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Celiac Disease & Running

Hi Everyone,  

For those of you who don’t know me, my name is Colt Mack. I’m currently residing in the  Pittsburgh area and running competitively representing Appalachian Running Company. One of  the topics I’m passionate about other than running, is running with Celiac disease (although I  prefer to call it a condition) and helping others navigate the training and race day anxiety that  involves fueling our bodies properly. It’s stressful enough maintaining our training and busy schedules, to spend even more energy worrying about what to eat and how to travel to races. While safely eating gluten free is becoming less difficult than before, we still have a long way to go.  

I was diagnosed with Celiac disease back in 2016 after constantly being bloated, having rashes after meals and  digestion issues. For individuals with Celiac disease, maintaining a gluten-free diet is not just a dietary choice, but a lifestyle and necessity. This autoimmune condition, triggered by the consumption of gluten, poses unique challenges for athletes, particularly those who engage in activities like long distance running. However, with careful planning and a mindful approach, individuals with Celiac disease can successfully participate in races and travel for events without compromising their health. With practice, you’ll figure out what works best for you but may take some trial and error. Don’t let fear sideline you from your goals and dreams! I’m here to say you can still run your best, regardless of this autoimmune condition.  

Keep in mind, I’m not a registered dietitian. However, I have 7 years experience learning from  doctors, practicing trial and error, along with living the lifestyle to learn the ins and outs of it.  If you have Celiac disease, here are some tips to think about for your training and next travel plans:

Fueling the Body: Opt for gluten-free energy sources to sustain your performance during training  and races. This includes gluten free sports gels, bars, and hydration options. Be sure you are meticulous in checking nutrition labels to avoid inadvertent exposure to gluten. Some examples are Gluten free Honey Stinger Waffles, Gluten Free Bagels with Peanut  Butter and Honey, Maurten Gels  

Pre-Race Nutrition: Prioritize safe, gluten free meals before a race. This may involve researching local  restaurants, bringing your own food, or preparing meals in advance. Familiarize  yourself with gluten free options in the area where the race is held. When in doubt, search for a Chipotle, it’s my go to when traveling.

Communicate Dietary Needs: Don’t hesitate to communicate your dietary needs with race organizers. Many events are becoming increasingly accommodating, offering gluten free options at aid stations or allowing participants to provide their own fuel. 

Post-Race Recovery: Ensure that your post-race recovery plan aligns with your gluten free lifestyle.  Opt for gluten-free snacks and meals to replenish your energy stores and aid in  muscle recovery. 

Tips for Traveling with Celiac Disease: 

Research and Plan Ahead: Before traveling for a race, research gluten-free options in the area. Utilize online  resources, apps (Find Me Gluten Free is a favorite), and community forums to find safe dining options and grocery stores with gluten free products. 

Pack Gluten Free Snacks: Pack a stash of gluten free snacks to have on hand during travel and throughout  your stay. This helps prevent hunger-induced decisions and ensures you always  have safe, convenient options. 

Communication is Key: Inform hotel staff, restaurants, and race organizers about your dietary restrictions  well in advance. This gives them time to accommodate your needs and ensures a  smoother experience during your stay. 

BYO (Bring Your Own): Consider bringing some of your own gluten free staples, such as bread, crackers, or snacks, to guarantee you always have safe options. Portable, non-perishable  items can be a lifesaver. For example, I always carry bars, GF Oats, GF Bagels, and peanut butter with me so  I’m not left starving if everything fails.

Translation Cards (if traveling abroad for a race): If traveling internationally, carry translation cards in the local language explaining your dietary restrictions. This can be particularly helpful in regions where English may not be widely spoken. 

Living with Celiac disease doesn’t mean sacrificing your passion for running or participating in  races. With careful planning, effective communication, and a proactive mindset, individuals with  Celiac disease can navigate the race course and travel confidently, ensuring that their athletic  pursuits align with their dietary needs. By embracing these tips, runners with Celiac disease can focus on achieving their personal bests without compromising their health and well-being.

About the author: Colt has been a runner since 8th grade. After graduating from IUP 2013, where he ran both track and cross country, Colt shifted from shorter distances to the marathon. Colt runs road races to be competitive, but says it’s running on the trail where he is reminded why he loves this sport. Colt was diagnosed with Celiac disease in 2016 and is an advocate for providing information to make it easier for others to navigate gluten free fuel for running.​