Can Gluten Affect Sports Performance?

Can Gluten Affect Sports Performance?

It sometimes feels you can’t go more than a day or two without seeing “gluten-free this… gluten-free that”. Where has the popularity come from? And will being gluten-free help improve your sports performance?

What is gluten?

Gluten is a protein which is found in wheat, rye and barley. It is commonly found in bread, pasta, biscuits, cakes and sauces (among other things!).

Whilst for most of the population there is very little evidence to indicate that gluten causes problems, for some individuals it must be completely avoided. These people are those with coeliac disease, which is a medical condition where the body has an immune response to gluten. Consumption causes significant damage to the gut, increases risk of iron deficiency and osteoporosis and usually results in high levels of fatigue.

Some people are gluten-intolerant, which means that they can have some gluten, but can only tolerate a small amount.

What does gluten have to do with sports performance?

Very little, unless you’re coeliac or gluten-intolerant! A recently study from Australia looked at if there were any benefits to sports performance being on a gluten-free diet. Outcomes showed a negative, unless of course the individual should’ve had a reduced dose, or shouldn’t have been eating it in the first place.

What happens if I don’t eat gluten?

For people who don’t need to avoid it, being gluten-free doesn’t really matter all that much, as long as carbohydrate choices remain healthy; wholegrain, minimally processed choices that don’t contain tons of added sugar, salt or fat.

A recent study showed that people on gluten-free diets may actually have increased risk of diabetes, which can directly be attributed to the fact that many supposedly healthy, gluten-free products are actually incredibly unhealthy due to processing methods and what is added in to them.

Unless you’re gluten-intolerant or have coeliac disease, including gluten-containing foods as part of your diet is totally OK. If you choose to, or need to eat gluten-free products, ensure you use the same standards you’d usually use when choosing any food, and make a healthy, unprocessed choice as often as possible.

Featured photo credit: artgoeshere via Visual Hunt / CC BY-SA

Chloe McLeod
Chloe McLeod
Chloe McLeod has had a keen interest in nutrition from a young age due to food intolerances as well as a realization about the important role food plays in an active lifestyle. She has a bachelor’s degree in Nutrition & Dietetics, a master’s degree in Public Health, has received Sports Dietetics training through the Australian Institute of Sport, and has earned qualifications for ISAK Level 1, and is a member of DAA, SDA, and PINES. She is a two-time marathoner, avid trail runner, and also enjoys staying active through snowboarding and Pilates.