World Champion Triathlete Diagnosed With Gluten Sensitivity

February 23, 2012

World Champion Triathlete Diagnosed With Gluten Sensitivity

Following a yearlong struggle with undiagnosed gluten sensitivity, Timothy O’Donnell hopes to return to the top

Timothy O’Donnell became a nationally recognized triathlete at an early age, winning a 2003 U.S. Under-23 National Championship title, spots on the 2007 and 2008 US National Team and World Championships Team, and an invitation to compete in the 2008 US Olympic Trials, where he placed 6th overall.

In 2009, following his gold medal performance at the ITU Long Distance World Championships, Timothy also became one of the world’s top long distance race competitors.

But just after skyrocketing to the top of his sport, he suddenly found himself struggling to maintain his elite status among the worlds best, largely due to his health.

Following several disappointing finishes in 2010, Timothy consulted a doctor in an effort to try and pinpoint the cause of his symptoms – which included GI distress, fatigue, leaky gut and micronutrient deficiency. O’Donnell finally received a diagnosing with gluten sensitivity following a yearlong battle with his symptoms.

In an interview with, an online triathlon magazine, Timothy looks back on his journey to gain a diagnosis and hopes to raise awareness of gluten sensitivity within the athletic community.

ST: When did you start to notice this?

Timothy: I started to feel really bad after San Juan last year and it carried out through the entire year.

ST: Was it hard to figure out?

Timothy: It was actually fairly difficult to pinpoint. It isn’t Celiac so it doesn’t show in blood work. I thought it was a lingering parasite I might have picked up while racing overseas and we spent more time looking for that then looking at the gluten possibility.

Since gaining a proper diagnosis and going gluten-free, Timothy admits that he still faces some challenges the diet. Trying to consume proper amount of Carbs for an athlete of his caliber and waiting for his body’s nutrient levels to return to normal levels have sometimes been a struggle.

ST: What necessary food groups are the hardest to replace? Carbohydrates? Proteins? Fats? Sugars?

Timothy: Carbs are definitely hardest to replace since gluten is in a lot of typical carb. Proteins might be a little harder too since when on-the-go burgers and sandwiches with meat become hard to get as Gfree buns/bread might not be available.

ST: Is this something you can adapt to right away? Or will it be hit and miss for awhile?

Timothy: So far it has been three weeks and I feel much better. I am hoping it will only get even better!

However, despite these dietary obstacles, Timothy feels like gaining a diagnosis has been a turning point in his career. He hopes that it’s the first step in his quest to return to the top.

ST:Will this discovery simply remove road blocks to your performance? Or is this something that will actually make you faster?

Timothy: I think this diagnosis could be a huge boost for me. While it won’t improve my performance it should allow me to race to my fitness potential. I was incredibly fit this year but the fatigue and GI issues associated with my GS problem didn’t allow me to race to potential.

To read the full interview with Timothy O’Donnell, click here.