There is a lot of controversy surrounding gluten and for good reason. Some studies have been conducted but no major ones involving athletes and gluten consumption. So, it is hard to say for sure whether gluten affects an athlete’s performance. Well, one can determine that celiac disease or a mere gluten intolerance triggers symptoms that interfere with an athlete’s performance. But what about an athlete with good health, proper nutrition, and great training? Does gluten hinder this particular athlete from performing at their best?
This is what we are going to cover in the next few paragraphs. To provide an answer to whether gluten is bad for athletes, we need to know what gluten is and what is does to the body.
Gluten is a protein compound (made up of gliadin and glutenin) found in most grains, such as wheat, spelt, rye, barley, flour. Bread, pasta, cereals, cakes, pastries, cookies, crackers, biscuits, sauces, dressings, gravies (soy sauce, in particular) also contain gluten, unless specifically labeled as being gluten-free. One must also consider the fact that gluten can be found in all kinds of processed foods.
Now, that you know what gluten is, it’s time to find out what it does. The name gluten comes from its glue-like properties. When you mix wheat flour with water, the proteins in gluten give it a stringy consistency. It also provides an elastic, chewy texture and good taste.
You’ve probably heard of celiac disease and gluten sensitivity or intolerance. The symptoms for a person suffering from the conditions mentioned above include bloating, stomach pain, fatigue, diarrhea, pain in the bones and joints. Gluten consumption has also been linked to brain disorders. When confronted with a neurological illness, gluten may cause or exacerbate the symptoms of that particular condition.
However, a gluten-free diet can also lead to nutritional deficiencies as most gluten-free foods become stripped of fiber, vitamins, and minerals.
Gluten and Athletes running wild
Having established what gluten is and how it affects the body of a healthy and a not so healthy individual, we will focus on the effect it has on athletes.
What we want to do is determine whether gluten can hinder an athlete’s performance.
Some athletes often present the following gastrointestinal symptoms:
- gastroesophageal reflux;
- vomiting, diarrhea, abdominal pain;
- digestive bleeding.
Since the gastrointestinal discomfort many athletes feel resembles the symptoms of a gluten intolerance, there’s the idea that a gluten-free diet may relieve the symptoms.
However, the discomfort mentioned above may be the cause of an overactive sympathetic nervous system, intestinal dehydration or intestinal constricted vessels.
A gluten-free diet is beneficial in the case of athletes experiencing a gluten sensitivity even when they are resting. If an athlete develops the symptoms associated with gluten intolerance only while competing, then these symptoms do not usually go away when gluten is removed from their diet, so the overall performance remains the same.
There is no clear evidence to support that a gluten-free diet improves an athletes’ performance or vice versa. The exception is when that particular athlete is suffering from celiac disease, in which case the performance will be significantly improved.
So, is gluten bad for athletes? There is no way a blanket yes or no can answer this question. Why? Because every athlete is different. The studies that have been conducted so far focus on the short-term effects of a gluten-free diet on healthy athletes and the results show that a gluten-free diet does not improve an athlete’s performance or endurance.
Athletes do not need to go gluten-free unless they suspect a gluten intolerance. The bottom line is that athletes need good sources of carbohydrates to fuel their bodies. Eliminating gluten from their diets means cutting out most grains, which help them get the nutrients required to increase their performance. With a well-designed nutritional plan, these deficiencies can easily be overcome and then it becomes a matter of making healthier choices by increasing the consumption of fruits, vegetables, lean protein and healthy fats.
FYI, both the X1 Pre-Training and Post-Training Sports Shakes are verified Gluten Free.