Diet and exercise often come hand-in-hand and both are essential for overall health and well-being. Eating right helps to fuel and repair your body, whilst keeping fit releases endorphins and helps you to maintain a healthy heart. These can both impact your mental health too.
Finding that balance between diet and exercise can be particularly difficult for those who have allergies and intolerances, in particular, gluten. Getting the right nutrients can be really tricky, and having enough energy to exercise on top of everything, is almost impossible.
Gluten is the name given to the proteins naturally found in wheat, barley and rye. It’s mainly found in things like bread, pasta, biscuits, crackers, cereals, cakes and beer. Those who can’t eat gluten, generally fall into two categories:
Those with gluten sensitivity – the symptoms of gluten sensitivity are diverse but people with this condition have difficulty digesting gluten. Symptoms of intolerance include abdominal pain, nausea, bloating, headaches, muscle contractions, diarrhoea, fatigue, weight loss, anaemia and more.
Those with coeliac disease – an autoimmune condition and can usually be identified via a blood test. People who are coeliac cannot have any gluten at all because their immune system mistakes substances found in gluten as a threat and attacks them. This damages the small intestines and hinders the body’s ability to absorb nutrients from food.
How does being gluten-free affect your energy levels?
Feeling fatigued and low on energy is common for those who can’t eat gluten, with a variety of reasons behind this:
> Eating gluten – Accidentally eating gluten (for those who can’t have it) can cause tiredness. With gluten being in so many foods, it’s easy for this to happen.
> Not consuming enough ‘slow-burning’ carbohydrates – Avoiding carbohydrates or choosing sugary snacks over low GI foods (Glycaemic Index) can cause rapid increases in blood sugar. You’re then more likely to ‘crash’ and feel tired and low on energy when this happens.
> Low on iron – Anaemia is also a common problem among those who cannot have gluten so a lack of iron could be the cause of feeling tired.
> Too much starch – Using starchy foods such as potatoes to make up your carbohydrate intake, can also lead you to feel tired and sluggish.
Top 10 energy-boosting gluten-free foods
When you are coeliac or gluten intolerant, finding alternative foods packed with nutrients can be tricky. But there are lots of foods that are considered ‘safe’ for those who can’t eat gluten.
Eating fish is a great way to get protein into your diet, which will keep you going for longer. Oily fish like salmon and mackerel are great for your brain health and fish is a fantastic source of vitamin B12, often lacking in gluten-free diets.
2) Nuts and seeds
Another great source of healthy fats, a small daily dose of nuts and seeds is perfect for keeping your energy levels up, especially when you’re on the go or at your desk.
Mixed, unsalted nuts are the best choice with almonds being particularly useful, as ground almonds can be used to replace flour in a lot of gluten-free baking. Almonds also contain calcium and they’re a reliable source of magnesium.
3) Leafy greens
As well as being a good source of folate, leafy greens also count towards your Recommended Daily Allowance of calcium and iron. This is especially important considering only wheat-based bread is fortified with these vital supplements.
Eggs contain almost all essential vitamins (except vitamin C). A couple of poached eggs are a great breakfast option or even as a snack. They are quick and easy to make and are ideal as a pre or post workout meal.
Perfect if you are vegetarian, eggs are an alternative source of protein to help repair your muscles after the gym.
Tofu is easy to chop up and include in your meals, plus it’s relatively tasteless so you can incorporate it into almost any dish for an extra dose of protein as well as essential amino acids (needed for muscle repair and immune regulation).
Soya milk is also ideal if you can’t have lactose.
Fibre can be difficult to source when you can’t eat gluten so finding alternatives is important. Beans and lentils work really well in curries and they’re easy to mix in with gluten-free carbohydrates such as rice for energy-boosting meals. Pulses are also a great source of folates and iron.
7) Dark chocolate
Although dark chocolate shouldn’t be relied upon, it’s certainly better for you than some of the more sugary alternatives. A cube before a workout or after dinner can help top up your magnesium levels and it’s also good for brain function.
There is a lot more to the dried foods aisle than just white rice and pasta. Quinoa is a great source of magnesium and has a higher protein content than most grains, so is perfect for keeping up your energy levels.
Brown rice is perfect for providing dietary fibre and can be mixed easily with roasted vegetables and served alongside chicken or fish.
Avocados are full of healthy fats and are a great source of vitamins C, E, K and B6. Eat them in small doses for a protein-based, energy-filled snack. Perfect if you don’t want to spend much time in the kitchen, you can simply slice some up and have it with gluten-free toast or add some to your quinoa with a little smoked salmon for a nutrient-rich, energy-boosting meal.
10) Sweet potatoes
Sweet potatoes can take a little while to cook but they are a great source of fibre as well as vitamins and minerals. Pop some sweet potato wedges alongside some green vegetables and a fillet of fish, or add them to curries and soups to help top up your veg count for the day. Eat them with the skins on to get the most nutrients out of them.
Nutritional therapist Rosie Pearce notes, “Using the foods listed as alternatives will form the basis of a sound platform for health, whilst the variety of gluten-free options will help you to avoid gluten on all occasions. It is a journey that many people find worthwhile, so finding support from others with gluten-free diets or event a professional nutritional therapist can help you in this process.”
Tips to keep up your energy levels
As well as eating nutrient-packed foods, there are other things you can do that will help you to keep up your energy levels.
> Exercise regularly – although exercise burns energy, it also gives you energy. Regular exercise can help improve your quality of sleep, manage stress and increase blood flow. And staying active over time will increase your fitness levels. You’ll also find that your functional fitness levels improve as you get stronger, which will help prevent you from getting injured. By remaining active, you’re training your body to get used to being active so you’re less worn out by daily life.
> Plan your food – eating smaller meals that are healthier and packed with protein and vegetables can help top up your energy levels when you need it the most. Doing this will also help you to avoid those mid-morning and afternoon crashes that will most likely leave you vulnerable to the vending machine.
> Don’t rely on caffeine – although drinking green tea or having a morning cup of coffee can be fantastic for lots of reasons, relying on caffeine for a quick fix throughout the day can shift your focus away from what your body actually needs. Plan your food, as this will also help you sleep better so you feel well-rested and energised the next day.
As you can see, there are lots of ways you can keep up your energy when following a gluten-free diet and finding the right balance of diet and exercise is essential for living well.
Rosie says, “A key point to note is that a gluten-free diet should make you feel better than before. If it doesn’t, then perhaps you do not have a sensitivity to gluten and speaking to your GP should be your first port of call.“
For more information on going gluten-free, visit our coeliac hub.