it comes to energy drink consumption. Healthier alternatives to wake yourself up and give you more energy, however, are highly recommended.

CK

Works Cited
http://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/nutrition-and-healthy-eating/expert-answers/energy-drinks/faq-20058349
http://healthbeat.spectrumhealth.org/energy-drinks/

Hidden Ingredients: Sugar

By Brooke Schohl, MS, RD, CSSD

Does sugar monopolize your day? Let’s take a gander at a regular day’s consumption:

    • Breakfast:  Vanilla creamer in your coffee, oatmeal with brown sugar and raisins.
    • Morning Snack:  Standard meal replacement bar.
    • Lunch: Turkey sandwich on wheat bread, banana.
    • Afternoon Snack: Strawberry Greek Yogurt, granola.
    • Dinner:  Glass of Chardonnay, sweet potato, grilled chicken, green beans.
    • Dessert:  1-cup ice cream.

The above menu seems pretty decent at first glance.  Three meals, three snacks and no fast food. No crazy, unhealthy choices or gigantic portions. While there are some healthy components to this day, the major drawback is the sugar content – a whopping 139 grams!

Over 100 grams of sugar per day has become commonplace, due to the nutrient’s presence in almost all processed foods.  In the example above, the processed food items include: creamer, brown sugar, meal replacement bar, bread, yogurt, granola, wine, and ice cream.  All items containing sugar. In addition, many foods naturally contain sugar as well. Raisins, bananas, and the sweet potatoes are all guilty.

It’s gotten to the point that when intentionally “cheating” and having something sweet like a cupcake or candy, it isn’t entirely accurate anymore because so many foods contain added sugar. We are cheating all day long, and often don’t even realize it!

The Problem

I shop at my local grocery store frequently and recently picked up a couple food items that really disappointed me when I got home and realized sugar was on the ingredient list. One of the items was a tomato soup.  Now tomatoes are technically fruit, and already contain natural sugar.  Why in the world add sugar to this product? I knew immediately after taking the first sip that it contained sugar.  It tasted awful. The other product was salsa. Again, the fruits and veggies added to make the salsa are already sugar containing, yet the manufacturer felt the need to add more refined sugar.

Food manufacturers sneak sugar into many products like soup, tomato sauce, salad dressings, salsa, lasagna, lunchmeat, crackers, bars, protein powder, condiments, and the list goes on and on. Why is it present in almost all packaged items these days? To improve flavor or to make us more addicted?

This is a big problem since all processed food manufacturers have jumped onboard. The popular brand specialty health food stores are not any better than your traditional grocery stores. They also add unnecessary sugar; it’s just masquerading under a fancy name.

The Types of Sugar

Don’t let the type of sugar fool you.  Whether it’s agave, beet sugar, cane juice, coconut sugar, corn syrup, evaporated cane juice, fructose, glucose, honey, maple syrup, raw sugar, turbinado, or organic sugar, it’s still sugar.  All sugar spikes your blood glucose when consumed alone and will lead to health issues (and addiction) if over-consumed.

The Associated Health Issues

Here’s the really scary part about sugar, the more you eat it, the more you crave it. Sugar stimulates the hedonic pathway, which leads to habit and dependence, similar to the ethanol in alcohol. The cycle must be broken.

Reducing daily sugar intake can truly be a battle as the mind must be re-trained and reminded that you don’t need those foods. Old habits must be broken and new ones established. There is a detox component of sugar unloading. Headaches, energy fluctuations, and irritability seem to be the most common side effects. But these only last a few weeks, and it is well worth the investment.

Sugar is linked to Metabolic Syndrome, of which the markers include weight gain, abdominal obesity, high LDL/low HDL, increased blood sugar, increased triglycerides, and increased blood pressure. It can also cause high uric acid levels, which is linked to heart and kidney disease. In addition, sugar consumed in excess is taxing on the liver, just like alcohol. Fructose-containing foods feed cancer cells and are also linked to Alzheimer’s disease.

The Solution

 1) Awareness. Be aware of everything contributing sugar to your daily fuel plan. Remember the sample intake day above? By making some simple changes, you can cut over half the sugar and feel a lot better.

  • Breakfast:  Half & half creamer in your coffee, oatmeal with coconut oil and walnuts.
  • Morning Snack:  Unprocessed bar made out of whole foods/ingredients.
  • Lunch: Turkey sandwich on wheat bread, hummus/carrots.
  • Afternoon Snack:  Plain Greek Yogurt, berries, pecans.
  • Dinner:  Glass of Chardonnay, sweet potato, grilled chicken, green beans.
  • Dessert:  ½ apple, almond butter.

= 66 grams of total sugar for the day

How much sugar is reasonable per day? Well, the American Heart Association recommends no more than 24 grams for women, and 36 grams for men.  But keep in mind that as an athlete, there are certain times of the training season where you are consuming more carbohydrates to meet training demands so there is some flexibility in these numbers. 

Regardless, keeping daily sugar intake under 50 grams per day is a good goal. Foods containing natural sugar are always a better option than refined sugar.

2) Label Reading.  Assume that all packaged items contain sugar, and force the label to prove you wrong.

3) Find Better Substitutions.  Granola is a food that is usually very high in carbs and sugar, often having 3-5 different types of sugars added for flavoring.  A client of mine recently enlightened me to a better brand which contains only 4 grams of sugar from a single source. The point is, there’s almost always a better option, it just may take some searching.

4) Make Your Own.  When you make your own granola, cookies, bars, etc. you are able to fully control the ingredient list and make adjustments that you are comfortable with. It takes some extra time, but well worth the investment!

In Summary

The good news is that you CAN cut back on sugar and feel much better! Know what foods contain sugar, and avoid those that contain it unnecessarily. Then you can save your sugar intake for those special occasions where you want that delicious slice of birthday cake or some of your favorite wine. Recruit the help of a sports dietitian if you need more guidance. Sugar detox happens to be near and dear to my heart.

Brooke Schohl, MS, RD, CSSD is a registered sports dietitian and the owner of Fuel to the Finish Endurance Nutrition Coaching in Scottsdale, Arizona.  She is an avid triathlete, having completed many triathlons of all distances including 3 Ironman races. She integrates that personal experience and knowledge into developing customized, sport-specific fueling plans for her clients as well as sweat sodium concentration testing.  For more information on services and offerings, visit her website at www.fueltothefinish.com

Late-Night Snacking

We’ve all been there. You’re sitting there watching TV and all of a sudden BAM — the late-night snacking cravings hit you. Regardless of the fact that your body is still digesting the dinner you just ate hours ago, you have to go grab that pizza or a bag of chips. Most of the time you’re not even hungry either! So, why the irresistible urge to snack late at night? Where does it come from, and how is this seemingly unbreakable habit unhealthy for our bodies?

Some of the most common reasons for late-night snacking include:

Suggestibility

Boredom

Loneliness

Self-Denial

Nutritional Imbalance

Grief

Self-sabotage

 

According to Experience Life, “The reasons behind late-night snacking are complex and various, so the first step toward overcoming a late-night snacking habit is figuring out your own late-night snacking profile.” Once you take the time to realize when, where, and what you are eating at night, you can better understand and break your snacking habits. Distractions, substitutions, and even new-age rituals are key components that will help you with this.

When it comes to your health, snacking late at night can lead to problems with your metabolism. When you eat may be almost as important as what you eat. Because we tend to be more active throughout the day, our metabolisms are more intact, and we are therefore able to process energy more efficiently. In a study on mice, researchers created two groups. One had access to food all hours of the day, while the other group could only eat during an 8-hour period. The results?

Both of the high-fat groups ate the same amount of calories. But the mice who had eaten high-fat diets round the clock had a number of health problems, including weight gain, high cholesterol, high blood sugar, liver damage, and even motor problems when put to an exercise challenge. The mice who had had restricted access to food weighed 28 percent less than their free-feeding counterparts, and they didn’t have the other health problems observed in that group” (The Atlantic).

This study supports the idea that the later in the day that we are consuming food, the more health problems we may be facing due to our bodies slowed metabolism rates and inability to efficiently process food at that time.

While weight gain and an increased risk of type 2 diabetes have been linked to late-night snacking, a recent study suggests that your brain may also be at risk as well. According to Dr. Dawn Loh, “late-night snacking may affect our learning capabilities by affecting the parts of the brain responsible for learning and memory, specifically, the hippocampus.”

Breaking your late-night snacking habits is highly recommended for both your physical and mental health. If you have to have something, however, always opt for some healthier options.

 

CK

 

https://www.theatlantic.com/health/archive/2012/06/why-late-night-snacking-is-bad-for-you/259085/
https://experiencelife.com/article/the-hidden-causes-of-late-night-snacking/

5-Ingredient Smoothie

Smart-Juicing-News-Postby Brooke Schohl, MS, RD, CSSD, METS II

A smoothie is a quick way to get some calories in when short on time! I encourage my clients to consume a maximum of one protein shake per day and focus the rest of the day on getting protein from food sources. And by no means is a daily protein shake a requirement for endurance athletes.

When building a smoothie, be sure to have all macronutrients represented – a carbohydrate, a fat and a protein. This will help to keep blood sugar stable as well as energy levels. Here is one of my favorites:

  • 1 scoop whey or vegetarian protein powder (protein)
  • 1 banana (carbohydrate)
  • ½ avocado (fat)
  • 2 T chia seeds (fat)
  • 1-cup fresh spinach

 

Brooke Schohl, MS, RD, CSSD, METS Level II is a registered sports dietitian and the owner of Fuel to the Finish Endurance Nutrition Coaching in Scottsdale, Arizona. She is an avid triathlete, having completed many triathlons of all distances including three IRONMAN races. She integrates that personal experience and knowledge into developing customized, sport-specific, metabolically efficient fueling plans for her clients. For more information on services and offerings, visit her website at www.fueltothefinish.com.

7 Ways to Eat More Mindfully

by Heidi Wachter

Strategies for learning how to eat with awareness.

Each of us makes more than 200 daily decisions about eating most of them unconsciously, according to behavior scientist Brian Wansink, PhD, director of the Cornell Food and Brand Lab and author of Mindless Eating and Slim By Design. Clueing in to these decisions can help make them work for you rather than against you. Increase your mindfulness factor with these strategies:

Snack wisely before shopping. Grab an apple or some veggies before grocery shopping. Wansink found that healthy noshing primes you to buy healthy: Study participants bought 25 percent more fruits and vegetables than those who didn’t eat such a snack beforehand.

Don’t supersize it. Keep smaller dishes — like appetizer plates and juice glasses — front and center in your cupboard. Researchers discovered that diners at a Chinese buffet piled 52 percent more food onto large plates and ate 45 percent more than those who used smaller ones.

Make healthy food visible. Wansink’s research found that people who wrapped healthy leftovers in plastic wrap were more likely to see them and eat them than those who used foil. On the flip side, people ate 2.2 more pieces of candy a day out of a clear bowl than an opaque one.

Keep a clean kitchen. In a Cornell study, people ate 44 percent more snacks in a cluttered kitchen than they did in a clean one. “If your environment is out of control, you may feel that you don’t need to be in control of your eating either,” says Wansink.

Put food away. Researchers discovered that women who kept a box of cereal on the counter weighed 20 pounds more, on average, than those who put it in the cupboard. Keeping food out of immediate sight and reach helps reduce temptation triggers.

Plate it up. Even if you just want a snack, put it on a plate: Plating food increases your awareness of portion size. “Dishing out a ration makes you see exactly how much you are eating,” Wansink explains.

Minimize distraction. People who dine while watching TV, reading or working have a harder time keeping track of what they consume — and routinely eat more.

Distracted eating is a problem for two reasons: “First, you don’t pay attention to whether you’ve had 14 or 40 potato chips,” Wansink says. “Secondly, you often won’t stop eating until the end of the show, regardless of whether you’re full or not.” Such eating patterns become mutually reinforcing, meaning it becomes hard to watch TV without eating, he explains.

Heidi Wachter is the staff writer at Experience Life. This article originally appeared in Experience Life, the no gimmicks no-hype health and fitness magazine. Learn more at ExperienceLife.com

Summer Fueling: How and What to Eat for a Successful Race Season

By Brooke Schohl, MS, RD, CSSD, METS  

I live in Arizona, where summer heat takes on a whole new meaning. But even when the temps approach scorching, triathletes continue to hit the pavement and the (bath-water warm) pool to crank out those workouts. The show must go on, and so must proper fueling.

For many athletes training in warm climates, appetite tends to drop off as the thermometer readings climb. It’s important to keep this in mind during summer months and make any adjustments necessary to keep intake where it needs to be and those hot workouts well fueled.

Here are some tips for adjusting your fueling strategy for summer:

FUEL UP ON SEASONAL FOODS
Produce comes to mind whenever seasonal foods are mentioned, and that’s perfect because fruits and vegetables are the two best carbohydrate options in an athlete’s diet. Summer is a great time to take advantage of the wide variety of produce that graces your supermarket’s shelves. This time of year is also the perfect time to visit your local farmer’s market to support locally grown food from farmers in the area. Besides the healthy carbohydrate component, fruits and vegetables provide many vitamins and minerals (think antioxidants) that you just can’t get from other foods. They are versatile, too – cut up a bunch of fruit varieties for a fruit salad, roast vegetables for a veggie-and-egg casserole, or throw both into a huge green salad that is light on the stomach, but packs a nutritional punch. 

INCORPORATE LIGHTER FOOD OPTIONS
Each season boasts its own comfort meals, like a big bowl of chili in the fall with a football game on the television. Summer is more centered on light, fresh foods that fill you up, but don’t weigh you down. Instead of that chili and cornbread duo, try a flaky grilled fish like halibut with some roasted green beans and a mixed greens salad topped with avocado and mango. And remember to eat balanced no matter what season it is – carbohydrate + fat + protein at all meals and snacks. Becoming too reliant on carbohydrates throws blood sugar levels out of whack and negatively impacts your health, weight and training.

TIME RECOVERY FUELING RIGHT
Coming back from a long, hot outdoor workout can be an exhausting and possibly nauseating event in itself. Then, picture yourself consuming a large meal post-workout and you may be ready to toss your cookies. Don’t stress about getting those calories replaced. Keep in mind that you really only need to replace 20% of the total calories burned during exercise, and that this can be accomplished slowly (over time) for the next several hours post-exercise. After long workouts, do attempt to get at least a snack back in within an hour of exercise conclusion. This snack can be anything from a Greek yogurt with fruit to a protein smoothie with fruit and coconut oil. Again, balance is key. Don’t feel the need to gorge yourself the minute you walk in the door, especially if you are feeling nauseous from the elevated temps.

FOCUS ON ONE TIME OF DAY FOR YOUR LARGER MEAL
It’s ok to pick the time of day when you are most hungry and to make that meal a little larger. Or to break meals down into smaller snack-size portions in order to meet calorie requirements. Sometimes a large, heavy meal is too overwhelming to the system no matter what season it is. If you wake up ravenous in the mornings, make that meal a little more substantial followed by a lighter lunch and dinner. Same with feeling hungrier at lunch or dinner. Make adjustments according to what your body is telling you. If your evening meal is your heaviest, make sure to eat early enough that the food has time to settle and begin digestion before laying down for bed.

In the summer months, athletes are more active than ever. Stay on track with your healthy fuel plan by incorporating the above suggestions into your diet. The combination of great fueling and exercise is unstoppable when it comes to you meeting your goals. Make this summer season your most productive yet!

Brooke Schohl, MS, RD, CSSD, METS Level II is a sports dietitian and the owner of Fuel to the Finish Endurance Nutrition Coaching in Scottsdale, Arizona. She is an avid triathlete, having completed many triathlons of all distances including three IRONMAN races. She integrates that personal experience and knowledge into developing customized, sport-specific, metabolically efficient fueling plans for her clients. Brooke and her husband, John, own Destination Kona Triathlon Store in south Scottsdale, Arizona. For more information on services and offerings, visit her website at www.fueltothefinish.com.

Top Tips for a Successful Taper

By Rebekah Mayer

Race day is nearly here and most of your training is in the bag. What can you do now to ensure a great race day? By paying extra attention to your sleep, nutrition and training, you can set yourself up for a great half marathon.

Training:
A good taper will bring you to race day rested, but not feeling stale. For a half marathon a two-week taper is typically best:

  • Start by doing your longest training run two weeks before race day.
  • The following week should be roughly 60 percent of your peak mileage. Most of the mileage decrease is on the long runs, so your weekday mileage won’t change much during the first week of taper.
  • The final long run is done the weekend before your race day and is typically six to 10 miles long.
  • The final week should be roughly 40 percent of your peak mileage leading up to race day.

 

Keep your quality workouts (intervals and race pace) on schedule during the last two weeks, up to four days out from your race. The drop in mileage combined with consistent quality will keep you feeling fresh and sharp. Strength training and cross-training should also be tapered off to keep your legs fresh.

Sleep:
In order to fully recover from your training, proper sleep is key. Experts recommend sleeping eight to nine hours per night. While that may be challenging to fit into a busy schedule, here are some tips:

  • Try to build a consistent sleep schedule where you go to bed around the same time each night. Doing so can lead to more consistent sleep.
  • DVR your favorite shows to catch up on after race day. You’ve worked hard to prepare for the race and your body deserves some extra rest and recovery.
  • Two nights before the race is the most important night for sleep. Focus on setting up your week so that you can get a full night’s sleep that night.
  • Don’t worry too much if you don’t sleep well the night before the race. It’s normal to have a short night as pre-race nerves can affect your sleep. One poor night of sleep shouldn’t affect your performance the next day.

 

Nutrition:
Your nutritional approach in the final weeks depends on your overall eating style. During your peak mileage week your calorie intake needs to be sufficient to keep your energy levels up, but after that you may need to adjust your eating relative to your training. Here are a few things to keep in mind:

  • Sometimes weight gain can be a problem during taper as you likely need fewer calories than during heavy training.
  • The benefits of carbohydrate-loading are being called into question for marathoners, and for half marathoners there is little research that supports the benefits of carbohydrate-loading.
  • Many experts (including those at Life Time Run) recommend a more balanced eating approach including moderate carbohydrates from whole food sources, quality protein and healthy fat.

 

Your eating style does impact your nutrition in the final days before your race.

  • Runners who typically eat a high-carbohydrate diet typically stick with that through race day and are more likely to need to carb-load for longer races.
  • Low-carb and/or Paleo runners have trained their bodies to burn more fat and fewer carbs and can continue that style of eating through race day. Consuming protein, fat and fiber in moderation in the 24 hours before the race is often helpful.

 

The final month before your race is the perfect opportunity to fine-tune your sleep, nutrition and training. By taking a few extra steps to support your training and recovery this month you’ll be ready for a great race!

Rebekah Mayer is the National Training Manager at Life Time Run. Check out LifeTimeRun.com for more training tips, training programs and social runs at 60+ locations nationwide.

Calorie Counting: Helpful or Unproductive?

By Brooke Schohl, MS, RD

An abundance of information about the number of calories in foods is available on a daily basis – on food labels, diet tracking websites and restaurant menus, to name a few. But is counting calories an effective way to manage weight? Consider these guidelines before you start.

  1. Calories provide baseline information. If you are beginning a nutrition plan or trying to lose weight, getting an initial idea of daily caloric intake can be helpful. While calories are not the only determining factor of weight status, they certainly play a part. Consuming excessive calories on a regular basis leads to storage of fuel as fat in the body. Conversely, consistently consuming inadequate calories leads the body into starvation mode, where metabolism slows and the body holds onto fat for dear life. Neither of these situations is good!
  2. Calories only provide an estimate of intake. Much of the criticism surrounding calorie counting stems from the reality that calories are really only an estimate of the energy produced by food/drink. Translation — there is plenty of room for error in this measurement tool. Even when more intensive strategies are applied to calorie tallying (measuring and weighing), there is still variation in total calories produced.
  3. Calories are not the end-all measurement of dietary intake.  Calories consumed relative to calories burned solely determine weight status, right? Wrong! There are several other factors to consider, one of the most important being resting metabolic rate (RMR). RMR represents the minimum number of calories needed to sustain vital body function, or how many calories one burns in a day. This number varies immensely among individuals based on fueling regime, exercise amount, and activity throughout the day. The higher the better when it comes to RMR. Interestingly enough, low calorie diets as well as high carbohydrate/low fat diets actually decrease RMR. Life Time Fitness Senior Director of Nutrition & Weight Management Tom Nikkola simply states, “the body is designed to conserve energy when it senses a shortage of incoming available energy.” Therefore using calorie intake as the sole measure of weight status is far from accurate.One should also consider macronutrient (carb/protein/fat) intake by percentage. As mentioned above, both low-calorie and high-carb/low-fat eating regimes prevent individuals from tapping into fat fuel stores. Sports Dietitian Bob Seebohar says that to truly be metabolically efficient, one needs to become less reliant on dietary carbohydrates and better equipped to utilize fat for fuel by consuming less carbs, more fat and adequate protein.
  4. Consider alternatives. An article in the Bulletin of the World Health Organization suggests that instead of tracking calories, people should consider decreasing portions to make healthy eating easier. Weight status is about the types of foods we consume as well as the portions.  Restaurant portions have reached astronomical sizes, and this is what we are now accustomed to. By reducing intake at meals, people take in less energy overall — leading to better weight control in most instances.
  5. Consider longevity in this approach. Is counting calories on a daily basis realistic for you? Some people enjoy dietary tracking of foods and beverages, while others loathe it. If calorie tracking is not sustainable for you, maybe check in with a diet-tracking program one or two days a month to get an idea of where you fall on the calorie spectrum. Or even better — focus on developing the skill of intuitive eating. This strategy involves only eating when hungry and focusing on natural, whole food choices the vast majority of the time.

Remember, calories are only an estimate; however, they can provide helpful baseline information in determining fuel needs. Caloric intake aside, many other factors impact your body’s efficiency at metabolizing fuel. When it comes to fueling your body with the right food/drink, focus on whole, natural foods, minimal ingredients and portion control. Life’s too short to live and die by calories!

Brooke is a registered sports dietitian and the owner of Fuel to the Finish Endurance Nutrition Coaching/Destination Kona Triathlon Store in Scottsdale, Arizona. She is an avid triathlete, having recently completed her third Ironman. She integrates that personal experience and knowledge into developing customized, sport-specific fueling plans for her clients.

Should Non-Celiac Endurance Athletes Go Gluten Free?

By Brooke Schohl, MS RD

Should non-celiac athletes go gluten-free? The answer isn’t cut and dry. We go through the pros and cons of living with and without gluten.

“Gluten-free” used to be a diet followed exclusively by celiacs, people with an autoimmune disorder of the small intestine that requires completely eliminating gluten from the diets. In 2012, www.celiac.com reported 1.8 million celiac Americans and 1.6 million individuals who follow a gluten free diet without a celiac diagnosis.

Today, many non-celiac endurance athletes have begun to adopt this eating style. Some say they remove gluten from their diet to control weight. Others follow the diet to reduce inflammation.

Regardless the reason, the question is: Should non-celiac athletes go gluten-free? The answer isn’t cut and dry. There are pros and cons. Consider both to know if a gluten-free diet is right for you.

The Pros

Shifts the Focus Back to Whole: Eliminating wheat, oats, barley and rye helps reduce processed food intake when done correctly. Wheat is found in foods such as bread, pasta, pastries, cereals, pancakes, pretzels, snack mixes and crackers. It’s also hiding in items like salad dressing, marinades, seasonings, soups and alcoholic beverages.

Although it’s important for endurance athletes to include adequate amounts of carbohydrate in their diets, consumption of gluten-filled grains is not required. There are plenty of non-gluten carbohydrate sources, including fruit, sweet potatoes, legumes, dairy products and grains like quinoa, amaranth, buckwheat and brown rice. Following a gluten-free diet can promote the consumption of more nutrient-dense, whole-food choices.

Reduces GI Distress, Reduces Inflammation: Gluten can trigger an inflammatory response in the body among celiacs and non-celiacs alike, according to The American Journal of Gastroenterology. Tummy troubles and training-induced inflammation are prevalent among endurance athletes. For many athletes, elimination of gluten products improves both issues and therefore leads to a boost in performance.

One theory behind the explosion of gluten intolerance in recent years is that we’re over-consuming wheat, oats, barley and rye. As a result, gluten resistance can become a possibility even for non-celiac individuals. At this time, these findings are mainly testimonial. The ACSM’s Health & Fitness Journal recommends more research be conducted in this area.

Eliminates Intolerance Risk: There are varying degrees of gluten intolerance/sensitivity, and celiac.org states that 1 in 3 people are at least mildly gluten intolerant. They may have fewer side effects than a true celiac, but gluten protein still wreaks havoc on their bodies. Cutting gluten from the diet eliminates any health risks associated with gluten consumption among individuals who have sensitivities to the protein.

The Cons

Lack of Nutritional Value: Today’s grocery store shelves are lined with an array of gluten-free products—everything from pancake mixes and bagels to crackers and cookies. The problem is the flours used to manufacture these products result in calorie-dense, nutrient-lacking final products.

The most common wheat replacement ingredients include rice, corn, potato, cassava and soy, according to the International Journal of Food Sciences & Nutrition. The Journal of Cereal Science reports that the most common gluten-free flour made is (white) rice flour. All of these flours are inferior in nutrient composition to whole-wheat flour. Remember: The gluten-free stamp on food does not guarantee high nutritional value, according to Trends in Food Science & Technology.

Potential Weight Gain: Many gluten-free products are higher in calories than their gluten-containing counterparts due to the type of flours used. As a result, unwanted pounds can become a factor for athletes. For those opting to eat gluten free in order to lose weight, this is a double whammy.

Expense: Orowheat whole-wheat bread costs $2 compared to Udi’s gluten-free bread at $6. These foods add up quickly, especially for endurance athletes on a tight budget.

In Sum

Endurance athletes can benefit from gluten-free eating when the focus shifts away from glutinous packaged items and instead emphasizes high-quality, nutrient-dense whole food choices. And if you’re purchasing a packaged gluten-free food product, carefully read the label. Choose whole-grain, gluten-free foods or those containing brown rice rather than white rice.