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How a Food Sensitivity Test Can Help Improve Athletic Performance

food sensitivity test athletes

Whether during training or on race day, many endurance athletes feel puzzled when it comes to figuring out gut distress and digestive issues. Unfortunately, gut problems are common and stem from myriad causes, so getting to the bottom of such matters isn’t always easy.

Some athletes try experimenting with different forms of fuel, like gels, electrolyte drinks, and other easy-to-digest forms of calories. Others go to lengths to remove certain food groups, avoid anything fiber, or spend money on food intolerance and sensitivity testing. When considering the latter option, one lab-accredited food sensitivity test that we recommend is YorkTest, which makes it easy to get to the bottom of any foods that don’t agree with your body.

This shotgun approach can often lead to more confusion, and ultimately, a disrupted relationship with the food they eat. Even worse, drastic measures can also lead to nutritional deficiencies and slower recovery.

Instead of throwing the entire kitchen sink at digestive woes like severe cramping, bloating, and an upset stomach, athletes should be more precise and calculated with their testing and experimentation. Rather than the shotgun approach of trying everything, smart athletes will take the sniper approach to get highly-specific and tangible insights.

Determining a Food Sensitivity Versus Allergy

It’s one thing to over-consume the wrong types of foods before a race or during a race (hello, fiber). But it’s another to have a food insensitivity, or even worse, a food allergy.

When you’re gut flares up due to these issues, it is important to differentiate between an actual food allergy and food sensitivity or intolerance. A food sensitivity test is a great way to pinpoint the root cause of your gastrointestinal woes. True food allergies are immune system responses and will have severe symptomatic reactions, while food sensitivities and intolerances are digestive system issues.

In the case of having a food allergy and your body intakes a small amount of the problematic food, the outcome is a histamine response that triggers unpleasant symptoms like nausea, dizziness, swelling, and skin breakouts.

With food sensitivity or intolerance, the digestive system is unable to properly break down and digest a certain type of food. This can be attributed to a lack of digestive enzymes to effectively digest a particular food, a sensitivity to certain food preservatives or chemicals, or an inability to process particular types of carbohydrates. In the sports nutrition world, many fuels are made of carbs like sugar, wheat, and grains – all of which can trigger a food sensitivity in certain individuals.

If you have an allergy to a specific type of food, it’s likely that you probably already know it. The symptoms of food allergies are drastic and instant, while a food sensitivity is often more subtle, variable, and slowly wears on you over time.

Why Food Sensitivity Testing is a Win for Athletes

Endurance athletes can oftentimes be more susceptible to food sensitivity symptoms because of the consistent levels of stress put on the immune system from training and racing. Subsequently, a stressed body can become less capable of processing foods that may be causing inflammation.

As endurance athletes, food sensitivity symptoms that impact us include:

  • More inflammation that results in prolonged muscle soreness and slowed recovery time
  • Greater stress on the body, leading to increased fatigue
  • Inhibited nutrient absorption
  • Weakened immune system function
  • Unexpected weight gain
  • Inflammed airways and disrupted breathing

In short, it’s not always about striving to eat healthily. Rather, it’s about consuming foods that work best for your body.

A food sensitivity test is a great way to get a complete view of the foods that may be problematic for your system. Food sensitivity testing is traditionally done by a finger prick blood test, which can usually be done through at-home test kits. 

In addition to testing, an alternative solution is trying an elimination diet. This approach requires more time and patients but can help you determine which foods you may be sensitive to or intolerant to.

Head of Content at Better Triathlete | Website

Endurance athlete, professional off-road cyclist, and avid blogger, Tyler Tafelsky participates in long-course multisport and cycling events. Today, Tyler competes in ultra-distance cycling races at the professional level. Since starting Better Triathlete in 2014, he has been the head of content for the site's editorial team. Learn more about Tyler