Is Gluten really as bad as people say? Will cutting it out make a difference in your athletic performance? There is so much information, and misinformation out there. But here are the basics that you need to know about this little protein who’s causing such a stir.

Gluten is actually a composite of proteins that is commonly found in wheat, barley and rye. Gluten has very little nutritional value, and is mostly used to give dough its elasticity, to help breads rise and lend a chewy texture. Because it is a non essential nutrient, our bodies don’t contain the correct digestive enzymes to break it down fully. For some of us, this hardly matters, our body just sweeps out the undigested protein. However, in others the gluten can often get stuck in the walls of the small intestine.

Our immune system misreads the gluten as an intruder and it attacks it. The autoimmune response can cause inflammation, joint pain, bloating and gastrointestinal discomfort. About 1 in 133 people suffer from gluten sensitivity. This can range from mild, hardly noticeable symptoms to celiac disease which causes an extreme adverse reaction in your body when gluten is ingested.

Cutting out gluten can give your digestive system a break from working so hard. This is important as an athlete because it can expedite your recovery process. The less your body has to work to break down gluten, the more it can work on repairing your muscles, and increase oxygen and blood flow to other areas of your body that may need it. You may experience more restful and deep sleep as well. This maximizes your rest time, which can reduce feelings of sluggishness and allow you to push harder and maximize your training time. A mental fogginess and inability to focus has been linked to gluten, so reducing your gluten intake may also lead to more mental clarity, which can also impact your training.

If cutting out gluten seems daunting, don’t fear. As athletes, we know the importance of getting carbohydrates while you work out. But just because you can’t have wheat doesn’t mean you’re going to bonk. There are lots of gluten-free and alternative grain or fruit-based bars to give you energy when you need it. Breeze Bars are gluten-free certified, as are all Bonk Breaker products. Giddy-Up bars utilize quinoa and amaranth, naturally gluten-free grains that not only provide carbohydrates but also important proteins and minerals.

Another one of the benefits people find with cutting out gluten is that they actually reduce their calorie intake, leading to weight loss. Choosing Purely Elizabeth Granola over a bagel, or a handful of All Good Provision Nuts over a bag of pretzels is going to cut the amount of calories you’re taking in, while providing you with nutrients and more long-lasting energy. Racing at a lighter weight can lead to faster times and more PR’s.

Some people might not see any difference in their training, recovery or performance if they cut out gluten. It’s totally personal and you have to decide if it works for you. It’s recommended to try a gluten-free diet for at least 14 consecutive days. This will give your body time to respond and reset.

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