The gluten-free diet was at its height in the mid 2010s. People from all walks of life flocked to the idea that eliminating gluten would make them healthier – and faster. However, in the past three years, the validity of this diet for those who don’t suffer from celiac disease has repeatedly been called into question. A literature review finds that over half of the athletes following a gluten-free diet are self-diagnosed – which its authors describe as complicated from a health and performance perspective. Here are some important takeaways and considerations for those considering a gluten-free diet.
The gluten-free diet is effective for those with gluten-related conditions
Authors wrote that for athletes with gluten-related conditions, they generally experience improvements or complete resolution of symptoms by eliminating gluten from their diet.
It’s risky to self-diagnose
Among athletes, especially endurance athletes concerned about weight and gastrointestinal health, there’s a belief that the gluten-free diet can lead to improved performance. However, authors caution that there are many problems associated with self-diagnosis. “It is risky for athletes to self-diagnose medical conditions and subsequently adopt a gluten-free diet, as underlying medical or physiological conditions could be overlooked.”
Beyond the risk of aggravating pre-existing conditions, many runners struggle to fuel properly once they’ve adopted the diet, eliminating too many foods to sustain their energy output. There’s a risk of not eating enough carbohydrates, which can cause big issues for performance.
It can lead to eating disorders
Researchers suggest that some athletes can become so focused on their gluten-free diet that they overlook the importance of fueling their training. This can lead to complications around food restriction and possibly lead to eating disorders. The gluten-free diet can also contribute to a significant increase in food expenses (an estimated 206% increase) due to the cost of these diet-friendly foods. For example, the average cost of wheat bread is about $3 CAD, whereas the average cost of a gluten-free loaf runs around $5 to $6 CAD.
It doesn’t show any increase in performance
In a study of healthy cyclists, those who were fed a gluten-free diet and a placebo achieved the same results at the end of a seven-day study which culminated in a 15-minute time trial. While the diet can be effective for those who need it, if you’re not dealing with a gluten intolerance, keep eating wheat – your wallet and stomach will thank you.