Diet Secrets of Gluten-Free Athletes

in Celiac, Features
Published: February 5, 2014
Heather WurteleHeather Wurtele, Ironman Champion

Pinto’s Food Approach

Pinto maintains his own gluten-free regimen through simplicity and diligence. He starts the day with a pre-workout banana, followed by a Greek yogurt, protein bar or shake post-workout. Almonds and bananas supply more energy until a typical lunch of grilled chicken, veggies and rice.

Dinner is usually quinoa pasta or turkey burgers, though Pinto feels fortunate to have found a few indulgences at restaurants that truly understand cross-contamination issues.

For gluten-free athletes on the road, he recommends bringing food from home, and reheating it in your own containers to avoid cross-contamination from microwaves. Salads, pastas, yogurts and safe snacks are his travel mainstays.

Pinto’s balanced and prepared approach is at the heart of upping one’s gluten-free game, says nutritionist Jory. “It really is about eating well all the time, so that you feel good when the situation demands more energy. With planning, you can do pretty much anything you want.”


Heather Wurtele certainly proves Jory’s point. Gluten-free since 2010, the Canadian triathlete has since won three Ironman titles, setting new course records in the process. Formerly sidelined by gluten-related stomach aches and bloating, she now has more vitality and resilience.

“Your body is struggling with inflammation all the time,” says Wurtele, “because of the hard training and trying to repair muscles. If you can get rid of digestive inflammation, that’s one less thing your body has to cope with.”

Wurtele travels the world in an RV, training and competing along with her husband, who is also a triathlete. As Wurtele notes, she couldn’t endure her grueling schedule or win as often if she didn’t eat healthy.

“As I became more competitive as an athlete all these things – stomach ache, fatigue – began to matter more, affecting big goals in my life, not just my everyday comfort,” she says. “I mean, having to stop at a Porta-John three times during an Ironman – you’re losing minutes, so it’s something you want to avoid.”

To maintain her winning ways, Wurtele focuses on eating whole food-based meals. Her fuel includes a balanced combination of minimally processed proteins, carbs and fats. Being able to cook in the RV makes a routine easy for Wurtele, but when she’s at a hotel, she sends food ahead or finds stores that carry what she needs.

Food Endurance Fuel
Typical snacks on the road include rice cakes, packages of certified gluten-free oatmeal, nuts and fruits. The night before a race, Wurtele has her go-to meal: a mash-up of potatoes, yams, carrots, fish and spinach. “I know my stomach is always happy with that,” she says.

Race morning Wurtele is up three hours before start time, generally eating oatmeal with blueberries, agave and hemp. When she can’t stomach a solid breakfast, she’ll sip on a sports nutrition drink. First Endurance Liquid Shots provide her with electrolyte replacement during races.

It’s post-race that causes the most trouble for Wurtele: “After a full Ironman, I usually don’t feel too well, so I can’t eat that much. But if I do crave something, it’s totally anti-sweet because I’ve had all these sweet calories to keep going. If anything, I crave something salty and fatty, so I’ll have French fries or maybe the next morning eggs and bacon or something I wouldn’t normally have.”

To help her stay focused, Wurtele works with nutritionist Noa Deutsch, who has helped her find recipes and ingredients that work for her specific needs. For example, when a snack of applesauce with walnuts and raisins was causing stomach issues for Wurtele, Deutsch suggested replacing the high fructose applesauce with mashed yam for a gentler source of quick but long-lasting energy.

From an Olympic swimmer like Dana Vollmer to an Ironman winner like Heather Wurtele, elite athletes can thrive on gluten-free diets. So too can busy people trying to maintain active lives.

“The best way to stay in the game, improve performance and boost health,” avows Jory, “is to eat a nutrient-dense, whole foods diet. Being physically fit is only part of the equation. Being nutritionally fit will help you to reap the benefits of an active lifestyle.”

See also: Gluten-Free Athletics: What to Eat

Originally published in the Summer 2013 edition of Allegic Living magazine.