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May 12, 2023

Gluten Free Tips from an Athlete

Contributor: Angus Hanrahan from theglutenfreeathlete.com.au 

Dealing with the emotional and mental impact of a strict gluten free diet on athletic pursuits.

At 17 years old, I was an aspiring professional athlete looking to be drafted into the AFL. Sport was my world and being able to play in the AFL had always been my lifelong dream. But the season was riddled with illness and gut problems, which followed with a plethora of bad performances, and the resulting mental strain.

Angus Hanrahan, Founder of The Gluten Free Athlete

The blood test led to a gastroscopy where the Gastrologist diagnosed me with a serious gluten sensitivity, in which the only treatment was to follow a lifelong gluten free diet. This diagnosis came one week before the important AFL draft combine where I was one of 68 players in the country to be selected to complete fitness tests in front of AFL club recruiters.

Unaware that my world had just been flipped upside down, I tried to work out what this disease was and how to be gluten free – it wasn’t easy.

Trying to compete with little knowledge on what I could and couldn’t eat caused great distress for myself and those around me. My perception of food had turned from a carefree love of mine to an anxiety creating monster that I struggled to manage, especially whilst eating out and competing.

Knowing that one breadcrumb could have a major impact on my performance and that cross-contamination could make me sluggish and fatigued, added unnecessary stress. Extra stress that most of my competition didn’t have to deal with.

One month before Angus was diagnosised with gluten sensitivity

Fortunately, time and experience have made things easier. After a few blemishes, mishaps and confidence setbacks, I have been able to develop a range of strategies which have been effective in minimising the emotional and mental impact of this strict diet.

With these strategies I have regained my confidence and reduced my anxiety to ensure the diagnosis doesn’t have an impact on my athletic pursuits. I hope in sharing these strategies you can continue to perform at your best despite the restrictions of a strict gluten free diet.

Strategies for gluten free athletes to minimise anxiety

  • Utilise and build a trusting relationship with a dietitian. 
  • Develop a structured meal plan that you know works for you. 
  • Make coaches, teammates and other relevant figures aware of your condition whilst competing.  
  • Use GluteGuard before important trainings or games.  
  • Be organised and plan ahead; always carry snacks.  
  • Try avoiding eating out before games and training but if you have to eat at restaurants that are aware of cross contamination and take GluteGuard prior to eating.  
  • Follow The Gluten-Free Athlete on Instagram for regular tips.  
  • Join the Gluten-Free Sport Support Group on Facebook to connect with other athletes.

Angus Hanrahan is an athlete empowering others to live a physically active gluten free lifestyle. You can see his other works here.

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