How Celiac Disease Affects Distance Runners

Elyana Weaver and Gabe Eckstein are both distance runners living with Celiac Disease

The diets of distance runners can best be described as high carb as pasta and bread have become pre-race traditions for most, but how do athletes with an intolerance to these foods navigate distance running?

One of the most common causes for intolerance to these types of foods is celiac disease. According to the Mayo Clinic celiac disease is defined as an immune reaction to eating gluten, a protein found in wheat, barley and rye.

An estimated 2 million Americans live with celiac disease according to the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases. Elyana Weaver, a freshman at Lexington High School who has celiac disease, recently became a state champion after helping her team take the Division 2 cross country title.

"Since I got diagnosed when I was little, we've had years since I started cross country to figure out how to deal with it the best," Weaver said.

A major team event for high school distance runners is the team dinner before meet day, where everyone gathers around to bond and carb-load prior to race day. For athletes with celiac disease this looks a little different as they have to be on the lookout for potential cross contamination.

"A lot of the parents are really good about having options for me to eat," Weaver said. "If they have pasta and I'm having to eat gluten free, usually I can't have breadsticks or stuff like that, which makes it a little bit harder to get carbs."

Elyana's teammate, Gabe Eckstein, a senior who, like Elyana, lives with celiac disease. Gabe's high school personal best mark is an 18:31 and he helped lead Lexington's junior varsity squad.

One of the traditions for the Lexington program is their annual cross country camp where the athletes spend three days training and bonding. Eckstein described how him, his parents and Lexington's coach Denise Benson would plan out meals weeks in advance for camp.

"We would go out and buy all the stuff that was going to be at camp, but gluten free," Eckstein said. "It was always really nice that there were people, like Coach Benson, who cared enough to plan these things."

To learn more about how celiac disease can affect distance runners watch this video that the MileSplit Ohio team put together on the subject, which includes interviews with parents, coaches, athletes and registered dietitians.

Celiac Disease Feature Video by Eric Boll