How Gluten Sensitivity Affects Tri Performance

You're facing another demanding day of work, training, and a bit of family fun time, too. You wonder, "Will I have enough energy to take it all on or am I going to find myself dragging through the day again?"

Most people don't connect the dots between fatigue and gluten sensitivity. This is largely because your symptoms may not show up for two hours to a couple of days after consuming it.

More: The Gluten-Free Athlete

This is different from celiac disease which is a genetic condition that immediately triggers a nasty physical reaction if you eat even a smidgen of gluten. While only one in 133 people have celiac disease, some estimate that 30 to 40 percent of the population has some form of gluten sensitivity that creates many of the same symptoms: fatigue, headaches, and joint pain topping the list.

Gluten is a protein found in wheat (including kamut and spelt), barley, rye, malts and triticale. Oats, by the way, do not contain gluten on their own; the issue with oats involves potential cross-contamination with other grains in the milling process. In addition to the obvious foods (bread, pizza, pastry and pasta), gluten is also widely used as a flavoring, stabilizing or thickening agent in almost all processed foods and commonly shows up as "dextrin" on food labels.

ITU gold-medalist Timothy O'Donnell is the poster child for undiagnosed gluten sensitivity. With his performance faltering, he learned that his inability to digest gluten was shutting down his digestive tract, resulting in low energy and sabotaging his races. Since going gluten-free, O'Donnell finished first place in two 70.3 races, San Juan and Galveston, so far this year.

More: Eat Like a Pro With a Low Gluten Diet

Here's how gluten can wreak havoc on your body and in your performance:

It Causes Leakage

When the stomach can't handle gluten, it becomes inflamed; an inflamed gut lining becomes more permeable or "leaky." A leaky gut allows energy-producing nutrients to pass out of the stomach and into the bloodstream in a form that cannot be absorbed by the body (vs. proceeding through the intestines and getting broken down into a usable form).

When minerals and vitamins are not taken up, energy drops.  Additionally, these unrecognized food proteins in the blood stream can make you feel lousy: think gas, bloating and brain fog.

More: Should You Go Gluten-Free? 

It Adds Insult to Injuries

Foods that contain gluten also have high levels of the compound arachidonic acid which in large amounts has the ability to increase inflammation of the joints and aggravate pain. Even the Arthritis Foundation recommends a gluten-free diet to support people who suffer from ongoing pain due to inflammation. If chronic joint or tendon pain is impacting your ability to train, gluten may be the culprit.

More: Injury, Diet and Recovery: Guidelines for Nutrition and Healing 

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