Can a gluten-free diet improve your exercise performance? Gluten-free diets are the latest trend, and most people think these diets have health benefits. Some experts even think they improve athletic performance. Is there any truth to this?
The Benefits of a Gluten-Free Diet
People with a medical condition called celiac disease need to keep gluten out of their diet to avoid digestive problems such as bloating, cramping, diarrhea and nausea. Celiac disease is an inflammatory disease that can be controlled by avoiding dietary gluten. Gluten is a group of protein found in grains such as wheat, rye, and barley, but it’s also lurking in many processed foods, so eating a diet free of gluten can be challenging.
More people who haven’t been diagnosed with celiac disease are adopting a gluten-free diet. They claim eating a diet free of gluten gives them more energy, helps them lose weight and improves digestion. Some experts point out that some people that don’t have celiac disease still have difficulty digesting wheat and may benefit from eliminating gluten from their diet. These people are often described as gluten-sensitive.
Can a Diet That’s Free of Gluten Boost Exercise Performance?
Many athletes, both professional and recreational, complain of digestive issues such as bloating, cramping and diarrhea when they exercise. This is especially true of people who run long distances or do high-impact exercise. For people who are truly gluten-sensitive and have digestive problems when they work out, going gluten-free may help. It’s hard to put forth your best effort during a workout when you constantly experience indigestion and bloating.
How Do You Know if You’re Sensitive to Gluten?
There is a blood test for celiac disease, but you can be sensitive to gluten even if you don’t have celiac disease. Therefore, a negative celiac test doesn’t necessarily mean you won’t benefit from a gluten-free diet. If you have digestive issues when you exercise, try eliminating gluten for a few weeks. Keep a symptom diary during that time, and see if your exercise-related digestive issues improve.
Staying on a gluten-free diet can be challenging since gluten is not only in wheat, barley, and rye but in many processed foods. If you eliminate processed foods to avoid gluten, it can have health benefits since processed foods are usually less nutritious and contain preservatives and unhealthy additives.
The other problem with adopting a gluten-free diet is getting enough healthy carbs. If you exercise, you need adequate amounts of carbs to fuel your workouts. Many carb sources contain gluten. Fortunately, you still have gluten-free options including beans, millet, buckwheat, flax, quinoa, and corn. Oats aren’t always safe since they can be contaminated with wheat. Fruits and vegetables are gluten-free, and they also contain healthy carbs and fiber.
The Bottom Line?
Not everyone who experiences digestive problems with exercise will be cured by going gluten-free, but it may be helpful for some athletes. The best way to find out is to eliminate gluten for a few weeks and see if your digestive issues improve. There’s no evidence that going gluten-free will make you a better athlete, but it could make it less unpleasant to work out.
ACE Fitness. “Does a Gluten-Free Diet Improve Athletic Performance?”
Men’s Journal. “Winning without Wheat”