Can having a food intolerance affect your running performance?

We asked Dr Gill Hart PhD, York Test's Senior Biochemist and scientific director for the low down on food intolerances and how simply spotting them is the first step to improve sporting performance.

Having specific unusual dietary requirements has become far more mainstream in recent years. There’s an ever expanding ‘free from’ division to most supermarkets to cater for the gluten, dairy or wheat intolerant and switching cows milks for almond has become a common occurrence. It’s confusing to say the least with constant new claims that you’ll benefit from avoiding certain things.

Yorktest are Europe’s leading provider of food and drink testing and offer a simple home test intolerance screening solution. When a test kit landed on my desk I was desperately curious to find out how healthy my digestive system was so I carried out the ultra simple test and sent it off in the post. Three days later I had a call from Dr Gill Hart, Senior Biochemist and Scientific Director who informed me I had no intolerances and a very healthy gut – hooray! A home test kit costs £9.99 so if you’re having any digestive troubles I’d highly recommend you invest. We spoke to Gill about why it’s worth investigating and how it can affect your sporting performance.

How common are food intolerances?

Symptoms of food intolerance are thought to affect about 45% of the population.

What are the key warning signs for spotting them?

Food intolerance can cause a range of symptoms and can have a major impact on how our bodies perform. Sometimes these symptoms are very obvious, for example gut problems, migraines, headaches and skin problems, but also they can be quite subtle. Food intolerance can cause tiredness, lethargy, low mood, weight gain (including not being able to shift those last few pounds) and aches and pains. When our bodies are working hard to achieve a physical goal it makes sense to ensure that the food we are eating is working with us - not against us.

Can having a food intolerance affect your sporting performance, and in what ways?

Food intolerance can compromise performance on a number of levels. In elite sport the difference between finishing 1st and 4th can be measured in minute percentages so maximizing an athlete’s performance is essential. Studies have shown significant improvement in athletes who remove trigger foods from their diets, and famously, tennis star, Novak Djokovic has attributed his stellar rise to the top of his sport to the identification of gluten intolerance. There are many potential food intolerances that need to be considered when optimising an athlete’s nutrition programme and following an elimination diet can be a complicated and long winded process. YorkTest offer a “fast track” route, a starting point for an elimination diet that is targeted and personalised.

How can adjusting your diet to your specific needs help with your fitness and physical health?

Reduction in any symptoms of food intolerance improves wellbeing and health, digestive function and reduces inflammation. This all adds up to optimal performance and recovery. Interest in food intolerance testing to enhance performance has been so great that YorkTest have recently launched their new business to business brand of food intolerance tests called Lorisian. Lorisian works closely with fitness professionals who recognise the damaging effects that food intolerances have on performance. Many fitness professionals introduce food intolerance testing at the beginning of any fitness or weight loss regime in order to ensure that their client’s diet is at its best possible right from the start. Lorisian have recently had their training course accredited for CPD points through SkillsActive and are rolling this training out at the moment. For more information take a look here.

Do you have any case studies or examples of such instances?

Professional sportsman case study: Michael Bingham

Discipline: Athlete - 400m

Michael suffered for some time with migraine. His food intolerance was previously undiagnosed however, after taking a food intolerance test and subsequently removing the trigger foods from his diet, Michael has experienced a number of improvements in his symptom patterns. He no longer has regular migraine attacks and has seen his energy levels vastly increased, improving his performance.

Michael says: “I thought the test was pretty informative and definitely help narrow down possible sources of ailments that I've had. It's never good to not feel your best so avoiding foods that bring on severe to mild symptoms is necessary for anyone's well-being”. 

Professional sportswoman case study: Paula Radcliffe

Discipline: Athlete - marathon

Paula Radcliffe is one of our best-loved athletes. She took the YorkTest after illness forced her to pull out of the Athens Olympics in 2004. Her results revealed that she had intolerance to chicken, egg whites, wheat, gluten, soya, oats and tomatoes. Paula commented: “After I cut these from my diet, I was able to run without doubling up in pain. I have a lot more energy and I am back to my normal self. It truly made such a difference to my life and I would recommend it to anyone else suffering from symptoms like these”.

Consumer case study: Susan White

Susan suffered from IBS and constant fatigue. She suspected she may suffer from food intolerance, but on taking a YorkTest found that the foods she originally suspected were not the culprits. Since cutting out dairy and eggs from her diet, her energy levels have raised enormously – enough to complete a marathon in less than five hours in October.

How accurate is YorkTest in picking up on intolerances?

YorkTest have been testing for food intolerance for over 30 years and have more papers published about the performance of their test than any other food-specific IgG test on the market.

What are the most common things to have intolerances to?

Everyone has their own unique “finger-print” of reactive foods so it is difficult to generalise. Clearly though the more of a food that you eat the higher the probability of the food triggering an antibody reaction that shows up in the blood. Strangely, it is often the foods that we crave that we are intolerant to. The only way that someone can find out their own “finger-print” of foods is to do a test.

If results come back positive what support do YorkTest offer?

YorkTest offer a results guidebook, food diary and also consultations with a BANT registered Nutritional Therapist, as required, to help support dietary changes. Making changes can be difficult but with 3 out of 4 people tested reporting to feel benefit within 3 weeks of dietary change it doesn’t take long to notice a difference.  We also have a customer care team who are available weekdays from 8am – 8pm on 0800 074 6185.  They are happy to help with any questions or problems. There is also lots of helpful information and advice on our website, www.yorktest.com


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