Can a Gluten Free Diet Increase Athletic Performance?

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I was recently asked to do a keynote presentation for a chapter of the Canadian Celiac Association. As excited as I am to give this 200+ person room a message of hope and inspiration for a way to alleviate symptoms and overcome this often debilitating disease, those (possibly you or a family member) who suffer from this disease, know all too well how painful gluten is on your mind and body.

Fatigue, abdominal pain, bloating, diarrhea, constipation, headaches, joint pain, depression and ADHD symptoms are all common side affects of this disease. Funny thing is, even if you don’t suffer from celiac disease, I believe we are all sensitive to gluten and thereof suffer from one or more of these symptoms I outlined above.

So if I’m the guy who will never tell you what you should or shouldn’t eat and my whole philosophy of an 80/20 rule base of eating 80% living plants vs. 20% all other foods you want, than what is advice can I give you on gluten?

Well, what I can tell you is this… when I began cutting gluten out of my own diet (not 100%), I began noticing a significant difference in my energy levels, my ability to wake up without needing a kick in the butt vanished and athletic recovery time after a day rock climbing or mountain biking got more efficient. This all happened without cutting gluten out entirely, just about 80%, which is a nice bonus because I still enjoy the occasional pizza and pint of beer when I’m out with the boys.

I’m not the only athlete adopting a gluten reduced or gluten free diet. In fact, high profile athletes like Olympic triathlon champion Simon Whitfield and world tennis star Novak Djokovic have jumped on this lifestyle wagon.

Many sports-focused people are going gluten-free because they believe it supports their intense training schedules, enhances their athletic performance on race days and provides quicker recovery times post workouts. I know it has worked wonders for me.

Let’s take a closer look at why adopting a reduced gluten or gluten-free diet may give you an athletic advantage. And if you are not an athletic….YET, it’s all good, many of the same benefits are just around the corner.

What is Gluten? 

Gluten is a combination of two proteins, glutenin and glaidin. When you add water to flour, the glutenin and glaidin attach themselves to each other to build a chain of protein. That chain of protein is gluten. It is then used to make the majority of food items found in the middle aisles of your grocery store such as breads, pasta, cookies, crackers, muffins, wraps, pizza crust, energy bars and the list goes on.

Look for my Grocery Store Revealed video training course being released in the coming months. Click here to be part of the launch party before it goes public.

Much of the gluten research of the past 20 years has proved it to be a very tough form of protein to digest by humans. Gastro distress can vary from person to person, but the most common side effects of gluten consumption as mentioned earlier are bloating, diarrhea, abdominal pain, fatigue and headaches. Often, these symptoms persist without ever being associated to a gluten-rich diet. Hence why I believe gluten to be something we all have an allergy to! 

According to the Harvard Medical School, a large portion of the population suffers from celiac or gluten sensitivities without ever being diagnosed.

Gluten has also been linked to depression & anxiety, ADHD, brain fog, hormonal imbalances and adrenal fatigue. The National Foundation for Celiac Awareness provides a detailed look into each one of these symptoms and how it relates to gluten consumption.

So if gluten can have such a negative impact on one’s health, why is it used in our food supply? This is a loaded question with a simple answer: Gluten is cheap. It gives food products their cakey, soft, fluffy texture and structure we have come to expect in carbohydrate-based foods.

The problem is many of these foods are simple carbohydrates and spike your insulin. They give you a big energy crash leading to craving more of the same foods, cookies, crackers, bread and so on. Know what I’m talking about? I thought so!

Can going gluten free impact your daily life or even athletic training, races and recovery? To answer this, make a list of any health symptoms you suffer from on a daily basis. For example, do you suffer from mental fog on a regular basis? Do you experience muscle cramping and stiffness at odd times during the day? How about energy, could you use a little more?

Next, to find out if your personal symptoms are related to gluten consumption, knock it out of your diet for a minimum of seven days. Look back at your list of health afflictions and be mindful of changes as you go gluten-free.

Change can be easy

Sometimes changing the way we eat can feel like a difficult task. Being familiar with your nutrition intake throughout your day is an individual science that takes time and care to develop. There are many gluten-free options available to help ease you into this transition without feeling like you are missing many of your main staples.

Keep this list below handy to discover which foods have gluten in them, which grains are clean, as well as all the sneaky places this tough protein hides in.

Grains with Gluten

Wheat, Wheat bran/germ/starch, Durum, Graham flour, Barely, Barley malt/extract, Bran, Bulgar, Couscous, Farina, Faro, Kamut, Malt, Matzo flour, Orzo, Rye, Spelt, Kamut

Gluten-Free Grains

Quinoa, Millet, Corn, Arrowroot, Rice, Teff, Amaranth, Buckwheat (a seed, but often confused as a grain because of its name)

Top 15 foods with hidden gluten

    1. Beer
    2. Gravy
    3. Salad dressings
    4. Soy sauce
    5. Chocolate
    6. Pre-made beverage mixes
    7. Pre-packaged deli meats
    8. Canned soup
    9. Vitamins & medications
    10. Hot dogs
    11. Licorice
    12. Veggie burgers
    13. Flavoured potato chips
    14. Taco & chili
    15. Pre-packaged seasonings

Are you surprised by any of these items? It definitely makes you realize just how many products contain gluten in our food supply! Having this list will help you reduce the amount of gluten in your diet or go gluten free entirely.

Go easy on yourself when going gluten free. Go slow by reducing the amount you consume by adding in some gluten free options of the same types of foods you already enjoy. There are loads of gluten free breads, cookies, crackers, pizza crust, pasta and so on at most grocery stores. Just don’t be fooled into thinking they won’t spike your sugar levels like processed gluten grain based product do. Even thought these alternatives are gluten free, they will still spike your sugar and give you a bit of an energy crash and mess with your cravings, but thats a whole other discussion.

Look for my Grocery Store Revealed video training course being released in the coming months, where I will share all this life enhancing information. Click here to be part of the launch party before it opens to the public.

There is nothing better than getting into you won kitchen and preparing some awesome gluten free meals and snack for you and your family to ensure you a feeling as healthy as you can. Here is a gluten-free recipes to try in your kitchen to help get you started:

Gluten-free Coconut Quinoa Cookies

Give them a try and let me know how you enjoyed them by leaving a comment below. Do you have a gluten story you want to share with me? Please do, I read every comment and am happy to reply personally.

Please share!
About Adam Hart

Adam Hart is the bestselling author of The Power of Food. When not on stage speaking, Adam can be found helping one of his many corporate clients in awakening an abundance of energy through his highly engaging stress management solutions.Contact Adam to book a demo for an enhanced corporate wellness experience.


  1. Hi Adam, Question for you. I just completed (barely) the Boundary Bay Half Marathon. The first half was on schedule but the 2nd half was horrid. I ran right out of energy and I hurt. Everything hurt, my feet, my legs, my internal motivator. I was trained. I was comfortable with a 2 hour run chatting the whole time so what happened? Well, I am attributing the hardship to a cleanse I went on the week before. Stupid. I know. However, I really didn’t think it would be an issue. So, cut out sugar, processed food, tropical fruits, alcohol and all bread/pasta, etc. What I did eat was healthy. Brown rice, quinoa, veggies, apples, hb eggs, chia, almond milk. I was also taking “cleanse” supplements. So my thought was that I didn’t have enough carbs in my system. So after reading your “Can Gluten Free Enhance Athletic Performance?” my thought was NO. No, it can’t. But maybe you can enlighten me on how?

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