With so many different diets these days, people often wonder which to follow. I recommend that runners who are training for a 10K (or any distance) focus not on one specific diet, but on consuming a balance of carbohydrates and lean protein. This type of diet will give you the energy to train and will help you recover after runs and on race day.
While gluten-free and paleo diets are not dangerous, it’s important to pay attention to the foods you’re eating on these diets to make sure you don’t fall short of any nutrients. If you don’t normally follow one of these diets, I don’t recommend starting the diet while training for a race.
The paleo diet eliminates processed foods, grains, legumes, and dairy, and promotes fruits, vegetables, meat, seafood, and poultry. Although reducing processed foods and increasing fruits and vegetables are healthy steps, this diet is too limited in carbohydrates for most athletes.
A gluten-free diet is not recommended for those who don’t suffer from celiac disease or gluten intolerance, and there’s no scientific evidence to recommend a gluten-free diet for runners.
As a dietitian, I have heard people say they perform better when they switch to a gluten-free diet, but after reviewing their diet history, I often find the reason they feel and perform better is because they shifted to eating fewer processed foods and choosing whole foods like fruits, vegetables, and quinoa, along with lean proteins. Whole grains are a good source of fiber, are often fortified with B vitamins, and provide us with needed energy. While a gluten-free diet is not dangerous, eliminating gluten eliminates some sources of carbohydrates and if not followed correctly can put people at risk for vitamin deficiencies.
Instead of focusing on a specific type of diet, sort out which foods do and don’t agree with you, and practice meal timing and fueling during training runs to avoid an upset stomach on race day.
Linzy Unger, MS, RD, CDN, is a clinical nutritionist at Hospital for Special Surgery. She has counseled and given lectures to patients of all ages on various nutrition topics. Some of her nutrition interests include sports nutrition, diabetes, special diets, and weight management. She is an active member of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics and the Sports, Cardiovascular and Wellness Dietetic Practice Group, and she serves on the public relations committee of the Greater New York Dietetic Association.