Our elite athlete blogger has Celiac Disease—and she shares her top-7 real-life struggles, with some properly placed humor, about being a gluten-intolerant runner.
1. Pre-race pasta feeds. I get it. Tradition says it’s the night before a race, so stuff your face with some pasta. This has led races to host pasta feeds, and your friends and teammates to make reservations at the Spaghetti Factory. Most nights before races I’m either dining solo at the local thai place, the Whole Foods hot bar or, on some occasions, cooking with my hot plate in the hotel room. Glamorous, I know.
2. Just give a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. One of the easiest snacks to make and travel with is the classic peanut butter and jelly sandwich. Have you ever made a PB&J with gluten-free bread and eaten it hours later? I’ll save you the agony—it’s awful. GF bread does not have the moistness and texture to make it tasty minutes, let alone hours, after it’s made. You either need a microwave or toaster on hand to heat it up, or consume immediately. This convenient and staple snack for runners is a luxury that Celiacs often miss out on.
3. Hotel continental breakfasts. These have disaster written all over them. Whenever we’re booking hotels, whether for race travel or vacation, seeing that breakfast is included is always a nice perk—unless you have Celiac Disease. Most continental spreads provide danishes, muffins, cereals, bagels, croissants, and the best ones have DIY waffle machines. And by best, I mean worst for someone with a gluten allergy.
4. Your run buddies asking “What carbs do you eat?” I love my dear friends, but when the carb question comes out post-run you can’t help but cringe inside. There are hundreds of carbohydrate options out there—you just can’t eat the “traditional” ones runners often reference. Instead of a sandwich, I throw my meat and veggies over rice or corn tortillas. I swap out that pasta bowl for sweet potatoes or potatoes. Hug your friends and say “Thanks for the concern, I got this.”
5. Social pariah. I mentioned most of the problems that occur with dining out, but these are especially true when it comes to post-run brunches, training camps, and race gatherings. Having Celiac Disease is not the worst disease in the world, as there are far worse conditions and illnesses to deal with, but it truthfully can make you feel like an outsider and social pariah when planning. You either stuff your purse full of edible safe snacks and sneak them into your mouth in the midst of your friends buttering their rolls at the table, or stay home.
6. Nutrient replacement. One of the real struggles of being a runner with Celiac is making sure your diet is well-rounded, and you’re getting in most of your vitamins and minerals from nutrient-dense foods. This can be challenging when an entire food group (more with my dairy and egg allergy) limits what you can eat. I have always made it a point to use iron, Vitamin D, and calcium supplements no matter how “great” I think my diet is. Training takes more of a toll on your body, so being Celiac requires a little more attention to your nutritional intake.
7. The Runs. This perhaps pertains more to the runners who don’t know they have the disease yet—so it is worth mentioning. Ever find yourself being that runner who makes your group stop 4-5 times during an hour run to duck into the woods? It’s not because you overloaded on your morning french press; it could be your gut telling you something is off, and you need to investigate. The “runs” is one of the biggest inconveniences a runner with a food allergy struggles with. Don’t accept this just as a normal side effect of the sport; do some research on what you’ve eaten pre-run and what makes your stomach grumpy. If all else fails, pack toilet paper!