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The FACTS About Eating Gluten-Free for Athletes from Nutrition/Fitness Consultant, Lindsay Cotter

January 22, 2014

A few years ago I was diagnosed with a gluten intolerance (you can read more about my Gluten Free Journey here). This little issue changed our diet dramatically in the Cotter household. Little did we know how much it would actually change it for the husband's training and racing as well (and for the better).

So here I am today, wanting to share with all you athletes out there, the benefits of a gluten free diet. Should you go gluten free? Is it hard? I think everyone should give it a try and see for themselves.

Let’s get started.

To start off, what exactly is gluten? Gluten is a form of two proteins: gliadin and glutenin. These proteins are found in the endosperm of wheat, rye, and barley. The glutenin is what gives these type of flours the elasticity in their dough and makes them all warm and gooey. The bad thing is that this protein is usually pretty hard to digest and for a lot of people it can cause a harsh reaction in the digestive system. Ya, bummer!

Celiacs are those actually diagnosed with a genetic disorder and are highly allergic to gluten. This can cause several digestive problems and lead to malnutrition and malabsorption in the intestines. Others might develop a gluten “allergy” or “sensitivity” which can have several of the same symptoms of a celiac (fatigue, inflammation, abdominal bloating, diarrhea/constipation, etc.) yet the effects are not necessarily as damaging or pervasive. Allergy suffers can probably handle a gluten every now and then, Celiacs cannot! For more on this topic feel free to read HERE.

So what if you’re an athlete and you think you have a gluten sensitivity? How would that affect performance?

Think about it, athletes need EXTRA nutrients in order to fuel and recovery properly right? But what if your digestive system was not absorbing these nutrients? You’d probably feel pretty crappy despite the number of calories/ratio of macronutrients you were taking in.

According to Dr. Wellingtons article on, gluten-free diets do have some advantages for athletes:

  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.

Sounds pretty good to me! But the question still remains…..what the heck do I eat?


  • Focus on fresh vegetables, fruit, starchy vegetables (like squash, sweet potato, etc).
  • Look for certified gluten free breads, cereals, pastas, oatmeal, granolas.
  • Focus on the other Grains (gluten free grains)- brown rice, wild rice, quinoa, teff, sorghum, corn (corn tortillas), millet, amaranth. (you can find a lot of these grains and flours in the bulk sections as well).
  • Dig the fat- nuts and nut butters, avocado, oils, flaxseeds.
  • Pump up the protein- Quality protein such as organic meats (watch for deli meats with added starches and nitrates), fish, eggs, naturally fermented tempeh, etc.
  • Be sure to read labels. Especially on condiments. They can sneak in words like wheat starch, rye, barley, and malt syrup.

Okay okay, so now we’ve covered the basics. But what about when it comes down to training/racing and those post-race refreshments?  This is where it can be tricky. I like to bring my own food just in case. Like a Gluten Free Bagel and lactose free chocolate milk or water with a protein powder/recovery powder mixed in. But here are some other choices that might be available at the finish line or post ride.

  • Gluten Free energy/protein bars (Lara bars, Perfect Foods bar, the protein Honey stinger bars, KIND bars)
  • Dried fruit, fresh fruit, trail mix, fruit roll ups, fruit leathers
  • Natural sports drinks, fresh juice, lemonade, milk, chocolate milk (OR even better-COREPOWER)
  • Tacos with corn tortillas (black bean, veggie, or beef/chicken/ egg cooked in natural oil or butter)
  • Natural potato chips or tortilla chips
  • Pickles (love that sodium fix)
  • Smoothies with fresh fruit and/or natural yogurt
  • PB and banana Sandwich with a GF bagel or bread.

If you need any more recipe ideas, just visit my recipe page on the blog. Lots of good choices, and even some homemade GF energy bars or feel free to check out my HEALTHY BITES or ebook!

In the meantime, feel free to email me with any questions.

This article was written by Lindsay Cotter from Lindsay has a passion for triathlon and supporting her husband, James Cotter, in his professional triathlon career. Her blog subtitle pretty much sums up what she writes about: à life as a pro triathlete’s wife, nutrition manager & fitness consultant and instructor, kombucha lover, and wannabe wino who has a joyous passion for GLUTEN FREE cooking! And when she is not doing that, she is making Healthy Bites, her gluten-free small business.

Where to find Lindsay?



Healthy Bites FB -

Instagram -


email- cottercrunch


Healthybites -


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