If you have unexplained aches and fatigue, headaches, joint and muscle pain, bloating or digestion problems, gluten may be the culprit. Gluten intolerance is a condition gaining recognition as a contributing factor to many health issues. "New evidence suggests that as many as 1 in 7 are gluten sensitive, or gluten intolerant. Many chronic illnesses are associated with gluten intolerance: Fibromyalgia, chronic fatigue, rheumatoid arthritis, thyroid disorder, and diabetes."[1]

So what is gluten? Gluten is a complex protein found in wheat, barley, rye, and some oats. For many, these proteins do not digest properly, and the body reacts with the symptoms described above. If you are gluten sensitive or gluten intolerant, all you have to do is remove gluten from your diet. Easy, right? Actually, it's not so easy, especially if you're an athlete.

Athletes typically depend on the carbohydrates derived from wheat, barley, rye and oats to give them the energy and endurance they need throughout a workout. When these foods are eliminated from the diet, there is a chance that the athlete won't have all the power they need to successfully complete a workout. Additionally, they might lack important nutrients like vitamin B, iron, and fiber.

But don't worry - if you're an athlete with gluten intolerance, you may have an edge. Often times, in order to "carbo-load" for a workout or athletic event, athletes will eat foods like pizza and pasta, which aren't particularly nutritious and often times cause "sugar highs." By eating gluten-free carbohydrates, like rice, gluten-free cereals and breads, fruits and vegetables, athletes can obtain the carbohydrates they need to sustain energy and eat healthy, nutritious food that won't cause symptoms like headaches and bloating.

Although gluten-free foods are hard to find, the demand for them is rising and they are beginning to show up in grocery stores everywhere. Companies are beginning to recognize the importance of making these foods available for people who are gluten sensitive. For example, Optimal Nutrition, Inc. specializes in creating all-organic, customized meals for individuals, and always provides numerous gluten-free meals on their menu each week.

Athletes may have to go the extra mile to find and prepare gluten-free foods; however, there's a good chance that it will pay off in the end.


[1] Dannette Mason Rusnak, "Gluten Intolerance: The Culprit Behind Many Chronic Illnesses." Optimal Nutrition Inc. e-Newsletter, June 2009.