Is it okay to eat foods containing gluten or should athletes avoid it?
This question comes not only from ordinary people but also from athletes. I’m sure there is someone around you who avoids gluten.
According to a review from In 2019 about the eating habits of athletes, up to 41% of athletes avoid gluten in at least half of meals. As many as 60% of athletes self-diagnosed gluten intolerance. Up to four times more athletes follow a gluten-free diet than people with diagnosed Celiac disease. (source)
The reason is the belief that gluten has negative effects on health. E.g. that it causes inflammation and gastrointestinal problems or other issues.
Only one study examined the effects of a gluten-free diet on endurance athletes who did not have diagnosed Celiac disease. It was a high quality study (randomized, crossover, double-blind study). The result? There was no difference between gluten-free and gluten-containing diets on gastrointestinal injuries, gastrointestinal problems, inflammation, feelings of health, or performance.
On the contrary, following a gluten-free diet can lead to nutritional deficiencies, specifically a deficiency of B vitamins, fiber and various minerals (iron, magnesium and selenium). Whole and non-whole grains are key to maintaining gut health, immune health, and glucose regulation.(source)
Then why do athletes feel an improvement after eliminating gluten? There are several reasons.
A placebo effect that carries a lot more weight than people attribute to it.
Gluten-containing foods also contain fructans, which are poorly digested.
Training stress results in gastrointestinal injuries and potential indigestion. (source) As a result, any food can cause problems. Foods that we consume often are more likely to cause issues, simply because there is a higher chance you will expose yourself to that food when your digestive track is permeable. Even healthy food at the wrong time can result negative effects!
More and more attention is being paid to the health of the digestive tract, specifically the intestinal microbiome. One of the best ways to have a healthy digestive tract is a rich, varied microbiome. The microbiome that benefits us feeds on fiber and wheat is one of the best sources!
If you still decide to avoid gluten, eat a diet rich in onions, legumes and various vegetables. Beware of gluten-free products, where gluten is often replaced by other ingredients and is ultimately a worse choice for a person who does not suffer from Celiac disease.
Finally, you can replace gluten containing cereals with buckwheat, millet, quinoa. You will bring more variety to your meals.